Sunday, 18 April 2010


When we were about 13, my friends and I started going shopping (without parents!) in Leicester and later, Birmingham. Even though we mostly spent our time in Topshop and Miss Selfridge, the real draw for me was the excitement of being in a bustling, noisy city. Compared to the suburbs, Leicester was a thrilling assault to the senses, and I loved everything about it. As I'm sure most of you know, Leicester and Birmingham are two of the most multi-racial cities in the UK, and both are heading for so-called 'minority-majority' status. So from the very beginning, I thought of cities as melting pots. Years later, when I moved to Edinburgh, I remember being surprised at how white it is: 'sameness' just isn't a word I associate with cities. Unsurprising then, that Glasgow felt more comfortable to me.

Daegu is certainly more like Edinburgh than Glasgow: its a Conservative city, as well as a conservative one. I knew this before I moved here but, like most things I 'knew' before I came to Korea, it took me a long time to actually understand it. Most of the time it's no big deal, and the high concentration of teachers in Siji sometimes masks it, but any visit to Seoul is an immediate reminder of what a truly cosmopolitan city feels like. Rather like the trip to Japan, I'm amazed at how somewhere so foreign can feel so comfortable and normal just by encompassing different cultures. Sometimes all it takes is hearing people speak Arabic, and being able to buy couscous and vegan cookies to feel at home. Oh, and the gay bars help too. I almost forgot about those.

There's an area in Itaewon (the foreigner district of Seoul) known as 'homo hill'. The bars are small, the sound systems suck, and the drinks are overpriced, but there's no denying the fabulousness. While dithering over which bar was best, we were beckoned into one by a giant of a man wearing exquisitely applied make-up. He immediately asked if we were 'lejbian' and informed us that he was 'super bottom'. He then started his own 'booking club'* by getting all the girls to sit together, and telling everyone to talk. Luckily, the Koreans we sat with were very friendly, and one of them was an English teacher so helped translate. The conversation was certainly enlightening for foreigners and Koreans alike about the differences in gay-cultue. They were astounded that all of our famillies knew about us dating girls, while our jaws dropped when our translator told us she was married to a gay man, and hopes to be able to live with her girlfriend 'in a year or three'.

By then, the dancefloor was calling, so we relocated to one of the nightclubs. Koreans don't ever really do 'playing it cool', and they LOVED the music (100% K-pop of course). By the time we left, there really was a gaysplosion outisde: the hill was packed with happy queens of every color. I guess I used to think gay bars were all seedy and meat-market-y, and while I'm sure some of them must be, so far it's been the opposite: the atmosphere is more friendly and welcoming than in most 'straight' bars and clubs.

*'Booking clubs' or 'nightclubs' are bars where men pay for women to sit with them and chat.

No comments:

Post a Comment