by Christian Lütjens
Taiwan from the centre to climax. A fairytale of chickens, deer and bears.
Byeseeyou sings out loud, sometimes beautifully, sometimes piercingly, standing under a plastic canopy with a dutifully drawn mic in her hand. Behind her shimmers a stretch of water bearing the beautiful name “Sun-Moon Lake”. Before her stands the imposing portal of the Taoist Wen Wu temple, on her right and left stalls offering sausages on skewers, Tea eggs and fried chicken. If the sky were not overcast, it would not only be a warm, but also a sunny afternoon. And if Byeseeyou didn’t have to sing all the time, she might even sell one of her CDs she brought with her. On the other hand, she still has a few years left. She is only six years old. At that age Britney Spears hadn’t even shot her first commercial. Byeseeyou on the other hand has over 3,000 fans on Facebook already. And she has just won a new one. Welcome to Taiwan.
It is the cute ambivalence of moments like these that always provides surprise and amusement when travelling within the Republic of China. “Republic of China?” some now ask. “Taiwan doesn’t belong to China at all. Think what you like, since “Republic” is not to be confused with “People’s Republic”. Taiwan in a way is what China could be had Mao Tse Tung not lived. It is the political remnant of a republican movement whose followers fought decades of skirmishes with nationalists, monarchists and communists after the fall of the Chinese Empire in 1912, before being expelled from mainland China in 1949 after the Communist Party seized power. Taiwan experienced 38 years of one-party dictatorship following that on the one hand and a tremendous economic boom on the other. Democracy was established at the end of the 1980s. This is an extremely abbreviated historical outline, but it explains to some extent the current ‘hermaphroditic’ status of the island. Mainland China still claims it as part of its terrritory. As a result, countries with diplomatic ties to the People’s Republic (and all industrial nations have them) must in return commit themselves not to recognise the Republic of China’s (i.e. Taiwan’s) full souvereignty as a state. This means international isolation for Taiwan, but internally it means that the country has one of the most progressive legislations for homosexuals in all of Asia.
Does Byeseeyou already know about all this? Probably not. And here, in the geographical centre of Taiwan, you can also forget about it quietly. The Sun-Moon Lake is a mystical place that invites you to dream and fable. According to legend, hunters of the Thao aboriginal tribe discovered the lake after driving a white deer to its shores. The animal disappeared into the waters and later appeared to the eldest of the tribe in a dream to announce that this was “the promised land for future generations”. So the Thao settled on the lake. But that was a long time ago. The size of the tribe has been reduced to about 250 members in these days. This makes the Thao the smallest of 14 officially recognised Taiwanese indigenous peoples, whose share of the total population is only two percent. Aboriginal culture is kept alive throughout the country in more or less tasteful folklore villages. A cable car takes you up the mountains from Sun-Moon lake to the “Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village”. The theme park with its nine replicated Aboriginal villages does not only lack sophistication because of the roller coaster area attached to it.
So we stay where we are, let the beautiful and piercing sounds still have an effect on us and gaze over the water. The area around the Wen Wu temple exudes great peace despite all the bustle around it. You can observe from the hill excursion boats commuting from shore to shore every 20 minutes and marvel at the majestic mountain landscape surrounding it. When Byeseeyou gives a short rest inbetween her songs, you can hear a multisonous ringing at every gust of wind. It is caused by so-called sacred bells, which can be bought at the temple. Hundreds of believers tie them to a lettice fence every day that lines the stairs leading down to the water . It is believed that the ringing of the “Blessing Wind Bells” would carry the prayers of their owners to the gods of Wen Wu. Whether this will work today can’t be answered positively. The six-year-old singing wonder keeps drowning out every ringing. She is even accompanied by a colleague of the same age this time with a mini guitar. They should be hired as a show act for Taiwan Pride. That is the actual goal of this trip (You might be too distracted to keep it in mind due to the poetical but torn grace of the moment). So no more elegiac information on the country and off to Taipei.
The capital is located in the far north of Taiwan, about 150 kilometers away from the Sun-Moon lake. There are several roads leading there. We have decided on the northeastern route. The canyons of the Taroko National Park, the beaches of Honeymoon Bay, the old gold mining town of Jiufen and the geological park of Yeliou are all along the way. Each of these destinations is an attraction in its own right, but the entire tour demonstrates one thing: Taiwan’s remarkable diversity of landscapes. While tropical plants like bamboo, betel nut and giant ferns still dominate the shores of Sun-Moon lake, you find yourself above the tree line after an only two-hour drive up Hehuanshan Mountain. Near Wuling lies the highest point accessible to motorized vehicles in Taiwan at 3,275 meters altitude. Trained athletes can also reach it by bike or on foot. But no matter how you get here, Wuling offers a fantastic mountain panorama that can easily compete with the Alps. We descend by serpentines and tunnels to Taroko gorge. Due to altitude and temperature gradients thick fog covers parts of the route, but unexpectedly clears time and again to reveal views of rugged rock faces and down precipices. Even in those who are no hiking enthusiasts grows a thirst for adventure. It is not even necessary to head for “Swallow Grotto” and the “Tunnel of Nine Turns” (the most popular tourist attractions in this bizarre stone world) to feel humility toward these rock formations, most of which are pure marble. The Su Hua coastal road along the Pacific Ocean is no less spectacular but quite dangerous with its many curves.
