PeterUK has given us several superb accounts of his life and visits to Asia. Here is one of my own.
I had only been to Tokyo for two short visits the previous year. During the first, I had the good fortune to meet a tall, slim Japanese who was as interested in me as I in him. We spent three short days together, he showing me some of the city and especially the bar area in Shinjuku Ni-chome and I learning not just a bit about Japanese history but how attractive young Japanese gay men could be. I am ashamed that I now cannot remember his name, only that I would not see him when I returned a few months later on a package tour to see a little of Kyoto and more of Tokyo. He had told me he would be going to continue his studies in Paris. For a some time we kept up a simple correspondence, the strangeness of a foreign city gradually enfolding him as he grew to love the freedoms he found in the City of Lights. After another few months had passed, I found myself on a three-day business trip to Paris. I had written to tell him of my coming but heard nothing back. I did manage to find the building where he lived in the hope he might still be there. He wasn’t. No doubt he had quite quickly found a lover and the memories of our three days in Tokyo were part of his increasingly distant past.
For a still-relatively young gay man, Paris held a wealth of other attractions, especially the huge Le Continental Baths near the Palais Garnier Opera House close to the hotel where my client had put me up. On one of the basement floors was a large swimming pool. When I visited, lounging in one of the niches close by was a stunningly attractive Asian boy. From Vietnam he had moved to France with his family to escape the war in his country. Although settled with a rich French boyfriend in his luxurious house around the corner from the elegant Place Vendôme, his friend was frequently away. It was my luck that he had chosen that evening to visit the sauna. We spent a wonderful two hours together and agreed to meet the following evening at my hotel. That day I could hardly wait and was in a heightened state of expectation when he arrived. I just wanted to tear off his clothes and enjoy his slim body as quickly as possible. He preferred to go for dinner first. He then surprised me by asking if I would like to spend the night with him at his friend’s house. It was my last evening. I had no work in the morning, just a little packing and then the short flight to London. I did not take much persuading. Just as that first visit to Tokyo had been so special, so my little Vietnamese “Tiger” as I called him gave me a night of pleasure that was utterly intense. I hardly noticed the beautiful possessions in that lovely house. After we awoke and he had made coffee, I heard on the radio that one of my favourite pianists of the day, Arthur Rubinstein, had passed away at the age of 95. I had been at a concert he gave five years earlier when he had played two full concertos!
And that is almost all I now remember of that night. I called mon petit tigre from the airport and we promised faithfully we would keep in touch. We did not. No doubt he was soon in the arms of his French lover again whilst I was soon to be back yet again in Tokyo where I would meet one of the most captivating men in my life.
It had not taken long to realise I was becoming fascinated not just by Japanese culture and history. These young men I met were so different from the Chinese in Hong Kong and the Filipinos in Manila which I had also started to visit. Their surface calm and politeness quickly gave way to a near earthy lust in bed, as though sex provided an essential escape from the obligations and very organized rituals of their everyday life.
When I met Toshi I was on another three-day stopover back from the States. I had arrived on the Friday afternoon to give me the weekend to help get over jet lag. In Fuji bar that evening, I probably arrived too late as there were few customers. Most young Japanese lived outside the city centre and so a subway train home was essential. As today, the last suburban trains left ridiculously early resulting in many bars starting to empty of patrons around 11:15 pm. Still, I was tired and glad of a long sleep before further encounters to come.
The following evening I went to a different bar. The long since demolished Regent was a regular gay haunt, always packed on a Saturday evening with local expats and their boyfriends, a few tourists like me and a group of young Japanese looking for hook-ups for the night. There I met a lovely student who soon was insistent that I go back to his small room near Roppongi rather than come to my hotel. He was returning to spend Saturday and Sunday with his family out of town and so had to be up very early. I duly complied. Although he lacked the skills of those I had met up till then, spending the night close to him in his narrow single bed was a new and very pleasant experience.
But a memory from the bar just would just not leave my mind. After agreeing to that night’s tryst, my eyes had alighted on another young man who clearly worked in the bar. Toshi did not possess the beautiful looks of so many Japanese youngsters. I learned later that he was one quarter Filipino. No, it was a stunning smile, his ease with all the customers and an extraordinary charisma that set him apart from his fellow countrymen. Once as he passed me taking drinks to other customers, he flashed a smile. “I haven’t see you around here before. Are you new to Tokyo?” Looking in to those eyes, I stuttered that I had visited a few times but had not been to the bar for more than a year. And then he disappeared into the crowd. Part of me felt sorry that I had already hooked up for the night. Then again, I knew nothing about Toshi. A Japanese with those looks and that character had to be living with a foreigner boyfriend. But I determined to go back to the bar the next evening.
