July 5, 1997
After the Changeover: The Future of Gay Hong Kong
by Richard Ammon
On Thrusday June 26, 1997 a brand new gay bar opened in Hong Kong. Four days later the Brtiish colony reverted to Chinese rule, a system of government well known for its repressive manners and a dismal record of human rights abuses. What’s wrong with this picture–or right with it?
Depending on what you read or want to believe about China, the future of Hong Kong’s gay community is up for grabs.
A month ago a press report came across the wires that two gay bars inmajor cities in China had been raided by the police and the patrons strip searched before they were questioned and released.
This week an item was sent to hkqueers discussion group from a happycamper (westerner) in Shanghai: "I think Eddie’s Place in Shanghai is one of the friendliest gay bars I’ve been to in Asia. Maybe because everyone still parties together there’s not too much attitude. The crowd’s a mix of locals, expats, Taiwanese and Hong Kong guys. Very friendly, helpful and easy to make friends. Apparently they’ve just moved into new digs with triple the space of their old place."
It seems the future of gay Hong Kong is a matter of interpretation rather than prediction. In the flood of 8000 reporters sent here to probe the nostrils of this churning megacity during its change of loyalty from the Queen to the Chairman, a few gays journalists have show up on the doorsteps of gay bars, clubs, discos and saunas as well as in the living room (as I have) of lesbigay residents here with the usual bevy of future-questions.
Ask Paul Hicks, one of four owners of the new Flex bar in the hyper-trendy Lan Kwai Fong area about his concern for the future of his business: "what’s there to worry about. They have gay bars in China and none of them are closing," he delcared with confidence as he showed me around his new venue. Within five hundred feet there are five other gay owned bars, discos and restaurants. These are only the tip of the gay community here. At Propaganda just down the street, the music pounds louder than any human ear should endure. Around the corner, jangled nerves can be soothed with food and drink from such restaurants as Wyndom Thai Food or Post 1997. Or more music at Zip. "If there’s any question, we can turn the place into a karaoke bar" laughed one patron busy juggling a drink at the weekly tea dance at Club 1997.
The streets of this area are densely packed with attitude and bodies evenings and weekends reflecting the popularity of this slice of life. Gay bars, straight bars, mixed bars; It’s all here in one small four-block area, and no one seems to care what you do in bed. (Just getting ‘someone’ there is probably more of a common purpose).
Young. Professional. Fashionably dressed. Cigaretted and cocktailed. The cafes and bars are so small that most of the jolly-makers are out in the streets. The occasional bazaar costume (a union jack made into a dress) or drag queen (Robin Adams in scarlet and sequins) ruffles the crowds into further amusement or laughter..
So what’s the gay future here?
Part of the answer depends on who is asked–and on how much they have to lose. Ask the handsome United Airlines flight attendant (from Brazil) based in Hong Kong and he thinks little about the ‘scene’ here. "It’s a fun place to come on the weekend." Ask a club owner and the future is given a robust vote of confidence: "This is Hong Kong. Things change here all the time…Hong Kong thrives on small business; entrpreneurs make this city what it is."
Robin Adams, an activist, business man, drag queen, partner and gay dad. He’s staying put. He and partner Sam have started a consulting business and adopted two children. "This is our home. It’s very exciting here. We are going to watch the new legislature to make sure they don’t back track on any of the civl rights gains of the past several years. This is definitely the time to stay. Like Martin Lee says, if we don’t continue to speak up for our liberties they could well erode away in silence."
Ask Julian Chan and he will tell you he is proud to be Chinese but "when seeing Chris Patten checking out from the Governor House, when seeing the flag of Britain coming down, when hearing the "God Save the Queen", all a sudden I wanted to cry. All my friends said that felt sad, too. After all, we are the generation that was born and grew up in British colonist ruling. The British colony legacy is part of our childhood, part of our growth, part of our life. This is something that main land Chinese and those old communist in Beijing wouldn’t understand."
There are as many answers as there are personal and professional investments. It is normal to imagine the future in the form of our hope.
So the future may be a matter of power politics and big money, but for now the Beijing-appointed leaders are taking pains to assure worried citizens that civil liberties will be respected–as long as they don’t create disruptive confrontation with the needs of a civil society.
Some of the strategy for the gay community here must be shaped toward survival (doing good business and keeping politically quiet) and some toward active lobbying and legal demonstrations for equal opportunity and legal protection against discrimination. The future is in both of these gestures. In order to be active we must be practical. Hong Kong’s gay community is well educated, adaptable and ever mindful of making a good buck–and it knows the discrimination it faces. They can play both games well; they know how to look fabulous–and work a deal.
Pro-Democracy Forces Win Big in Hong Kong Election
by Mark Landler
Hong Kong – In the first election in Hong Kong since China regained control of this former British colony, voters turned out in record numbers on Sunday to elect a new legislature, defying torrential rains and returning to office pro-democracy politicians ousted by Beijing after the handover.
Several hours after the polls closed Sunday evening, Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission announced that 53.2 percent of the territory’s 2.7 million eligible citizens had voted for the Legislative Council. That shatters the previous voter turnout record of 39 percent in Hong Kong’s first-ever direct elections, in 1991. Given the stormy weather, which washed out several polling stations, pollsters had been predicting that the turnout rate might fall below 30 percent. "This is a tremendous vote for democracy from our people," said an ebullient Martin Lee, HongKong’s most prominent pro-democracy politician, whose party won at least nine of the 20 directly elected seats in the Legislative Council and about half of thepopular vote. "It would be wise if the Chinese took heed."
The Chinese government disbanded Hong Kong’s last freely elected Legislative Council on July 1, hoursafter the handover, because it objected to changes made in the electoral laws by the British governor, Christopher Patten. It substituted a Provisiona lLegislature made up of pro-Beijing politicians, which was widely perceived by people here as little more than a rubber stamp for China. Under the terms of Hong Kong’s Constitution, called the Basic Law, new elections for the Legislative Council were scheduled for 1998.
The voters resurrected many of the lawmakers, including Lee, who were shunted into political exile by Beijing last year. The three main pro-democracy parties will end up with about 16 of the 20 directly elected seats in the 60-seat Legislative Council, according to an exit poll of voters conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Final results will be available later Monday. "What this means is that people have overwhelmingly rejected the notion of an appointedlegislature," said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of government at Baptist University and the director of the Hong Kong Transition Project. "They’ve come out in massive numbers in favor of direct elections."
Although Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has 60 seats, 40 of those are chosen by an election committee and other indirect means that tend to favor pro-business or pro-Beijing interests. The arcane rules provoked strident criticism from Lee and other democratic politicians, who said they would baffle voters and reduce the number of seats gained by pro-democracy parties. But it was their opponents who were taking their lumps Monday. One of the most ardent pro-Beijing candidates, Tsang Yok Sing of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, seemed likely to lose his race for a seat in Kowloon, according to exi tpolls. An outspoken pro-business candidate, Allen Lee, was on the verge of losing in his New Territories district. On Hong Kong Island, three of the four seats will be held by a pro-democracy candidate, one of whom will be Martin Lee. In Kowloon, Lee’s Democratic Party won more than 60 percent ofthe popular vote.
Despite their robust showing, the three pro-democracy parties noted that together, they won more than 70 percent of the popular vote, but will end up with fewer than one-third of the seats. "Certainly, the high turnout is not an endorsement of the system, which everyone knows is deeply flawed," Lee said. The politicians have their pet theories about why so many voters turned out, but most agree that Hong Kong has had an extraordinary run of bad luck since the handover to Chinese rule.
Many people believe that voters are voicing their frustration with how the Hong Kong government has handled issues ranging from the Asian currency crisis to the outbreak of bird flu to the creeping red tide in Hong Kong harbor. Last week, the government announced tha tunemployment reached 3.9 percent between February and April — the highest rate in 14 years and fresh evidencethat Hong Kong cannot avoid the malaise of its Asian neighbors. "They’ve got to do something about unemployment," said a 22-year-old college student who would only give his name as Yip, as he hurried out of a polling place in the Wanchai district. "At least they can represent our voices in dealing with the government."
In fact, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has historically played second fiddle to the strong executive branch. It cannot introduce legislation without the agreement of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. But it can block legislation and put senior government officials under scrutiny, as it did recently when it grilled Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung about why she did not prosecute a politically well-connected newspaper publisher in a circulation fraud case.
On the surface, it is easy to believe few people in Hong Kong care much about the election. While the candidates trolled endlessly for votes — papering the streets with posters and, in the case of Lee, life-size cardboard cutouts — few people here debate politica lissues. Some said they went to the polls to receive a laminated commemorative card, which the government gave to anyone who voted.
But this election has ramifications for both Hong Kong and China — a fact which was not lost onvoters. For China, it is one more chance to demonstrate that it will not meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs. For Hong Kong, it is an opportunity to show China that it wil lcling to an independent identity. "The election is important because China is autocratic and Hong Kong shouldn’t become like China,"said Chan Ling Ki, a housewife who lives in Wanchai. Whatever else Sunday’s turnout shows, DeGolyer said, it may demolish an old myth. "I’m really hoping that we can finally burythis completely wrong idea that Hong Kong people don’t care about politics," he said.
June 3 1999
First gay pride day to be held at boat festival
by Alex Lo
Gay activists are to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival on June 18 as the first ever designate the public holiday this year as gay pride day in Hong Kong. Organisers will celebrate Tongzhi Day as part of a two-week series of parties, seminars and film screenings on gay and alternative culture in Hong Kong starting on Saturday.
Tongzhi is the Cantonese word for comrade which has come to mean gays and lesbians.
Organiser Roddy Shaw Kwok-wah said the Dragon Boat Festival was chosen because it celebrated the Chu. We don’t want to take a dynasty poet and confrontational patriot Qu Yuan, whose approach, but more works were among the low-key cultural first to address activities and seminars homosexual themes. to raise awareness of gay culture
”Traditional folklore attributed Qu’s self-sacrifice to his love of country, butthere has been a well-established literary theory that argues he was reallydriven by his love for the emperor,” Mr Shaw said.
