[10/19/09, posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]
Friends: Even on a Monday morning Mao's birthplace was swarming with busloads of tourists and pilgrims. I was the only foreign devil amongst them and the only one with bare legs in the heavily overcast, 60 degree temperatures. Ten days in China and I have yet to encounter a fellow Westerner.
The only person to have a word with me at the various Mao sites here in Shaoshan was a security guard asking me to lock up my bike elsewhere before I set out for Mao's statue and his home. There was a long line to enter the house where he was born in 1893 and spent his childhood. It was in a tranquil rural setting overlooking a pond and surrounded by rice fields.
Mao was alternately referred to as "Comrade Mao" and "Chairman Mao" on the assorted plaques and maps. There were two tourist offices, but in neither did anyone speak English. There was a ceremony being conducted in front of his twenty-foot statue complete with military guard and groups of marching children. I couldn't find anyone who could tell me if it was a daily event or a special occurrence. Many people approached his statue and bowed. There were quite a few women walking about selling Mao buttons and memorabilia, but they too left me alone. Shops carried a vast array of Mao busts and statutes and framed photos and other trinkets. If I'd been here a couple weeks ago during the celebration of China's 60th anniversary Shaoshan would have truly been mobbed.
I get a look at Mao whenever I spend money as his face graces every bill from one yuan to one hundred. I have yet to encounter a coin. The one yuan bill is worth about fifteen cents. There are actually bills of half and one-tenth that value without Mao. People look closely at any bill over five to make sure its legitimate.
If I hadn't missed a turn coming out of Zhuzhou yesterday I would have arrived at Shaoshan late Sunday afternoon, something I wasn't sure I wanted to do, so I didn't greatly regret the extra twenty miles my mishap cost me. I am in no rush right now. I am happy to be experiencing whatever I am of China. I just regretted having to ride along a muddy bypass beside a major highway being widened with construction work going gung ho even on a Sunday. There is no restraining these Chinese.
Not everyone is busily at work though at all times. I frequently see people playing mahjong in front of small shops. A Chinese friend in Chicago has long promised to teach me the game. If only she had, I could stop and look over the shoulders of those playing and pick up some tips. I occasionally see pool tables, but not a single ping pong table so far.