10 May 2004

Wireless in Beijing

OK, after a tedious journey, I have finally succeeded in becoming a netzien again, and am online and wireless in Beijing (if you are wondering, go to the Centro bar at the Kerry Center Hotel. Free wireless for patrons, and an unending pot of tea is just 40 yuan).

This morning I got up, had sweetened rice and jujubes wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, and then hopped my red-roofed yellow and green number 22 bus to Tiananmen to wait in line to see the Chairman. Now the line was not bad at all, but no bags are allowed, so first I had to figure out the wild gesturing that meant (I eventually deduced) a trip across the broad avenue to a bag-check room, where I could safely stow my stuff before my visit to Mao.

Once you get through the fence, there is a flower shop where you can buy flowers (what else) to leave in front of a statue of the Chairman (I think they keep taking the same flowers out and reselling them...). Then the group splits in two to go around the big statue and into the next hallway, where they come back together again briefly before splitting again to go around opposite sides of Mao (I was in the right-hand group).

Once inside the mausoleum, it is rather silent, relatively somber, and somewhat cold. The Chairman is draped in a red cloth with a yellow hammer and sickle on it (no Chinese stars to be seen), and lying in a glass coffin, ala Snow White. When you first encounter the slumbering helmsman, the glare of the light on his face gives it an unnatural yellow plastic appearance, a look that fades to at least a slightly more natural (if preserved) look as you traverse around for a side view.

The glass box is inside a glass room so no one can get near the sleeping Chairman. The crown s ushered silently forward, around Mao, an out into a brief hallway, where the sense of "awe" lifts briefly, just before the barrage of capitalism. Yes, even inside the doors of the Chairman's mausoleum, there are trinket shops, selling portraits and paintings, pins and other paraphernalia -- all with an image of Mao. One can even shell out fifty bucks to get a jade-like bust of Mao.

But it only gets worse after these first (relatively) tasteful shops. There is a long row of vendors one must walk down, selling more pictures and pins, watches, tie tacks, tanks and fighter jets made out of shell casings, cheap plastic motorized cars, shoes, purses and all manner of entirely unrelated stuff. It is amazing, leaving a supposedly reverential homage to the leader of the great Chinese Communist Revolution and being barraged with one of the most motley assortments of cheap plastic capitalism available.

And with that shocking image, I once again leave you. I'm gonna enjoy my five-buck pot of unending tea and my six-buck appetizer.

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