However, there would be no public parade on Tongzhi Day, Mr Shaw said, and most key activities would take place on other days in the next two weeks. ”We don’t want to take a confrontational approach, but more low-key cultural activities and seminars to raise awareness of gay culture,” he said.
More than 20 gay and lesbian groups will participate in the events.The chairman of the Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture, Van Lau, declined to comment on the appropriateness of Tongzhi Day.
02 September 2000
Gay Lobby Presses Legco for Rights Laws
One of the largest minority groups in Hong Kong lobbies Legco candidates for equal opportunities, no discrimination and positive societal education.
After keeping out of the public eye for decades, 15_local Gay and_lesbian organizations have teamed up to make a strong lobbying drive for this month’s Legislative Council election. They have set up a joint taskforce to ask for candidates’ support for their requests.
The groups have sent all candidates a questionnarie to answer, and have also asked them to endorse a three-point gay rights platform. It says that
(1). homosexuals should enjoy_equal_opportunities in terms of education, culture, law and family status as well as social and political rights;
(2). the Government should protect_homosexuals from_discrimination over housing, work, education, services, use of facilities and the selection of partners; and
(3). the administration should provide more resources and devise a policy to educate_the_public to accept and respect gays and lesbians.
As part of the lobbying drive, the groups have mobilized volunteers to telephone or turn up at radio and television election forums, to ask questions and raise public concern over the problems they face. They also tried to arrange meetings with those candidates.
Alice Tso Shing-yuk, a non-affiliated candidate standing for the Health Services constituency, is one of those who has listened to the voice of the minority group. "I think they are no different from others. These people are smart and reasonable, and I can see their intelligence. Other candidates should be more open-minded and listen to the voice of different groups. A member of the legislature has to deal with all issues in society regardless of which constituency provides his or her seat. If all we need to take care of are the interests of our own profession, we may as well just work as a union leader.
Law Yuk-kai, director of Human Rights Monitor, said the situation was sad. These candidates are supposed to be the elite of society, but they consider the basic rights of individuals as a sensitive issue. Under the existing political system, those standing for the Election Committee and the functional constituencies would not care too much about these minority groups. They do not see them as vote-winners. They only care about the interests of their own profession.
The candidates had apparently underestimated the power_and_influence that the group has with regard to the election. The taskforce said they would publish a booklet on Monday to make public theresults of their lobbying drive and to advise the gay community on how to cast their votes. According to government figures in 1996, about 6 to 10 per cent of the population in Hong Kong were homosexuals. We do have a lot of votes and we are everywhere in society. Of course, gays and lesbians should vote for someone who will support and fight for us. Otherwise why do we need to vote?
December 13, 2000
Majority against gay rights law
by Kong Lai-Fan
It is not the right time to introduce a law banning discrimination against homosexuals, due to a lack of majority support, a senior government official said yesterday.
Concerned groups had called for the legislation to be brought in, said Leo Kwan Wing-wah, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs. Mr Kwan said the community had not supported an anti-discrimination law on sexual orientation during a consultation exercise carried out in 1996. He told Legco’s home affairs panel that although the public had become much more open to homosexuality, "it takes time". He added: "The Government cannot impose any social values on the public."
He said discrimination against people of differing sexual orientation could be erased through education. Homosexual concern groups and several religious organisations have said legislation is an effective way to ease bias.
Noel Chan, of Rainbow Action, complained that homosexuals had suffered discrimination. "My partner and I cannot apply for public housing like other spouses," he said.
Rose Wu, director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, said: "Unless the Government is determined to pass legislation, the pattern of discrimination against sexual minorities will not change and will become even more ingrained."
May 7, 2001
Gay group clashes with police
by Eli Lau
More than 40 gay activists clashed with police yesterday when they tried to storm a Red Cross function, accusing the organisation of discriminating against male homosexuals.
The clashes began about noon at a 2001 World Red Cross Day ceremony at Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay. While Secretary for Health and Welfare Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong and Red Cross officials were delivering speeches on the ground floor of the shopping centre, the gay activists waved a large banner from the first floor and threw anti-discrimination leaflets down to the public gallery.
They condemned the Red Cross for rejecting male homosexuals and sex-trade workers as blood donors and for requiring males to answer questions concerning sexual orientation and sex life before giving blood. About 10 police officers and security guards were forced to form a human barricade to stop the protesters from going downstairs and approaching Hong Kong Red Cross chairman Yang Ti-liang and Dr Yeoh as they were about to leave the event.
While the angry protesters tried to break through police lines, the pair disappeared through a back door without responding to the group’s complaints. Group spokesman Tommy Chen Noel blasted the Red Cross for its "policy of discriminating against a minority”.
Red Cross blood-donor guidelines exclude someone from giving blood "if you are a man who has had sex with another man” or if "you have ever been paid for sex”.
"We urge the Red Cross to refer to the international AIDS-prevention guidelines and just exclude blood that really has a possibility to spread diseases,” Mr Chen said. "Homosexuality is not a problem if people adopt safe sexual behaviour.”
The group challenged the Red Cross to explain how it dealt with heterosexuals who had many sex partners and did not practise safe sex. Red Cross secretary Christine Fang Meng-sang said the guidelines were set out in accordance with international standards and there were no plans to amend them at this stage.
"We welcome people doing good things by blood donation, but we are also responsible for protecting the patients who receive blood transfusions,” she said. "How do you define unsafe sexual intercourse? I think everyone has a different perception.”
The group has been pushing for the guidelines to be changed for about six months. The Equal Opportunities Commission says anti-discrimination laws prohibit only discrimination on the basis of gender, disability and family status, not sexual orientation.
19 August 2003
HK Catholic church refers gay protest to police
Hong Kong’s Catholic Church Monday lodged a complaint with police and called for firm government action after gay activists disrupted a mass to protest its stance against same-sex marriages. A small group of activists forced their way onto a cathedral altar Sunday and demanded an apology for an article published in a Catholic newspaper last week backing the Vatican’s denouncement of same-sex marriage as "immoral". "We have written to the police to complain," said Catholic Father Louis Ha.
"We want the government to take concrete action to show the religious sector that their right to hold religious activities free from interference will be protected," he said. The church also demanded apology from the activists. It accused the police of handling the matter in a "sloppy manner" Sunday, saying they had arrived late after being called to the cathedral and had not taken immediate action because no property had been destroyed.
Catholic Church head in Hong Kong, Bishop Joseph Zen, said the protesters had been unreasonable and should discuss the matter with it. The activists were from the Rainbow Action group, among the more radical gay rights groups in Hong Kong.
October 7, 2003
Gay Married Couple Takes On Hong Kong Government
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff Hong Kong
A gay couple who flew from Hong Kong to Toronto last month to marry are fighting to have their union recognized at home. Roddy Shaw and Nelson Ng are preparing to take the Hong Kong government to court to win tax status as a married couple. They said Monday that the government was breaking its own laws by not recognizing their marriage. Hong Kong law states that overseas marriages should be recognized here for taxation purposes.
The couple would receive significant tax benefits if they filed a joint income tax return. But the territory’s Inland Revenue Department has advised the couple in writing that the government does not recognize same-sex marriages. "This is extremely unfair," said Shaw. "Why do other couples in this society enjoy protection and social benefits, but not same-sex couples?" A spokesperson for Hong Kong’s bureau of Financial Services and the Treasury said that Hong Kong law recognizes marriages from elsewhere, but only betyween a man and a woman.
July 27, 2004
Quest for gay equality in Hong Kong
News has filtered out to Hong Kong’s gay and lesbian communities that the government is preparing to openly debate the rights of homosexuals – cause for quiet celebration within a minority community which feels the bite of public discrimination more than most.
On the agenda is an ordinance barring discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Also up for discussion are issues relating to taxation, health and education, as well as possible recognition of committed same-sex partnerships.
To find out what Hongkongers think, a survey will be launched later this year or early next year to test public opinion on attitudes towards homosexuals and the need for an anti-discrimination law. The government wants to known whether societal attitudes have change since a 1995-96 survey, which showed widespread opposition to a sexual orientation discrimination ordinance.
Stephen Fisher, Deputy Secretary of the Home Affairs Bureau, said nothing would happen if the survey did not show Hong Kong attitudes had changed over the past decade. "I don’t think the Hong Kong SAR government will try to impose something like this on the community without at least 50 per cent support," Mr Fisher said.
A successful survey will lead to a consultation paper and, if there is sufficient support within the Legislative Council, a bill will be put forward. Gay activist Chung To, of the Chi Heng Foundation, said: "I am quite confident we have over half [the community’s] support. But while public opinion is important, protecting the rights of minorities should not be left to the majority to decide. That is the government’s job.
"This survey is long overdue," said civil rights lawyer Roddy Shaw, who heads the non-governmental organisation Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities. "The community at large has changed its attitudes and it is important the government see that change," he said, cautioning against the use of biased or leading questions in the survey. The Polytechnic University conducted a survey in May, 2002, which found up to 80 per cent of respondents supported measures to extend equal rights to homosexuals.
"If the survey is done in a fair and comprehensive way, I think it will have a positive outcome," Mr To said.
The recognition of same-sex partners would have widespread ramifications for Hong Kong law, not the least in the areas of housing, health and taxation. Mr Fisher said the government was open to discussing all issues and, to that end, would launch a sexual minorities forum "before the end of the year", modelled on the existing forums on human rights and ethnic minorities. "We will invite all the NGOs and other organisations interested in the subject to sit together and tell us what are their problems, and we will let them know what we think," he said.
Mr Fisher, a career civil servant, moved to the Home Affairs Bureau as deputy secretary in February, 2002, from Planning and Lands, and took over the human rights portfolio in September last year. He steered the race discrimination policy paper to the Executive Council and is confident that ordinance will become law by mid-2005.