There is an alternative means of transport: You can travel more relaxed and safely by train. The network of Taiwan Railways Administration is wide and in good shape and the lines offer great views despite numerous tunnels. To the east of Taipei, it is worth stopping at the waveswept beach of Honeymoon Bay. Here you can swim and watch surfers at the same time. And if you still have energy for hard tourist action, you can make your way back stopping at Jiufen and Yeliou. Both places are indeed completely overcrowded (the locals blame the steadily increasing numbers of coach tourists from mainland China for this), but if you keep off the beaten tracks you will be rewarded with nice impressions. You can escape the noisy narrowness in the shopping streets of the archaic little town of Jiufen (where literally everything is sold from lollipops and chocolates in all colours and flavours up to hand-carved penis figures) by ascending to the upper floors of small tea houses. Sometimes you will be rewarded with a terrace including a sea view. Or you escape from the bustle of Jishan Street into a side street, climb a few stairs and shortly afterwards find peace and quiet at abandoned temples or on the Keelung Mountain Trail. As for Yeliou, spectectular are the cone-shaped natural sculptures that waves and wind have formed out of sandstone at this place. But they look even more beautiful where you don’t stand in a crowd taking pictures. You have an excellent overview form the lighthouse on top of a rock. You can almost hear the good-humoured waiters and excited guests shouting in the pubs of the gay Ximen district of the capital form here. Final spurt!
Taipei: The bars around Red House (a former market hall that was converted into an artist and cultural centre in 2007) are packed to the brim on weekends. Gays from all parts of the country come to Taipei to listen to Olivia Newton-John or Madonna in the “Xanadu”, indulge in their leather fetish at “Commander” or meet like-minded people in “Bear Bar”. The area looks a bit like a mini edition of the Yumbo Center on Gran Canaria with its access balcony on the first floor. You might see the comparison as compliment or insult. It is only meant to say that gay liberties are enjoyed in a concentrated form here. You can do that in Taiwan after all. The country’s anti-discrimination law was extended to sexual orientation in 2007 and, according to the statistics, three quarters of locals have no problem with homosexuals. Only the law opening marriage to all has been stubbornly withheld since 2003. It was not until February 2013 that a gay couple wanted to claim their right to marriage, but was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court. Such issues are discussed at Red House as well as the theory that the introduction of homosexual marriage could lead to decreasing HIV infection rates.
But it eventually simmers down to the one question: Do you prefer “bear” or “slim”? Contrary to every Asian cliché, the bears are in majority here. With the small peculiarity that they define themselves more by muscles and body weight than by “fur”. And this makes sense. If you disregard enormous pubic hair you sometimes encounter in saunas, the Taiwanese have less body hair than Europeans. If anybody should feel the need to ask about dick sizes we just roll our eyes and reply: The Taiwanese have the biggest – the biggest Gay Pride of Asia. The gigantic parade takes place in October and traditionally leads to Ximen bursting at its seams in the days before, during and after. Nationalities, body ideals and preferences then melt into a big colourful kettle of fun. Karaoke cabins of the city become the scene of most wonderful messes. Rumor has it that two giggling homos were staring at a tablet PC during this time to watch the latest video by Byeseeyou, called “Babeseeyou” on Youtube. And there she was, singing out loud, mic in hand, the waters of Sun-Moon lake in the background. What a strange déjà-vu. And a reminder of the cute ambivalence of this Republic of China. We like it!
Official website of Taiwan Tourisms offering news, event calendar, photo galleries and travel information.
HOW TO GET THERE
China Airlines offers direct flights from Vienna and Frankfurt to Taipei 3-or 5 times a week. Flight time approx. 12 hours. Return tickets from 692 Euros.
Eva Air has its base at Taipei’s Taoyuan- airport. The airline offers direct flights there from Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam. If you book with Eva Airways directly, feeder flights from Germany and Austria are included in the fare.
Hotel Quote (333 Nan-Jing E. Road, Sec. 3, Taipei) Beatiful and centrally located design hotel in Taipei, www.hotel-quote.com
The Lalu (142 Zhongxing Road, Yuchi Township, Nantou) The five-star hotel on the shore of Sun-Moon lake is designed according to Zen principles and the most exclusive hotel of the area, www.thelalu.com.tw
Silks Place (18 Tian Hsyang Road, Shiou Lin Village, Hualien) Design hotel in perfect locatiin within Taroko National Park, www.taroko.silksplace.com.tw
Red House Area (Cheng Du Road, Metro: Ximen)
It would be nonsense to highlight every bar in the gay Red House area individually. Since everything is in one place here, just have a look where there’s space and where you like it best. We recommend to fetish lovers Commander on the second floor, which boasts with being the only leather bar in Taiwan. Newcomers are given a friendly welcome in the nearby Gisneyland Info Shop, where they are provided with information about gay Taipei. Everything else is cruising.
All information on the gay scene can be fount in Spartacus App