A new neighbourhood LGBTQ initiative gathers every Thursday evening a stone’s throw away from theDesk. We join in and speak to the participants about community representation, queer nightlife and building friendships
By Grace Fung
On a Thursday evening, down the quiet end of Forbes Street in Kennedy Town, a small gathering is happening amid the towering banyan trees, recycling shops and old housing estates. We arrive at Purple Bar and Lounge around 6.30pm, where 31-year-old architect Yat Sing Ha, or Sing, is perched atop a ladder, hanging a banner off the side of a recycling truck that, like the shop that owns it, doesn’t seem to be moving any time soon. It’s three metres wide and unapologetically juxtaposes the cement-grey and army-green of the rest of the scene. It boasts a rainbow and, in large, white text, it reads: ‘GHOOD: Your Weekly Gayborhood Meetup’.
Sing and his friend, Felix Yuen, a 29-year-old copyright lawyer, are the brains behind Ghood, a weekly gathering in Kennedy Town that aims to provide members of the neighbourhood LGBTQ community a place to meet up and socialise in a low-key atmosphere, a stone throw’s away from theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan. “You can just come down in your flip-flops and have a drink at your neighbourhood local bar. It’s super chill,” Sing tells us. Felix continues: “People really need something as chill as this. Right now, if you want to connect with the rest of the gay community, it seems you have to either get involved in NGOs or go to clubs. But here, people just sit down and have a drink. That’s the idea.”
Felix and Sing see Ghood as the antithesis of the rest of queer nightlife in Hong Kong. Sing says: “In the gay community, going ‘out’ is always a big deal. You have to dress up and get ready, and you always go to same places in either Central or Sheung Wan.” But Ghood is not intended as a replacement for the established queer nightlife spots. Felix tells us that even though ‘Kennedy Town is not very far from Central, the neighbourhood feels more like home’. “We still need to go to town for parties,” he says, “but this is for a chill Thursday night.”
Sing, born and raised in Hong Kong, identifies as gay and has spent sporadic years working in New York. He’s been a Sai Wan stalwart for 13 years and has witnessed the well-known transformation in the area. He’s seen rents increase, the proliferation of F&B establishments and the following influx of the young and the hip. Having lived on High Street in Sai Ying Pun for many years before moving to Kennedy Town, he tells us: “When I left for New York, the place downstairs from mine was a fishball and noodle-soup restaurant. When I came back from New York, it was a craft beer spot.” But Sing enjoys the new hybrid atmosphere in the district. “I like my craft beer and my fishball noodle-soup as well,” he says.
This new and somewhat contradictory Sai Wan flavour is evolving, seeing old and new, Eastern and Western, historical spaces and gentrifying forces continuing to position themselves against their new opposites. And it’s precisely this ambiguity of Sai Wan’s atmosphere and its still-nebulous meaning in the modern Hong Kong narrative that’s able to see the rise of initiatives like Ghood. For many young professionals like Felix and Sing, straddling Eurocentric academic backgrounds and strong local identities, their discomfort sits well with the discomfort of the area. One added layer, which interacts intersectionally with the rest of their experiences, is of course their queerness, whose presence is also constantly ‘within and without’ them: fully realised yet often kept apart from day-to-day life.
Sing tells us that while it’s not terribly hard for gay people living in Hong Kong, it’s still ‘difficult’. “We lead two lives,” he says. “One with our LGBTQ friends and another with family and work.” Kyle Cheung, a 36-year-old designer at a large apparel company, shares similar thoughts. He tells us that at work, ‘there’s pressure to not say that you’re gay’. “Most of the women in my office have families,” he says, “and even if it’s quite international, there’s still the possibility of people seeing you in a different light or interacting with you in a different way.”
For many members of the LGBTQ community, especially those who aren’t fully out, this silent juggling act is familiar and well-practiced. But it doesn’t take away the desire for a space where the entirety of ‘who one is’ can freely come to the fore without having to give it a second thought. “It’s not that we’re uncomfortable in straight environments. It’s just that we get people better who also get us,” says Felix.
