Three Days with Mao

By Charles Paquin

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The first week of October is a holiday in China because of the country’s National Day, which is celebrated on October 1st. On that day in 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on Tian’anmen Square in Beijing. The Communists then chose this date as China’s National Day to honor that event which followed their win over the Nationalists in the civil war that started after the end of Second World War. To this day, Mao’s portrait still sits over the Forbidden City’s entrance in the heart of the country’s capital. But it is not for Mao that I came here during a crowded national holiday…

Mario arrived in China in 2003 with a tourist visa in hand and today lives and works in Beijing. He is my mother’s brother but also a proud man, a tremendous businessman, an insatiable world traveller, a true epicurean, a natural smooth talker and an unparalleled narrator, but most of all, a likeable and generous individual. He says it himself: “You can’t get bored with Mario!”. It is just not an option when you are around him. He loves to surprise, amuse, unsettle, charm and impress. How could I resist such charisma anyway? One moment he captivates me with some of the many spicy travelling anecdotes he has, the other he offers me unlimited renowned gastronomy and then tells me things in confidence with so much trust and honesty… A bit unsettling, but how entertaining! Everytime I hang out with him for a while, I wonder: how is it possible that we can get along so well, considering the fact that we are so deeply different? It must be because of our relatedness and affection for each other that we are so tightly bonded together. Or maybe am I just another one under his influence…

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As soon as I got ready to leave for China, my uncle immediately reiterated his long-time invitation to spend a few days with him in Beijing a.k.a. Smog City. I took the first opportunity I had during the National Holiday week and left for the nation’s capital. Upon leaving his apartment the next morning, we knew that we would probably have to skip the main landmarks due to a probable huge crowd of visitors. We were right, of course: when we got to the edge of Tian’anmen Square, not too far from the Forbidden City’s entrance, we saw approximately eight hundred quadrazillion people in front of us. For many Chinese citizens coming from everywhere around the country, Mario explained, this kind of holiday is sometimes their only chance to visit the capital and see the legendary portrait of Mao, the people’s (imposed) supreme idol. Well, we wish you all a very nice day packed like sardines in an open-air tin box; we are going for a walk!

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We did walk indeed, and for miles. For or five blocks away from the touristic madness there was almost nobody in the hutongs, the traditional neighborhoods of the city filled with small houses squeezed together in a nicely chaotic labyrinth of streets and alleys. Then back in the crowd around lake Hohai, but it was worth it. Such a nice place with the beautiful buildings and willows that surround it, and of course with all those people having a good time in their colorful paddleboats. We walked and then walked more. I took lots of pictures. We had some jiaoze in a tiny place, then we stopped for a drink in an alleyway. We also went to the artists’ district where street art, modern design and hipster chicks awaited us. That night we had a tasty steak and plenty of beverages to wash it down in exchange for a pair of quality motorbike glasses. The next day we went for a full body massage, but never did I expect my smiling little Chinese masseuse to make me suffer that much. At least I could comfort myself with the famous “Peking duck” who met the high expectations I had for it. On Saturday, my uncle took me for a Harley-Davidson ride in the Antiques district of the city before we finished off nicely with a delicious and authentic Chinese fondue, which actually originates from Mongolia.

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What about Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall and all the rest, M. Blogger!? I will have to go back, because three days with Mario are clearly too few!

Charles Paquin is currently participating in the CE Teach in China program

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