Gay activists have described him as "reasonably open-minded" and "quite capable of handling human rights issues which are at odds with the government", a man who "doesn’t shy away from difficult issues", and "a driving force behind policy". Central to the forum concept is the involvement of relevant government departments and bureaus, which will be directly involved in resolving problems. Mr Fisher said he would "not let the other government bureaus hide behind Home Affairs. They will have to defend themselves".
Mr Fisher has also effectively put Hong Kong’s gay and lesbian community on notice. "Like any political game, someone has to act as advocate and the government can only do so much," he said. "There must be a group of people who are prepared to speak up for their rights, because there are groups who will speak against them. In this fight for equal rights, people have to come out and stand up and be counted."
A public forum will require representatives from groups otherwise shielded by the relative anonymity of writing letters to "come out", something most gays and lesbians in Hong Kong find extremely hard to do. Mr Fisher’s warning signalled that little progress could be expected by the gay community if the task was left to the same handful of activists. The make-up of the coming Legislative Council will also play a major role in the ordinance’s fate. "I don’t know how much support we will have if eventually we want to initiate a new policy initiative," said Mr Fisher. "So far only a very small group of legislators has been talking about this."
He said it required at least 30 votes to get a bill through Legco. "And if we don’t have 30 votes it doesn’t really matter what we think … and that 30 votes will very much depend on community attitudes," he said. Gay groups will be asking each candidate in the September Legco elections for their position on sexual orientation discrimination, as well as same-sex marriage and age of consent, which is 21 for homosexuals and 16 for heterosexuals. A "report card" on each candidate will be released at a press conference in coming weeks.
The key issue in any debate about gay rights in Hong Kong will likely be the question of recognising same-sex couples in a committed relationship. Figuring prominently will be the case of Roddy Shaw and his partner, Nelson Ng, who want the Inland Revenue Department to recognise their marriage in Toronto last year under Canadian law and grant them the spousal tax rebate.
Mr Fisher knows this is a potential time bomb. Mr Shaw and Mr Ng fully expect their case to end up before the Court of Final Appeal. "If Roddy Shaw … and Nelson Ng win in court, then they will have won the war," he says. "If the court says what we are doing now is wrong, we will change our ways to comply with the law.
"But having said all that, we strongly believe the law is on our side." That is, marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. "We are not saying that we are not sympathetic to the situation of same-sex couples who have been living together for a very long time in genuine domestic arrangements, who are not able to enjoy the benefits of a married couple," he said.
"They cannot apply for a married couple allowance for their dependant partner; they cannot apply for public housing on the basis of their lifelong relationship; a partner of such a union cannot sign on behalf of the other partner in case of medical emergencies.
"All this we need to look at. The question basically is: do we go for a form of same-sex marriage or do we go for another approach; that is, recognise same-sex unions and provide certain rights and benefits to them?"
Mr Fisher said recent cases in the US and Canada "have rung alarm bells and we are looking at our taxation legislation and our marriage law to see if someone married abroad and bringing to Hong Kong a foreign marriage certificate, whether we can still deny them the marriage couple allowance". But, ultimately, "there is tremendous opposition". He cited churches, religious groups and the teaching profession.
Mr Fisher believed Hong Kong had changed over the past 10 years. A decade ago "people did not think there was racial discrimination in Hong Kong and did not support racial discrimination legislation". "Now that is all changed. People now accept that as a modern society, as a world city, we need to have anti-racial discrimination legislation.
"But if you talk to people about legislation against sexual orientation, they come up with very strong moral arguments. They really, genuinely, believe we shouldn’t recognise homosexuals or same-sex marriage. It is an ethical, moral thing in this society." But Chung To said equal rights for Tongzhi [homosexuals] was not a moral issue. "It is about treating people fairly and equally," he said. "We are not asking for special privileges. We are asking for equal treatment."
What the Hong Kong government seems intent on avoiding is the acrimony evident in the US, which has pitted city against state, and state against the federal government, prompting moves led by US President George W. Bush to amend the US Constitution and ban same-sex marriage nationwide. Activists like Chung To are moved to ask if Hong Kong can claim to be a world city with a fair society "if gays are so blatantly discriminated against".
"If you are a gay Harvard MBA, Hong Kong is not a place you want your company to send you to," he said. Still, he conceded there was some cause for celebration. "After five years of talking to the government and being told the community is not ready, at least we’re getting a new survey. That’s a start."
Exploring Hong Kong–Travel Story
Hong Kong is not what you expect. It is not what anyone expects. Whether a first time visitor or veteran traveler to the city, odds are, your Hong Kong experience will be limited to the bustling urban areas, but that is like thinking Times Square is all there is to Manhattan. It is a well known image: Hong Kong harbor filled with enough watercraft that you can envision walking boat deck-to-boat deck from Hong Kong island across to Kowloon, without ever getting wet. The two sides of the city teem with shoppers and residents are packed dozens to the square inch. Hundreds of neon signs compete for space over narrow streets as the clamor of the city never ceases, never sleeps.
This is, indeed, Hong Kong, but if you stop there you miss the best the city has to offer. Forty percent of Hong Kong is actually set aside as green space; undeveloped, uncrowded, open nature areas on 234 islands and in the mainland New Territories make up the true beauty of this destination. Get outside the city, beyond the cacophony and paralyzing traffic, and the real Hong Kong unfolds, beautifully.
A good friend of mine, an Australian CEO who does regular business in Hong Kong, describes the city. "It is a ridiculous mix: old and new, Asian and British, filthy rich and filthy poor. I saw the perfect example when I was last there. An ancient woman, 450 years old if she’s a day, hunched over, almost bent in two, dragging a pile of collapsed cardboard boxes across the road. Meanwhile a young, stunning, coiffed-to-the-teeth debutante in a banana yellow Rolls Royce was tossing her hair with one hand while leaning on the horn with the other perfectly manicured hand in the hope of hurrying the old woman along.
THAT is Hong Kong." The dichotomy between the extremes that exist here is truly staggering. Even tourism is about opposites. Western and Japanese visitors seem to have bottomless pockets for top flight hotels and lavish meals, while more than 50 percent ofthe tourist trade is from Mainland China. Most Chinese visitors’ priorities tend to be on shopping and not creature comforts, so they bring their own food and stay in tiny rooms in guesthouses and rundown rooming houses. It makes for some of the most fascinating people watching I’ve ever had.
Cathay Pacific made the trip half way round the world significantly easier with direct New York to Hong Kong flights, and the service and food are both a step up from most U.S. Carriers. Once in Hong Kong, if your schedule allows for further exploration, the "All Asia Pass" lets you travel to seventeen Asian cities from your main hub (in this case, Hong Kong) for $1099.
Arriving in the smooth and efficient Hong Kong International Airport is trouble free unless you are searching for an ATM machine. Since the SARS epidemic, futuristic infrared temperature scanners check every passenger as you walk past to see if you are running a fever. Surgical masks hide the faces of the uniformed nurses ready to diagnose, treat, and potentially transport symptomatic travelers to medical facilities for further testing and questionnaires to try and trace contacts.
After clearing the sci-fi scene of medical scrutiny, dozens of potential drivers, some licensed some not, will meet you and offer to take you the 30 minutes into Kowloon, or the 45-minutes to Hong Kong island. If you go with a gypsy cab, be sure to agree on a price before the ride starts. You should be able to get to most hotels for about US$40. The Airport Express train is quick and spotless (as is all rail service in Hong Kong) and saves money, with a one way trip costing less than twelve dollars. When you slide into a taxi, and you likely will on several occasions during your stay, please note that Hong Kong’s seatbelt laws include backseat passengers and are strictly enforced. A cab driver may refuse to pull away from the curb until you’ve buckled up, and with language barriers, take it from me, it may be quite a game of charades before you figure out what the hold up is.
A word about finding your way-before leaving your hotel, always have addresses of the places you seek translated into Chinese for cab drivers. Street names are rarely direct translations of English and many cab drivers will be unfamiliar with the English names of any but the most popular hotels and landmarks.
Hong Kong is a city in which skyscrapers earn their grandiose name as a low-hanging haze regularly obscures the top stories of the tallest buildings. The pollution is startling: brown and opaque, all the things you wish air wasn’t. The feel of the architecture and geography is all sharp angles-transitions are non-existent. Towering buildings abut one-story temples. Victoria Peak rises too quickly, and excepting the minimal flat plane of Happy Valley, no matter your relative elevation you are likely to get vertigo from looking up or down.
The city center is split in two by the always busy and tremendously turbulent Victoria Harbor that divides Hong Kong Island to the south and the Kowloon Peninsula to the North. The Star Ferry is a main access route between the two, though cars and taxis make use of three perpetually clogged tunnels.
Kowloon side is home to the major shopping and custom clothing zone Tsimshatsui, and the about to be cool but currently crowded and edgy Mong Kok. Hong Kong Island is divided into several neighborhoods, the ones most likely to cross the visitor’s radar are Causeway Bay for good shopping and hotels, and Central which is the most popular region for Westerners. In Central, Soho and Lan Kwai Fong are the nighttime destination neighborhoods for anyone in a party frame of mind. Central also abuts the adjacent neighborhoods Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo are the areas to go in Hong Kong for concentrated international gay nightlife. To go to incessantly photographed Victoria Peak take the tram to the top for the best overview of the city and get some distance and perspective on where you’ve been and where you will go.
Hong Kong’s gay scene is, like the city itself, a puzzling blend of opposites. Decriminalized in 1991, homosexuality is still, in the best-case scenario, an open secret. There is, happily, a peaceful absence of gay bashing, "The worst violence against us is gossip," says Sammy Li, guide and owner of Tongzhi Holidays (tongzhi = gay), Hong Kong’s only gay tour company. At Sammy’s count, there are ten or eleven gay bars, twelve or more saunas, and five to ten other businesses (bookstores, clothing shops, etc.) that make up gay commerce in the city.
