Me and Mao

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Travel

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Wrinkly Bits

A Blog by Gail Cushman

One of our stops in China was Tiananmen Square, a huge government square in Beijing, famed for Chinese meetings and events. In 1989 it caught international attention when pictures of riots and protests captured the media’s attention when a young man challenged a tank. Tiananmen Square is outside the Forbidden City and houses a mausoleum for Communist leader Mao. It has no greenery like trees or shrubs, and is basically a concrete parking lot, no benches or seats for casual discussions, just a hundred concrete acres, light poles, and a cajillion cameras recording those who visit.

So, this is what occurred with me…Gail…Yikes! We went from the ship to the Square by bus, had our passport checked at least six times, photographed by thousands of cameras and finally got in line to go in.

I need to back up a bit. We had to get Visas to enter China, and the Chinese Visa application form required disclosure of military service, and you know my Marine history. I served as a Marine Corps officer during the Viet Nam era. The form wanted to know everything, when, where, who, why and how. I dutifully completed the form and off we went on our journey.

We arrived at Tiananmen Square, along with about 100,000 (not kidding) other people and the guide warned, “Stay close, don’t get lost.” He led us to another gate, which had numerous Chinese soldiers who stopped marching long enough to inspect the line of people who were in our group. “Line up,” the guide said, “single line, no meandering about.” 

Okay, we lined up. Our group was about 50 people, mostly Americans, and Cowboy and I were about halfway back, minding our q’s and p’s when the soldiers decided to inspect. A couple people had already passed through the gate. “Passports out,” the guide said. So, once again, I pulled out my passport as the soldiers began inspecting our group and our group began moving slowly through the gate, no problem. Cowboy went through. I didn’t. 

I handed the soldier my passport, and he didn’t give it back to me, rather he started yelling at me. Just for the record I don’t speak any Asian language, including Chinese. I said, “What do you want? Here is my passport.” He began yelling again and pointing and waving his arms. I was baffled. I had no idea what the problem was and shrugged. This went on for several minutes. Cowboy said, “What does he want?”  

The line was stopped and I was the subject of interest. Me. Go figure. 

The guide came over and said to the soldier in Chinese, “What’s the problem?” Then he looked at me like I was going to foul Mao’s tomb. Some other foreign words were exchanged and the guide said, “The copy of your passport.  He wants a copy.” He wore a green uniform and got in my space and I was staring directly at the top of his head, which held a garrison cap with a big red star. He was even shorter than I am, but he was really good at hand waving and loud yelling.

“What? I have the real thing, it’s right here,” I said, but he didn’t want the REAL passport, he wanted the copy. Cowboy to the rescue. We both had copies stowed away for emergencies, and he pulled out the duplicate and handed it to him. The soldier took the copy and the passport, compared them and brushed us away. He looked at me, my passport, and the copy of the passport. I guess we all looked alike. 

 Scurry, scurry.  We got out of there in a hurry. We think that somehow my Marine Corps service indicated that I could be subversive or something. I said, “This is going to be a danged good blog.” The Cowboy, ever the optimist, said, “I was thinking of posting a “Go Fund Me” page on Wrinkly Bits to get you out of Chinese jail.”

Travel is full of adventures and this was one for the books!

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Gail Cushman:
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