Beijing’s north wind skewers bundled tourists rushing through the gates of the Forbidden City. A late afternoon, mushroom-orange, smog descends upon the capitalist infestation. Bug-eyed, the travelers scatter as parade troops enter: link arms, push them under eaves, and against walls. Make way, the leader growls, important people coming—not you, as a diplomatic entourage rolls past in flag-waving Mercedes. A riotous veneer of red-lacquer anxiety crackles through the gilt of the courtyard; a Kafkaesque scene unfolds.
in the back of throats:
The group’s whisperers animate when the military leave. Elderly women peek into non-public areas behind grime-etched windows. They cluck, and tut-tut, at the pieces of teak furniture piled high, draped in rags and dust. The guide gestures toward the grand courtyard where “The Last Emperor” was filmed. The artful elegance of what was, now, a carapace, valueless to its owners, except for the yuan the gwai lo tourist trade brings.
The late start limits the time which can be spent in the hollow undecorated rooms. A New York Indian couple bemoan the fading sunlight and lost opportunities. Dwarfed by the architecture of the building, and the entering police cars; the group scatters, disturbed like wasps in a hive. The guide’s attempt to lasso the laggards meets with only minor success. Reality has, yet again, not lived up to the New Yorker’s imagination. They are hesitant to leave without their rupee’s worth.
speakers blare on
the police car in the park:
the bus is running