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A Gay Filipino in Shanghai

Michael David C. Tan visits Shanghai, China to discover that, unlike the “extremely strict” notion the Western world has of it, there’s a thriving, and quite wild, gay scene to be checked out.

'LOST' IN SHANGHAI China has learned to (re)celebrate everything old, even as it also appreciates everything brought about by modernization.

We all know China.

Or so we think, at least.

China is rediscovering its past (topmost photo) just as the world is embracing everything Chinese. Touches of past influences, like the French Quarter, are still must-visit places; just as Western forms of expression, e.g. Eddy’s, are fortunately now common.

Considering that the global media still remains largely West-dictated most of the time, China (of the East) is always portrayed as bad. Forget for a while the Western confusion with concepts of freedom and its application, but regularly we have been (and still are) bombarded with news, serving as examples on why China is bad.

E.g. Internet access is curtailed there (in the US, they don’t use the word curtail even if they also control what you can access in the Net – they refer to it as “necessary control” of people in authority who are supposed to know best what you should see online); people live afraid of the military else another Tiananmen Square occurrence could happen again (in the US, they detain suspects without needing to file cases against them – they don’t see this as a violation of human rights because, well, they’re Americans and they can do this); and in China, we only see images that the Chinese government wants us to see, so forget the peasants, et cetera – they stay hidden from the world (as if there are no poor people in the West).

The big question, of course, is if China is really as bad as it is said to be.

And my answer? It’s experiential.

Yes, Beijing’s there. So is Shenzen. Then there are the territories Macau SAR and Hong Kong. And a lot of other now often-visited Chinese destinations. But here, the focus is Shanghai – the Sleeping Giant’s heart, in a manner of speaking (and even more so than Beijing, it can be argued, even if the capital is the latter).

Why Shanghai?

Because it can be argued that it best represents (in China) the notions of “modernity” as is generally accepted in Western definition.

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Case in point: gay life.

Head to the French Quarter to find the gay yuppies, hanging out to perve (as we tend to do) in cafés, brunching in high-end restaurants, et cetera. Blame (or thank – depends on your way of seeing) commercialization, but this looks more like the usual catching up late Sunday afternoon (after clubbing the night before) in Melbourne, or brunching in Manhattan (a la Carrie, Samantha, Miranda in SATC).

At night, there are two options, divided by how you prefer for your night to end.

On the one hand, sans paligoy-ligoy (beating around the bush), head to bath houses. Yes, they have them in Shanghai, too – and there are aplenty. The catch is to find them – check Web sites for the addresses (basing on experiences in the Philippines, in K.L., et cetera, the addresses of similar venues should not just be given out since abusive government officials tend to find these venues to close them, or ask ‘protection’ money for them to be left alone).

On the other hand, there are the more “accepted” gay bars.

At the outskirts of the city is Eddy’s Bar, the pioneering gay venue of Shanghai. Look hard, as you may miss it – it is right beside a convenience store – considering it is largely nondescript (the intent, I suppose, is to remain not “loud”). Inside, too, the simplicity is the rule – stools with chairs scattered around a bar in the middle of the floor, with but few of the patrons actually doing some dancing.

Even food (topmost photo) are given some twists in Shanghai, with siopao turned into porcupines. The past (e.g. use of the Three Old Men) and modernity (e.g. French Quarter) continue to merge in the city.

“You’re new here?” this guy, the owner of the bar, asked as he approached me and my group.

“Just visiting, actually,” I laugh. Then, stupidly (I say I was drunk): “And you would be?”

He looked at me, seemingly hurt before he laughed: “Eddy!”

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry. Wasn’t thinking – owner of the bar, so, of course, you’re Eddy.”

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He laughed, too. Then, abruptly, he let go of his hand on my back. “Sorry… You have a partner, of course?”

I laughed. “Yes.”

“Sorry, sorry…”

“It’s not like we’re doing anything but talk.”

More laughing.

“And you have a partner, I assume?” My turn to ask.

“Yes,” he said. Then he broke into a big laugh. “But he isn’t here.”

The whole scene didn’t seem too different from chitchats I’ve had elsewhere outside China.

The next stop for my gay visit was D2 – what used to be Deep, I was told. This one, completely unlike Eddy’s, is somewhat impersonal. Why so? It’s a gigantic venue – a warehouse turned dance club, more apt for a DJ Tiesto (and his likes) gathering than a weekend romp venue. It is fun, nonetheless, dancing with out lesbians – and in Shanghai, there are many of them openly out, kissing their partners in the middle of D2’s dancefloor (I still can’t find them in Metro Manila). And if the dancing is getting too boring? Head to the second floor, where the gays/MSMs are, standing around a well-lit bar, checking each other out, hoping to finish the night with someone.

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Worth noting here is that many Filipinos are “queens”… in many ways that word could be taken. More noticeably, though, they are the bitches, picking on the not-so-pretty; and, as they tend to be prettier, they hold courts, choosing the good-looking ones for themselves. Solution (in case this is problematic): chat with them – Filipinos have that tayo-tayo (regionalistic) attitude (as should be for expats), and those in Shanghai are nice to fellow Filipinos.

With bars open until 8.00 AM in Metro Manila, club-hopping is a must – something that isn’t possible (I guess for now) in Shanghai, since bars close early, not later than 5.00 AM. Meaning, considering their distance from each other, visiting two bars in a night should suffice (particularly when picking up, or getting picked up). Else, cut visits short to check other clubs – extensive list below.

Back at the French Quarter, grabbing coffee after mass-clubbing, three other gay guys – Westerners (they were at D2, too) – were already planning their next going-out.

“Did you see that one with the thingie on?” one of them asked, hand tapping his head.

“You mean that one with…”

“No, that’s a different one.”

The other chimed in: “He means the one who studied in London.”

“Oh, that one…”

The conversation continued, exhaustively going into: picking up, preferences, partying, drink prices, bitching, et cetera.

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It was no different from elsewhere.

Though maybe that’s too big a generalization.

Yes, human rights issues –particularly pertaining the gay community – remain (e.g. no Mr. Gay China here).

But generalizing about China is NOT only not fair, but limits the discovery of the places the likes of Shanghai has to offer.

Do we really know China?

Maybe not. But it’s always there for the discovering.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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