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Two days in Beijing

Yesterday, I went to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square where Mao’s body is on display. I’d been told by Charlie not to take my bag, as they weren’t allowed. I joined the fast-moving queue near the entrance and in a few minutes passed through the security checkpoint, where my phone was scanned (it doesn’t work in China – I brought it for the time and alarm), and was into the mausoleum. It was free.

Most of the tourists – dare I say, pilgrims – there were older Chinese people. A lot of them were very eager to get inside, hurrying and pushing. Once we got into the building, though, a hush fell over the crowd and people shuffled along in a slightly more orderly manner. The first chamber has a marble statue of Mao and the flow of people split two ways to enter the central chamber. There, everyone shuffled extra slowly – or tried to, as the staff shooed people along handily.

The central room was dark, with lights shining on the case containing the body. He certainly looked a little plasticky – but better than most people do decades after their birth. For me, the visit to the mausoleum was a novelty, but I suppose it must have been a special moment for the Chinese people. You could say that the equivalent for me would be seeing Churchill’s body if it were on display in London – but I can’t really imagine that I would see doing that as much more than a novelty either.

Later on, I went to the Olympic Green and walked around the National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) and the National Aquatics Center. I then went to meet Charlie and Mark for dinner at a restaurant near where they live.

The following day, Charlie planned to take a day off – partly because of a bad back, but mainly, I think, because I provided her with an excuse to go to the aquarium at Beijing Zoo. We met at 11 o’clock and each paid 120 yuan for admittance to all parts of the zoo – Beijing Aquarium being the most expensive part by far.

The zoo was pretty dingy and the animals didn’t seem the happiest creatures in the world. The pandas were all sleeping and were begrimed with dust from their enclosures. At the bear enclosures, people threw bits of food down to the eager black and brown bears; people even poured drinks directly into the mouths of the brown bears as they flattened themselves against the enclosure wall with their mouths open. The lions and tigers outside were also sleeping. We went into an inside area where there were a number of cages about 8 by 12 feet. One tiger paced up and down in this limited space, another slept. The cages looked like prison cells.

The aquarium was less depressing – fish don’t have feelings, after all. Highlights in here included a pond roiling with hungry, hungry carp that approached the sides for titbits from the visitors (they weren’t coy). There was a large tank that could be viewed from different sides and had a tube running up and through it with an escalator in side. In the tank were a turtle or two and several large stingrays and manta rays – one of which had a round body and a very long tail and looked kind of like a flying saucer. There were huge sturgeon, porcupine fish, jellyfish, starfish, dolphins and seals.

After that, I tried, with little success, to write, and then went once again to Charlie and Mark’s place, where they kindly cooked dinner for us and another guest.

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