First time I tried to visit Chairman Mao, we arrived at 7 am on a Tuesday in October, and the line was already forming fast. After we arrived, however, we realized that the bag check place is next to the line, but completely separate, and you must check your bag before you get in line. I had downsized my bag a lot, but anything more than no bag at all is too much. The bag check wasn't going to open until 8 or so, so we just gave up and went home that day. Second time 2 days later, I put my passport, cash, subway card, phone, etc in my pockets. We got in line around 7 am and at 8:20 arrived at the entrance. Once the line started moving around 8, it moved pretty quickly. Someone was glancing at ID cards (passport in my case) but scrutiny of documents wasn't strict. We went through the metal detector, phones were being allowed even with camera functions but I didn't dare try to take a picture.
Before seeing Mao, there is an anteroom inside the memorial hall with a painting where everyone lays their flowers (sold outside the memorial hall, 3RMB per stem). Some people were holding the flowers between their hands and praying like they do with incense (zuo baibai) at Buddhist temples before setting them down.
When you enter the viewing room, Mao is a long way away in his glass coffin, maybe 10 meters. The weirdest thing is the spotlight on his face. His body is in shadow, and only his face is brightly light with a strong yellow-white spotlight. He looked for all the world like a Disney hologram of a ghost or angel, surely not the effect the Chinese Communist Party was aiming for.
When I went (mid-week) I was the only foreigner I saw the whole time. The government owned no haggling on prices souvenir shop at the exit was great, there were lots of Mao souvenirs I'd never seen anywhere else. I got a very chic Mao wrist watch with rhinestone accents ;-)
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