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Mongolia News / Others / October 27, 2014

Gay Mongolia: Q&A with the owner of Mongolia’s only gay bar

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Whilst staying in Ulan Bator we set out to discover gay Mongolia.

Despite being a very traditionally conservative country, there was one, and only one, bar/club in the whole of Mongolia in its capital city, Ulan Bator: Hanzo Lounge & Night Club.

We met Zorig Alima, the very charming owner of Hanzo and picked his brains about owning Mongolia’s only gay bar.

Hello hello Zorig!  Tell us a bit about yourself:

Good morning Nomadic Boys.  My name is Zorig, and I am a Mongolian from Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

I work full time for the Mongolian Railway in Ulan Bator and run Hanzo bar as a hobby.

I used to be a banker in Tokyo and I have travelled extensively to around 20-30 countries.

What do you think of gay Mongolia and Ulan Bator?

Ulan Bator is a fast changing city with 1.5 million people.  However, as you may have observed, the gay life here and in the entire Mongolia is still fairly closed.

There were no gay bars in Mongolia up until 2004, and there are still no gay saunas, cafes, restaurants etc.  There are a lot of things that still need to be developed here for the LGBT community.

How long have you owned Hanzo?

I have owned Hanzo since April 2012.  We tried to open in December 2011, but due to difficulties getting liquor licences, the opening didn’t take place until around April 2012.

Is Hanzo the first gay bar in Mongolia?

No, there were a few unsuccessful attempts before.  But currently, Hanzo is the only gar bar in Mongolia.

What happened to the previous gay bars in Ulan Bator?

The first one was called City Life, which opened for a few months in 2004.  City Life went bust because there were not enough LGBT people open in Ulan Bator to go to it. After City Life closed, there were no gay bars until “100%” opened in November 2011.

“100%” lasted until summer 2012, but its landlords terminated the lease because they did not want to have a LGBT tenant.

So, technically speaking, Hanzo is the third attempt at a gay bar in Ulan Bator.

What have you done differently with Hanzo to keep it going longer then the previous bars?

We didn’t do anything different with Hanzo and there are still risks of the lease being terminated by the landlord.  But to date, everything has been ok!

Did you have any problems when you first opened Hanzo?

Yes, there were many problems, partly with the police and partly with the LGBT society itself.

With the police, given that they had no idea about gay bars, the first impression they had was that we were promoting adultery. Also, as there were many transsexuals who would be involved with prostitution, the police’s initial reaction was that Hanzo was promoting prostitution among other negative things.  Because of this, the police would come into the place very often, disturbing all the clients.

Secondly, the majority of the LGBT society wanted to be in the closet and hide and they blamed Hanzo for being too open: these people felt that the openness of Hanzo was a threat to their safety.

So, frankly speaking, there were many problems when we first opened Hanzo.

Has this since changed or improved?

It has improved a lot, I would say. The police started to understand that being gay does not automatically mean sex, and there are many decent gay people. Instead of generalizing “homosexuals”, they would consult with us on some of the issues, such as prostitution, and request our cooperation.

In addition, the overall Mongolian society has since became much more tolerant over the last few years.

Recently I read in a popular Mongolian magazine column an article about the “top 50 places you must visit in Ulan Bator”, in which, Hanzo was one of the only two bars and clubs mentioned.

The quote was something along the lines of:

“Although people have a perception of it being a gaybar, we would vote for it as one of the very few underground places in Ulan Bator, where the most open minded people gather.  Organising many unique and interesting events, and giving pleasant surprises of new music makes it ,the place to visit”.

This also helped the LGBT community to start appreciating Hanzo’s existence and not see it as a social threat to their safety.

How did the LGBT community in Ulan Bator (and Mongolia) meet and socialise before Hanzo existed?

Many years ago, we would meet at parks and public toilets and there were also monthly gay nights organised. It was a little bit difficult to find out where each one would be held, given that it kept changing venues.

As the internet started become more widespread, this changed things and the LGBT community were able to communicate and meet easier then before.

But in general, it used to be pretty hard to find “one of your kind”.

Are you openly gay in Ulan Bator and with your family?

I am openly gay, or at least “half-openly” gay. My family knows I am gay and they support me and Hanzo.

My colleagues, I presume they all know I am gay, even though we don’t really talk about it much.  I don’t come out randomly, but I don’t hide it. That’s why I said “half-openly” gay.

How is it to be a member of the LGBT community in Mongolia today?

It really depends on who you are dealing with. Given that many Mongolians have lived abroad, you would assume that they would therefore be open to gay people.

On the other hand, there are still some people who would blame gays for being “not reproductive” and we should instead be dedicated to increasing the population.  These sorts of people also accuse us of enticing children into adultery. I just don’t understand why people mix up homosexualism with paedophilia…!

Has this changed much over the years?

There are today around 3-4 supportive gay human rights organisations in Mongolia who have been lobbying to improve the legal environment for the LGBT community.  There are also organisations for women and disabled people who support the LGBT community.

In addition, the LGBT community have become more and more visible.  For example, a transsexual woman would do TV shows, or even the opening of Hanzo and the publicity it has drawn has helped make our community more visible in Mongolian society.

What advice to you have for LGBT tourists visiting Mongolia?

Mongolians are in general fairly open to foreigners.  So I definitely advise getting to know one or two LGBT Mongolians before arriving via the phone app, “Jack’d” or join our Hanzo group on Facebook.

And finally, Stefan found this lovely hat at the black market.  Can he join in at Hanzo’s next big cabaret evening?

Ha ha!!  Well, in fact there not many drag queens in Mongolia.  So in order to have everything in place, you have no other choice than to do it yourself:

So, if you want to join our next cabaret show with that dramatic hat of yours Stefan, you are more than welcome!

We are open everyday except for the 1st day of every month (in accordance with Mongolian law).  Our address is: Sambuuglin Orogon Choloo Street.  We are located behind the Tengis Cinema bus station area.  Walking along Sambuu Street, you will pass a large KFC and take the first turning on the right (it’s a slightly hidden road which is pedestrianised).  Then take an immediate right and walk under a kind of arch and on your right is Hanzo, under the Sky Karaoke.

Come on down and see an alternative side to Mongolia!

SOURCE: Nomadic boys

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