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12 Apr 2001

republic of cock

Take a quick, but highly informative, tour of Taipei's bars and sauna scene, led by the inimitable Patrick O'Flannaghan!

Not having visited every nook and cranny of this industrious little island of 23 million souls, I cannot give a comprehensive description of each individual betel-nut stand, karaoke bar, station john or clump of greenery where you will be lucky enough to get a blow-job, but I can point you towards a few interesting places that might afford a little relaxation and friendship during your visit to Taiwan.

Funky (Overall rating: 8/10)
The dowager empress of the Taiwan gay scene, known even to middle-aged taxi drivers, Funky is a must-see when you are in Taipei. Located in the basement of a residential building not too far from the police and military headquarters (yum yum), and also within bronchial hacking distance of the ministry of immigration, you will first have to pass the door-charge troll before entering this fun palace. The entrance is not well-marked or lit, so you have to look for lithe youths in bright white undershirts hanging around outside, then you'll see some form of rainbow tapestry hanging on a red-brick wall half-way down a flight of stairs.

You need to bring some form of ID because even a walker, Alzheimer's disease, liver spots and nylon slacks won't convince the doorkeeper that you're over 18. Photocopy the photo page of your passport and carry that around with you. It's not unsafe to carry your passport in Taiwan, in fact it's one of the safest countries you'll visit in Asia, but it's just less for you to carry, and it won't matter so much if you spill beer on it.

The cover charge is around US$12, but this includes drinks. Jugs of water and cups are available on the bar for free. In this bastion of maleness women must pay over US$30, so if you're politically correct, you should stay well away. Moaning liberals are not welcome and will be swiftly escorted back up to street and gutter level. They have a list of drinks for you to choose from before you go in. They will write what you ask for on a chit which you must present to the barman. Then you have to squeeze your way through mounds of gorgeously pristine young men pretending to ignore you.

The Taiwanese are boringly conservative and will protest that they cannot go home with you on the first date. The same prisses will be in a cab to the park or sauna as soon as the club closes at 3.30am, but heaven forbid you might point out this hypocrisy. The real story is that their friends are so bitchy, they cannot face the torture they will experience if they are seen leaving the club with anyone. The hisses of "slut!" and "bitch!" that greet anyone who has been what we would consider lucky the week before sound like the hydraulic pistons of a Victorian steam train. If you like a guy, by all means talk to him and let him know you are interested, but arrange to meet him discreetly outside later, preferably well away from the club's entrance. Make a great show of saying goodbye and leaving at a different time, alone.

The music ranges from Hi-NRG Taiwan pop - which is great fun for someone like me who grew up in 80s - to rock with crunching guitars and occasional Chinese, Japanese or Korean versions of hits you know from home. And for a couple of hours you will be amazed by the "cha-cha" period, when the whole throng on the dancefloor will move in predetermined dance steps. Get a cute one to show you how to do it and you'll have a great laugh as you tread on his toes. Up until last year there was no "Western" music per se , but the hardened clubbers among you will be pleased to know that Funky now has some more progressive DJs who take over the console around 2am on a Friday and Saturday and throw on some banging techno tracks.

If you go to the club any night apart from Friday or Saturday, you will find no disco, only karaoke.
Scorpio (Karaoke drops rating to 6/10)
Scorpio is a small bar that can't cope with more than thirty patrons at one time. In fact, the usual gathering will be a dozen or so men seated around the narrow bar where the ever-so-sweet barman and his wannabe bitchy boss, Da Wei, will tend to your drinking and snacking needs. They have a full list of cocktails for around US$6 each and bottled beers for US$5.

Recently the club installed a karaoke machine and I have not dared go back since, so I am not sure what the heinous contraption has done to the atmosphere. The attraction of Scorpio is that the boss will introduce you to the people you like or vice versa and arrange for you to sit together if you like. If you get embarrassed at approaching people, this is probably the place for you. It helps if you speak a little Mandarin, but Da Wei is originally from Singapore, so his English is good and most young guys can stumble through a conversation and are happy to get the free practice. The crowd tends to be slightly older and more professional. You'll also bump into the odd Japanese businessman as Scorpio has a bit of a reputation in gay Japanese folklore. Don't ask!