After I returned to my hotel in the early morning, it was pissing with rain – and so it continued all day. Tokyo then did not hold much in by way of indoor attractions during daytime and I expect I found myself in a gallery or two. Eventually evening arrived and I found my way through the rain back to The Regent. I was surprised. There were only three other customers, all sitting at the bar. And Toshi was nowhere to be seen. Shit, I said under my breath. I’ll bet this is his day off. After ordering a drink, I nursed it ruefully, angry with myself that I had not opened up a short conversation the previous evening to tell him I would be coming back. Then as I ordered my second drink, the door opened and there he was. He had just been out having dinner. I was so happy! No other customers appeared and so we spent the better part of the next three hours chatting eagerly with him leaning over the bar looking into my eyes. I was falling for him – fast! And then I kicked myself as my natural western reserve kicked in. He said he would have to leave to catch his last train home. I could easily have asked if he would like to spend the night at my hotel amongst Shinjuku’s skyscrapers. I wanted to, but I simply could not get the words out! After he had put on his long jacket and came around the bar, he trailed his hand over my ass as he walked past me. Still I was frozen to my chair. I turned and smiled, said something stupid like “Hope to see you again and have a safe trip home.” Then he was gone!
I could not believe my stupidity. My earlier Asian encounters had been fascinating in their own way, but they were never going to be anything but short term. For the first time in Asia, I felt this fascinating 25-year old was someone very special, someone I really wanted to know better. As I was to be leaving for Hong Kong the following evening, I had absolutely blown it. I was furious with myself. Finishing my drink, I put on my own coat, said goodbye to the other barman and prepared myself for a lonely night. Walking through the rain, though, something made me stop. After all, the night was still young, my business appointment was not until 11:00 the next morning and some of the gay discos would still be open. On the second floor of the building next to The Regent was a disco I had never visited named New Sazae. Who knows, I decided. Maybe there will still be some cute Japanese there who can at least provide another hour or so of eye candy.
Like almost all Ni-chome gay venues, New Sazae was small, essentially just two rooms. In the first as you entered a dance floor with subdued lighting. In the second, a brighter bar area. Without even looking, I made my way to the bar for yet another drink. Taking a sip I finally looked around at some of the boys dancing. Not many but most looked cute. I moved into the disco area to take a seat at the side. And then I saw him. Toshi had not gone home. He had come to this disco and was dancing on his own in the middle of the dance floor. I could not believe my luck. Just then he looked up and a smile spread over that lovely face. His right arm came up, he pointed to me and then slowly moved his index finger to indicate I should come and dance with him. We were quickly hugging as we shuffled in imitation of a dance. He wanted to know so many things. Why had I not responded to his advances in the bar? Why had I not followed him when he left the bar? Why. . . . ? We were both quickly excited when, again looking in to my eyes, he slowly slipped his hand down the front on my pants. I could not believe this was happening. Where was the Japanese reserve? Why was no one watching, no one caring what we were doing?
It was not long before we were back at my hotel. There followed a sleepless night for both of us as we spent the time exploring each other’s bodies, enjoying sex, chatting, drinking, more sex . . . you know how it goes! It became clear that he had almost as much enjoyment in my company as I definitely had in his. We also realised we had some interests in common, apart from sex! This time I promised to keep in touch regularly and to return in a month’s time for a week’s vacation. By the end of that week I was certainly in love and I believe he felt the same way. I told him I would come back for a long week-end the following month. Then he came to spend three weeks with me in Hong Kong. Despite my having to work, we had lots of time together. I remembered as we dined one evening in an Italian restaurant of a lunch we had had during my week in Tokyo. We were shopping in the Aoyama district. A typhoon was on the way and the heavens opened before we could get near a subway station. Since it was time for lunch, Toshi said he knew of one close by. Thus we ended in Sabatini’s, the Tokyo branch of one of Italy’s most famous restaurants. I took care to check menu prices before dining in future!
During those three weeks, we talked about living together. I could not leave my job in Hong Kong, but he said he would be happy to give up his job in Tokyo to be with me. We would have to overcome various obstacles including finding a way for him to get a job, but we agreed none was insurmountable. And so as I saw him off for his flight back to Tokyo, I basked in the knowledge that I had finally found my partner. I returned again for another long weekend in Tokyo the following month, this time staying in his small room only two train stops from Shinjuku station. He was busy in the bar and I did not see so much of him. But I detected nothing that might change the plans we were making. At the end of that year, I made yet another visit, this time flying from London to Hong Kong via Bahrain and then connecting on a cheap Pan Am ticket to Tokyo. Reaching Narita airport, I was so excited, I forgot to do what I always did – go to the toilet before getting on to the limousine bus. These coaches did not have on-board toilets and late afternoon trips would inevitably take between two and three hours. Mid-way I was desperate for a pee. Soon that turned to agony as I searched the bus for an empty plastic bottle or even a can. Nothing! Thankfully I managed to hold out till I got to the hotel where Toshi was to meet me. As I got off the bus he was preparing to hug me, but I had to race past him and down the hotel escalator where I knew there was a toilet!
