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(“So I joined the Army” [所以我加入了軍隊]… with Justin L from Taipei)

[Original in Mandarin; English version follows]

帶者些許醉意,我走出台北最大的夜店,回頭看著還在狂歡的其他人們,心裡想的卻是還在家裡的男朋友,也許真的是到了不愛玩的年紀了~

我175cm.71.kg.29years,一個在台北長大的小孩,本來是在一個普通的家庭長大,但是我14歲那年我父親去世了,家裡只剩下我跟我媽,所以我加入了軍隊來幫助家裡,​​SMLXL​
在剛到軍隊的初期真的很困難,軍事化的管理,同期軍校生的競爭,由其是軍中對同性戀的高壓政策,可是越是困難我就越是要証明“同性戀在軍中也是可以很優秀的“,所以我在軍中真的是很努力,從體能到學策我一直都保持在前面的排名
這時我生命中的第一個男孩出現了,他陽光健壯而且還是體育代表隊,其實我跟他的關係真的很微妙,我們可以分享許多方面的想法跟夢想,甚至連喜歡的電影也都差不多,我們一起上課一起出操一起放假一起吃飯,軍中的封閉環境反而加溫了我們的關係
第一次跟他發生性行為,其實我們都知道會到這一步,只是年青的我們都不知道如果進行下去,就傻傻的作了,現在想起都覺得好笑
我抬頭看著台北這從不睡覺的城市天空,就算是夜晚也充滿了五光十色的光芒,其實在台北當個gay 真的是很幸福的事,你永遠都可以有事情作,可以去party,可以出門2小時就到另一個城市去旅遊,可以很晚出門也不怕有犯罪,隨時都可以吃到美食就算是3am,
對我來說,台北是我的出生地跟成長的地方,乘載著我所有的情感,既迷人又神秘,台北~我的城市… – Justin L. ​​

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[Still a little tipsy, I walked out of Taipei’s biggest nightclub, looked back at the people still partying, but I was focused on getting to my boyfriend’s house. Perhaps not really typical for someone at the age of 29 and 175cm and 71kg. I grew up in Taipei in an ordinary family, but when I was 14 years old my father died. So I joined the Army to help the family. In the early days, it was really hard in the Army. The military training of cadets back then was harsh and competition was tough. Also hard was the high-handed policy against homosexuals in the military, but the biggest challenge was me wanting to prove that “homosexuality in the military is also possible and very good”. So I worked very hard in the Army. In both the physical areas to the school areas I always kept at the front of the rankings.​​ 

At this time in my life first appeared a boy. In fact, my relationship with him was really very subtle, In many ways we could share ideas and dreams, and even favourite movie. We also did exercise together classes, had a holiday dinner together. The Army’s closed environment somehow warmed our relationship. At first it happened sort of innocently and bit by bit the sexuality blossomed.I looked up at the Taipei city sky that never sleeps, even if the night is full of colourful light. In fact, being gay Taipei is really a very joyous thing, You can always do something, you can go party, you can go two hours to travel to another city, you can go out late with no fear of a criminal, you can always eat the food even if it is 3am. For me, I was born in Taipei and grew up with all of this, all of these emotions take, both charming and mysterious, Taipei – my city …] – Translation from Mandarin by Google and edited by Liam Campbell.

Meet the other Taipei boys and read their stories in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Rethinking My Motivation… with Lucas M by Jean-Baptiste Huong)

The story that Jean-Baptiste Huong wrote to accompany his Lucas M series in the Elska Taipei issue really got me thinking. In it he discusses how he’s able to get the attention of men who he perceives to be vastly more attractive than him though the process of photographing them. It is actually a motivation for photographing them at all. It made me wonder if this ability to be up close with beautiful men is a motivation for me too.

My natural, instinctual response is that this is not my motivation. Certainly there is no sexual attraction going on when I shoot my boys, no matter how hot or how naked they are. But then perhaps that’s more because I’m too busy concentrating on the camera to give sex any thought. 

I do recall one time scrawling a text onto a model’s naked body using lipstick. He was ten years younger than me and had abs better than Jesus on the cross. There’s no way I he’d have let me put my hands on his naked body for any other reason.

And then what happened? When it came time to wash the lipstick off, I went into the shower with him to help him scrub it all off. Even then I didn’t get a boner, and it’s not that I have issues with impotency. Not yet anyway!

