Utopia Guide to Gay and Lesbian China (first gay and lesbian guide to China)
16 Tibet, Now(non-gay background story)
January 17, 2006
Discretion a stumbling block for gay status
Xia Guomei – When it first began to spread, AIDS was denounced as a product of "evil capitalism" in China. It was thought to be a patent disease of prostitutes and homosexuals. China heightened its crack down on prostitution in 1991. But in 1995, China found AIDS cases surging ahead despite high-profile crackdowns. At the same time, those affected with AIDS, including prostitutes and homosexuals, went underground to avoid being publicly stigmatized.
Aware of this situation, China adopted a more lenient policy towards AIDS from 1995 to 2001. For example, the government began to have condoms disseminated in all entertainment venues. The move was controversial, as some people argued that it implied government "endorsement" of prostitution. The government denied such charges again and again but in vain. Why was the government trapped in such a dilemma? It’s because the government cannot fight AIDS while at the same time showing an attitude of leniency and accommodation. Actually those people who are affected with AIDS should stand out and participate in the fight against AIDS more positively.
For example, homosexuals can educate each other in public occasions. But can homosexuals in China do it openly and legally? You must acknowledge that homosexuality is an open secret in China today. However, not all secrets in this regard are really open. Certainly, people are talking about homosexuality openly. But this understanding is confined in an abstract sense. You can talk about homosexuality freely, but you may not know who is who in reality. Exactly because most individual homosexuals cover their identity, the general understanding of homosexuality in China is more conceptual than concrete.
China therefore needs more gay people who would like to come out in the open. When you see a banker, a judge, a football star or a government minister openly admitting he or she is gay, changes in understanding of homosexuality will happen. Cultural differences between China and the West are also important in understanding the situation of homosexuality in China. In China, many homosexual people have already felt much less pressure than before and are content with the status quo. They would not ask for more specific social or legal rights, such as the right to get married, in a big way. In their mind, haste may make waste. This is different from the West, where people care more about specific legal rights.
(The author is director of the Research Center for HIV/AIDS Public Policy at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.)
February 8, 2006
China Issues First Report on Gays
Related: China Releases Numbers of Gay Men for the First Time
China’s first survey report on gay groups entitled "Chinese MSM (men who have sex with men): survey on sex and the state of self-identity" was completed in Beijing recently. According to the survey by the Ministry of Health, sexually active gay men in China account for approximately 2% to 4% of the total number of sexually active men. Based on these percentages, China has a total of about 5 million to 10 million gay men. It is the first time China released the number of gay men and people infected with AIDS.
In recent years, China has quietly attended to the health issue of gays. In 2003, the government conducted an AIDS survey on six population groups in 138 regions in its 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. The six groups included drug users, prostitutes, gays, venereal disease patients, paid blood donors and anonymous people under examination in hospitals.
This 650,000-character survey report supported by the Ford Foundation in the United States and published by Beijing Gender Consultation Center not only presents a comprehensive, in-depth, concrete and true reflection of China’s MSM behavior and current status, but also reveals covert social existence of China’s gay groups and cultural state of mind little known to the public from the point of view of sociology of sex.
This report written by famous scholar and writer Tong Ge includes over 400 cases of MSM and personal experience of sexual intercourse. These cases show the real status of Chinese gay groups’ aesthetic desire, approaches of sexual intercourse, emotions and self-value assessment. According to the prelude composed by Pan Suiming, head of the Institute of Sexuality and Gender of Renmin University of China, this report depicts the way that Chinese MSM’s feelings, awareness and expressions are demonstrated and the target of such demonstration in different families, social environment, processes of growth and selective mechanisms.
Through the survey, the country obtained information on infection rate and the behavior patterns of different groups in different regions. Data obtained through this survey supplemented the AIDS surveillance system. So far, China has set up 42 behavior surveillance agencies in 19 provinces. Most importantly, it amplifies how two or more main parties in different sexual intercourses carry out communication, coordination and maintenance for the above mentioned feelings.
February 13, 2006
New book shows different aspects of gay life
It may not be as touching as the love story of two cowboys in the film "Brokeback Mountain," but the first study of gay men in China, released recently in Beijing, provides more true tales. The research, conducted by Tong Ge, a Chinese gay writer, was put into a book offering a wide range of sexual life experiences from more than 500 homosexual males in eight major cities in the country. The book titled "Chinese MSM (men have sex with men): Research on Sex and Self-identification" has 15 chapters and is the result of two-year’s effort by Tong.
His study has reached out to a larger gay society by exploring the non self-identified gay people who were often ignored in previous gay studies. China has an estimated population of about 5 million to 10 million gay men, yet many men who have sex with men do not think they are gay, Tong added. This research is the first homosexual research conducted by a gay man. Tong has worked for many years on publishing gay literature and the prevention of HIV aids.
The study was supported by the New York-based Ford Foundation and the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, the first homosexual counselling agency in China. Tong’s research is more genuine and reliable because he is considered a confidant of gay interviewees. "Unlike other researchers, I am a listener not a speaker," Tong said. "My job is to provide a first-hand experience to people who do or do not understand the gay community."
The book reveals an unknown side of sexual life in China’s gay society, "70 per cent of which, I, as a homosexual, hadn’t heard of before," Tong said. "Cases shared in this book are something never told before," Pan Suiming, director of the Institute of Sexuality and Gender, Renmin University of China said. When asked about why he wrote the book, Tong said reading this will help people know gay men as normal human beings instead of as patients to be analyzed.
Yesterday’s Lantern Festival marked the last day of the 15-day long Spring Festival, a time of celebration for many Chinese. Thousands of pilgrims and visitors gathered in Yonghe Lamasery in Beijing yesterday morning to pray for good fortune and luck for their families, and to pay their respects to Buddha. Yesterday was believed to be the second-most crowded day, following the first day of the Lunar New Year, when a total of 51,000 visitors came to the temple. Li Shu, security chief of the temple’s administration, said that roughly 32,000 people visited the temple by 1 pm yesterday, 10 times higher than the normal count.
"I don’t come regularly, but today is the sweet dumpling festival. I came to burn joss sticks before Buddha for a happy end to Spring Festival, and to pray for a lucky beginning for the Year of the Dog," said Ma Ying, a 50-year-old Beijing resident.
Many foreigners also came to witness the festival. "I’ve been told by my Chinese friends today is another big day according to the Chinese lunar calendar," said Belgian Philip Yant, who visited the temple in the afternoon. In Nanjing, throngs of residents flocked to the Confucius Temple, hoping to get good luck by touching the huge bell, though only a few people have this opportunity.
Sweet dumplings are the traditional food for the Lantern Festival, made of glutinous rice flour and symbolizing a harmonious reunion. However, for many young people, Valentine’s Day is another exciting holiday. With the lover’s day approaching, romance has filled the air of major retail stores, cinemas, restaurants, holiday resorts and hotels. Still, some say that Western festivals in China are only gaining popularity with merchants, calling them a festival for businesses, not people.
