My cousin, Korina, flew into Beijing a couple days ago. When I was in elementary School, I went to her house just about every weekend. She will be studying in Beijing for a semester. My family here were busy with work, so I took Korina around. My grandaunt recommended going to Tiananmen, the place famous for the iconic student protests of 1989.
The whole area around Tiananmen is prettied up for an upcoming event: large floral decorations, colorful bleachers, and huge LED display screens.
On September 3rd, China will be celebrating the 70th year after the Resistance War with Japan. Everyone in China knows this event is happening. Even when I was in Guangzhou, all the way in Southern China, it was repeatedly broadcasted on the news channels. This was my first time actually trying to get to Tiananmen, but I had a sense of how to get there.
We lived in the western part of Beijing. Tiananmen is in the center.
At the metro station, the air was stale, hot and humid. I walked over to stare at the tangled mess of a subway map. People brushed against my arm, shouted through my ears, and leaned over my shoulder as I stared at the subway map.
There were two stops that had the words “Tiananmen,” under them: one west and one east. In order to get to them we had to sit through about 17 stops and transfer twice. There was probably a more efficient way to get there. I only had 2G and a spotty signal on my phone. Baidu maps wasn’t working. And a stranger was breathing on my neck.
I needed to get out of there. So we left.
We were transferring from line 5 to line 2 when the flood of traffic stopped. The security grew tighter. There were three guards dressed in blue with a red band pinned around their upper arm.
We were on the right route.
“Hey, Korina, wait.” I said. We walked a little slower. The people behind us casually walked passed us and met the guards.
“Hey. Hey! ID cards.”
My heart tensed up a little. Did I miss something? Was I in the wrong place? Well, at least I had an American passport. I prepared my confused, blank stare, because for that brief moment, I was quite confused and scared.
The people in front of us, their posture tensed up. Their head tilted back in confusion, a little offended. Hands full with bags, they struggled to dig into their bags. We walked even slower. I stared at their hands. They pulled out their residence ID cards and pass through. I nudge Korina.
“You brought your passport, right?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
I pulled out my American passport and showed the guard. He had a strange look on his face. I don’t know if it was disgusted or confused.
“What is this?” said the guard on the left. He grabbed my passport and showed it to the guard on the right.
“It’s okay,” he said, and the guard on the left nodded. We passed on through and headed onto the subway.
We got off at the Tiananmen West stop.
It was quiet and dimly lit. As we headed for the metro exit, there were people queued up to enter the metro station. They had to go through TSA, airport style security, screened bags, metal detector, leg rubbing and all. When we did reach the end of the exit, the sidewalk was lined with people sitting around on the public benches near beautifully maintained flowers and foliage and punctured with the scent of cigs.
We reach gate of Tiananmen.
There was a makeshift security post with a cast of two different types of guards and a couple of military personnel. They stared past the visitors that flowed in and out of the post. There is no entry towards the Tiananmen. In order to get a good look at it, we had to cross the street onto the People’s Square. Only, white fences prevented people from crossing the street.
Two miles and lots of finger pointing later Korina and I found an underground crosswalk. And we saw it. For a split moment we saw the face of Mao over Tiananmen and the colorful bleachers that frame it. On this side of the street, large blockades were put up to block the view.
We were filed through security check in order to get into the People’s Square. At the end of security check, there was a crowd of visitors taking photos of Tiananmen.
We continued to walk.
And then we saw it. We saw the obnoxious flowers and the backside of the LED screen. Still not quite at the People’s Square, but we were close. So, so close. And then we arrive.
We arrive at the crosswalk to the Square.
It’s fenced. There’s a guard. He says no crossing. It’s passed 4:00p.m., no crossing into the square anymore.