Thailand, and Khrungthep in particular, are known to be pretty accepting, gay-friendly places. There is much more acceptance of “alternate” lifestyles, driven mostly by Buddhist belief of tolerance and the underlying principle that through reincarnation you either have been, or at some point will be, born as a person who is gay, lesbian or transgendered. So as you walk about town, it is quite common to see people who are more “obviously” gay, lesbian or transgendered.
When I say obviously, I don’t necessarily mean stereotypically. Instead, it is the idea that you see people being more comfortable as themselves instead of trying to pretend to be something different.
Beyond the usual visibility of “family” I was a little curious as to why, this weekend in particular, there seemed to be so many of the gym-bunny, muscle boy types on the Skytrain, around Siam Paragon, and … actually, that’s the only two places I saw them because they would hardly desire to be seen anywhere else!
It turns out that fridae.com, an internet portal for GLBT Asians, was hosting a Songkran party at the Millennium Hilton Hotel. These events attract the circuit party crowd, girls and boys (mostly boys) who gather for hours and hours of non-stop dancing and other activities, quite often fueled by the use of artificial stimulants such as ecstasy. This testosterone-fueld fun of course comes with the requirement that you fit into a certain desired body type: muscled.
Of course all of our society is fueled by advertising-driven images that tell us that youth, beauty and sex are the desired commodities and that if we don’t look like that, we’re just not beautiful. Insecurity sells.
A good ten years ago, I remember a conversation I had with Stuart, a Singaporean friend. After studying in the US, Stuart finally returned to Singapore to fulfill his compulsory military service. At this time, the restrictions on gay life in Singapore were just beginning to ease and dance clubs that catered to gay clientele were no longer being regularly raided. One of Stuart’s comments was his pleasure in discovering upon his return to the Lion City that the boys in Singapore were finally starting to acquire more muscled bodies.
This got me to thinking – and there’s a good number of muscle boys who read this blog, so I realize I’m at risk of offending some readers – but is this really a step forward?
Ten, fifteen years ago there was a predominate stereotype of gay Asian men (and Asian men in general) as being slender and effeminate. The presumption was that they were submissive sexually. The work I did for my senior thesis in university was specifically about deconstructing and understanding those stereotypes and their perpetuation through media.
Now, while some of that stereotype still exists, it has been largely supplanted by the “success” of many gay Asian men in moving on to a whole new stereotype: the muscled gym bunny image of masculinity. Congratulations, but has one set of chains been replaced by another?
Of course, these types of discussions only work when you consider a group in aggregate and not when you look at people individually. Everyone has the right to be (and look) the way they want to, and going to the gym and being fit is a laudable goal.
My concern, apart from the general one of anyone complacently buying into the beauty myth that we are sold on a daily basis, is that the means used to achieve the muscle boy / gym bunny look isn’t always healthy. While there are many people who maintain a focused regimen of weight training to achieve their pecs, many others feel compelled to achieve a body they might not naturally have through the use of supplements, unhealthy diet and exercise habits, and steroids.
My two baht’s worth of thought on the topic. Comments?
Fridae’s columnist Alvin Tan writes a related article about “Golden Men” and talks about ageing in a society that actively promotes the ideal of youthful beauty in the link here.
For an entirely different view of masculinity in the gay culture, here is an article by Hunter College professor Ricahrd A. Kaye in the Los Angeles Times about the “Bear” subculture and the increasing attention it is drawing from both academics and social critics.
Okay, aside from my ranting on the issue of muscle boys, here’s what else has been happening on our Songkran weekend.
Saturday afternoon Tawn and I went to Paragon to run a few errands before meeting friends at Vanilla. We managed to get through the errands early enough so stopped at the Oriental Shop (related to the Mandarin Oriental Hotels) for a full tea set. They have a very nice boutique with a glass-walled kitchen in the center of the store so you can watch them making baked goods and chocolates.
The scone set was served with their Marco Polo tea, an English Breakfast-like tea with more of a floral profile, and their yummy pomelo marmalade. Of course we have no shortage of tea bags at home, but sometimes it is nice to be pampered a little with the attentive service and relaxing environment of the shop.
The scones themselves? A little heavy on the baking powder I think. But tasty nonetheless. I like the votive candle holder for the teapot and would enjoy having something similar from which to serve tea at home. Actually, in this whole process of buying a condominium I’m creating a mental list of the features I’d like to have in an eventual dream home. In my mind there would be a small parlor/study that would open up to a breeze-cooled veranda with a quartet of comfortable chair from which to take tea in the afternoons.
In fact, I’m reminded to afternoon tea I would have in fifth and sixth grades at the house of my classmate David Long. His mother was Filipino and his father American and for some reason she made croissants from scratch every afternoon and would serve us milk tea. I think she invited my mother over once for tea. It was fantastic. Then after sixth grade David moved to Cupertino (literally the next city over from Sunnyale) and we lost touch. I always wondered what happened to him. Of course, an internet search on “David Long” doesn’t return any shortage of results.
As the scorching summer sun sends temperatures soaring, a traditional dish that is enjoyed around Songkran is khao chae. Refreshing and healthy, khao chae is a chilled porridge made with cooked jasmine rice and floral-scented water.
Its origins go back centuries to when the Mon people occupied the Central Plains. As part of their celebrations to mark the first day in their lunar calendar, the Mon offered gifts of what they called khao Songkran (Songkran rice) to the female guardian spirit of the New Year. The name was later modified to khao chae because a special variety of rice is soaked (chae) in water. King Rama V, who reigned from 1868-1910, was extremely fond of khao chae, maybe because he found this refreshing rice dish a good way to cool off.
It is quite a dish to prepare. Ordinary jasmine rice is too soft, so a firmer variety is used. It is first partially cooked in the normal way and then rinsed several times to remove the excess starch. Then comes the unique ingredient: flower-scented water. A large pot is half-filled with water and fresh jasmine blossoms are added. Then a small flower-scented candle is floated on top of the water, lit, and the pot covered loosely. The scent from the candles and the natural oils from the jasmine permeate the water.
The rice is then steamed in cheesecloth to prevent the grains from swelling. To serve, the rice is transferred into a bowl, covered with more of the fragrant water and a few small ice cubes. Bowls of khao chae are accompanied by a variety of savory side dishes and condiments, such as fermented shrimp paste (kapi), deep-fried shallots stuffed with fish and slivers of an aromatic rhizome (krachai), shredded and salted beef fried with palm sugar, white Chinese radish fried with egg, and chili peppers stuffed with seasoned minced pork wrapped in thin sheets of fried egg-white.
We went to a well-known restaurant across from Samitivej Hospital called Lai Rot (“many flavors”) and enjoyed this specialty. I think it wasn’t the best-prepared version I’ve had (the more expensive Baan Kanita is a bit nicer) but it was fun to try this dish that is only around for about a month.
Another thing that is available now is fresh, ripe mango! Oooh, I’ll have to do some research in order to write an entry about khao niaw mamuang.