Back in November, a friend and I decided to book a New Year’s gay-cation and had narrowed it down to five Asian cities (I had to be in Korea on business; he lives in Hong Kong).
“What about Taipei?” he asked. I knew little about Taiwan, and even less about its capital city, despite having lived in East Asia for much of my 20s. Embracing the unknown, I bought a ticket.
My friend assured me that a thriving gay boy culture had emerged in Taipei over the last couple of years and that people were calling it “the new Bangkok.” I was skeptical; public expressions of gay cultures are hard to come by in East Asia. Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai may be three of the world’s biggest cities, but their gay scenes are more comparable to that of Calgary than Toronto. I figured my friend’s many years living in Asia had clouded his judgment. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first night, we went to Red House, an old, Western-style octagonal brick building in the shopping district of Ximen. It’s one of the city’s main tourist destinations, perhaps due to its juxtaposition against the garish stores and throngs of shoppers. Walking past the photo-snapping travellers to the back, we entered yet another realm – the space between the back of the Red House and an old two-storey building form a kind of piazza with a long strip of gay bars and cafés along the side. Crowds of mostly gay men drank outside in the balmy Taipei winter. Running along a second floor balcony were a dozen gay-themed shops: salons, underwear kiosks, a gym, tucked-away date spots and the like. New Bangkok indeed.
The low-key bars at Red House are not all gay Taipei has to offer. With NYE rapidly approaching, my friend told me we had tickets for four parties over two days. The first was at Jump, a club about the size of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre but with five times the number of people. It was absolute chaos; you couldn’t even lift your arms in the crushing mass. Party number two was at Volar, on the 12th floor of a department store complex at 4:30am on New Year’s Day. The doors didn’t close until 11am. After a not very restful afternoon sleep, Legacy was the nightspot for New Year’s Day, where DJ Micky Friedmann kept 2,000 guys jumping all night. Bleachers on either side of the enormous special-event hall were packed while the pit writhed with the beat. The last party followed immediately afterward at Luxy, a lavish two-floor club replete with raunchy go-go dancers. All the Red Bull in the world couldn’t keep me there until the 1pm close.
There was the same buzz in the air as at North American Pride celebrations. But this is not a once-a-year event. Taipei promoters have been staging these party marathons once every couple of months over the past year. The gay map of Taipei lists an impressive 10 clubs, nine bars and eight saunas catering to gay men. Huge contingents of boys from all over Asia have spurred the growth, attracted by Taipei’s surprisingly liberal attitude toward homos and propelled by the growing prosperity of Asian economies.
But the new gay Taipei is not without its downfalls: even Whitney would blush at the amount of drugs consumed. Unsafe conditions were the norm at almost every event. At the painfully over-crowded Jump, one patron was hauled out by bouncers to a waiting ambulance; apparently it’s the norm. Lesbian options were slim to none. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with my friend’s prognosis: look out Bangkok, there’s a new girl in town.