Source: China Daily
6 March, 2006
China expert pushes for gay marriage
by Christopher Curtis
Li Yinhe, a famous sociologist in China, told reporters she plans to submit a proposal for same-sex marriage to the country’s top political advisory body as it begins its 10-day meeting on Friday in Beijing. Li, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said legalising same-sex marriage will help eliminate anti-gay discrimination, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Li explained same-sex marriage would create stable relations and ensure safe sex, helping rein in the spread of HIV/AIDS. A gay activist in Guangzhou who identifies himself as A’nan told reporters that gay men and lesbians in China have difficulty finding partners, with options limited to bars, parks and saunas.
Li has proposed same-sex marriage twice before, but the proposals were shelved because she failed to get the minimum support of 30 fellow members. The Information Times, a Guangzhou newspaper, reported that Li’s proposal got support from more than 600 people in China’s Internet community. The sociologist said the country is not yet "prepared" for such a proposal and admitted it is unlikely that it will win approval, but Li believes it is her duty to help the country’s lesbians and gay men find a favourable living environment.
Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, agreed it would be an "uphill battle". Long noted that despite the explosion of LGBT networking, the Chinese government is still repressive. "All of this does have an effect on HIV. The government is preventing people from knowing the truth," he said. A government-sponsored survey at the end of 2004 claimed China, the world’s most populous country, had 5 to 10 million gay men. Experts believe the number is much higher. The survey did not have a clear estimate of the country’s lesbians. China took homosexuality off its list of psychoses in 2001.
March 27, 2006
China launches HIV prevention group for gay men
Xiao Dong, an HIV activist in Beijing, has launched a new group that works to promote HIV prevention and safer sex among gay and bisexual men in China’s capital, The China Daily reports. The organization, founded in May 2005, now has 43 members, most of whom are gay men. They visit gay bars and other gay venues in the city to talk with patrons about HIV and how to protect themselves from the disease.
"Our mission is to spread the word on AIDS among gay men, a topic that has been hiding in the closet for a long time," Xiao told the newspaper. "It is quite urgent that we give gay men the basics on how to prevent AIDS." Although homosexuality is not illegal in China and the country in 2001 removed it from a list of mental disorders, social taboos against homosexuality remain strong, and gay men face high levels of stigma and discrimination, Xiao says. This prevents them from seeking information about safer sex or accessing condom distribution programs for fear of being publicly identified as gay.
May 12, 2006
National Gay Hotline Opens In China
Beijing – China’s first national hotline for gays and lesbians has opened with the help of a Hong Kong-based foundation. It will provide free information and crisis intervention. Callers use an 800 number and speak to a volunteer in either Guangzhou or Shanghai.
The Chi Heng Foundation says a national service is needed as more and more gay Chinese come out. Local gay phone lines have been swamped and can no longer meet the demand. "On the mainland, being homosexual is still very hard," Hu Zhijun, a worker at the foundation, told the English language edition of the China Daily. "Under pressure from families and society, most homosexual people dare not reveal their sexual orientation and have to get married to someone of the opposite sex."
The new service will be manned daily. Hu said that the hotline has 13 volunteers all who are gay. They are all college educated with degrees in medicine, psychology, law or sociology and have undergone training to work on the crisis line. "Most of the calls we have had so far are from people who complain of social stigma and ignorance, or from those who don’t understand homosexual," Hu told the paper.
It is estimated there are 48 million gays in China. Coming out is a difficult process in the closely knit family structure of the country and the government has been criticized for not doing more for gays. It also has been criticized in the West for lagging in HIV/AIDS education The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, has warned that up to 10 million people in China could be infected by 2010 without more aggressive prevention measures.
May 19, 2006
One-year sentence for Internet gay party organizer
by Wang Wei (chinadaily.com.cn)
A man surnamed Zou, was sentenced to one year in prison by the Chongwen District People’s Court in Beijing, for organizing a gay party through the internet, the website of the China News Service reported on Friday.
Zou, an Internet fan, was inspired by the news about a "Gay Hotel" on a website in April, 2005. He set up his own website called "Beijing Sky" to advertise a "Hot Dream Party for Cool Beijing Boys" and attracted homosexuals to engage in prurient activities and provide illegal sex services at his house. "Since the ad was published in April 2005, more and more people joined the parties. I was mainly in charge of getting people together, and providing a venue and music. I charged membership fees ranging from RMB 30 to 50," Zou told police.
After receiving reports from the public at 10 pm on November 11, 2005, police quickly moved to close the gay party down and Zou was arrested. "Ten suspected criminals, all males, were engaging in illegal sex activities, " the police reported, "Zou’s behavior constituted a crime of "Promoting Promiscuity". "Although people today are gradually becoming more free to follow their sexual preferences, that doesn’t mean the law will indulge them. People should choose healthy and proper life styles," said judge Song.
August 11, 2006
Sex taboos hamper safety message for gay Chinese
by Ben Blanchard and Tan Ee Lyn
Beijing/Hong Kong – Lexy Zhang laughs nervously as he talks about his first experiences picking up men for sex in a country where condoms are widely available for family planning but not always promoted to prevent AIDS.
"I was just having unsafe sex all the time," said the 26-year-old, sitting in a fashionable Beijing bar frequented by gay men. "Lots of gay Chinese think it’s great that you don’t have to worry about pregnancy but have no idea about sexually transmitted diseases," said Zhang, adding he now would never consider having unsafe sex. There are just not enough organizations paying attention to this community. The government thinks it doesn’t exist."
How to prevent the spread of AIDS in places like China will be a major focus of researchers and policymakers at the 16th International AIDS Conference, which opens on Sunday in Toronto. In China, homosexuality, while no longer officially considered a mental disorder, is still an off limits subject for many. That taboo often extends to discussions about AIDS and condom use for men who have sex with men. Condoms are widely available thanks to China’s long-standing one-child policy, but conservative attitudes and an unwillingness to talk about sex mean the connection with AIDS prevention is not always made.
"Sex is taboo, and condoms have mainly been used as part of family planning rather than for safe sex," said Lee Folland, a graduate student doing research at Cambridge University on the social marketing of condoms in China. In a Beijing survey, only 15 percent of 482 men who had sex with men understood that they were at risk of contracting HIV, according to a 2005 report by the United Nations’ UNAIDS. Some 49 percent reported having had unprotected anal intercourse with men in the prior six months.
A survey in late 2004 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the northeastern city of Harbin found that almost 20 percent of men who had sex with other men also slept with women. More than 10 percent were married. "There is strong social pressure to get married — or what would the neighbors say? It’s not only about how your parents would react, but how others will react to your parents," Folland said, referring to fear of social ostracism for parents whose sons were thought to be gay.
Condoms and safe sex information are often not available in Chinese gay bars or saunas. Although they are starting to appear thanks to volunteer groups and outreach programs and a government belatedly waking up to the problem. But even that information can sometimes be too tame to include pictures of how a condom is used. "Otherwise in China it would probably be considered pornography," said Chinese AIDS activist River Wei.
