Monday, November 15, 2010

Chairman Mao, the Forbidden City, and a goose

At some point during the night the rain ceded, and we awoke to a faultless blue sky. After a breakfast at the hostel, J and I headed out to Tiananmen Square to visit Chairman Mao's tomb. His memorial was only open until noon so I think we got there at around 9:30 or 10, figuring we'd have plenty of time to see it. We were greeted by thousands of people, mostly Chinese, waiting in a seemingly unending line. It was absolute chaos. There was pushing, shoving, cutting, and yelling taking place between metal detectors and security checkpoints. In order to corral the crowds, there were line enforcers, outfitted in green and armed with large umbrellas, who yelled slicing threats in Mandarin while waving their plastic weapons. They were largely unsuccessful, however, as every time they turned their backs, about 5-10 Chinese people would run frantically from their place in line to a place farther up in line. The queue itself was deceptively long and wound its way around the square. The second half looked sort of like this:
When we were about halfway through the line, one of the line enforcers told us that we were supposed to check our bags at the bagcheck building. Where was that? Across the street. We left the line, went across the street to check in our bags, and then just cut in line at the point where we had been before. Hey, when in China...

A glimpse of the line.

Mao Memorial Building

One of the line enforcers.

Eventually, we got inside. His body lay within a glass room and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of bouquets of yellow flowers brought to him by mourners. He lay there, preserved, glowing brightly in an orange hue.

Next, we went to the Forbidden City whose entrance is just opposite Tiananmen Square. We waited in what felt like another endless line, except this time we also had to deal with umbrellas. No, it wasn't raining, but the clear blue day that brought the end of rain also brought cancer-causing UV rays and the locals were having none of it. The problem is that umbrellas have spikey parts and when you get thousands of them together, you get me worrying that my eyes will be poked out. I managed to keep them intact, although my hair didn't survive so well.

We bought our tickets and went inside the palace, which was a sprawling complex with ornate designs covering every square inch. There were even a few museums with exorbitantly rare jewels, such as a rare jade bowl inlaid with gold and rubies. Everything in the Forbidden City was extravagant, beautiful, elegant, and all manner of other adjectives. After an hour I was feeling de-sensitized to it all, and a little dehydrated (maybe there was something to the umbrellas after all).

Tiananmen Square


Outside the Forbidden City
We went back to the hostel for a nap and then went to meet up with a friend of my dad's. She's been teaching business English in Shenzhen and was out in Beijing with a few friends on vacation. They had wisely hired a tour guide who led them through all of the same things we'd done that morning, except in less time. They showed us a hip hutong (alleyway) with boutique shops and bars and for the first time we saw hipsters abound. The five of us did some souvenir shopping. The three women were masters at haggling and we got quite a show as they had their way with various Chinese merchants.

One thing that took me aback on this modern street was the relative irreverence with which the merchants treated the Communist party. Sure, China has come a long way since Mao, but stuffed toy pigs dressed in Communist ware, t-shirts with red stars, and any object imaginable imprinted with Mao's face were available for purchase. I guess sales trump culture.

As we were making our way down the hutong, a man walked by with a goose in tow. The goose had a sign around its neck with something written in Chinese, presumably asking for money. They were a big hit with the crowd and people were petting the goose. We stopped to watch and for some reason the man decided to pick up his goose and thrust him in J's arms. He then requested my camera to take a picture of us. We took some pictures and then J quickly gave the goose back.

At the end of the evening, we were hoping to snag ourselves a Peking, or Beijing, duck (the signature dish of the city) but most of the restaurants were closed by then. We settled on a restaurant that had a huge menu with pictures and English "translations."

1 comment:

  1. The goose! Best story ever. Although, the umbrellas are kind of ridiculous as well.