“We can’t recognise ‘gayness’. You can’t tell if someone’s gay just by looking at them. You can’t go ‘oh look, you’re gay’,” says another Ghood patron, a 29-year-old architect who wishes to remain anonymous, with a chuckle. But for him and others, events like the Ghood meetups eliminate the unspoken question, rendering it entirely irrelevant. “Before you come in, you already feel more welcome,” he adds.
Ghood aims to bridge the daily disconnects that riddle so many queer lives by providing a safe community and space where people can simply relax and unwind. Many members of the gay community rely on distance-based dating apps to meet new friends and Sing sees Ghood as a way of doing the same thing without necessarily sexualising the interaction. “You don’t have to ask for pictures or anything. You can just ask them to come down for a drink,” he tells us with a smile.
And although Ghood has only been operational for five weeks, steady networks and friendships have already been struck. Sing tells us how, a few weeks back, another Ghood patron, Aaron, who Sing met through one of his events, had a pipe burst in his apartment at 3.30am. Desperate and unable to contact building management, Aaron called Sing, who lived close by and who’d already been awake as the two had planned to go to an early Crossfit session the following morning. Sing was able to enlist the help of the security guard in his building to fix the situation. “That would never happen in Central,” says Sing. And we can’t imagine it happening anywhere else either…
Over the night, the five-or-so two-top tables gradually combine to make a long communal table, flanked on all sides by jovial patrons and spotted with glasses of varying volumes. And for seasoned night-owls like us who are frankly used to shouting over dance music in feeble attempts at meeting new people, what immediately stands out about Ghood is how easily intimate, inclusive and open the conversations quickly become. They flow freely, with topics ranging from work and politics to the the nightlife scene and where each patron falls on the Kinsey scale, as well as, ahem, comprehensive deconstructions of everyone’s preferences in pornography. Laughs echo and inside jokes, formed during the evening, weave themselves in and out of the multiple dialogues naturally oscillating between English and Cantonese.
In the middle of these conversations, Felix leans over and tells us: “You see how close we are. It’s free to speak about anything.” There’s no helping feeling suddenly privy to the lives of people you’ve just gotten to know over two drinks and a sense of catharsis quietly-yet-decisively permeates the room. “It’s refreshing,” continues Felix. “This is what we mean when we talk about community. It’s about friendship and proximity.” As people file in over the evening, everyone introduces themselves to new arrivals and none of it feels forced. “People feel free and safe to come in, even if it’s already 9.30pm. That’s what it’s about,” says Felix.
The next morning, going over notes from the previous night, one scribbled quote in our notebook stands out to us. Recorded at the peak of the evening, it reads: ‘10:18, Felix: ‘This is the exact moment I want’.” Others there perhaps had the same thought in passing, the moment occurring so naturally that it maybe didn’t register. Reading this and other quotes from the various interviewees, there’s a sudden conscious urgency to neither diminish the truthfulness of the evening nor overemphasise its difference from other social events in writing. It’s the simultaneous ordinariness as well as the quiet politics of it all that makes the event significant.
“It’s not that Hong Kong is close-minded,” Felix, also a volunteer at Amnesty International Hong Kong LGBTI Group, explains. “It’s just that people don’t know that we’re so close to them. Gays are everywhere. It’s a huge community. We’re in so many offices and in so many families. If people knew that, they’d think differently.” And in between the old recycling shop, which had no qualms about the huge rainbow flag hanging off their truck, and the neighbourhood snack shop, from which late-night snacks appear miraculously in the middle of the evening, the small gathering at Ghood is another productive step in overcoming heteronormativity in Hong Kong. How? Just with people chilling and having a drink. Or three.
Many participants of the event had a recurring sentiment: “It’s a good start but it’s never enough.” Sing, also recently a new member of theDesk, doesn’t just hope that Ghood takes off in Kennedy Town. He wants to reach other neighbourhoods as well. “My hope is that Ghood happens every Thursday in several neighbourhoods,” he says. “And I hope Ghood could have a flag and a float at Hong Kong Pride!” Here at theDesk, we can’t be any more excited about this new addition to the evolving fabric of our district. We can’t wait to see how Ghood it can get!
‘Feel Ghood at K-Town’ happens every Thursday at 7pm at Purple Bar & Lounge on Forbes Street. For more information about Ghood, visit facebook.com/ghoodhk or drop by theDesk to meet co-founder Sing!