In Hong Kong, Ricky Fan, 40, goes cruising once a week at one of the city’s many gay saunas, venues that have become increasingly popular in recent years among men looking for anonymous sex with other men. These places are invariably pitch black. But once acclimatized to the darkness, visitors are likely to be greeted by eyecatching flyers and postcards on safe sex, HIV testing and free condoms from the locker rooms to the many tiny cubicles. The message is certainly not lost on the more frisky members of Hong Kong’s gay population.
"I always use condoms, 100 percent of the time. Because it’s safer," said Fan, who has visited saunas in the last five years in Hong Kong, mainland China, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan. "I will push away anyone who doesn’t use them." But this attitude is far from the norm. New HIV infections among men who have sex with men have shot up in almost every big city in Asia in recent years.
Insiders attribute it to unsafe sex, made worse by a population that is relatively cash-rich and highly mobile. "In Hong Kong, those who are unattractive and can’t find anyone go to Shenzhen (across the border in southern China) to buy ‘money boys,’" said sauna owner Ray Chong, referring to gigolos who service male clients in big Chinese cities. "They pay more to get the boys not to use any condoms."
Activist groups, which have done much to keep new HIV infections down in Hong Kong, say their work is complicated by the rise in the commercial sex trade on the mainland, which shares an increasingly porous border with Hong Kong. "Infection rates have gone up among men who have sex with men in Asia because the population is so mobile, so our work cannot remain so localized. We have to go where they go," said Lau Chi-chung of AIDS Concern, a Hong Kong-based group which has promoted awareness of the disease since the mid-1990s. "What we can do is limited. We have to collaborate with the government, other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in mainland China to spread the message."
Another problem in China is that many men who have sex with men do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual. Indeed, thanks to a lack of education and cultural taboos they are not even be aware the concept exists, activists say. "If you’re 40, have been married all your life, have kids and live in the countryside then one day you discover your true self and have sex with a man, you aren’t going to be thinking about using a condom," said Wei. "But that one time could be enough to get you infected."
August 15, 2006
Gov’t-backed gay forum makes cautious debut
Beijing’s first government-backed Internet forum for homosexuals has slowly begun to take off, despite initial reluctance by authorities to give it too much publicity. Fu Qingyuan, an official with the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control of Chaoyang District, said the centre created the forum two months ago but did not publicize it until Sunday because they did not want to cause unnecessary public debate.
The forum was created to promote HIV/AIDS prevention awareness among China’s homosexuals and offer professional assistance to the group, Fu said. It has two chatrooms: one for same-sex lovers to share their emotions and experiences, and the other for health advisors to offer counselling and advice on HIV/AIDS. However, Fu admitted the forum had failed to attract postings on the notice board of www.cystd.com, the centre’s official website to spread HIV/AIDS prevention knowledge, due to lack of publicity.
Fu said the centre was considering launching a moderate media campaign to publicize the forum. "We’ll remain cautious because this is the first government-backed forum in Beijing to openly discuss same-sex love and it’s a highly sensitive issue in China." But after a report in yesterday’s Beijing Times newspaper, the number of postings began to soar.
"I am so exited to find this website today through media reports," wrote an Internet user who gave his name as "Sina Chen." "I hope the government will pay more attention to same-sex lovers who are living at the edge of society." Another Internet user named "Call for Love" said on the forum: "We are as good, faithful, law-abiding and love our parents as much as anyone else. Please do not discriminate against us, or treat us only as AIDS patients." Alongside the forum, the website also publishes domestic and international developments on AIDS diagnosis and treatment.
"Homosexuality is an inevitable social issue we have to face," said Shi Wei, director of the centre. "Homosexuals are more vulnerable to AIDS and other venereal diseases and therefore need extra care and help," Shi said.
August 21, 2006
Government-run Internet forum helps prevent AIDS among homosexuals
A local Internet forum for gay people — the first to be sponsored by a government agency, is attracting an increasing number of browsers since its services were publicized just over a week ago. The website, www.cystd.com.cn, provides a platform for homosexuals to share their experiences and to raise awareness of AIDS prevention.
"Forum for Comrades" — named after the new slang term for gay which developed because the word for homosexual and comrade share a Chinese character — had received 223 postings on its notice board as of Monday, a sevenfold increase since it was publicized in the media on Aug.13. The forum run by the Disease Prevention and Control Center of Chaoyang District of Beijing went into operation more than two months ago, but without any publicity it failed to attract many web surfers.
"We actually launched the forum in June, but didn’t publicize the issue because we feared it might spur debate among the public, " said Fu Qingyuan, an official in charge of the website. "I’m a comrade and I’m now at the age of marriage. Because of who I am I haven’t found a girlfriend," says one comrade who gave his name as Sunboyhands. My parents have pressed me to get married. To escape the pressure to marry, I haven’t gone home for three years," Sunboyhands says. "Sometimes, I feel tired because I can’t tell my parents I’m a gay."
Although the public’s understanding of homosexuality has greatly increased in more enlightened centers of the country in recent years, gays remain very much stigmatized in China. Sunboyhands’ posting attracted comments from seven other "comrades" who shared similar feelings and experiences. "I thought I was the only ‘comrade’ in the world to live such a life, but that’s not the case. ‘Comrades’ are common in today’s society," said another gay man who gave his name as "Call for Love". "I’ve found the website only today, and I hope the government and society will understand us: we ‘comrades’ are as good, faithful and law-abiding as anyone else."
The forum has three chat rooms: two for same-sex lovers to share their emotions and experiences; and the other to exchange views on the prevention of AIDS between "comrades" and medical experts. There are many private websites and blogs in China dedicated to issues relating to the gay community. The forum’s administrator, Xiao Dong, who is gay and an advocate for gay rights, said the site allows "comrades" to communicate with medical staff from the disease prevention center.
"The forum is designed to allow health advisors hear this group’s actual needs, enhance communication and prevent the spread of AIDS," Fu said, "We delete messages that offer prostitution services or contain phonographic pictures."
Those who want to find a partner via the forum are not encouraged and their postings are also deleted, said Xiao Dong.
"They have many other places to express their feelings and find partners, such as the ‘comarade’ websites" and blogs. " Xiao added. "The forum is mainly about the prevention of AIDS among the ‘comrades’."
Fu’s website also publishes domestic and international developments on AIDS diagnosis and treatments and has an online question and answer session hosted by medical workers. China has between 5 million and 10 million gay men, according to official figures published in 2004, the most recent data available. The number of lesbians was not published, but Zhang Beichuan, a Qingdao University professor and a renowned expert on homosexual studies, estimated there are around 10 million.
August 31, 2006
China’s first government-backed gay health Web site bombs
China’s first government-sponsored online gay forum has attracted few visitors in its first two months of existence, ShanghaiDaily.com reports.
The site, called Forum for Comrades—"comrades" is a slang term for gay in China—was created to provide health and AIDS prevention knowledge. A message board was set up to connect gay visitors with health professionals but has only received 10 postings and a total of a 1,000 clicks as of Monday. Many believe that strict Chinese society, which frowns on homosexuality, is keeping visitors away.
