Back in the 80s, I was honored by an invite to be a part of the Taiwanese Chinese Youth Corps cultural tour. Every year, hundreds of up and coming Chinese kids around the world were invited to the island nation to see a little bit of Chinese culture, connect with fellow other kids our own age, and learn a few skills along the way.
Now, I was probably at the height of my “I am Canadian” phase at the time, that is, I tried to see myself as beyond being of Chinese cultural heritage (in general, I’m actually a mutt… but that’s a tale for another day). Hell, if you asked me if I was Chinese, I probably would have said Quebecois first and foremost. Yeah, I was definitely what we Chinese call a “banana”, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. A little concerned, my folks suggested I give my heritage a bit of a break, and try to keep an open mind.
Well, admittedly the trip did change a lot of my impressions and thoughts on being Chinese, but there was an unexpected effect. While I became more China-centric, I also let my guard down and became a full fledged party guy for a brief sliver of time. It was pretty inevitable. get 1000 17, 18 and 19 yr old boys and girls and put them on the same campus with no parental supervision? What do you think happens?
Now, I can tell you about the pub crawls, the late night dinners, sleeping in karaoke clubs, and more… but one particular night will always shine in my mind.
Kiss La Bocca. more affectionately known as just KISS, was probably the very first night club I ever went to. There, with some beer and my new friends. I was introduced to the electrifying music of New Order, the smooth sensation of a Rum and Coke, the quiet delights of a snuggle in the shadows and the hot action of the dance floor. It was there where my friends and I would sneak out every other night to relax after a hard day of Chinese language studies and road trips across Taiwan. And it was there when lil’ evangelical me (back then, I was such a religious kook) had his first… well… I don’t know what to call it moment.
To understand this event, you have to understand that KISS’ layout is basically a dual level nightclub. On the ground floor is one huge dance floor, with random lights flashing off everywhere. At one end of the floor, there’s a large stage surrounded by huge speakers. On the sides, there were bars, tables and chairs and so on. The upper second floor is more of a huge veranda, surrounding 3 of the 4 sides of the room giving the crowd above a great view of the floor below. Now that you have an idea of the room, let’s get back to the tale.
So there I was, with my friends and basically going wild on the floor below, when the music switched from techno to a romantic slow song. All of us left the dance floor, but Patricia (wow I miss her) came up to me and asked if I’d like to slow dance, and astonishingly I said yes and we embraced. The lights shut down, and all that could be seen were couples holding close, fumbling in the dark.
It was… nice. Her body close against mine, warmth against warmth, heads against each other. I savored the moment between 2 good friends, and admittedly just the simple pleasure of a cute gal pressed against me. And then… our eyes adjusted to the darkness.
It was a shock… and then some. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I started to see the other couples dancing cheek to cheek. They were all close and intimate. They were all in each others’ arms. They were all men.
My eyes widened. I closed them again and when they opened again… yep… it was all men. I whispered to Pat, “Take a look around. Are we in a gay club?” I couldn’t see her face and see her reaction, but a few seconds later she replied, “I think we are.”
Well, the tender, sweet moment between Pat and I was pretty much lost right there and then. We started to look around us more in depth, and looked up together at the walkways above. And again, we were shocked yet once again. There they were, over a hundred Taiwanese pairs of eyes, all male, all watching Pat and me intensely like a Foodie on a diet staring at a 21 day aged well done Prime Rib. We held each other tighter and continued to dance, and I asked her, “Are they watching us or just me?” She replied, “We’re in the middle of a gay club, so I’m pretty sure just you. I guess your ass has a lot more sex appeal than I thought.”
Remember, I was a bit evangelical and definately a little homophobic then., and if you know me, you know that my friends tend to have a sense of dry wit and humor. Needless to say, Patricia hit the PERFECT words to freak me out and enjoyed it all the while. So I did what any young mildly evangelical homophobic kid would do when slow dancing with a hot girl but surrounded by hundreds of gay couples and being watched from above by other men… I took the slow dance lead and lead us off the dance floor all the while Patricia was both mildly amused by my reaction and a little surprised by the whole revelation around us. In fact, I slow danced us off the floor, didn’t even notice having left it and continued to go on right back to the safety and sanctity of my friends and our tables.
Now this is one of those cultural things that I never could have known about, just like in my previous blog about barber poles (check out The Boy, The Barber Shop and the Talented Hooker to see what I mean). When I explained the whole event to a Tour coordinator, he spent a few minutes laughing before he could control himself long enough to breathe. My friends and I went out on a Wednesday night, which to you or me probably wouldn’t have made much difference at all, but makes all the difference to a local Taiwan guy. You see, Wednesdays seems to be the unofficial night for Taiwanese guys to go to night clubs, to take what they’ve learned from American videos and the past weekend, and to test out their new moves so they could impress their girlfriends on the weekend. And being an obviously Western crew, we walked in on the one night where each and every one of them would watch and examine us to learn fresh moves from the US of A. Being the only visitor guy who dared go on the dance floor for a slow dance, they were analyzing every little thing I was doing to see if they could improve their own skills, and thankfully not to check out my Chinese-Canadian ass. (Thank heavens, I never thought my ass was particularly sexy.)
It was a fun night. It was an awkward night. It was magic, and comfort, and sexy, and freaky. And it was a night that was a step on my path to understanding on when to embrace the experience and run with it. Thanks Patricia and all the crew of the Chien T’an 1989 Taiwan Cultural Youth Tour for memories I’ll never forget.