You can bet money on the fact that anybody you meet in a gay venue will be far away from the neighborhood in which they grew up, and far away from the wagging tongues of the "Aunties" who would certainly send word (and disgrace) back to parents and other family members. Many generations still share small accommodations in Hong Kong, and the eldest son is always expected to live at home to care for the parents until marriage. A sworn "bachelor" is likely to live with Mom until she dies. One gay bachelor I met reported, "It is especially hard at family gatherings, like weddings or funerals. Before I was 40, everyone was constantly saying, ‘Get married. Get married,’ but after 40 they thought, ‘Oh well, the time has passed.’ It gets really bad around Chinese New Year, so I conveniently travel at that time of year."
Marriage is generally the only avenue out of the family apartment, so privacy is an incredible commodity. Even cruising the Internet is difficult with parents and siblings literally looking over your shoulder in shared and cramped quarters. "Love Hotels," which are rented by the hour, are actually a completely accepted necessity for couples straight and gay.
Meanwhile, gay saunas in Hong Kong are one step shy of chaste compared to European versions. Relaxed socializing with karaoke and food are the major diversions here. Many are dry "cruising boxes" (no steam or showers) and most, like the gay bars, cater to a particular crowd. Westerners are not always welcome at every gay business, so do a bit of research before you visit. (Any businesses listed in the resources section of this article are very Westerner-welcoming.)
The lesbian community has an even rougher go of it. There are, at any given time, five or six bars "adopted" by the lesbian community, meaning they are fleetingly popular. The women’s community is incredibly insular and thus less visible than the men’s community. It’s also nearly impermeable for the outsider. Making e-mail contact well in advance of a visit might mean the difference between meeting like-minded women or coming away thinking they simply do not exist.
Six day work-weeks for most residents makes any evening except Saturday simply a warm up for the one-day weekend. The tourist bars, gay or straight, do a blockbuster business seven days a week. Adjacent neighborhoods Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo are the areas to go in Hong Kong for concentrated international gay nightlife. The steeply terraced, hilly neighborhoods are shoulder-to-shoulder crowded almost any night of the week. Among the predominantly straight, loud, and raucous pubs and clubs are a few gay attractions as well. Works is a young cruise bar with a dance floor, maze, and energetic crowd that parties party late into the night. The $100 HKD weekend cover charge, about $13 US, is steep for many locals (though flight attendants get in free), but there is always a fabulous crowd of visiting boys. Club Salsa is a gayfriendly, dimly-lit club that hosts a gay night on Fridays, while Step Bar and Restaurant is popular with lesbians. Upstairs, this friendly neighborhood eatery and lounge has a full menu, great service, and an androgynous wait-staff that is locally legendary.
Propaganda is an industrial space (owned by the same folks who run Works) that features popular theme nights and Western disco and techno music and boasts an intimate amoeba-shaped dance floor. Well out of the way of any discernable nightlife, on a quiet, shuttered up commercial street, is one of the most upscale gay bars in Hong Kong. Rice Bar is a very friendly, chic, intimate bar with warm lighting that makes everyone glow. Featuring a bar where you can actually carry on a conversation, it is a great beginner to a long night, or destination unto itself. Rainbow is Hong Kong’s "bear" bar, and a tough one to find. On the fourteenth floor of an obscure office building without distinctive signage, the elevator opens to a crowded room of decidedly non-bear types paying rapt attention to a guy on the tiny stage. These guys take their karaoke seriously, as the performer is not the only one shedding a tear as he slugs through an excruciatingly sincere rendition of Neil Diamond’s "Love on the Rocks."
On the Kowloon side, the British-style New Wally Matt Lounge pub is a bit dreary. The cigarette smoke can be cut with a knife, but the surliness of the staff and crowds sequestered in leatherette booths seemingly can’t be penetrated at all. My "gay nightlife" guide from Utopia Tours eventually explains why many of the Kowloon bars we wander into seem so lifeless. "Kowloon side doesn’t get the western tourists in the bars. The boys here are much more sticky rice."
The entire rice and potatoes distinction is one I hear over and over, but it feels vaguely racist or pejorative to me, so I try to resist using it. I am assured it is common in discussion and freely used in everyday speech. Asians are "rice," Westerners are "potatoes," and attractions to either are thus coded. "Sticky rice" are Asians attracted only to other Asians. Karl, an organizer of the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, tells me, "Yeah, you’ll find a lot of talk about starches here. Even at individual bars, some groups have sections; rice over here, potatoes over there," and he goes on to tell me that he and his partner, a monogamous Western couple, have recently been hearing themselves referred to as "mashed potatoes."
When you decide to indulge yourself on a vacation, Hong Kong hotels are the place to do it. They are expensive, but this is truly the high water mark for luxury in the hospitality industry. Every stay in the city needn’t be at the oft-touted Mandarin Oriental or the Peninsula, though those properties deserve their outstanding reputations. If you are a rock star, or just want to stay in rock star-appropriate (and frequented) digs, you’ll definitely want to call Jia Boutique Hotel Apartments home. In busy Causeway Bay, this is Hong Kong’s first funky boutique hotel, and Asia’s first designed by Philippe Starck. The lobby is discreet and small-no hangout scene here, just high design and a quick passage to the dark elevators. The enormous rooms and suites feature almost every piece the designer has ever created from gnome stools to yellow mirrors. The marble bathrooms are small, but the living space is cavernous and every room includes a kitchen. Free local calls and broadband, Kiehl’s bath products, wine at Happy Hour, private membership nightclub and local gym access, and VIP status at high end shopping and dining venues makes this fantastic hotel (a sponsor of the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival) top of the list.
On the Kowloon side, in the busy Tsimshatsui shopping haven, several hotels are available, and one of the more understated elegant options is the Langham Hotel. The Langham captures an era that many hotels have moved away from, with opulent decor and layer upon layer of design detail. The overall effect is of a grand gentleman’s club with marble floors, thick wool rugs, dark woods, chandeliers, and ornate objets on every flat surface. The service, too, suggests the elegant discretion of a private club. The Langham’s two-story gym, swimming pool, and spa are simple and a good way to work off jet lag (the gym is open 24-hours). The Concierge Club floors offer free breakfast buffet, internet access and other business center services, lounge with complimentary cocktails and tea, and free laundry and pressing service. Restaurants inside the hotel include upscale T’ang Court, Bostonian, and the Main Street Deli (Hong Kong’s only sure bet for matzo ball soup).
Like a big shining sword, the convex glass sides of the towering Island Shangri-La hotel rise over the waterfront and it provides a fascinating mix of colonial grandeur and sci-fi fantasy. The oversized lobby is light and genteel with string quartets playing and uniformed staff ready to jump when you make the slightest eye contact. Check-in is a breeze, and elevators whisk you up to your room or down to the Pacific Place shopping mall below ground. The guest floors surround an elegantly spare indoor atrium and the world’s largest silk tapestry that soars many stories high. Rooms are extra large and every amenity has been thought of and provided. The sci-fi part comes in at night when the floor-to-ceiling glass walls come to life with views of the hyper-lit nighttime harbor. Because of the unique shape of the building, many rooms afford views of other skyscraper hotels, with everyone tucked neatly into their well-lit pods. Every hotel with a harbor view is guaranteed to draw guests to the windows, so it is odd to look across and see so many other silhouettes staring out from so many identical rooms. Eight excellent restaurants and cafes vie for your attention. The 24-hour gym has the real estate to make it feel like something more than the typical extra guestroom plus stairmaster. The swimming pool is nicely tucked away on a walled garden deck. In the men’s changing area, the two Jacuzzis, steamroom, plus large sauna make it more luxe than urban membership health clubs. Complimentary breakfast, laundry, airport transfers, and local phone/broadband service make this exclusive stay feel more accessible.
Fantastically located on the Hong Kong side near the water and piers, next-door to the Shangri-La, the Conrad Hotel is one of those big, stunning palaces of luxury that makes a stay in the city so special. Full walls of glass overlooking the harbor steal all your attention in the rooms, and the view takes your breath away. Guestrooms are getting makeovers to replace the powder blue florals with luxurious golden tones, matching the recently refurbished lobby. The effect is quite classy and regal. Direct access to the enormous subterranean shopping mall is a plus for rabid shoppers. The hotel’s swimming pool is wedged onto a deck shared with al fresco diners, and the basement gym is cramped, but has one of every cardio machine you’ll probably want. Executive floors on the upper levels have the best view and additional perks like free breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, and cocktails. The food options are plentiful, and decidedly upscale. Brasserie on the Eighth and the Garden Cafe are always popular, but nothing can beat the ridiculously extravagant, tuxedo and white-glove perfection of the food at Nicholini’s. It was honored as the "Best Italian Restaurant Abroad" by the President of Italy, and the food is easily some of the best I’ve had in any city.
In addition to some of the spectacular hotel dining options, Hong Kong has gastronomical pleasures to rival those of any location. Sure, there are plentiful options for dim sum, as well as street vendors with fried and unidentifiable treats, and in some neighborhoods, judging by the plucked and roasted denizens hanging in shop windows, you could surmise that there are no ducks left in the world.
Luckily, however, many unexpected and exceptional dining experiences can be found throughout the city. There are notable restaurants in every neighborhood, but if you can’t satisfy your craving in Central, where restaurants abound, you just aren’t looking hard enough. A gay favorite is Step Bar and Restaurant on the second floor of a nondescript building (look for the orange painted steps). The menu is simple European bistro fare plus sandwiches and salads, but the genuinely friendly service and relaxed atmosphere make it a welcome respite from the harried crowds. Sip a pot of herbal tea with new friends and tuck into gigantic appetizers before a long night out. The popular Wildfire SoHo is located in the midst of the busiest bar and club neighborhood, and offers traditional and gourmet-style woodfired pizzas. Pies are made to order, fresh toppings are generously added, and crust is thin and crisp. A weekend "manly man" brunch is gargantuan in portion size, and paired with a stiff and spicy Bloody Mary or three, it kicks off a day of playing hooky from responsibilities for large, laughing groups of gay men and women.
For a traditional dim sum breakfast or lunch (only served until 5:30 P.M. as dim sum is" always daytime fare) go to the most traditional source, Luk ¥u Tea House in Central. Filled with daily regulars, this local favorite retains old Hong Kong traditions in an art deco environment. Order from the Chinese list on your table (an English menu with photos is provided so you don’t end up with those chicken feet unless you absolutely want them) or stop one of the women with the bamboo steamers hanging around their necks and choose some of the delicacies inside. Reservations are needed as Luk Yu is even more popular with old school locals than visitors.