"I’ve found this Web site only today," wrote one visitor. "I hope the government and society will understand us: We ‘"comrades" are as good, faithful, and law-abiding as anyone else. Please do not discriminate against us or treat us only as AIDS patients." Government officials are hoping to use marketing to get more visitors to the site. "We’ll be very careful because it’s a sensitive and touchy issue," government health official Fu Qingyuan told ShanghaiDaily.com. (The Advocate)
November 12, 2006
China’s Muslims Awake to Nexus of Needles and AIDS
by Howard W. French
Kashgar, China, November 6 — The story of Almijan, a gaunt 31-year-old former silk trader with nervous eyes, has all the markings of a public health nightmare. A longtime heroin addiction caused him to burn through $60,000 in life savings. Today, he says, all of his drug friends have AIDS and yet continue to share needles and to have sex with a range of women — with their wives, with prostitutes, or as he said, “with whoever.” For now, Mr. Almijan, whose name like many here is a single word, seems to have escaped the nightmare. His father carted him off to a drug treatment center hundreds of miles away in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region here in China’s far west.
When he relapsed, he was arrested during a drug deal. That landed him in a new methadone clinic, opened last year in this city, where he spent three months cleaning himself up. He says he has repeatedly tested negative for H.I.V. This day, fresh from a clinic just off of People’s Square here, watched over by a huge statue of Mao, Mr. Almijan slurred thickly after drinking the dose that keeps his cravings at bay. “If I can help other people, I’d be happy to tell you my story,” he said. He explained why he had embraced treatment: “My friends were dying, and I was very afraid.” The way the authorities handled Mr. Almijan, including his treatment with methadone, is part of a sea change by the Chinese public health establishment, which is struggling to confront an increase in intravenous drug use and an attendant rise in AIDS cases in Xinjiang, an overwhelmingly Muslim region close to the rich poppy fields of Afghanistan and near the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
With a population of about 20 million and an officially estimated 60,000 infections, Xinjiang has one-tenth of China’s AIDS cases and the highest H.I.V. infection rate in the country. Chinese authorities estimate that Kashgar Prefecture, with a population of about three million, has 780 cases, but public health experts here say the real figure is probably four times that and rising fast. Until recently, addicts were largely left to the police, who regarded them as simple criminals whose drug use was to be combated mercilessly.
Resistance to treating drug addiction as a public health concern has been high, mirroring what some international health experts say was a slow response to the virus generally in China as AIDS first gained a foothold. “Some cadres are not willing to launch a public campaign against AIDS, fearing it would affect their image and investment in their locality,” said Parhat Halik, the deputy commissioner for Kashgar Prefecture, in a speech in June. “Some are still having endless debates about whether to promote the use of condoms, methadone treatment and needle exchange programs, or standing in the way of initiatives to work with high-risk groups. That is our biggest problem in the fight against AIDS.”
But since 2005, the authorities in Xinjiang have been trying everything from needle exchanges and drug substitution programs — approaches that first became popular in the West in the 1960s — to community outreach programs, often giving briefings to imams and mullahs. The people of Xinjiang are ethnically distinct from China’s Han majority, and have a long history of distrust of the central government. In the narrow, winding alleys of this city, where most women wear veils and mosques can be found every hundred yards or so, Islamic clerics spoke enthusiastically about antinarcotics efforts.
“These people are killed and arrested, persecuted and punished by the police, and the price of their drugs becomes greater even than gold, and yet they continue to use them,” said Abdu Kayaum, imam at a small brick mosque here. “If I didn’t preach about these ills, I wouldn’t be a Muslim.” At another mosque, the muezzin, or prayer caller, Abulkasim Hajim, put it slightly differently, saying: “This is not just a problem for the government, it’s a problem for our people. The people who use drugs are going to die, but before they do so, they will waste their family’s money and cause a lot of suffering.”
Mr. Hajim might well have been speaking of Mr. Almijan, whose costly 12-year habit ruined his family’s lucrative silk trading business, left him deep in debt and finally reduced him to a lowly job at a small hotel. Now, less than a month out of detention in the treatment center, he reports most days to the clinic near Yuandong Hospital where he goes voluntarily to drink a dose of methadone under the watchful eye of a video monitor. Each treatment costs him about $1.20.
“All my money has gone up in smoke,” Mr. Almijan said, explaining that he lacks the capital to get back into the silk trade. “My friends all shared needles when I was using drugs. At least I understood how bad that was and only used my own.”
Another heroin addict, a fruit seller dressed in a tweed jacket who goes by the name Ablimit, said he started injecting heroin in 1999. “I had a bunch of friends invite me to try heroin,” he said. “They either shared a lot of needles or they overdosed. They’re all dead now.” Mr. Ablimit, who said he had tested negative for H.I.V., has tried to break his heroin addiction many times, including a previous bout with methadone. He recently spent 45 days in a methadone treatment center after his wife caught him shooting up at home and threatened to leave him.
He said that while methadone had given him great relief from cravings for the drug, it was a not a cure. Cravings return when the methadone wears off, and weaning recovering heroin addicts from the replacement drug can be as hard as quitting heroin itself — and some say harder. Nowadays, Mr. Ablimit works in a neighborhood recreation center, where he helps counsel other addicts and reports less and less frequently to a methadone clinic for a dose of the drug he is trying to wean himself from. “You can take methadone as long as you want,” he continued, his wife looking on. “But I’ve got children and want to be a regular person. I want to atone for all the bad I have done.”
November 17, 2006
China’s first gay student group worries parents
Beijing – The official registration of China’s first gay student group at a university in southern China has been hailed by academics and denounced by some parents, state media reported on Friday. The "Rainbow Group" at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, capital of China’s southern Guangdong province "will study homosexuality and oppose sexual discrimination", the Shanghai Daily quoted Ai Xiaoming, the group’s tutor and a professor at the university, as saying.
"It’s wonderful to see the Rainbow Group set up because it shows that a state university in China has given way to students with different sexual orientation and is willing to hear their voice," Ai said. Li Yinhe, an outspoken Chinese sociologist who was criticised by state family planning officials for endorsing wife-swapping as a "normal kind of entertainment" at a sexual forum in Guangzhou last year, said it was a "landmark event" and an indication of "historical progress" on her blog, the paper reported.
The group, however, has alarmed some students’ parents. "I believe parents are just as worried about gays as they are about sexual liberation," Xue Yong, a parent said. "If anyone in my daughter’s university dares to give a lecture advocating new types of sexual relations and attacking traditional family values, I will sue the university," he said.
Homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness as late as 2001 in China, and despite growing tolerance in recent years, gay people remain under heavy pressure within traditional families to stay in the closet. The Rainbow Club follows the establishment of China’s first free clinic for gays, providing tests for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, in Beijing last week. A disease control centre in Beijing also opened the country’s first official online gay chatroom, local media reported in August, but few people had posted on it.
A Hidden Life: Being Gay in Rural China
by Rian Dundon
Interview and Translation by Lisa Sangoi
Editor’s Note: Homosexuality has gained some acceptance in metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing. But in rural China, as one young man explains, being gay is still a secret he must keep from his family. New America Media contributor Rian Dundon is a photographer working in China. More of his work can be seen at www.dunnflicks.com.
