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The tourists of Tiananmen

The tourists of Tiananmen

For people-watching, Beijing is hard to beat: looking on as Tiananmen Gate, with its muted portrait of Mao, is transformed into a sightseeing backdrop, with the tourists sporting outfits as loud as the Communist slogans to their rear. On the streets the sense that something momentous is happening, strangely imperceptible under the surface of things, and the sugary drinks and cold bottled tea hocked from vending trucks on the square. Sweet azuki beans baked into pastries in the narrow hutong alleyways to the south, or great vats of soup still offsteaming around the bend from McDonald’s. When I arrived a giant vase filled with hulking fake flowers and Gulliver-sized peaches still sat in the middle of it all, on my way to the Forbidden City, a hangover from China’s National Day, on Oct. 1. The display sparked criticism in the ramp up to the holiday, for its $100,000 price tag, but it was an arresting sight. An odd thing, and foreboding, seeing flowers, which are meant at some point to wilt, blown up to Godzilla proportions, so heavy and imposing, so vividly coloured, and so immune to the wind.

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