January 26, 2007

Visiting Mao...
I had a few days to kill in Beijing while I was waiting for my plane to Chengdu so I decided to finally visit Mao in his Maosoleum (sorry, I should say the "Mao Memorial Hall"). He's available to greet visitors from 9:30AM to 11:30AM most of the week (his schedule changes because sometimes he needs to get plastic surgery). The rest of the day he's quite busy -getting his makeup done, getting his face printed on money, posing for portraits, and having Mao suits made. I got in line outside, ready for the big introduction. The police even made people get out of line who had jumped the queue! There were announcements in Chinese and English reminding people not to spit or take photos. They also said we couldn't smoke -I guess Mao has given up on one of his hobbies.
Once on the grounds of the Maosoleum we could buy white chrysanthemums for 3RMB each, to lay at the foot of a grand statue of Mao sitting in a chair and greeting the masses. I'd say at least one in 5 people bought a flower for him. (Do they collect the flowers at the end of the day and resell the good ones the next day?)
We were split into two lines, and allowed to glimpse Mao from both sides, behind two (bullet proof) glass walls. He was rather quiet, though his face had a wonderful glow. He just layed there under a Chinese flag, with his face and part of his Mao suit exposed. His face looked a bit nuclear orange -I think it was the light they used. We all shuffled by in silence, the visit with him over in a matter of seconds.
As soon as we left Mao's greeting chamber we were met with a multitude of vendors inside the Maosoleum (and outside it too). The sold everything Mao -stamps, waving Mao watches, golden Mao plaques, dangling Mao faces on red threads for your car- everything. I didn't see Mao rolling around at the thought of all that Capitalism. Maybe he's come to accept Deng XiaoPing's wisdom. After all, according to the official figures by CITS Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong.
Because I visited in the winter my whole Mao experience -from lining up with a wide cross-section of the Chinese population, to the brief meeting under the watchful eye of the military, to the Capitalist bazaar just behind Mao's office- it only took 20 minutes. I've heard that in the summer you have to wait a lot longer to get into Mao's office for the 15 second visit.

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