Xiao Wang fondles the Pisces charm draped around his neck as he drags on his cigarette. "I gave the same one to my boyfriend," he says as he smiles and leans back in his chair in his dorm room. Wang, a 21-year-old college student in a large sprawling city in south central China, chats comfortably and confidently about his life, his sexuality and his doubts and hopes for the future. But back in his small rural hometown, he lives with the burden of a secret that he must, at least for now, keep from his family.
"I cannot tell them," he explains. "My life, my money, my school — it is all from my family. I have no job. My father gives me everything. When I get a job and can live on my own, then, I think I must tell them. I want to tell them."
Xiao Wang waits for his friends in McDonalds. He cannot, however, afford to eat there himself. The Chinese government estimates that there are 30 million gay men and women in China today. The prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai held China’s first academic course in homosexuality last year, signaling the beginning of acceptance from both the Chinese government and China’s major urban areas. But head into the countryside or smaller provincial cities, and the term "gay" is met with either disgust or denial. Many people simply claim that homosexuality does not exist in China, or that it is a product of Western influence.
Wang says he has known he was gay since he was a boy, learning about his sexuality first from books and then later the Internet. He never told anyone in his small rural hometown in Henan province, and embraced his first chance to escape to college and city life. As is the custom in the countryside, his family chose one child to be educated while other siblings stayed at home. They sent Wang to study medicine at a school two provinces away.
New America Media has withheld Wang’s real name upon his request. At school, Wang is open about his sexuality and says he doesn’t care whether his coworkers and employers know, though he avoids coming out to them. Wang knows that he is not accepted by society at large, but he resents the way other homosexuals hide their sexuality.
"I have no gay friends because they are different from me. They are always afraid others will know they are gay. My boyfriend is not afraid. In that he is the same as me."
Wang smiles every time he mentions his boyfriend, who is still in high school. His boyfriend’s 60-hour school week means that the two only see each other infrequently and only on weekends. Despite this and the secret that they both keep from their families, Wang says they are in love. On the weekends Wang can be found at one of this city’s only gay bars, a secluded, windowless affair on the second floor of a shopping complex. If one didn’t know better, it might be mistaken for one of the second-rate karaoke houses frequented by the city’s working class.
But on weekends when the bar’s stage show heats up, it becomes apparent that the bar caters to an altogether different crowd. Word-of-mouth attracts young and old men to the spacious converted theater where they gather around small tables, sipping tea and beer and chatting loudly. Loners sit in the shadows, taking long pulls on their endless cigarettes while scanning the crowd.
Tonight things have taken a decidedly erotic turn as scantily clad male dancers swing around poles and descend upon the crowd to dole out lap dances to sheepish patrons. At this point Wang cannot contain his enthusiasm. He is grinning ear to ear and adjusting his seat to get a better view. On the whole the men here are polite and sober (most can’t afford the beer). The tone is one of communal cordiality, not sexual perusal. As Wang explains, "I don’t meet men in bars because the one you choose might be a bad one. Some of those bars have bad people in them."
Like many Chinese couples, Wang and his boyfriend met on a dating Web site. "On the Internet we can get to know each other. If we like each other we will meet in life." Xiao Wang watches T.V. in his dormitory. Back in Wang’s modest dorm room, he serves hot water and apologizes for not having any tea. Translated texts by Baudelaire and Schopenhauer sit beside his bed. Wang smiles knowingly and notes that they too were gay. Thick smoke from his cigarette stains the sterile blue walls of this hospital dormitory.
Wang opens a family photo album to show his rural upbringing and his smiling family. He leans back on the bed, speaking again of his family with a fondness that seems to put him at ease. "Though my mother is a farmer, she is very liberal, not like my father who is a doctor and conservative. My mother was born liberal as I was born gay," he says.
November 22, 2006
China opens first lesbian hotline
China has opened its first telephone support helpline for lesbians, state media has reported. The free service launched in Shanghai is staffed by lesbians trained in counselling and offers psychological help and support, Xinhua agency said. The initiative follows the success of a similar service for gay men in the country.
Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the Chinese authorities until 2001. Homosexuals suffered persecution during the Mao era, and correspondents say they still face frequent discrimination. "Many lesbians in China are pressured into marrying men and end up living miserable lives," sociologist Li Yinhe said.
China does not keep official statistics on homosexuality but the country’s health authority estimated there were 5 million to 10 million gay men at the end of 2004. Some experts believe the true figure is around 30 million.
Lesbianism the Chinese Way…Lalas in Beijing – Are you a “P” or a “T”?
There was no rainbow flag to point the way, nor a sign above the entrance of the old building. When the taxi driver dropped us off at the empty intersection, we were sceptical that we would find a bar, much less the Lesbian bar we were looking for. Perhaps the taxi driver had misunderstood our broken Chinese and drove us to the wrong part of town. Or perhaps Lesbian bars in Beijing were not so obvious to be found easily.
Fortunately, a glance around the corner revealed to us the entrance of Xixiangfang Bar (pictured below), one of four lesbian meeting points in Beijing. These places are not mentioned in general travel guides and, in a sense, do not “officially” exist.
|Meeting Point: Xixiangfang Bar|
Upon entry, we were immediately greeted by many curious looks from within. Foreign-looking women did not often stumble “lost” into Xixiangfang. We slipped into our seats silently, trying to digest our first venture into the Chinese lesbian scene. The atmosphere was very relaxed, hip and modern. Curious about the scene, we wanted to learn more about the life of Beijing lesbians. What followed in the next weeks were interviews and private talks which revealed to us the community and lifestyle of the Chinese lesbians surrounding us.
Tell me quick: Are you a “P”, “T” or…? A striking feature of the Chinese scene is the immediate division of women into either the “P” or “T” category. P stands for “Po”’, the Chinese word for wife, and T stands for “Tomboy”’. In fact, a question commonly asked in the first meeting is whether one identifies as a P or as a T. So what exactly is a P and a T?
The P/T dichotomy most closely mirrors the “femme” and “butch” categories familiar in the West. But there are key differences. A Chinese lesbian explains, “If you are a T, you have to give a lot of money to Ps. Ps are much rarer, they look like a ‘real woman’. Because they are rarer, they want to be treated like a princess. They know that they can also get men, and many other Ts, so Ps can do what they want.”
T or P?
Elisabeth Lund Engebretsen, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics (LSE) researching on homosexuality in China, sheds further light on the P/T dichotomy: “While I think that Ts are definitely lesbians, Ps are not necessarily. My impression is that some Ps are afraid of men and want to perhaps avoid or postpone marriage. Thus, being with a T woman is the golden middle-way – these Ps can play the ‘all-woman act’ to avoid adult responsibilities like paying for oneself”. However, it should be noted that many Chinese Ts are actually less categorical about what it means to be a T or a P. As Engebretsen points out, some lesbian relationships in China focus less on the stark division between sexual roles and financial responsibilities typical of the T and P stereotypes. In China, women who fall into neither the T nor P category are labelled as “Bu fen”, the undecided and inseparable ones who, amongst over things, pay for themselves.,
Another feature of lesbians in China is their self-label as “Lalas”. Lalas meet other lalas mainly via the internet or in lesbian hangouts (see summary at the end). Among these lesbian hangouts are shopping centres such as the one pictured on the left.
