So how hard do you think it would be to get to an open plaza built with no walls? Well, in Beijing - if they don't want you to get there - almost impossible.
|Tiannmen square, the lanes of traffic, the fences, the lights, the CCTV cameras, the enormous, but apparently unused buildings, the massive jumbo-jumbotron screens... the whole package. Only a little bit smoggy.|
To get to the main plaza of Tiananmen Square you had to either cross 6 - 8 lanes of traffic and jump a 3 foot fence, and somehow not look suspicious to the guards (army and police). Or go through the underground pedestrian walkways which are guarded by police, where you must send your bags through an X-Ray and you are scanned for metal... unless you don't look Chinese. Then they just wave you through, or check you in a bored, desultory manner.
Yup, reverse racial profiling. I know a bunch of people who had a little snicker at the idea of being IGNORED as a security/safety threat because they DON'T look like the majority racial group.
And once you get to the plaza it is filled with at-one-time-charming, late 19th/early 20th century style light poles. However, now they are just scaffolding for BRIGHT lights (the rectangles) and a flock of CCTV cameras. One in each of 4 directions, and a high, I'm guessing wide angle camera, and another 1 or 2. On each one. About 5m apart. There is more video coverage of this square than the entrance to Michael Jackson's last court appearance. (Now I wish I had counted poles to get a sense of the tins of hardware installed. It suddenly makes the London allocation look restrained and full of holes.)
And because there is all this scrutiny you know that the flag sellers and the picture takers are the approved, government sanctioned ones. You really know the photographers are sanctioned ones because their parkas are labeled as such, and they are numbered.
The square has some of the best large tile paving in the city due to all the weird politics and bizarre version of history that exists. And Mao's mausoleum is there, along with 2 other monstrous buildings dedicated to the glory of the Workers of China. All of these buildings, in true Soviet style, have a bank of shiny doors all the way across the front. Yet all entries and exits take place through 1 door all the way over on one end. One of my favorite traits of this "removed from reality" style of architecture.
And they even have a couple of those unique "Heroic Socialist Realism" sculptures. I first encountered this hot-house style in my studies of the Soviet Union. It was nice to see the broad-shouldered, square-jawed, looking-off-into-the-distance masses, supporting each other (or in this case, the Helmsman himself) with grim-but-cheerful-and-fully-voluntary-determination, style imported with all fidelity. (Interestingly - in the old USSR, one could go right up next to them and get you picture taken. Here they are behind 2 fences and guarded.)
|Psst, how many cameras can you spot in this photo?|
These particular statues are in front of Mao's tomb, which I kind of wanted to go see - ya' know my 2nd embalmed-communist-hero-of-the-people. (Yup, I saw Lenin in 1988). But despite the fact the soldiers still have to walk around it, and I bet the climate control is up and running inside, the building is only open 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. So we didn't make it inside. Oh, and despite being in the neighborhood at least 2 more times... We didn't try to do back. Ah well.
|Mao's embalmed body is in there...|
And just for fun - this is the day I became aware of what I came to call the "Chinese Tribute Brand." (yes, Brand, not band.) Knock-off that aren't quite knock-offs. They dodge. The first one I notices was a print on a knitted hat that looked like the "Coach" C's, sort of. And then it had the logo, "Co-Ka-Chee" printed in the Coach type face. Later I saw another printed pattern, with H's. The brand was "Er-I-Moo." It took me longer to work out this was the re-back-transliteration of "Hermes."
And finally - the Tribute Brand that is really big business China. TV commercials and bill-boards with large athletes (not Chinese, or not many, instead mostly large, black, American-looking athletes). The brand symbol is a little figure dribbling a basketball, and the name is spelled "qi-er-dan." But when said comes out "Jordan." Man I wish I had gotten a picture of that as well.
And once your eye catches this, all of a sudden you see it all over. There is a Chinese car brand who's shield looks like BMW's but instead of a quartered circle, it is just 2 half circles. The initials are DBY. And on and on, it's like a scavenger hunt.
And darn, it was still cold, and now the sun was really going down. Time to head home, and go swimming in the pool - maybe hit the steam room and generally wallow in the splendors of a western hotel that knows how to warm you back up all the way to your frozen bone marrow.
At last we end day 3.