Shower Business

Last days of a Beijing bathhouse – Robert Foyle Hunwick

Hong Sheng, qigong master, can perform nude splits on a bridge of cracked tiles in a sauna the temperature of Mount Doom like a man half his age. That’s how some guys like to roll in China: the backslapping, the baijiu toasting, the bonobo displays of power. Beijing’s last old-style bathhouse isn’t the kind of place to worry about stray hairs, clean towels or a brace of someone else’s overripe cherries.

Just over a century old, the Shuangxingtang bathhouses in the far south Beijing suburb of Fengtai is one of the capital’s toughest buildings. So far it has survived a republic, various warlords, a full-scale occupation and a bitter civil war, followed by everything the Communist Party could throw at it. It’s fitting that property developers are most likely to finish this place off. A shame – there aren’t many hideaways where one can escape from decorum so cheaply. Napping, grumbling, smoking and masculine displays are all being pushed out to the suburbs.


A Mind Map of Beijing

A junkyard jaunt through an artist’s psychogeography – Robert Foyle Hunwick

UK artist Gareth Fuller calls his door-sized monochrome artwork, Beijing, unveiled at the Art Beijing fair, earlier this month, a “mind map.” Like his previous works, these psychic illustrations of physical spaces are drawn with whimsical detail, literary reference, and topographical disregard. Fuller’s version of the Forbidden City, for example, weaves in a reference to China’s Belt and Road initiative and its high-speed rail network.

Fuller’s reimagination of China’s capital speaks to its fraught history of hegemonic expansionism, cultural appropriation, ethnic strife and political correctness (at least no one calls it Peking any more), as well as good old-fashioned blood feuds, border tensions, and foreign and domestic plunder. A palimpsest of detail, Beijing reveals more with each viewing, from cultural allusions and jokes to an accident involving a seven-foot ditch, commemorated by an ankle with a question mark.


Fever Pitch

Yellow Fever and the sexpat literary review – by Robert Foyle Hunwick

Travel may not be fatal to prejudice, but it’s usually pretty effective against celibacy. It can also be a fast-acting bromide to modesty, especially among writers, and often with tragic consequences. Every few months, it seems, some guy comes down with a case of “yellow fever” and produces a book — called Yellow Fever.

That’s the title of the latest effort in a burgeoning canon of non-fiction, memoirs about sleeping with Chinese girls. These books don’t have many regular readers — I’m beginning to think I’m the only one — though they certainly have a lot of writers. Yellow Fever, subtitled a tale of “Love and Sex in China,” comes from Alex Coverdale, the cover name of a former teacher who says he’s now landed one of the “most sought-after jobs in journalism,” after a London editor was “impressed by some of my random Facebook comments and postings.”