Internet Love Connection and Marriage Pressures
As there are no official lesbian organisations and no Christopher Street Day (or similar “Pride Week” celebrations) in China, the importance of the internet for the development of the Chinese lesbian scene is especially critical.
PROFILE: Jackie, freelancer, 30 years old (pictured on the right). Before the internet age, Jackie used to think that she was the only woman who felt attracted to other women. Today she admits that “if I hadn’t found the internet, I would have found a man”.
On the internet there are many chatrooms such as “lala club”, “lala shequ”, scene addresses and other lesbian groups. There are also marriage ads for pro-forma marriages between lesbian and gays.
Cass Wang, 27 years old, describes her girlfriend’s pressure to find a husband via the internet: “It sucks, but my girlfriend’s family is forcing her to marry. It is very common now in China. There are also lots of gay guys who need fake marriages, and with the internet it is easy to get in touch, so we are currently looking. But I wish she could marry me!” Indeed, many Chinese lesbians are under heavy pressure from their parents to find a husband. Moreover, of the lesbians that were interviewed, not a single woman had disclosed their sexual identity to her parents. Homosexuality within the family remains a big taboo. According to Engebretsen, “Many lalas are very reluctant to talk about their real-life situation about being pressured to marry by parents, and being more or less forced to live at home with their family until the time they are expected to marry. So there are often quite big discrepancies between the way lalas present themselves when they are on the scene and their real-life situation.”
Officially homosexuality in China is no longer forbidden. Since 1997, sodomy is no longer illegal and since 2001, homosexuality is no longer labelled as a mental sickness. Yet there are still many prejudices and obstacles against same-sex relationships. For example, all of the lesbians interviewed felt strongly against coming out at work: “It’s like a career suicide”.
A common perception between the Chinese and Western scenes is that sex between two women is seen as “attractive” by heterosexual men, whereas sex between two men is seen as “disgusting”. As one interviewee describes, “Two women usually don’t matter but two gay guys usually makes others sick”. In China, however, it is not so unacceptable for a married woman to have an extramarital affair with another woman.
In China, it seems, relationships between two women receive little critical attention; it is tolerated but is neither officially nor unofficially endorsed. One lesbian comments that, “In a sense, China is a heaven for gay and lalas as it’s quite normal to show public affection, such as holding hands and spending time together, even for men”. While the public and private acceptance of lesbians still lags behind many countries in Western Europe, the Chinese scene is undoubtedly more liberal than many other countries in the world. According to internal documents of the Chinese government and other studies, there are currently about 15 million homosexuals in China.1 Yet this number underestimates actual figures and the number is presumed to be growing. If one considers the worldwide population of 1.3 billion and assumes that potentially 10 percent of the population are lesbian and/or gay, the queer population in China would be close to 130 million. Even if a quarter of this population identified themselves as lesbians, this would amount to 32 million lesbians in China alone. One can only hope that all these Chinese lalas unite and visit Europe soon – we welcome you!
Scene and meeting points
Lonely Planet and other travel guides provide little to no coverage on the Beijing lesbian scene, often focusing on Hong Kong or Shanghai instead. To explore the Lala community in Beijing, one would need to rely on insider info or the following list in “(Magazine name added later)”.
Tips about lesbian Lala Bars and Meeting Points*
Nightlife – Top 3 Women bars in Beijing:
* Xixiangfang Bar (West Wing Bar): Open daily. Teahouse/Lounge. Courtyard especially recommended in summer. Location: Deshengmen Watch Tower Courtyard, central close to the Jishuitan subway station, 2nd North-east Ring Road, in the district of Houhai. (Tel +86 10 8208 2836)
* Feng Bar (Pipe Bar): Open Saturdays from 2pm. Young and trendy clientele with dance floor. Location: On Sanlitun Nanmen Road, 100 meters East of the Blue Zoo, Worker’s Stadium South Gate on Gongti Nanlu (Tel+86 10 6593 7756)
* Rainbow Bar (Caihong Bar): Open Fridays. Popular. Location: On Xingbalu (Starbar Street) close to an African bar called Kiri Kiri, off-road from Nurenjie (Women’s Street).
Websites and Meeting points
* China-National Info (in English): http://www.fridae.com/cityguides/ (Details about lesbian bars in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong) ; http://www.utopia-asia.com/womchin.htm (also lists Lesbian hangouts in Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Xian)
* Bejing Info: www.lalabar.com – All Events are listed here, but in Chinese.
* Hua Wie Shopping Center (??????): Daily lesbian meeting point, especially busy on weekends. An absolute hit – where else can one meet over 50 lesbians in a shopping center? Centrally located in Xi Dan. Best way is to look for the Food Mall on the eight floor of the Hua Wie Shopping Centre.
* Stand: July 2006
Genia K & Lisa Lucius (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/services/asylum/ric/documentation/CHN01001.htm (Reuters 7.7 2000)
December 10, 2006
Tibet, Now (non-gay background story)
by Joshus Kurlantzick–correspondent for The New Republic
IN front of one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, hundreds of pilgrims fall on the ground spread-eagled, prostrating themselves so forcefully their hands bleed from being smacked on the earth. Some have traveled on foot for months from hundreds of miles away, bowing toward Lhasa after every few steps. Several seem so overcome to have arrived at the Jokhang that they sob uncontrollably or stare into the temple as if entranced.
Then the trance snaps. Behind one of the pilgrims, a tourist climbs onto one of the Jokhang’s massive golden prayer wheels, pulls out a cellphone camera, and starts snapping.One pilgrim, a young Tibetan man, jumps to his feet and begins gesturing inside his long cloak, where some Tibetans traditionally carry a long, sharp knife. The tourist holsters his phone and walks backward, putting his hands up in universal signal of “I surrender.” But when the pilgrim leaves, the tourist starts snapping away again.
Once almost a synonym for remote, Tibet has in recent years experienced a surge of development and tourism, bringing cellphone cameras and tour leaders wielding megaphones to sites like the Jokhang. Tourism to Tibet is skyrocketing, a result of rising Chinese incomes, growing Chinese fascination with Tibetan Buddhism and easier access to the Roof of the World. This summer, Beijing unveiled an engineering marvel of a train line to Tibet. The train climbs to 16,000 feet, the highest of any railroad in the world, and workers had to build special features into the cars, like oxygen tanks for passengers gasping at such high altitudes.
“ I had to come here,” one Chinese tour guide tells me during my visit to Tibet this summer. “This is where I can make money.”
This tourism boom is only the beginning. Though in 2004 Tibet received some 1.2 million tourists, by 2020 Chinese officials estimate that 10 million visitors may come, potentially threatening conservation efforts. Unesco has warned that China is allowing the destruction of Lhasa’s traditional buildings.
