Christina Zastrow

The Long Way Home

Chairman Mao

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This morning my alarm went off at the shockingly early hour of seven am. I grumbled. I moaned. I hit snooze thrice. And then I remembered why I had set it so early and took a quick shower so that I was appropriate for one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to in Beijing… a trip to mausoleum of Chairman Mao.

The Chairman was given a shockingly high infusion of embalming fluids in the hours after his death and encased in a glass coffin, like a political Snow White. I was disappointed to learn that there exists also a wax statue that is sometimes on display instead of the actual body of the father of the PRC, but I was excited to go see this historic figure anyway.

There are rules about how one behaves when seeing The Chairman. Dress nicely. No slippers.No pictures. Keep moving.

We purchased a simple white flower to lay at the feet of Chairman Mao and walked quietly into the mausoleum.

I’ve been in several Buddhist temples lately, and outside of mainland China, you usually find a few people genuflecting, prostrating themselves before Buddha. Inside China, I’ve never had that experience. Until today when I watched three women bow to a statue of Chairman Mao, carefully, the same three bows you see in a Buddhist temple, and then lay down their flowers as incense before Buddha.

We chose to pause only for a moment of respectful quiet, place our flowers on the alter and move on.

We joined the silent line of Chinese  walking reverently past this figure. No one pauses. No pictures are permitted. Instead you keep walking, as silent mourners past the grave of a revered ancestor.

Outside we took a deep breath and a long moment to ponder what we had seen, debating reentry just to see it again and better understand.

We decided to continue on our day and think about the reverence displayed by the Chinese inside the mausoleum in contrast to the casual attitude seen in Beijing natives. And that’s where I remain. Why do the Chinese people outside Beijing have such reference for this man, and Beijing natives treat him more as a distant figure, a great aunt that you love because she’s your aunt, but avoid for some vague reason?

It gave me things to think about regarding my path for home as well. In Chicago I don’t generally go to the big “tourist” spots in the city. Why would I? I’ve lived there my entire life and I can go any day, so when I have time and money, I tourist elsewhere or I revisit things I love. Yet, here in Beijing I see some site of cultural or historical significance twice a week most weeks. And here, I feel a sense of ease and home that I haven’t felt in Chicago for a long while. But is that perhaps, as I wondered this afternoon when I returned from my adventure, more because I seek out the chances to feel the culture and the history and the people around me here, knowing in the back of my mind that my stay here could be temporary? Could I find the same sense of home by connecting with the culture, pace, and history of Chicago?

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Author: Christina Zastrow

Somewhere along my way through life, I managed to lose sight of myself. Then when my first long term relationship fell apart I found myself homeless, unemployed, and without family or support system. I decided it was time to find my way home, back to myself. This is my journey.

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