Excerpt of A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong
(Page 2 of 5)
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Tell you what, Chen. Im writing about the latest Shanghai
entertainments. No fun for me to go there alone. So youre doing me a favor.
Business expense, of course.
Well, no private room or private service, then.
You dont have to tell me that. Its not a good idea for people like you
or me to be seen in those private rooms. Particularly in the heat of another
Yes, its the headlines again, Chen said, in your newspaper.
Niaofei Yuyao turned out to be a six-story sprawling building on Jumen
Road. The dazzling lobby, lit with crystal chandeliers, struck Chen more
like a five-star American hotel. The entrance fee was two hundred yuan per
person, with additional charges for services requested inside, a stolid
manager explained, giving each of them a shining silver bracelet with a
number attached to it.
Like dim sum, Lei said, youll pay at the end of it, with all the
services added to your number.
A reporterlike young man sidled over, carrying a camera with a long zoom
sticking out like a gun. The manager rose to wave his hand in a flurry:
Pictures are not allowed here.
Chen was surprised. If the picture is going to appear in a newspaper,
like yours, he said in a whisper, it may bring in more business.
Well, a large tree brings in a gusty wind against itself, Lei
commented, changing into plastic slippers. This bathhouse doesnt need any
more free advertisement, or the city government may feel obliged to check
into its incredible business.
The pool area was the size of three or four soccer fields, not including
the area for women. The water of three large pools shimmered green in the
soft light. Majestic marble statues and fountains stood in each of them,
imitations of ancient Roman palaces, except for an impressive array of
modern water massage appliances along the poolsides. There were also special
tubs with signs such as Beer, Ginseng, Milk, and Herbs. The brownish froth
in the beer tub formed a sharp contrast to the white ripples over the milk
tub. Chen looked into a gauze bag floating in the ginseng tubexpensive if
the thick roots it contained were genuine, though he was not so sure of its
medical benefit in the hot bathwater.
These tubs are supposed to be effective, Lei said with a grin.
And very expensive too.
The pools alone could have cost millions. A gamble on the boost the WTO
accession will deliver to Shanghaian economic restructuring with waves of
overseas capital inflows. China is currently the second-largest destination
for foreign investment after the U.S. Soon it will be the largest.
Lei was taking an MBA class in the evening. For the new newspaper, he had
to know things beyond his major in Chinese literature years earlier.
So youre writing an article about the bathhouse?
Not just about this place, but the latest entertainment trends in
general. Eat, drink, bathe, sleep, and whatnot. A middle class is rising up
fast in China. They have money, and they need to know how to spend money. As
an editor, I have to write what they want to read.
Indeed, pools of wine, woods of flesh, Chen said, echoing a classical
description about the decaying Shang dynasty palace, as he stepped into a
steaming hot pool.
Oh, much, much more, Lei chuckled in high spirits, like the Winter
Palace in Russia, except its so warm here, like the spring water. Or like
in the late Roman empire.
Chen reclined against the poolside, the water massaging his back and
purring as if with a collective contentment, including his. He tried to
recall the name of the poet Lei had quoted, but without success.
Copyright © 2006 by Qiu Xiaolong. All rights reserved.