Most of us have had bittersweet moments in our lives, some more bitter than sweet. I was soon to realise my time had come. Despite my exhaustion after travelling almost 27 hours, our love-making was intense and passionate that night. I slept much of the next day and then watched Toshi shower and wash as he prepared to leave for his stint at the bar. I repeated this for several evenings until the day before I left he said he had something to tell me. I suspected nothing. As I gazed again into those eyes, he looked away. He didn’t know how to tell me, he said. Turning back he informed me he could not continue with our relationship. I was stunned! Nothing had prepared me for this. It turned out that in the weeks between his long visit to Hong Kong and my return to Tokyo, he had met another man in the bar, a much older man whose own 14-year relationship had just broken up. He had come to the bar over several days and the two had learned a lot about each other. He was rich – compared to me, very rich with homes in Los Angeles and Zurich and the permanent rental of a flat in London. How close they got on that occasion I do not know but this man told Toshi he was doing a six-week round the world trip in January. Would Toshi like to accompany him?
And so that was the start of a growing relationship between them. I have no doubt that it was more than money, but money must certainly have played a part, for money would enable Toshi to open up a small business, something I could not have afforded. I had not realised till then that it was relatively common for younger Japanese guys to form a relationship with older westerners for precisely that reason. To make matters even more excruciating for me, this man also owned an apartment in Hong Kong and it would be in Hong Kong where they would spend much of each year. I tried hard to hold back tears. There was so much I wanted to say. But we just sat in silence. Then he left for work and I could hold back no more. All that night I held him tight, afraid for the morning to come when I would have to leave for the airport. When he had returned from the bar, I did everything I could to persuade him not to go on that trip and instead to come to Hong Kong. Without success!
I never bumped into him in Hong Kong. Some years later, though, he wrote to me. He expressed his sorrow at what he had put me through. He hoped that time had perhaps tempered my feelings and that we could at least be friends again. He wanted to invite me for dinner. I had indeed moved on and the bitterness of that last night in Tokyo had long since faded. We met again in an Austrian restaurant. He had not changed one bit and my earlier feelings for him started to resurface. After a delicious meal and more than a little wine, I knew we could now never be more than friends. But I was happy.
We met again a few more times, usually for afternoon tea which he loved. On the last occasion he did not look quite so sparkling. He had a bad cold, he told me. But he and his friend would be going to London at the end of that week and he would have a check up there if he did not feel better. We parted with a smile, a hug and a kiss. I was never to see him again. Three months later I was reading at home when the phone rang. It was Toshi’s lover. I was very surprised for I had never met him, let alone talk with him. He then told me that he had very sad news. Toshi had died, just 30 years old. He was sure I would want to know. I asked the cause of death. There was an agonizingly long pause. He could not even summon up the courage to say the word, and so he spelled it out. A-I-D-S. The year was 1987 and the world was coming to grips with this horrible new disease that had started to kill many thousands around the world. By the end of that year 16,000 had died.
I was informed Toshi’s funeral would be held in London 4 days later. I was invited, but I told him I could not possibly go. Yet after I had put the phone down, all the feelings I had had in those eight short months when we had been so close came flooding back. Again I cried. Then I realised I wanted to be at the funeral. So I booked a one-night trip to London. I would arrive in the early morning, check into an airport hotel, do some work during the day, stay on Hong Kong time and get to bed at 6:00pm, wake at 2:00 and then get to the funeral at 11:00. There were all of six people there. Only six! This for a young man who had always been the life and soul of every party, whose charisma was spectacular and for whom laughter was the stuff of life. On the flight home that evening, I wrote an account of the day for his many Japanese friends. Then thankfully I slept.
There is just one postscript to this tale. In October three years earlier three of Toshi’s friends in Tokyo had held a joint birthday party. They begged me to come. Having informed them I couldn’t, at the last minute I decided to fly up and surprise them. It was a wonderful, happy and joyous evening with everyone pairing off with another from the party for the rest of the night. By the end of the decade, all three of these dear friends were also dead of AIDS. Yes, these were the most bittersweet of times.
Anything and everything about gay life anywhere in the world, especially Asia, other than Thailand.
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