The Source (Overall rating 7/10)
No matter what anyone else tells you, this is the only bar in Taiwan where a fair number of gay foreigners and locals mix together. You are also more likely to be able to communicate relatively easily in English if your Mandarin is non-existent. Bar prices are very reasonable and the majority of the staff is friendly and able to mix a mean gin and tonic. The bar is located down a side street off Hoping West Road in the south of the city and can be identified by a large sign painted on the wall and a rainbow flag on the door. Recently the bar has introduced a door charge on Fridays and Saturdays, but it is only NT$200 (US$6.25) and includes drink vouchers. I assume the door charge is a result of the popularity of the bar on weekends. It is often nigh on impossible to squeeze your way from the door through the narrow bar area to the restroom at the back, unfortunately located right beside the gale-force aircon.

To ease the weekend crush, the basement is divided between a dancefloor and a quieter chill-out seating annex with a second bar. The drawbacks of the basement are the precarious stairwell, the lack of an emergency exit, and a second toilet with two malodorous urinals. Often when you're bopping away to the latest tune from Yuki, Amei or Karen Mok, you notice a stench rolling across the floor, but that's part of the charm of the place, I guess. However, with bleach at less than one US dollar per bottle, it never ceases to amaze me that even the swishest of venues can have toilets like an outdoor rock festival. The Source is not unique in this, and it has improved due to pressure from regular customers. In the upstairs restroom you will now find liquid soap, paper towels and air-fresheners.

Most of the people who frequent the Source have a love-hate relationship with the bar. Personally, I find it a fun place to go and a place where it is easy to make friends if you are only in town for a few days. The conversational skills of the locals may leave a lot to be desired, but they are very sincere and genuinely interested in you. Like Funky, you should be discreet if you are going to leave with someone, but you are more likely to find company after the bar closes here than in any other bar. It is a must for any gay visitor to Taipei.

The Q Bar (Overall rating 9/10)
Located in the fashionable Chung Hsiao East Road district, the Q Bar is great place to start off the evening. Although it is not a gay bar, the owner and some of the staff are members of the "family" and there are a fair few of us scattered among the clientele. With comfortable sofas, great food and choker gins (there's even Bombay Sapphire!), you will certainly feel comfortable here. Most of the foreigners are ex-pats working in international companies, so there's more of an upmarket feel to crowd, but this does mean that the pool table area can get a little rowdy with jocks. Thankfully they are usually well-behaved and you won't find the homophobic attitudes of other bars like 45s. If you're alone, sit round the bar area and you'll get chatting to some friendly people.
Watersheds (Overall rating 7/10)
Opened last year, this narrow bar is a welcome addition to the Taipei scene. The owner and resident DJ are both gay, and so are many of the customers, but the bar is not officially promoted as a gay bar. What you will enjoy most is the extensive list of cocktails. My personal favorite is a "Sally Slut" which is a mouth-watering mix of Cointreau, Southern Comfort, vodka and fruit juices. It is potent, so be careful! The bar itself has a high-class design, thanks to the owner who happens to be an interior designer as well. If the narrow ground floor gets too crowded, there are comfy sofas and table downstairs in the basement for groups to sit together.

45s, Roxy 99, Roxy Jr. Caf (Straight factor puts rating at 5/10)
These three bars are located within easy walking distance of each other in the south of the city, not too far from the Source. They are very popular with the foreigners in Taipei and attract quite a few gay guys. They have a more western feel to them and have a mixed Chinese / western menu as well. I find 45s to be rather aggressive and not that gay-friendly on weekends, but it is a good choice during the week when all the gay bars are empty. Roxy 99 and Roxy Jr. Caf are much friendlier and it is possible to get chatting to other gay people there. I have it on good authority that it is also possible to pick up guys there, too



PCs, parks and bathhouses

It is of course possible to live a gay life in Taiwan without ever visiting a bar, and many local Taiwanese do. If you don't have access to the Internet where you are staying, there are still plenty of Internet cafs dotted around the island's cities, especially Taipei. You will find the Taiwan chat room on Gay.com to be one of the busiest English language rooms. You can also leave a message on the Source's personals page (www.gay-tw.com), or on the HIS magazine website (www.hismagazine.com). Don't forget that Fridae.com also has a personals page. So get your profile on-line! I do strongly recommend exchanging photos, although keep in mind that, despite what your teacher told you at school, the camera does lie.

