Me and Chairman Mao.
Yesterday, I went to see Chairman Mao. (Or possibly a wax double of Chairman Mao, no one's really sure which one you'll get on any given day.) Yes, in true Communist style (I guess Castro's next?), they have him embalmed and on display in a suitably imposing, socialist-style building--which I like to call the Mao-soleum--that looms over the south end of Tiananmen Square. The Mao-soleum is the big building in this picture, right behind the Chinese flag and "The Monument to the People's Heroes," some of whom--if you believe everything you read in the English-language China Daily--apparently fought off the Japanese without any other country's help during WWII:
So what was it like? Weird would be the very non-descriptive word I would use. First of all, you could buy bunches of flowers on the way in. That in itself is not weird, but then instead of putting them on, around, or even near his grave, you have to put them in these two big, wooden, wheeled carts in front of a statue of the Chairman in the entrance. I'm guessing that once a cart is full, they wheel it out, replace it with an empty cart, and then resell the flowers the next day. But maybe that's just me. (Probably not, though.) The other strange thing--well, besides lining up to see a guy who's been dead for thirty-odd years--was how quiet it was. Not only was no one talking in a too-loud-for-inside voice, which happens with disturbing regularity here, but no one was even text messaging. That, my friends, is respect.
As for Mao himself, well, he looked waxy. Possibly because he was wax, or possibly because that's just what people who have been dead for a few decades look like--really, I don't have much basis for comparison. He was in a coffin, which was inside a protective glass case, which itself was in a protective glass room; he was wearing the standard gray Mao suit, which is what you would expect, although I guess to him it would just be a "suit"; and almost his entire body below the shoulders was covered by a bright red Chinese flag.
I remember thinking his face looked more reflective than it should be, by which I mean that it literally reflected too much light, not that he looked deep in thought. As far as that goes, he mostly just looked asleep, or maybe dead. Go figure. And really, that was it--you don't get a lot of time to dawdle in the Chairman's presence: you file by the coffin, you never get closer than twenty feet or so, and if you dare to stop you get yelled at by one of the many, many Mao-soluem guards. I would say that, all in all, that after waiting in line for thirty minutes, I spent less than thirty seconds in Mao's presence. Quite the deal, I know. I keep thinking there has to be a metaphor for Communism somewhere in that, but I can't seem to think of it. I'm sure it will come to me eventually, probably on the beach in Phuket, at which point it will promptly be forgotten forever. But don't worry, I'm sure that it will have been funny! Oh well ...
At any rate, I didn't mind waiting--visiting Mao seemed like a fitting thing to do on my last day in Beijing, since it is his town. Sort of like Las Vegas was Sinatra's town, if Sinatra had spent more time consolidating power in his iron fist and destroying his enemies, real or imagined, instead of simply chasing after girls. Or maybe having girls chasing after him? Whatever.
Anyway, I guess that's it. I might post something during vacation--completely dependant on how my tan is coming, of course--but if not, I'll be back with a bang in early June with a phabulous Angkor phog, which I'm sure you'll all be looking forward to. Because really, there's nothing better than being forced to look at other people's vacation pictures, right? That's what I thought.
And that, as they say, is a wrap. See you in Shanghai!