For many Western travelers, the tourism bonanza has added to the urgency of getting to Tibet while they can still recognize its unique culture and fragile environment. Yet even as more foreigners consider visiting, Tibet is becoming more comfortable, with easier access for independent travelers and higher-end accommodations like Lhasa’s first boutique hotel, which opened this summer.
Lhasa, the historic capital of Tibet, has become the center of the development and tourism drive. In the sprawling newer section of Lhasa, cranes loom and hammers clatter, erecting boxy glass-and-steel shopping centers and fast food outlets so popular they employ bouncers, like elite nightclubs. In central Lhasa, Chinese tour groups pose with red-robed Tibetan monks, who look distinctly uneasy appearing in the photographs. Young Chinese hippies with wispy goatees gravitate to smoky Tibetan bars — for young Chinese traveling on a shoestring, remote Tibet has become their Goa.
Despite the development, once I walk into the Barkhor, the older Tibetan section of town, Lhasa still resembles a medieval city, suffused with the smell of yak butter, juniper and incense. In the Barkhor’s narrow, winding alleyways, flanked by mud-brick homes topped with prayer flags and churning with crowds, monks bless Tibetan children by blowing on their heads and crowds of pilgrims walk in circles around holy sites, murmuring to themselves as their eyes roll back into their heads. Porters hoist slabs of yak cheese on their backs or hack apart bloody sides of yak right on the sidewalk, leaving bones strewn in the gutters.
In the center of the Barkhor, I wander into the Jokhang Temple. Avoiding tour groups in the main sanctuary, I head into the back rooms, past warrior deities painted on the walls. In the back, I am alone with one Tibetan devotee, who spins a line of golden prayer wheels. Though murals on the Jokhang’s front walls have faded — during the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards attacked the Jokhang — in the back the mural details become clearer, and I can even make out goddesses’ long eyelashes.
Above the Barkhor stands the Potala Palace, traditional residence of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet. The 13-story-high Potala’s size and detail remain impressive. The exterior walls, constructed from mud and wood, are painted such a deep, rich crimson that from a distance they appear covered with plush carpet. A walking tour climbs through endless, labyrinthine throne rooms, side chapels and catacombs, emerging onto roofs topped with golden pagodas. In one chapel alone, cabinets hold more than 1,000 images of the Buddhist god of longevity; in the room housing the tomb of the eighth Dalai Lama, who died in 1804, his coffin glimmers with what is said to be 5,574 ounces of gold leaf, inlaid diamonds and pearls.
But the Potala feels empty, ghostly, a museum of a dead culture. In a room where Tibetan leaders once received religious teachings, a kettle still sits on a mantel, as if the current 14th Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese invasion, would be coming right back for tea. Few monks pray in the Potala, and most rooms lack residential furniture, giving visitors little idea of life before the Chinese takeover. Only near the end of the tour does one faded mural provide a glimpse of the past — of Lhasa crowded with monastic orders living in the hills surrounding the Potala, of a Potala swarming with monks.
The Potala exit sends me into a sea of vendors selling prayer beads. Though they are selling Tibetan objects of worship, most vendors seem to be Chinese migrants. “The Chinese tourism just allows migrants to take tourism jobs — Chinese businesspeople mass-produce Tibetan jewelry and they run the jewelry shops in the Barkhor,” says one Tibetan guide.
Still, some tourism specialists believe high-end travel to Tibet could empower Tibetans. This summer, Laurence Brahm, an American entrepreneur, opened House of Shambhala in Lhasa. The city’s first high-end boutique hotel, with elegant suites, a yoga center and a Tibetan crafts shop, it seeks to revive Tibetan arts and train Tibetans in tourism management.
After choosing to build in a traditional courtyard home that once housed a calligraphy school, Mr. Brahm employed a team of Tibetan restorers. They filled the rooms with antique hand-painted furniture and natural stone and wood floors, and outfitted the interior courtyard with prayer wheels and a small shrine. The design proved so authentic that, one morning, I wake to a fashion crew using House of Shambhala for an advertisement featuring an actor dressed as a Tibetan warrior in chain mail.
Other high-end operators have followed suit. One foreign nongovernmental organization helped found Dropenling Handicraft Development Center, a Lhasa initiative producing Tibetan crafts, like handbags, geared toward Western design sensibilities. Luxury travel agencies now run plush Tibet trips, like Imperial Tours’ high-end jaunt, or Power Places Tours’ trip, led by a guide, Gary Wintz, who was one of the first Westerners to live in Tibet in the 1950s.
The new train itself exudes luxury: In the plush four-bed sleeper berths, each bunk includes a personal television. When I board the train, I see many local travelers dressed up for the ride — Tibetan men wearing tattered pinstriped suits along with traditional high boots — though as we approach 16,000 feet, some Chinese train riders ruin their clothing by lying on the floor, moaning as their heads ache from the thin air. Like a cruel joke, a scrolling board constantly displays the current (towering) altitude, and a placid electronic commentator explains all the ways high altitude can damage your body if you are not in shape. “Dear guests, you better have done some sports before you came to Tibet,” the voice tells us.
The train soon will become even more luxurious. Next year, a company called RailPartners plans to introduce $1,000-per-night cars that will include private suites, butler service and haute cuisine.
It already ranks as one of the most impressive rail rides in the world. Snow-capped peaks shrouded in clouds loom over a plain studded with small stupas; the scope of the Tibetan vista makes America’s Big Sky country look small. Out the window, I watch nomads with long, flowing black hair herd flocks of woolly yaks across the rolling Tibetan grasslands. Seemingly amazed by the train, some nomads tether their horses next to tents and watch the cars roll by.
Train travel also can help get travelers away from the Lhasa region. After several days outside the city, I decide Tibet still retains its majesty. But while in the past travelers could just stumble upon that allure, today you have to work to find it.
Disembarking from the train, I drive to Namtso Lake, at 15,500 feet one of the highest lakes in the world. The fierce, high-altitude sun turns the Namtso water a glimmering bright turquoise, and I watch one crane soar over the lake. From its shores I can see the serrated Tangula range, which Heinrich Harrer crossed during the epic trek to Lhasa immortalized in his book “Seven Years in Tibet,” and where mountains top 21,000 feet. When I walk toward the lake, I understand Tibet’s environmental fragility — crunching under my feet, the ground is little more than a thin veneer of grass over cold hard tundra.
Returning from Namtso to central Tibet, I stop at Ganden Monastery, traditionally one of the most important in Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the empty Potala, Ganden feels like a living, working house of worship. Monks are everywhere — unloading trucks of food, debating Buddhist scripture by slapping their palms to emphasize points, joking with pilgrims camped nearby.
Sucking wind, I climb to the top of the monastery, nestled atop a mountain with panoramic views over the nearby Kyichu Valley. From the ridge, I can watch handicapped pilgrims crawling to touch Ganden’s sacred rocks. Near the apex of the mountain, a family performs a Tibetan sky burial, an ancient tradition that sometimes horrifies Westerners: Tibetans take the bodies of the deceased to a holy high point and leave them to be consumed by animals.
The majesty is even easier to find in culturally Tibetan areas outside Tibet province itself, officially known as the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Chinese government generally exerts less political pressure on monasteries outside the region, so they can practice traditional elements of Tibetan Buddhism with less interference.