If you prefer the added anonymity of cruising, then you will find great pickings in the new park, also known as the 228 Memorial Park. The area near the children's playground (!) and the public toilets (quell surprise) is where you will find the foliage alive with surreptitious goings on. The speed with which some of the guys go through the area is amazing. I guess it is a combination of nerves and shame, but how they think anyone is going to get a good look at them, I'll never know. You won't find much going on in the park itself (maybe out of respect for Chen Shui-bian who is just a few yards away in the presidential palace), but you can make a connection and head off somewhere else (usually your place). The park is well-known in the city thanks to a few books written on the subject and occasional press reports, but as long as you don't get up to anything in public, nobody - including the police - will bother you.

As an alternative to the park, you can get your rocks off safely indoors in a nice locked cubicle. There are two saunas in Taipei. The second one, Rainbow, has opened very recently and is reportedly quite lush. I have not had the chance to check it out yet, but I hear it is the local equivalent of Bangkok's Babylon. That is quite a claim and one you should check out. I have, however, made a few visits to the other sauna. If you have older information on Taipei you will probably read about Da Fan, which was infamous in its day. The building in which that was located was condemned and demolished, and not a moment too soon. That particular phoenix has not risen from the ashes.
Being the site of quite a lot of seismic activity, Taipei boasts many hot springs in the hilly suburbs. There are a few gay ones, and you will probably be invited to one by the new friends you make while you are here. They are a unique experience and one I have had the great pleasure to enjoy on many occasions. Even if you are not looking for sex, they are a great social event.

Hans Sauna
Hans is located down a little alleyway in Taipei's naughty Ximending area. I was pleased to find Hans clean and sanitary with a plentiful supply of fresh towels and disposable razors and toothbrushes. It's hard to find, as the only indication from the main street is some small red Chinese characters painted on a bare white wall, but after closing time at the bars there will be a line of homing queens to follow. The cover charge is around US$15 which gives you a robe, a saffron towel and a locker key. Inside you will find a hot pool, showering areas, wet and dry saunas, and a lounge. Upstairs is where the real fun is with a maze of little booths and a couple of dark rooms. Don't be surprised if someone asks you to go home with him as the sauna is more than an uncomplicated fuck zone. Many guys use this as a socializing and dating opportunity. It can also serve as an alternative to a hotel for those on a brief stopover. One thing is for certain, the caliber of men drifting around the corridors is pretty high. Lots of flat stomachs, hard muscles, bubble butts and cute faces.

24 Meeting Place
This is one of the better hot springs in Taipei's Peitou district. The men are much more masculine and less gym-honed (these muscles are from sheer, sweaty hard work - drool!) than their equivalents in the city, and the cubicles seem to be much cleaner than most I have visited. You leave your shoes in lockers at the entrance. You will then wear a pair of generic slippers to the changing area where they will be discarded. You can go naked, or wear a robe depending on how shy you want to be. The Chinese are quite meticulous about bathing and will scrub for a long time before going anywhere near the communal pools. It is considered unhygienic to jump straight in without bathing. You will find a row of showers with soap and shampoo provided and plenty of clean dry towels. There are also short squat stools and plastic basins for those who prefer to bathe the traditional way. The place has showers piped directly from the hot spring water, but you will still see many people washing in this manner.

Afterwards, you have the choice of steam rooms, dark, winding corridors with cubicles off them, private bathing rooms with great stone tubs for taking the hot spring waters, communal platforms (for orgies and voyeurs), and a common room with drinks and places to sit and chat.

Taiwan

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