So I don’t know, I stand by my response. What I would say is that I love beauty and that I love to capture and reproduce it. Maybe photography is my way of being close to beauty, but it’s not some sneaky way of perving up to fit lads. Then again, perhaps I’ve misunderstood J-P Huong’s text. He’s also in it for the beauty, and is just a little bit of a pervert!

See more of Lucas M and read the story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

See more work by Jean-Baptiste Huong: http://jeanbaptistehuong.com/

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(Picked Second-to-Last for the Team… with Rhenz T from Taipei)

One of the things I didn’t like about growing up in Chicago was the cultural obsession with sports. Even when I moved to London as a teenager and saw the football culture, it was somehow different. It was possible to be a worthwhile human being and not be into sports, but not in Chicago. It was part of why I felt so out of place there.

I was terrible at sports in school, and though not picked last, I was always picked second-to-last for the team. It’s not because I had any talent, but because my somewhat bigger size made me seem like good goalkeeper material for hockey or soccer. Sometimes at the start of the school year, I’d even be one of the first picked for American football ‘cos I looked like I could withstand a tackle, but the problem was that no one would even try to tackle me since I could never catch the ball. 

There was a time when I was quite into sports, into baseball specifically. I used to watch the Cubs play with my grandfather whenever a match was on. I also used to dream about being a professional baseball player (I wanted to be third baseman). But then, sometime around the age of nine when they first let us play baseball in PE at school, I saw that I was rubbish. The coach would tell me just to concentrate, but I couldn’t with the other kids shouting at me about bringing the rest of the team down. 

Some even said that if I was just a bit more confident that I could do it. That’s what Rhenz T said about his basketball days. Maybe he’s right, but I could never overcome the stress barrier in school. A few years ago, however, I did join the Warsaw Gay Badminton Club. I was pretty bad, but I was better than I expected. And I actually enjoyed it. But these guys weren’t shouting at me, telling me how much I sucked. So maybe that was what made the difference.

See more of Rhenz T and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(The Power of a Smile… with Joe F from Taipei)

I fell in love with Joe F almost instantly after we met. He didn’t really speak English at all, so there was little conversation, but he said a lot with his smile. And this guy almost never stopped smiling. 

I met Joe F along with Jo’i D in Tamsui. Roman, my assistant for the Taipei project, found Jo’i and then Jo’i suggested his friend Joe to join as well. The more the merrier. At first the plan was to shoot Joe nude at home, but he couldn’t use his place to shoot and I didn’t want another hotel room shoot. So, although I’d have liked to shoot him naked, we opted instead for an outdoor shoot. Plus, although I love nudes, I already had five nude shoots in the Taipei collection and don’t want too many. I didn’t want to turn the Taipei issue into another Berlin issue!

Anyway, we were happily taking photos around Tamsui and then just as we walked past a quietish alleyway, Joe stopped to whisper something to Jo’i, who then translated to me that Joe wanted to go into that alley for a few stripped down pics. You can see the whimsy on his face, which I snapped just when a group of four old ladies happened to walk by and spot Joe with his trousers down. 

​Although I couldn’t chat to Joe, I still felt connected and like a friend. Everytime I looked at him he would smile back, and it melted my heart, making me feel safe and encouraging a serious bastard like me to smile too. A smile is a powerful, wonderful thing, and I think Joe may be the smiliest boy in Taiwan.

See more of Joe F and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Mitigating Culture Shock with Food… with Joseph W from Taipei)

I’ve heard several people tell me that they never go to McDonalds at home, but when they’re visiting another country they make a point of having a meal there. It’s to see if there’s any unique and country-specific items on the menu, and also just to find out if it tastes the same (somehow it always does). I suppose also a trip to McDonalds can be a way to mitigate homesickness. 

Taipei is well-known especially throughout Asia as a culinary wonderland. Most Asian tourists to the city go primarily for the food – for Chinese breakfast at Yong He Dou Jiang, for xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, for gua bao at one of the city’s tantalising night markets, and for a bubble tea in the place where it was invented. But even with all this amazingness, there comes a point when a Western dude just wants a burger and chips – you can’t eat Chinese food every day, can you?! And even though Taipei has the best coffee in Asia, there’s something guiltily comforting about the familiarity of a Starbucks.

Sometime during the seventh day of Taipei Shoot Week was when I cracked. Two things happened. The first was that Roman, my assistant for Taipei, left to head back to Berlin early… so I didn’t feel the pressure to be “cool” and “adventurous" anymore. With no one there to judge me, I could swap Taiwanese fried chicken for the Kentucky variety. The second thing was that Joseph W invited me to stay over at his place for a couple of nights since he was going to Paris. So I’d be totally alone to indulge.