On another trip, when I visit Labrang Monastery, a major site located in Gansu, a province near the autonomous region, I arrive in time for the annual harvest festival. Tibetan nomads in long black coats and gauchoesque wide-brimmed hats have ridden here from hundreds of miles away and now wait at the monastery gates. Within minutes, a senior abbot in a huge banana-shaped yellow hat appears at the gates, and the crowd of nomads surges forward, grabbing my arms and legs and pushing everyone inside the monastery. From the roof of the monastery, topped with paintings of grinning demons, young monks blow trumpets so big three men have to carry them, the rumble echoing back from the valley below. Other monks walk swiftly out of the monastery, beating drums and hand cymbals into a deafening racket. With no warning, they then unveil a series of enormous paper sculptures, light them on fire, and furiously stamp them to pieces, destroying evil spirits.
It’s a memory that comes back to me my last evening at House of Shambhala, as I climb a rickety ladder to the rooftop restaurant, which boasts views over the Barkhor, and watch the sun set over the Potala. Because of the sightlines from the Shambhala roof, I can stare directly at the Potala without seeing any of the sprawling, ugly newer part of Lhasa. For a moment, I can imagine the Lhasa from that Potala mural — a city teeming with spiritual passions, truly cut off from the rest of the world.
The best route is through Chengdu, a city in Sichuan Province in southwestern China. You can book flights to Chengdu from the United States (fares from New York begin at about $1,500), but you need an agent in Chengdu to arrange flights from Chengdu to Lhasa (about $425), and to get you the Tibet travel permit that is required for foreign visitors. Most agents can obtain a permit for you before you arrive if you e-mail them scanned copies of your passport and Chinese visa. Sim’s Cozy Guesthouse in Chengdu (86-28-8691-4900; www.gogosc.com) has years of experience arranging Tibet permits and air tickets to Tibet.
You can also get to Chengdu by flying to Hong Kong or Bangkok and then getting connecting flights to Chengdu with carriers like Dragonair (www.dragonair.com) or Thai Airways International (www.thaiairways.com). In August, I paid roughly $540 for the round-trip Thai flight from Bangkok to Chengdu.
If you want to see Tibet on a group tour, try Tenzin Bhagen, a Tibetan-American guide who customizes trips (www.inspiredyoga.com/retreats/tibet.htm). Wild China (86-10-6465-6602; www.wildchina.com), Imperial Tours (888-888-1970; www.imperialtours.net) and Power Places Tours (800-234-8687; www.powerplacestours.com) are also good possibilities.
The best time to visit Tibet is between June to September. Some hotels and restaurants close in the winter, commonly reopening in April.
Where To Stay
Many hotels set their rates in dollars as well as yuan, the Chinese currency. Most hotels do not accept credit cards, but ATMs at the Bank of China in Lhasa accept most American bank cards.
In Lhasa, I stayed at House of Shambhala (7 Jiri Erxiang; 86-10-6402-7151; www.houseofshambhala.com). In addition to the stunning décor, rooms offer free high-speed Internet access. I paid $75 per night for a large suite, breakfast included. I also stayed several nights at the Mandala Hotel (31 South Barkhor Street; 86-891-633-8940), a spartan place offering rooms with a bed, a TV and few other amenities; it has views of the Jokhang Temple. I paid 188 yuan (about $24 at 8 yuan to the U.S. dollar) for a single, without breakfast. Like many inexpensive hotels, the Mandala will not take phone reservations.
Near Labrang Monastery, I stayed in the Labrang Hotel (eastern end of Renmin Xi Jie; 86-941-712-1849, though the phone frequently goes unanswered), a modern Chinese structure in the middle of the nearby town of Xiahe. I paid 150 yuan for a single, without breakfast.
For trips to Namtso Lake, many travelers stock up on camping equipment in Lhasa, and then camp near Tashi Dor monastery.
Popular treks include the routes around Mount Kailash, a sacred peak in western Tibet, and between Ganden Monastery and Samye Monastery in central Tibet. A travel agency can arrange Tibet treks and obtain the necessary permits for trekking. Many travelers recommend Lhasa-based Tibet Wind Horse Adventure (86-891-683-3009; www.windhorsetibet.com).
Where To Eat
Tibetan cuisine, born in the harsh climate and limited resources, will never rank among the world’s finest; travelers visiting Tibetans’ homes will wind up choking down hunks of yak meat and tea full of salty yak butter. But Lhasa offers upscale interpretations of traditional food at places like Mayke Ame (southeast corner of the Barkhor; 86-891-632-4455), a cafe where you can have a meal of yak yogurt and local mushrooms with spicy sauce for about 40 yuan.
Lhasa also has numerous Nepali and Chinese restaurants. Dunya Restaurant (86-891-633-3374), next to the Yak Hotel, ranks as the finest of the Western places, crowded with local expats eating towering yak burgers and specials like chicken satay. Dinner cost me 85 yuan. For a more unusual option, A Li Lang Barbecue City (next to the Dungcuo International Youth Hostel on Beijing Road; 86-891-691-0148) features fiery Korean-Chinese cooking like kimchi-infused soups, and has an English menu. Dinner cost me 40 yuan.
Outside Lhasa, choices will be slimmer.
If you are camping or trekking, buy canned goods in Lhasa’s well-stocked supermarkets. Most smaller Tibetan towns now have Sichuan restaurants catering to Chinese migrants — look for Sichuan hotpot places where customers are dipping meats and vegetables into steaming pots.
Try to spend an evening at a nangma, a dance hall where singers belt out traditional Tibetan tunes set to thundering modern drum tracks, and patrons toss back bottle after bottle of local beer.
Tibet’s unique brand of Buddhism and breathtaking scenery have inspired many films that include Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” and “Seven Years in Tibet,” starring Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer, whose book was the basis of the movie.
Important recent books include “Tibet, Tibet” by Patrick French, which compares modern-day Tibet with the myths surrounding the country. The Web site www.phayul.com, based outside Tibet, keeps an extensive daily chronicle of Tibet-related news.
December 20, 2006
China Moves To Thwart Foreign Gay Adoptions
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Beijing – The Chinese government is preparing to bar gays from overseas from adopting Chinese children under new guidelines about to be made official according to US private adoption agencies. The government has not announced the changes but the US agencies, which specialize in foreign adoptions said Wednesday they were informed of the move by government officials.
Under the changes people are unmarried, over 50, or obese would be barred from adopting.
One American agency said about 25 percent of its adoptions were of Chinese children, but the agency did not say how many of those were by gay prospective parents. The changes in the system were revealed by Adoption International Mission and Families Thru International Adoption. While many American lesbians wishing to have children use in vitro fertilization gay men usually adopt, and many have chosen children from China.
Both US agencies said they were told the changes would come into effect May first. A Chinese government spokesperson while declining to confirm the reports said that with the industrialization of China families have become more economically secure and as a result the number of children being placed for adoption has been dropping. Last year Washington approved more than 7,000 visas for children being adopted from China.