To rub elbows with fashionistas and celebrities, and for an exquisite view of the city’s nightly harbor laser and light show, make an 8 P.M. reservation at Aqua. Two stories of glass make the narrow room feel enormous, and as all the other surfaces are black, the result is an optical illusion that you are floating in outer space. The entrance from the elevator is an art installation in itself, instantly plunging you into the intrigue and carefully choreographed style statements of the place. Two distinct menu sections offer superb Italian and Japanese delicacies, or you can mix and match an international journey. The huge space of Cafe Deco on the summit of Victoria Peak is made to feel all the larger by two floors of windows. The views are impossible to beat on a clear day. The food is a wide variety of styles and flavors from American pizza and steak, to sushi, curry dishes, Asian specialties, as well as the city’s largest oyster raw bar. The room can feel a bit stark and airport-like, but the bustling crowd takes the sharp edge off. If weather permits, grab a two-top outside on the narrow balcony, and lose yourself in the scenery.
So many people come to Hong Kong specifically for shopping, and for good reason. It is a major pastime for tourists from every nation. Upscale malls have every designer boutique you have ever heard of, and many more you haven’t, while open-air street markets have a little bit of everything. Antiques are plentiful and a good bet, but only if you have a good eye for the real thing, as modem knockoffs are everywhere. The jewelry here is stunning, and gold and pearls can be found at a bargain price. Jade is easily forged, so try the famous Jade Market, a conglomerate of vendors in covered stalls that sells everything from tiny buttons to enormous carved dragons. Quality can fluctuate dramatically, so use a discerning eye before making a purchase.
Before buying inexpensive souvenirs from the rows of outdoor stalls, get your fortune told by one of dozens of fortune tellers outside the street market in the Temple Street Night Market. A short trip to the coastal community of Stanley and the always packed Stanley Market is another sure bet for bargain souvenirs. The products here are of the same ilk you can find in any American Chinatown shop, but much less expensive. For any market shopping, come to it with a sense of humor and join the haggling game. Bargaining is definitely expected, and if you pay the first quoted price you will defmitely lose face, be snickered at, and called a supreme gweilo (literally "foreign devil").
Tailor-made custom clothing is big business in Tsimshatsui. Dozens of tailor shops hand out fliers on street corners, and are either Indian/Bangladeshi or Shanghainese. Packages of a suit with two pairs of pants, two shirts, a sportcoat, and two silk ties (or similar combinations) can go for less than US$200. In many ways you get what you pay for, so when you decided to upgrade fabric the prices will jump significantly. I got an incredible Italian wool suit for $390 that would have cost me five to ten times that in Manhattan. The cherubic tailor, Antony, at the Mandarin Tailor shop, is all a-flutter wanting to show me every style of fabric in the shop. He exerts no pressure, but is genuinely proud of what he has to offer and soon bolts of yardage fly off the shelves while he insists I finger each one to check the quality. I finally narrow down the options and settle on a gray window pane. Style and pattern are chosen from a huge style book, my measurements are carefully taken and double-checked, and in less than 24-hours, my suit has been pieced. I return for a fitting, pins and chalk are adjusted, and after the next and final fitting, the finished suit beats me to my hotel, delivered with lightning speed.
Due to the perpetual roar of the city and my over-packed itinerary, exploration beyond the avenues of commerce becomes incredibly important to me. After a relatively short time I am gasping for some peace and quiet like a koi plucked from the water. The New Territories is the mostly undeveloped rural area north and west of Kowloon on the mainland. Driving north, not only does the terrain flatten beneath our tires, the towering buildings of Kowloon gradually lower, losing altitude as we put more miles between us. Apartment blocks give way to two-story homes, which eventually become just a few shacks and single-level farms with long spells of open air between. We’re really in the sticks now, and I exhale contentedly. Here there are amazing pockets of farm and fishing village cultures that seem timeless, or certainly not of this time.
Small villages are centered around temples and open markets and are linked by country roads through farmland. My guide for the day, Fred, a handsome, straight, ex-cop, is genuinely warm and at ease with everyone we encounter. He later proves to be much more comfortable in a gay bar or discussing homosexuality than any of the gay people I meet. One ofthe more memorable sites we first visit is the Man Mo Temple with its numerous incense coils smoking overhead and dropping ash like snow. This, like the many temples throughout Hong Kong, is an interesting paean to spirituality and luck. The Chinese gods number in the hundreds, and temples may be devoted to just one or two, or the entire pantheon. In most you’ll find not only tables for offerings of flowers, incense, food, and coins, but objects of fortune and prediction that play an enormous role in the daily life of many of the devoted.
A can of numbered sticks is shaken until one falls to the ground to answer a question. Two crescent-shaped wooden pieces are held in the hand and dropped to the floor, their landing position indicating the answer of the gods. Since chance means questions don’t go your way every time, frequently the procedure is repeated to get a better answer, making some of the more populated temples sound a bit like a gambling hall with the clack of dice and chips.
The Wishing Tree, in the Lam Tsuen area, is the tourist’s chance to sway the luck of the universe. Tour buses unload and passengers are descended upon by dozens of wizened old women selling scrolls tied to oranges. After writing your name and wish upon the sheaf of papers, the goal is to hurl the orange, missile-like, into the wishing tree with the hope that the attached wish will catch on the branches. Again, with second, third, or even tenth tries in the offing, your wish is eventually guaranteed (as long as you escape without getting beaned by the flying oranges).
All the way north to the Chinese border at Lokmachau, I can finally see the source of Hong Kong’s incessant pollution. Across the guarded fences, it is a wall of unchecked industry. One factory after another belches smoke into the already hazy sky. Here, at a modern lookout facility with chrome railings and molded concrete benches, a display of antique artifacts sits untended. To buy some of these unique and inexpensive souvenirs we have to drive into the village at the bottom of the hill to find the sleeping, barefoot, 82-year-old Mr. Tse who has been selling handicrafts and antiques to the unsteady flow of tourists for 45 years.
Back on Hong Kong Island, on the south side away from the madding crowd, Repulse Bay is a quirky stop for the tour buses. Thousands come to pray and light incense at an elaborately tiled "temple" and its dozens of attending statues, notably the giant figures of Kwun Yum, a Chinese deity believed by some to be female while others believe he/she is a cross-dressed male, and Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. Many visitors have no idea that the "temple" is, in fact, the headquarters for the Royal Lifesaving Society. This is Hong Kong’s over-the-top version of a real life Baywatch, and quite an amusing sight when witnessing the reverence paid by those not in the know.
A mere five minutes’ walk south is Middle Bay, and the city’s nearest gay beach. A tiny crescent of sand, it is rarely crowded, but populated by a Speedo-clad few baking in the sun and occasionally swimming out to the floating wooden platform for sunbathing. The rocky outcrop to the south, just beyond the picnic tables, is a more private area frequented by pairs meeting up on the sand. Hong Kong also has many outlying islands, and each has a distinct sensibility or flavor.
Hong Kong’s Neighbor Islands
Lantau Island is the largest, almost twice the size of Hong Kong island, and home to the airport. Re-tracing the 40 minute drive from the civic center gets Fred and me back to and beyond the airport and the future site of Disneyland Hong Kong (due to open in September 2005). Additionally, stunning beaches, forested hiking areas, and charming villages are found here.
The Giant Buddha is a well-known destination atop the highest hill of the island. The seated bronze figure is over 86 feet tall and weighs over 220 tons. The adjacent Po Lin Monastery (Precious Lotus) is actually more streamlined than many smaller monasteries, but sees incredible foot traffic daily. A mediocre vegetarian lunch, prepared by the Po Lin monks, is a cafeteria-style option for a meal in dreary indoor surroundings at odds with the beauty just outside the doors.
Cheung Sha Beach is Hong Kong’s second gay beach, and considered one of the region’s most beautiful. A lifeguard station and food stands are at the road, which is surprisingly close to the sand. While nude sunbathing is illegal, you will commonly find a few sunbathers au natural here. The beach is within the restricted driving area of the island where only certain taxis and buses are allowed to travel, so the parking lot is tiny and easy to miss if your driver isn’t familiar.
Our cabbie tells Fred of a mostly undiscovered, secret temple with no name. When we finish at Po Lin, we hail another cab to take us there. The driver thinks he knows it, but can’t be sure. It feels like a set up for a horror movie as he drives us up to the top of a winding, overgrown driveway, and leaves us in an abandoned lot, refusing to wait. We wander up uneven stairs to surmount a forbidding wall, and are rewarded with a beautiful and lovingly restored series of religious buildings. There is no sign of anyone around. We walk through a few large, empty, meeting rooms with elaborate altars, one has a sleeping nun who doesn’t wake despite our "Ahem"ing, so we continue to another building. Finally we round a corner in a courtyard to find an ancient nun, sweeping, who tells Fred, "There is no name for this place in English-no one cares to know." We are both quiet and lost in dumbfounded reverie as we are given free reign to wander up narrow teak stairs to the round cupola’s uppermost floor topped with the golden carvings of 10,000 seated Buddhas. My mind swims and I can focus on nothing else, which I suspect is the point. Only after several minutes of wandering in the smallish round room do I realize that the 360-degree view is postcard perfect. Cotton candy clouds over a brilliant blue sea, and that’s secondary to the beauty in this room.
The rest of the temple is equally ornate and meticulously cared for. Colorful floral patterns decorate the exterior levels, and the main hall is dizzying with layer upon layer of symbolic decor on every surface. After a long while we find an office and ask to use a phone to call a taxi. The cab company refuses to come get us, saying "We don’t go there," so we hike back down the hill to the road and eventually find a bus stop. It is the most authentic experience I have during the entire trip.
(GlobalGayz note: Lantau is also home to the quiet Trappist Monastery where a dozen monks (caucasian and Asian) live. There is a guest house on the premises and thoughtful visitors are welcome for a spiritual retreats or quiet time away from the world. A walking path leads to the top of a hill with panoramic views of the islands. Guests are welcome to join the worship services or not. Meals are served. The only access is via occasional ferry service.
Feeding my appetite for remote Hong Kong islands, another day brings another guide to help me explore Lamma Island. Lamma is barbell shaped, and a great hiking destination with a tiny restaurant district nestled into the island’s narrow section. A famous family business, the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant has been on Lamma for years, and they even established their own ferry boat service. Fortyminutes from the city harbor and we arrive in a small cove fronted by several outdoor restaurants and fish markets. Here, the freshest and most elaborate dishes imaginable are presented in a humble environment of plastic tables and chairs on the patio.
Fishing boats haul in the day’s catch and display tanks are full to capacity with every imaginable form of sea life. As the evening breeze picks up, course after course comes from the kitchen, as do the owner and chef, laughing and making their way from table to table to make sure everyone’s dining experience is exceptional. While language is a barrier, I can tell from the effusive replies from other diners that the magnificence of my meal is being rivaled at every table. Now I’ve got island fever, and want to visit the smaller ones rarely trod by tourists.
The brother of my next-door neighbor back home has lived on the tiny, rural island of Peng Chau for more than two decades, and I am invited to spend an afternoon to "decompress from the hell of the city." This steeply terraced community is a 40-minute westward ferry commute (60 minutes on the slow boat) and worlds away from urban Hong Kong. Where in the big city, everyone is anonymous and lost in the crowd, on Peng Chau, everybody knows one another. At sunset, the entire population seems to be out promenading and enjoying the evening, and we are unable to walk three paces before stopping to greet neighbor after neighbor. It is a refreshing change to be surrounded by the residents of an entire island who, unlike those a boat ride away, are actually willing to stop and value human interaction above simply rushing to the next appointment or destination.
When I return to the city, squeezing through the crowds of people on the streets, most with cell phones pressed to their ears, I am struck by Hong Kong’s vibrancy. The city is on a par with New York when it comes to energy and activity, but simultaneously most of the people here also show a dedication to tradition and spirituality. Young and old, modem and ancient, rich and poor, all coexisting in one of the most densely populated yet dramatically beautiful landscapes in the world. It is also a city reverently devoted to conspicuous consumption, but I found that giving your credit cards a rest, and taking the time to truly appreciate all that Hong Kong has to offer, is the best key to get inside the kingdom.
Hong Kong Resources
When calling from the U.S., dial 011-852 before Hong Kong numbers.
= Conrad Hotel, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2521-3838. Doubles begin at $225 USD. www.conradhongkong.com
=Island Shangri-La, Pacific Place, Supreme Court Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 25218742.565 luxury guestrooms and suites in this hotel skyscraper overlooking the harbor. Rooms start at $308 USD. www.shangri-Ia.com
=Jia Boutique Hotel Apartments, 1-5 Irving Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Tel: 3196-9000. Hong Kong’s first boutique hotel in burgeoning hip zone, Causeway Bay. Rooms (singles and suites) $205-$308 USD. www.jiahongkong.com
=Langham Hotel, 8 Peking Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Tel: 2375-1133. Doubles from $282 USD. www.langhamhotels.com
– Aqua, 29th and 30th Floors, One Peking Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Tel: 3427-2288. Outstanding views from this "uber glam" bar and restaurant. www.aqua.com.hk
=Art in Progress, 18 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2155-1313. Desserts, jewelry, and floral design are all that is on offer in this sexy space, and it is more than enough.
=Cafe Deco, Peak Galleria, 118 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong. Tel: 2849-5111. Unparalleled views and large menu high above the city. www.peakcafe.com
=Dragon-I, The Centrium, 60 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 31101222. Celebrity hangout that is a paparazzi sure thing. Swanky dining among swankier lounge furnishings and red everything. www.dragon-i.com.hk
Kosmo, 18 D’Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2868-2002. Healthy hot foods and a huge smoothie and coffee menu make this a great start to your day.
=Luk Yu Tea House, 24-26 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2523-5464. Traditional dim sum in busy deeo restaurant.
=Nicholini’s at the Conrad Hotel, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2521-3838. Voted best Italian food outside Italy, and that’s putting it mildly. www.conradhongkong.com
=Rainbow Seafood Restaurant, 1A-1B First Street, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island. Tel: 2982-8100. On quiet Lamma Island with their own free ferry service from the city, Rainbow has to be experienced to be believed. Gargantuan servings of the best and freshest seafood are found in casual outdoor dining areas. The chef constantly innovates and experiments, winning cuisine awards from all corners. Don’t skip the three-cheese lobster. Especially gay-friendly, and the name, Rainbow, is only a happy coincidence. www.rainbowrest.com.hk
=Sam Mun Tsai Fusion, Sam Mun Tsai Road, Tai Po, N.T., Hong Kong. Tel: 26657282. Incredible seafood and innovative fusion dim sum menu on the sea shore with gorgeous views of Plover Cover Reservoir and Tai Mei Tuk in the New Territories. www.sammuntsai.com
=Tsui Wah Restaurant, 15-19 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2525-6338. 24 Hour Cafe, after 8:00P.M. becomes gay central, with a vast majority of customers popping in before and after a night out.
=Wildfire Soho, 21 Elgin Street, SoHo, Hong Kong. Tel: 2810-0670. Handcrafted wood-fired pizza and handmade pasta, all fresh ingedients. www.igors.com
= The Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2521-7251. A mixed, bohemian hangout/gallery/performance space. Classes and high profile events fill every day on a full calendar. Steps away from several gay clubs in Central. www.hkfringeclub.com
=New Wally Matt Lounge, 5A Humphrey’s Ave. Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Tel: 2721-2568. Smoky English pub-style bar. Older, international crowd.
=Propaganda, 1 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2868-1316. The original gay club of Hong Kong.
=Rainbow Pub, 14/F Pearl Oriental Tower, 225 Nathan Road, Jordon, Kowloon. Tel: 2735-6882. Hong Kong’s "bear" bar. exploring I hong kong
=Rice Bar, 33 Jervois Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2851-4800. Off the beaten path, dimly lit, classy, neighborhood bar with upscale professional clientele.
=Step Bar and Restaurant, 34-38 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2121-8073. Small and intimate resto/bar for quiet meals and groups of friends. Androgynous wait staff is particularly popular with women.
=Tony’s Bar, 7-9 Bristol Ave. Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Tel: 2723-2726. Small neighborhood locals bar.
=Works, 30-32 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2868-6102. In the former Propaganda space, industrial/construction decor and young dancing crowd.
Not of the European flavor, saunas are much more of a social outlet in Hong Kong, with busy cafes and karaoke areas, intimacy is always discreet and never in view of others.
=CE Sauna, 2/F Cheung Hing Comm. Bldg. 37-43 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 25819951. Steam, sauna, massage, jacuzzi, sun tanning, and free broadband access.
=Prince House, Shop B, #9 Old Bailey Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2810-0144. Walking distance from Works and Propaganda, a Japanese style "cruising box" for muscle men.
=Rainbow Sauna, 14/F K.K.Centre, 46-54 Temple Street, Yau Ma Yei, Kowloon. Tel: 2385-6652. "Bear" sauna.
= California Fitness, 1 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2522-5229. This chain has several locations in the city, but the one in Central is known as the "Big gay gym." Open until midnight most nights. www.calfitness.com
=Fanny Chau, Kang You Building, 528, Nathan Road, Kowloon. Tel: 2781-2503. People come from all around to be poked and prodded for amazing (and occasionally excruciating) reflexology and point massage treatments.
=Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. November each year in multiple venues. Established in 1989, HKLGFF is the first of its kind in Asia. www.hklgff.com
= Mandarin Tailor, Shop A1, 8 Carnavon Road, Carnavon Mansion, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Tel: 3525-0832. Ask for Antony.
= Airport Express Super fast train into city center, leaving every 12 minutes. Round trip ticket (valid for one month) up to $23 USD maximum. www.hongkongairport.com/eng/aguide/airportex.html
=Cathay Pacific has added direct New York to Hong Kong flights. www.cathaypacific.com
Hong Kong International Airport, 1 Cheong Yip Road, Lantau Island. Tel: 2188-7111. Considered by many to be the world’s finest airport, with high end shopping, massage, shower rooms, and good food options, and that’s for the general public. Business and First Class lounges are architecturally beautiful with incomparable service. www.hongkongairport.com
=MTR (subway) moves 2.3 million riders every day. Since opening in 1979, Hong Kong’s Metro Train is quiet, inexpensive, and pristine, a model of what public transportation could be. www.mtr.com.hk
=Rainbow Star Cruise to Lamma Island. 1 A-1 B First Street, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island. Tel: 2982-8100. Departs from Tsimshatsui Public Pier and lands at Rainbow Restaurant. www.rainbowrest.com.hk
=Star Ferry is the most popular ferry service between the two sides of the city, departing approximately every five minutes for as little as US 22 cents. www.starferry.com.hk
PLANNING & RESOURCES
= BC Magazine is a free bi-weekly arts and culture mag with a good calendar section and definite irreverent tone. www.bcmagazine.net
=Concorde Travel Consultants, 8-10 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2524-5121. Incredibly friendly and thorough city experts who also put together fantastic gay touring options. www.concorde-travel.com
=DS (Dim Sum) Magazine, pocket-size gay magazine with business listings, reviews, and gossip. Free at bars and saunas. www.dimsum-hk.com
=G Magazine, a free, monthly gay community magazine features event listings and plenty of photos of models throughout. Pick up at bars, saunas, and bookshops.
=Gay HK is an ex1remely popular website for the community, the Chinese pages being the number one resource for locals. Includes chat rooms and business directories, and the English-translated pages can be helpful for events listings and addresses. www.gayhk.com
=Gay Station is a community website with extensive listings of gay and gay-friendly businesses. www.gaystation.com.hk
=HK Magazine is the free "Village Voice" weekly, alternative paper/magazine found at most businesses and newsstands, with cultural calendar and entertaining editorial.
=Hong Kong Tourism Board, 9-11 floors, Citicorp Centre, 18 Whitfield Rd. North Point, Hong Kong. Tel: 2807-6543. All your pre-trip planning and during the visit brochure and map needs easily handled online or at several city offices (including at the airport). www.discoverhongkong.com
=Tongzhi Holidays, Rm. 1003, 10/F, Well borne Comm. Center, 8 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong. Tel: 2887-9343. www.tongzhiholidays.com
=Utopia Tours is a Bangkok-based gay travel company with guide services throughout much of Asia, including Hong Kong. www.utopia-tours.com
May 16, 2005
Hong Kong Sees First Gay Rights Protest
Hong Kong – About 100 people marched through central Hong Kong Monday to call for civil rights protections for gays and lesbians.
The demonstrators carried rainbow flags and represented 16 LGBT and gay-positive organizations. The rally was part of the first International Day Against Homophobia.
Many of the Hong Kong protestors wore masks so they would not be recognized in the highly conservative former crown colony. Organizers said the masks were also a powerful symbol of the way gays "live in the shadow of homophobia."
"I think homophobia is a very scary thing because it views a minority as unorthodox or abnormal," said Kelvin Lau, a 26-year-old teacher who wore a mask made of multicolored feathers.
One protestor carried a sign that read, Turn fear into love. Demonstrators said that discrimination against gays in Hong Kong includes violence, sexual harassment and improper firings.
Last month a fashion show organized by a gay businessman was shut down when 10 members of Hong Kong’s Police Tactical Unit burst in and began searching members of the audience.
It is estimated there are about a million gays among Hong Kong’s 6.9 million residents.
The Hong Kong government is considering legislation to grant greater rights to gays and lesbians but in a recent poll 60 percent of respondents said there was no need for such legislation and nearly 70 percent said they were unaware of sexual discrimination.
Hong Kong’s marking of The International Day Against Homophobia came a day earlier than official observances, set for May 17. The International Day Against Homophobia is being organized with the help of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. May 17 was chosen because on May 17, 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, serving to end more than a century of medical homophobia.
LGBT groups in some 40 countries are scheduled to mark the day with protests, rallies, and educational displays.
In London, a minute of silence will be observed in gay clubs to mark the day, while demonstrators say they will protest in front of the Saudi embassy. In April, 35 men were sentenced by a Saudi court to be flogged after they attended what has been described as a “gay wedding”.
© 365Gay.com 2005
July 22, 2005
Gay Hong Kong man challenges laws against homosexual sex
by Sylvia Hui
Hong Kong – A gay man has asked Hong Kong’s courts to review laws against homosexuality, including one that calls for a life sentence for men under the age of 21 who engage in sodomy.
A judge finished hearing arguments on Friday and was to issue a ruling at an unspecified time. The challenge was initiated by 20-year-old William Roy Leung, who argues the anti-gay sex laws are discriminatory.
The laws explicitly prohibit homosexual acts between men if one or both are under 21. The government has conceded that most of the laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional, a gay activist and local media said. But the government has insisted that the law prescribing a life sentence for a man who engages in sex with another when either is under 21 should be kept, the South China Morning Post reported. A similar law applies to heterosexual sodomy.
The age of consent for heterosexual vaginal sex is 16, and there are no specific laws prohibiting homosexual acts between women.
" The difference is based only on the content of sexual conduct. You have to justify that,’’ said gay activist Roddy Shaw.
Police have arrested 65 men under gay sex laws in the past five years, according to the Security Bureau. Twenty-six were convicted.
August 25, 2005
Hong Kong anti-gay laws overturned–Life Sentences for Homosexuality Voided
A 20-year-old gay man in Hong Kong won a legal challenge Wednesday of laws against homosexuality — including one that calls for a life sentence for sodomy when at least one man is younger than 21.
As he left the High Court, William Roy Leung told reporters that his legal victory means that “I can finally have a loving relationship without being scared” of being “thrown into jail for life imprisonment.”
In his ruling, High Court Judge Michael Hartmann said the anti-gay laws “discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation” and “are demeaning of gay men who are, through the legislation, stereotyped as deviant.”
The judge also said the laws are a “grave and arbitrary interference with the right of gay men to self-autonomy in the most intimate aspects of their private lives.”
The laws prohibited “gross indecency” or sexual intimacy between men if at least one was under 21. But heterosexual and lesbian couples who are 16 or older can legally have such relations.
“It is a landmark case and a long-overdue judgment,” gay activist Roddy Shaw said. “It’s the first time that sexual orientation has been upheld as a protected ground against discrimination in a Hong Kong court.”
The former British colony, handed back to Chinese rule in 1997, currently allows heterosexual and lesbian sex from 16, but gay men can be imprisoned for life if caught having sex before 21.
The government — which said Wednesday it was reviewing the decision — can still appeal the ruling.
August 25, 2005
High Court ruling against gay sex laws gets mixed response in Hong Kong
by Sylvia Hui
A Christian activist on Thursday criticized a Hong Kong judge’s ruling against sodomy laws, but the decision received mixed responses in newspaper editorials – with some applauding the increasing tolerance in the society.
The front pages of several papers featured Wednesday’s High Court judgment against gay sex laws – including one that calls for a life sentence for sodomy when one or both men are younger than 21. The judge said the laws were discriminatory and unconstitutional. Choi Chi-sum, a leading Christian activist, said he feared that gay groups would use the decision to abuse their claims to equality. " This ruling wouldn’t help gay groups with their cause because it sends a clear warning signal to the public of a domino effect,’’ Choi said. "This isn’t just about sodomy. We’re talking about the collapse of sexual differences, and soon they’d be demanding marriage and adoption of children.’’
The sodomy laws deemed discriminatory prohibited "gross indecency’’ or sexual intimacy between men if one or both are under 21. But heterosexual and lesbian couples who are 16 or older can legally have such relations.
The Ming Pao Daily offered the most scathing condemnation of Wednesday’s ruling, saying the court should not decide for the public when it has no backing of public opinion. The Chinese-language editorial read: "The court appears not to have thoroughly considered the public’s moral judgments, even as it stressed the protection of minority groups’ rights.’’ It added, "Should this line of logic be developed, we would quickly proceed to the stage when the court makes same sex marriage legal.’’ The editorial urged the government to appeal the decision to the Court of Final Appeal, but officials have yet to say what they plan to do.
SingTao Daily warned that protection offered to victims of inequality could potentially become a weapon wielded by a "minority dictatorship.’’
The mass-market paper nevertheless applauded the increasing tolerance of Hong Kong society, noting that gay-bashing has no place in the city. " More homosexuals are ’coming out of the closet’ – the most well-known of whom is celebrity Leslie Cheung, who had not lost his star power even after his love life was revealed,’’ the paper said. Cheung was one of Hong Kong’s most popular actors and pop singers before committing suicide in 2003.
Apple Daily took a more liberal stance, saying the ruling removed discriminatory laws to protect important rights of individuals. The ruling was "worth supporting and affirming,’’ the mass-market paper said. People with "different sexual orientations aren’t perverted or wrong. They are not committing any crimes,’’ the paper said.
November 17, 2005
HK to host Asia’s largest lesbian & gay film fest
The largest and longest-running lesbian & gay film festival in Asia, the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film & Video Film Festival (HKLGFF) is developing a reputation as the premier destination for Asian premieres of films with queer content. "Saving Face", the award-winning film by Chinese-American filmmaker Alice Wu, opens the festival. Now in its 13th edition and featuring 60 screenings from 18 countries, the festival will run from November 17th – 27th this year. It stars veteran actress Joan Chen and Michelle Krusiec, who was recently nominated for Best Actress at the 42nd Golden Horse Awards.
Apart from a panorama of films from around the world, this year’s HKLGFF features a focus on Latin queer cinema, a retrospective of notorious Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s works and a compilation of Asian lesbian shorts. The line-up also includes the world premiere of Hong Kong director David Chow’s documentary "Space of Desire", which gives rare insights into Hong Kong’s queer movement. The festival closes with Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza’s "The Masseur", winner of the Golden Leopard at the recent Locarno Film Festival’s Video Competition.
Started in 1989 by Fortissimo Films co-chairman Wouter Barendrecht, HKLGFF is a non-profit organisation that is fully supported by both Fortissimo and the Edko Films-owned Broadway theatre chain. Gary Mak, Associate Director of the Broadway Cinematheque and co-organiser of the festival, says that "the festival has opened up the mind of the general public, giving more representation to those who is always under-represented in this society." In terms of the works programmed, festival director Denise Tang comments, "What makes the HKLGFF unique is that, due to relatively unfettered censorship laws in Hong Kong, the films featured here are shown uncut and uncensored. Screening controversial films such as those by director Bruce LaBruce is a much more difficult proposition in other countries within the region."
"The HKLGFF has been regarded as a major cultural event for film festival goers and the only high-profile community event for local lesbian & gay communities. We aim to make the festival the hub for emerging artists in Asia and give them the opportunity to present their works to an open-minded and sophisticated Asian audience."(Source: CRIENGLISH.com)
December 31, 2005
Gay Chinese a presence but discreet in Hong Kong
by Sylvia Hui
Jervois Street runs through what looks like an ordinary Hong Kong neighborhood with sleepy car repair shops and tiny noodle eateries. But as night falls it gets a makeover, becoming one of the few places in town where the gay community can be seen relaxing and partying in public.
Every weekend, two trendy gay bars — probably the first such establishments in Hong Kong to open on the street front — draw flashy cars, celebrities, designers and masses of men in silk shirts and tight tank tops. As the evening wears on, the surging crowds spill out on the sidewalk, drinking and socializing.
Hong Kong may be among the most cosmopolitan of Asian cities, but its pink economy remains largely underground.
Unlike Jervois Street, most of the sprinkling of openly gay or gay-friendly clubs and karaoke bars are discreetly tucked away in alleyways or upstairs of buildings.
