Saturday, 18 April 2015

Travel Update II

I arrived in Beijing early this morning to a very smoggy city and the smell of the Far East which I have not breathed in for around a decade. My flight was uneventful save for having seen darts legend Tony"Silverback" O'Shea drinking coffee in Manchester Airport. I was last in the Chinese capital in 2002 and the place has changed. It seems smarter and richer and there's a lot more English signage. However, considering the nature of this trip, it was not the present which was interesting me but the recent past and so as soon as I'd checked into my hotel I headed down to Tiananmen Square to complete some unfinished business.

Back in 2002 I'd not had time to view Mao Tse Tung lain in his mauseleum, (or should that be Maoseleum?), and so I thought what better way to kick off a trip to a land with a current dictator cult to explore one of the recent past. China today doesn't really know what to make of Mao. He's the founding father who put the communist party into power but they have strayed so far from his vision that one almost suspects that he's a bit of an embarrasment to them, (much like the regime they put into power in North Korea. The official line is that he was 70% good and 30% bad which makes some sense but still doesn't sum it up quite right for one like me who doesn't believe much in absolutes. Dead and gone both he and his legacy may be, but the Mao cult does continue. The queue snaked around the Maoseleum for a good half a mile at least and the state was not forcing this lot to attend. They were mostly from the provinces, rural folk enjoying a break in the big
city, and their attitude was not what I had expected. Paying respects to the dead - particularly the actual body! - one would expect hushed tones and decorum but no, they were queue jumping, chattering and a lot of the female clothing on display could hardly be termed modest. Yet at the same time most bought a bunch of 3 yuan flowers which they laid at the foot of his statue with a bow and a prayer as if Mao was some Taoist deity and not the leader of an atheist, communist guerilla army. I wonder how the North Koreans behave?

Finally, as I was watching the crowds mingle in Tiananmen Square I realised that a good many of them were old enough to have lived through the Cultural Revolution with all its horrors. Indeed, there were doubtless a few ex-Red Guards on that vast plaza today. I wonder what they think of Mao now? As I watched them I reflected on how quickly hostory can change. During the Cultural Revolution many Chinese sought refuge with their Korean nrighbour to the south, infinitely praferable was in to the hell they were living. Now the shoe is firmly on the other foot and I was reminded of what an old Moroccan hotelier in Tangiers told me once about how things come around far too quickly for our liking and now it is the Arabs likely to seek sanctuary but a few decdes ago it was the Spanish fleeing from the clutches of Franco.

A funny old world.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

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