Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mao Is One Cool Dude

Yesterday I found myself doing something I never expected to do. I waited in a line to look at a dead person.

When in China, do as the Chinese do and one of the most popular attractions in Beijing is "Mao On Ice."

The body of Chairman Mao, who died 30+ years ago, is on display for the public in a refrigerated Mausoleum that sits in the middle of Tiannimen Square.

I am happy to report that he looks good! I had no idea it was possible to preserve human remains this well.

It's not as ghoulish as it sounds. There's a spotlight shining on his face. His plumped up rosy cheeks look like someone blew air into them the way the chefs at the restaurants here blow air into the innards of the ducks just before they shove them into the oven to roast them.

The whole experience is no scarier than a visit to a wax museum or seeing the audio-animatronic "Mr. Lincoln" at Disneyland.

Of course if Mao could see what his Cultural Revolution has evolved into he'd probably roll off of his catafalque.

A few blocks away from Tiannimen Square you can find a Louis Vuitton store, a Tiffany's and a Harry Winston jewelers. The proletariat has never been so bourgeoisie or looked so stylish.

The Chinese people that you pass by on the street don't seem that friendly and very few speak English. Being non-Asian guarantees that you'll draw a few stares.

I know three Chinese phrases; ni hao (how are you) xie xie (thank you) and bu yao (I don't want any). The last phrase is especially useful when you encounter someone on the street who speaks a little English. It turns out the only reason they speak broken English is because they invariably have something to sell you.

A decline of an offer to buy a post card from a street hawker is often immediately followed by a solicitation from that very same vendor to sell you a Rolex watch.

Worse yet are the high pressure sales tactics you encounter should you venture into one of the markets.

There's the Pearl Market and the Silk Market, the names of which represent the chief item of sale at those locations respectively but both also offer designer clothing, electronics and luggage.

There are some fantastic bargains to be had but non-Asians are immediately pounced upon, tugged at, grabbed by the arm and sometimes even chased as they walk past each vendor's booth and the merchants compete for the tourist's business.

In China shopping is a full contact sport. No wonder lining up to view the dead is so popular.

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