Comfort Zone

Updated: 2012-09-21 07:37

By Yang Yang (China Daily)

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 Comfort Zone

People dance in Destination, said to be the biggest gay pub in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

Gay pub in Beijing has a smile Entry rule: anyone welcome

As night falls, the colors of the Middle Kingdom's capital briefly fade into the dark. Then a different set of colors emerges, as if Beijing has changed into other, more fashionable clothes. The ancient city starts to beat to fast-paced music. After a busy day of work, people take off their masks and put on makeup. They dance and laugh in Sanlitun and Houhai, where bars and pubs are clustered.

Not far from Sanlitun, on Gongtixilu Road in Chaoyang district, many people, mostly perfumed men in fashionable clothes, are hurrying to their destination. Or, more accurately, to Destination - a pub, but not any kind of pub. It is a gay club, but it is open to people of any sexual orientation.

Edmund Yang, the pub's co-founder, and his colleagues are trying to reshape the venue into a multifunctional center that houses art exhibitions, classrooms for all kinds of training, a reading room and a small HIV-test center.

"Around 90 percent of people coming here are homosexuals, so we wanted to create a space where they can feel at home," Yang says.

"We want to expand this pub to house more activities than just parties. Here, people can do more things than just look for partners. Our activities, like our pub, welcome all kinds of people. We want to show that homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals."

Destination is said to be the biggest gay pub in Beijing. In the eight years since it opened, it has offered a space for hundreds of thousands of people to meet friends, dance and drink. On special days like Halloween, the pub holds big parties that regularly attract more than 1,000 people. People are encouraged to dress according to themes the pub chooses. Customers dressed like coy policemen and coquettish drag queens can be seen on the dance floor.

And now there is space for Yang's ambitions. Originally, Destination had two floors of a four-story building, each covering more than 750 square meters. Earlier this year, the movie company above the pub moved away, so Yang rented the two floors it used to occupy.

The refurbishment of the upper floors was finished two months ago, and the space has already hosted many events. Two collections called "huMEN's Dream" have been displayed in the third-floor art gallery, featuring gay artists' paintings, statues and designs. The current exhibition, paintings and sculpture by the artist Liu Yan, is called "Time Regained" and runs until Sept 24.

On the fourth floor, Destination has organized free training sessions, including make-up, dance and craft lessons. Some gay writers, including the author of the queer novel Courage, who goes by the pen name Xiaojie, were also invited here to do signings and communicate with readers.

As for the HIV-test center, hundreds of people have received tests there.

 Comfort Zone

Edmund Yang, co-founder of Destination, is turning the pub into a multifunctional center. Yang Yang / China Daily

"I do not have the exact number of how many people have been there or how many positive cases there have been. My goal is to provide a place for people where they feel at ease to take the test. If you go to a hospital to take the test, people will see you in a different way," Yang says.

"We also have the chance to raise people's awareness to protect themselves and to learn more. We've been doing this for a long time, and we think it is time for us to give something back to society."

Yang, 31, came to Beijing 18 years ago, where he worked and met his boyfriend. Now, the company that sent Yang to the city no longer exists but the relationship is still working well. In 2001 Yang and his friends opened a bar called On-off, but the founders left and they closed the bar. Three years later Yang and his partner decided to run their own pub.

"We purposely chose a place close to Sanlitun," he says, "and we called it Destination because we hope all our friends, wherever they go, will have only one destination - our place."

Over the years, Yang and his colleagues have tried to make the pub better. He has traveled to many cities around the world, looking for talent to perform at Destination.

"Many of our friends might not have the chance to go abroad, so we invite excellent DJs from the United States or Hong Kong to play music so that they can enjoy themselves here."

Yang himself is an accomplished DJ. For the past seven years his skills were in evidence on a program called Remix on CRI Hit FM 88.7, until the program ended three months ago.

"I love music very much, except hip-hop."

Yang, who was born in Hong Kong and finished middle school in Britain before pursuing higher education in the US, is a partner at the global accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Beijing. For years he has been applying what he has learned from PwC to managing the pub.

"Eighty percent of the employees of our pub have been working here since 2004," says Yuan Dongming, Destination's public relations manager.

"We have 40 employees, and we hire some temporary staff at busy times," Yang says. "Most of our employees are from the countryside. I know that they can't really get rich working here but I want them to be happy here and make a stable living."

"We offer a trip abroad each year, which is something I copied from PwC, but I want to do better."

As for attitudes to homosexuality in China, Yang says it is better than what foreigners imagine.

"People from Europe, the US or Japan may think we are living in great frustration and depression in China, but they say 'wow' when they come here. We are not living in misery as they imagine.

"But I hope we can work hard to allow society to accept us more, so that many problems can be solved. For instance, I read the other day that a Chinese woman killed herself after finding out her husband was gay. If society can be more open, such tragedies will happen less frequently."

(China Daily 09/21/2012 page21)