Dispatch

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.

Dispatch

Searching for Home

Family footsteps retraced – Peta Rush

It’s Chinese new year, which means auspicious red paper decorations and lanterns are being hung up, and fireworks can be heard going off every evening. For those who live away from their laojia, or ancestral home, it also means taking the bus, train or plane in the largest annual human migration in history, as people return to their family homes for the holidays.

I might do the same, if I knew where mine was.

Dispatch

My Father

The first gaokao after the Cultural Revolution – Karoline Kan

For years, I despised my father. In my eyes, he was the most irresponsible dad in the world. He wasn’t earning money to support us. He didn’t enjoy family gatherings, and was always the first to leave the table. He didn’t care whether his kids were happy in school or not, but would be angry if we didn’t perform as well as he expected. He often quarreled with my mother, for reasons I didn’t understand.

“Who can you blame? It’s your own fate!” My mother would shout at him. Father would just stay silent, turn to the other side of the room and light a cigarette, while my mother again repeated the story from more than thirty years ago which in her mind led to father’s bitterness. Through the cigarette smoke, I remember seeing tears in his eyes as mother reminded him of the pain.

Dispatch

This Way, Gentlemen

Single-gender security lines at a Beijing train station – Neil Thomas

China boasts the world’s longest high-speed rail network. Its train stations, in kind, house probably the world’s lengthiest security lines. These lines are not genteel queues. Hundreds of anxious travellers, corralled by metal barriers that wind into a joyless maze, jockey for position in a passing eternity of squeeze, stress, and quite some sweat. I often arrive hours before my train is due to leave; such is my fear of getting stuck in line.

So I should have felt glad to save some time when, trudging through security at Beijing South Railway Station earlier this year, I encountered a sign I hadn’t seen before.