土曜日, 8月 07, 2004

I saw Mao!

    Beijing is like a city built for giants. Each city block is huge, and there are many imposing buildings, impossible to photograph in their entirety, that you have to crane your neck to see. My main mission in Beijing was to see Mao Zedong where he is entombed near Tiananmen Square. I am fascinated by the Mao personality cult. My favorite Chinese movie is "To Live," about the tribulations of one family during the Cultural Revolution. Beijing is very much that kind of city. I felt Mao's legacy.
    Chairman Mao has been dead about thirty years now, but his body is still well preserved. To see him, we had to go in the morning between 7:30 and 9:30, leaving all bags and cameras behind. We kept small purses with us for passports and whatnot. I was with Melanie, who teaches English in Nagoya; I didn't know her before this, but on this trip through China we're roommates in every city. It's nice to have someone to turn to and compare whatever Chinese thing with what we're used to in Japan, and the other people on our trip (from England, Denmark, Germany, and California) don't understand those comparisons we're constantly making.
    Anyway, the line to see Mao was very different from lines in Japan. There were a ton of people, but the line moved very fast; unlike lines in Japan, and everyone was trying desperately to cut in line, but then scary women with loudspeakers would yell at them and in some cases physically pull them out of line. Then there were the guards. The first guard looked at our tiny bags and said they were okay, but all the way down through the line our purses would be spotted by more guards who would get angry and demand to examine them again. Melanie actually did have a small camera in her bag but the guards didn't see it. At one point they pulled her out of line and put a metal detector over her bag. Very scary. We should have just checked everything across the street and spared ourselves the constant panic of being caught by those guards carrying purses in to see Mao.
    We bought a small pamphlet for one yuan at the door. The cover had a picture of the Chairman and the words: Chairman Mao will always live in our hearts - Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. The text inside informed us that construction was started in 1977 and "People come here with a feeling of reverence in their hearts."
    Inside the building, we went through a nice lobby where a sign instructed us to be quiet and take off our hats. In the inner chamber, Mao was encased in glass with a guard standing by, and his face was quite ghostly and waxy looking. It looked like his face was glowing, and he looked very old. His body was wrapped in a Chinese flag. There was another guard there trying to hurry us past the body with barely a look, so before you could say the word "anticlimactic" there we were outside the hall again. On the steps people were selling everything from heart-shaped Mao lockets to Mao watches and postcards.