Like the clubs they patronize, most homosexuals in Hong Kong prefer not to draw attention to their sexual preference, despite apparently improving tolerance and emergency of the gay rights movement over the past decade or so.
In the genteel Boris and Matthew bar, many youths leaning against each other and hunching over drinks intimately will have to hide their sexuality from the world.
But Herman Au is an exception. The tanned, fashion-savvy 24-year-old event organizer said he came out to his family a year ago, and has never suffered any discrimination in the workplace. " My whole company knows. I don’t ever have to hide myself," he said, admitting however that his parents are "definitely more open-minded" than most.
Even so, Au said he has had to coax his mother into accepting that she would never have any grandchildren. The family is the single most important unit of society in Chinese culture, and knowledge that their sons will never form a family or fulfill their perceived duty in continuing the family line is immensely difficult for most Chinese parents to accept.
March 10, 2006
Hong Kong Pressed Over Gay Rights
Two Hong Kong legislators have accused the government of hiding behind public opinion polls to stall on passing LGBT anti-discrimination legislation.
The two lawmakers, Emily Lau and Margaret Ng say the government should be leading not following. They called on the government Friday to bring in a bill extending human rights to gays and lesbians. " You always talk about executive-led government, and now it’s time to lead," Ng, a lawyer, told the English language Hong Kong Standard. Ng said the government has a duty to comply to follow much of the world that already outlaws discrimination in the workplace, schools and goods and services.
But Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Stephen Fisher told the paper that neither the government nor the public is ready for an anti-gay discrimination law. Instead, he said public consultations have to be conducted further, citing moral and religious concerns. " People are afraid that Hong Kong will follow in the footsteps of other countries and allow same-sex marriage," he said.
Public consultations have been going on for a year. Last May a watchdog human rights agency has condemned the Hong Kong government for dragging its heels. In a report to the government Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said that the semi-automatons city state is lagging behind the rest of the world.
The report was issued less than a week after the city saw its first gay rights demonstration in May 2005. (see #11 above)
No gay marriage for Hong Kong Brits
by Marc Shoffman
Gay British nationals in Hong Kong will not be allowed civil partnerships, a consulate spokeswoman announced yesterday.
The British consulate office in Hong Kong declared on its website, the Hong Kong government "does not consider it appropriate to agree to the registration of civil partnerships of same-sex couples at the British Consulate-General Hong Kong at present."
Lily Chen, a Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman, said the decision was made because the Hong Kong government is still deciding on laws covering gay discrimination. According to the UK Civil Partnership Act, all "British nationals" can register for a same-sex civil union in a British embassy or consulate, as long as the local law agrees.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Hong Kong in 1991. There has been no objection to similar requests in British embassies in Japan, Vietnam, Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Colombia and Belarus.
June 7, 2006
Gay rights constitutional debate
Hong Kong – The legality of homosexual sex is again before the courts in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is appealing against a high court decision that found it was unconstitutional to ban gay sex between men aged under 21. Before last year’s ruling, homosexuals who broke the law risked possible life in prison, while heterosexuals who engaged in sodomy faced a maximum of five years. The government is hoping to challenge the ruling on several grounds. But gay rights activists say the grounds of the appeal are weak and unlikely to succeed.
Presenter/Interviewer: Emily Bourke
Speakers: Roddy Shaw, Civil Rights for Sexual Diversity, Hong Kong; Yuk-Kai Law, director of Hong Kong’s Human Rights Monitor
BOURKE: Almost a year ago, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that the laws banning gay sex between men, aged under 21, was unconstitutional.
The decision was hailed as long overdue and one that would protect gay men against discrimination and jail.
Now the Hong Kong government wants to reverse the ruling and reinstate a ban on consensual gay sex between men until the age of 21.
Roddy Shaw is a prominent gay rights activist in Hong Kong from the organisation Civil Rights for Sexual Diversity.
After attending the first day’s court hearing, he says the government is grasping at straws in trying to appeal the earlier decision.
SHAW:They consider that there is a moral disapproval in the greater society against homosexual conduct so they believe that the law which is discriminatory is actually justified.
BOURKE: How effective, how persuasive do you think the lawyers representing the government will be?
SHAW: Actually I am quite disappointed at the arguments that they put up – mostly technical and procedural arguments, and also on the morality issue when in fact the whole issue is about rendering equal treatment to gay men in Hong Kong, and I don’t think they have addressed that crucial point and I think the court is going weigh their argument in terms of the equality arguments instead of the morality issue. I do not think they have a very strong case there.
BOURKE: Yuk-Kai Law is the director of Hong Kong’s Human Rights Monitor says the original case found that the law breached privacy and discriminated against men, and gay men in particular.
He says government’s appeal is being driven by well organised and well funded conservative forces.
LAW: to us, we are quite disappointed that the government is appealing in fact what they should do is go back to the drawing board to bring our law in line with international human standard and provide for uniform age of consent.
BOURKE If the government loses the appeal and still wants to pursue the case, it will have to go to Beijing to ask for a reinterpretation of the Territory’s constitution
According to Yuk-Kai Law from Hong Kong’s Human Rights Monitor, that’s an unattractive option.
LAW: I don’t think on this matter that the government or the Chiense authorities will take the initiative to ask for a reinterpretation. I think the government wants this appeal, wants ot leave all these things to the court. because they want to defend it, try to appeal until they think thaey can tell the conservative sectors of the public that they have done their best and now they have to follow the court’s ruling.
BOURKE: How much support does the government have to pursue this case? Is it something that people are talking about?
LAW: Many years ago HK was quite conservative on this matter, there’s going acceptance of people from difference sexual orientation, including gays and lesbians and in fact in that way there’s quite strong supoprt for legislation to outlaw discriminarion to outlaw sexual discrimination the public in Hong Kong is more liberal than before.
BOURKE: It’s that sentiment that gay activist Roddy Shaw has confidence in
He says he’s actually expecting the case to be dismissed.
SHAW: We are very confident that the courts in Hong Kong will rule just as any other court in the western world has ruled before – striking down discriminatory buggery and sodomy laws in oher places. This case is going to be landmark because it is the first time that Hong Kong court hads upheld and I believe will be upholding, sexual orientation as one of the grounds for equal protection within our legal framwework namely the basic law and the bill of rights.
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."
September 19, 2006
Hong Kong court upholds decision against saying sodomy laws
Hong Kong – The Hong Kong government lost an appeal Wednesday of a High Court ruling against a law that says men younger than 21 who engage in sodomy should be jailed for life. A panel of three Court of Appeal judges upheld the original decision issued by the lower court in August 2005, the court’s ruling said.
The laws were first challenged by William Roy Leung, a then 20-year-old gay man who argued he should be able to have a loving relationship without the fear of imprisonment. In last August’s ruling, High Court Judge Michael Hartmann sided with Leung, saying the laws against sodomy infringed on the rights of privacy and equality for gay men.
While gay men caught engaging in sodomy when either is under 21 face life imprisonment, heterosexual couples can legally have sex at age 16. The government appealed the August ruling after it stirred an uproar among Christian groups, who have vigorously campaigned against gay sexual rights.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s appeal.
"At one stage, societal values dictated that buggery was some form of unnatural act, somehow to be condemned and certainly not condoned. These values have changed in Hong Kong," Chief Judge Geoffrey Ma said in the judgment. "I cannot see any justification for either the age limit of 21, or, in particular, for the different treatment of male homosexuals compared with heterosexuals," Ma said.
Leung did not appear in court Wednesday, but said in a statement issued by his lawyer: "This is a victory not only for me and the gay community in Hong Kong. "It’s a victory for all of us in Hong Kong, gay and straight alike who all have fundamental human rights," he said. Leung’s lawyer, Michael Vidler, said he was satisfied with the result.
"It’s the second time the government has comprehensively lost in this case," he told The Associated Press. "If a law is unconstitutional and discriminatory, the sooner it is changed the better," he said. Wednesday’s ruling does not erase the law — the legislature would need to remove it from the statutes first — but it does make it technically unenforceable, Vidler said.
Connie Lam, a spokeswoman at the Security Bureau, said the Department of Justice was carefully studying the judgment. She declined to say whether the government would further appeal the case.
October 16, 2006
Hong Kong drops challenge against gay age of consent
The Hong Kong government Monday caved in to a challenge against its gay sex laws, effectively lowering the homosexual age of consent from 21 to 16. The decision followed a shaming government defeat in the courts when it vainly appealed against a judicial review’s findings that the law governing the age of gay consent was unconstitutional.
In a short statement, the Security Bureau said it would not seek to reverse the court’s decision. "After considering all the relevant factors, the government decided not to appeal the judicial review," it read.
In a city that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1991, gays and lesbians had faced life imprisonment if they had performed sodomy before the age of 21. However, heterosexuals who had sex before 16 faced just a five-year sentence.
October 20, 2006
Gay film festival receives government backing
A gay film festival has received government backing for the first time in Hong Kong as part of a push to raise awareness of AIDS in the territory, a health official said Friday.
The Health Department’s Red Ribbon Centre has provided 8,000 US dollars in sponsorship to the Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival, which is to be held over two weeks beginning November 2.
It has also produced a 30-second advert promoting the use of condoms that will be screened before each film, published AIDS-awareness articles in the festival programme and will distribute condoms to the audience at the 50 films on show during the festival.
The move is part of a push to increase awareness of AIDS prevention among the gay community in Hong Kong, which has witnessed a rise in the number of HIV infections among men who have sex with men.
In the first six months of 2006, there were 3,000 cases in this category of HIV infection compared with 2,000 in the whole of last year.
Albert Au, medical officer of the Red Ribbon Centre, which works to promote AIDS awareness, said the statistics showed harder work was needed to get the message across to the gay population.
‘In the past, we have only had TV announcements, but they were made for the general public,’ Dr Au said. ‘We need something to cater to the gay community’s needs.’ The Red Ribbon Centre is the official sponsor of the showcase screening of the Spanish film ‘Bear Club,’ directed by Miguel Albaladejo, which follows the story of an HIV-infected gay man.