The first thing I did at Joseph’s place, a beautiful apartment with great views over the city, was to find British comedies on his Netflix. Then I popped out to 7-11 to get fresh milk so I could English up my tea. And next I went to McDonalds for McNuggets and a pineapple pie (they also had a sort of "surf and turf” burger with one beef patty on top of a fried salmon fillet… but that was beyond my adventure levels). 

Once back at Joseph’s I brewed a cuppa, cued up a marathon of “The IT Crowd”, and had my Western pig out. It genuinely was comforting. The funny thing was however that the very day I got back home to London, I was desperate to have Chinese food for dinner. And the very next day, I used a recipe I found online to make homemade shui jian bao, which I’d tried in a Taipei night market. So here I was, a few days after being homesick for England in Taiwan, being homesick for Taiwan in England.

See more of Joseph W and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Why Calgary?… with Chris C from Taipei)

Ok, so I’m aware it maybe verges on cheating to have included Chris C in the latest Elska issue, since he doesn’t actually live in Taipei anymore. He is a native though, and only moved fairly recently from Taiwan to Canada, but does he still qualify as a ‘local boy’?​​ 

I met Chris while he was back home visiting for the Chinese New Year holidays. He was kind of a last minute addition to the roster, following several cancellations of other guys. So at the time I was willing to overlook his residency status ‘cos I just needed someone, anyone. Then after meeting him in person, there was no way I would even consider cutting him from the issue. I really liked this guy, so I made an executive decision and declared him a ‘local boy’.

We kept in touch after the shoot and I was curious why he chose to move to Canada. And why Calgary? I’d only ever spent one night there, just passing through on a road trip. It had some tall buildings and a Tim Hortons or twelve, but that’s all I really found out about it. I also had heard it was the Texas of Canada, though, so I wondered why a gay man would choose to move here out of other places in Canada. 

For Chris, the decision was about learning English and integration. There was no way he was going to move to Vancouver or Toronto, he told me – there were too many Chinese people there. Indeed the proportion of Toronto’s population with Asian heritage is 35%; of Vancouver’s it is 43%. That makes Vancouver the most Asian city outside Asia (data found here). So I fully understand and admire his choice.

And actually it makes me curious about Calgary. I even was thinking of doing an Elska issue there so I could get a closer look (and perhaps meet Chris again). In the end, I did decide to shoot the future Elska Issue (08) in a Canadian city. I won’t reveal which one it is yet, but it isn’t Calgary. There’s still time for that one day though.

See more of Chris C and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(“But I’ll Still Have Sex Wiv U”… with Han L from Taipei)

“Lookin fatter n grey haired now m8 but I’ll still have sex wiv u”

That’s the message I woke up to this morning. I don’t know who it came from – the Hornet profile had no pic or any details except that the person was 2538 metres away. I’m genuinely upset. Firstly this person was watching me and knew who I was. Secondly, it was a horribly indecent thing to say to someone. Thirdly, it’s another piece of fuel for this growing fire telling me that I don’t want to live in London anymore, that people here are just not very nice. 

I know there’s a lot of posts showing nasty stuff written on Grindr, some even from the authors themselves who are proud of their bitchiness. And I know these posts don’t only come from Londoners. I think they do tend to come from big cities though, where people are able to hide effectively behind anonymity. When I lived in Poland I actually met nice people on gay apps and sites. And when people said they were looking just for friends, it wasn’t a lie. I reckon it’s because the society was a bit smaller and people felt less beyond reproach, so they were forced to behave. That’s not such a bad thing, even if it does mean that people are in your business. 

In Taipei, even though guys I spoke to expressed the same problems with social media, such as in the piece written by Joe F in Issue (05) Taipei, I still found people much kinder than in London. The city is after all ¼ the size of London, so only ¼ as mean I suppose. Guys like Han L actually offered a hand of friendship. We had good chats before our shoot and stayed in touch after, so he could complain about work or try to encourage me to come out and eat desserts with him. 

Maybe it is time to get out of London. I suppose if I wasn’t so fat and grey-haired then I wouldn’t get messages like that in the first place… so it’s my fault, not London’s. But I’m not going to change myself just to avoid creepy people sending me rude texts, and I can’t change other people either. But I can change the place, and see if maybe it helps.

See more of Han L and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei