Excerpt from A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Case of Two Cities

An Inspector Chen novel

by Qiu Xiaolong

A Case of Two Cities
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2006, 320 pages
    Oct 2007, 320 pages

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Print Excerpt

“Tell you what, Chen. I’m writing about the latest Shanghai entertainments. No fun for me to go there alone. So you’re doing me a favor. Business expense, of course.”

“Well, no private room or private service, then.”

“You don’t have to tell me that. It’s not a good idea for people like you or me to be seen in those private rooms. Particularly in the heat of another anticorruption campaign.”

“Yes, it’s 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, “you’ll 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 doesn’t 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 tub—expensive 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 Shanghai—an 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 you’re 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 it’s 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.

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