Me-go: Around-the-World

2008 Olympics


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Although I stayed sick for a few days I pressed on to the main tourist attractions in Beijing. I decided to pay Chairman Mao a visit first mainly to see how the Chinese tourists react to him. Apparently the unofficial tagline here regarding Mao is that he was 70% right and 30% wrong. Before you can enter the 1,000 person line for Mao you must check your bags and cameras across the street. You then wait patiently in 4-person rows to approach the large mausoleum. A lot of people ran out of line to buy flowers from the official flower seller, so the Chinese still go to pay their respects–not just to see if he?s really dead. Interestingly, this is the only instance I have ever seen Chinese people stand in a line, perhaps the police with megaphones and military guards have something to do with that. When entering the mausoleum the line splits in two in front of a large statue of Mao where people leave their flowers. You are then quickly ushered past Mao, who lays in a glass coffin covered with a Chinese flag, in a matter of 10 seconds. Mao?s tomb exits into a large hall full of official souvenirs followed by a gauntlet of souvenir stalls outside. In total, the entire viewing takes only 10 minutes even though the line is massive. This is mostly due to the fact that no one is allowed to stop to look at Mao, even slowing down is met with prods from the military. Mao?s body was a bit strange to see, especially because the lighting and waxy covering causes his head to glow orange from certain angles. I?m glad I went, just for the surreal experience.

After Mao I spent the day in the Forbidden City. I knew it would be a large building of some sort but I was completely unprepared for how massive the complex is–it really is a city in itself. Aside from the huge buildings in the center of the complex surrounded by huge plazas, there are walls on either side which lead to smaller alleyways and a maze of living quarters and reception halls. After the complex closed at 4pm I headed up to the park behind it. By climbing up a hill to a small pavilion I was able to see not only the rooftops of the Forbidden City, but the entire Beijing skyline.

The next day I took the subway and a bus out to the Summer Palace. Although it should have only taken two hours I walked out of the subway in the wrong direction and ended up spending an hour in a residential district. The Summer Palace is a vast wooded area set on a large lake. It has living quarters, temples, pagodas, bridges and walkways all beautifully designed and set in very deliberate locations. Most tourist sites in China have to be appreciated from the outside, but some of these building had furnishings and antiques on display if you looked through the windows. I liked the less-visited hilltop sites which were sit into rocks and perched on the hillside. Down by the lake is a covered walkway painted with scenes of Chinese society that stretches along the lake between the main buildings. It was a beautiful, sunny day and many people rented boats to see the more remote parts of the Palace across the lake. You could easily spend an entire day walking around the Palace, maybe more. It was a beautiful example of Chinese architecture and turned out to be one of the better sites in Beijing.