A Mausoleum is not the same thing as a Museum, a fact that Vinnie didn’t know when he ventured into Mao’s final resting place last November.
Those commies keep Mao on lock down. You can’t get into the Mausoleum if you have a phone, a camera or any method of recording what you see inside those four walls. Vinnie and I were running late for our visit with the Chairman, arriving just 30 minutes before he was due for his 12:00 nap.
After standing in line and being frisked by the police, we found out that only one of us could enter the Mausoleum, the other had to wait outside with all of our electronic devices (of which there were three).
That’s how I ended up waiting outside the exit, watching a maniacal Vinnie run past hundreds of Chinese patriots. From yards away he began shouting:
V: “Do you KNOW what’s IN THERE!”
V: “YES! There is a dead body in there!!”
K: “How’d he look?”
V: “I didn’t know that I was going to see a DEAD BODY! I thought you were saying MUSEUM. I walked in and thought, man, this feels like a funeral home and all at a sudden there was a dead body! Mao’s dead body is inside there!”
K: “MAUSOLEUM. Dead bodies. So! How’s he look?”
V: “Ummm…. He’s wearing a lot of make-up.”
And he is. But you know who’s not? Ho Chi Minh.
The Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum is decidedly less grand than the Chairman’s. It’s hard to compete with the Chinese when it comes to massive showings of Communist strength. Tiananmen Square is the king daddy in display of state power. A sea of pavement stretches from the Forbidden City to the Zhengyangmen, the front gate of Beijing’s ancient city, and right in the center of it all sits Mao’s cavernous final resting place. Your every move is observed by the watchful eyes of Chairman Mao whose oversized painting looks over the plaza (along with the thousands of strategically placed video cameras).
Outside the gate of the Mao mausoleum a line of Chinese tourists sporting matching neon orange baseball caps wait impatiently, occasionally running, pushing and jumping the queue when space opens between people. It’s highly controled chaos.
But the Vietnamese also know how to paint a grand post-mordem scene. The squat marble Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum overlooks the large square where the Vietnamese declared their independence. The grass and the nearby colonial-style Presidential palace gives the entire complex a genteel and inviting, rather than imposing, presence.
Uncle Ho’s mausoleum is smaller, more intimate. The entire complex is approachable. The line is short. The guards quickly dispatch your camera without much hassle or confusion. Inside the Mausoleum there is no towering marble statue greeting you at the front door. The air is chilly. You walk up a short flight of stairs and suddenly a very pale, very dead Ho Chi Minh is lying just feet away.
Mao and Ho were embalmed by the same Soviet embalmers who first worked on Lenin. Along the way they learned some tips from Cher’s makeup team.
Everything in the Mao mausoleum is imposing, except Mao himself. Inside his crystal coffin, a halo of light beams down on Mao’s waxy, overy-rouged face. His hair is perfectly oiled in place, his fleshy pink cheeks are still plump and his body is shrouded under a wrinkle free blanket. It’s entirely possible that Mao is just a head. A brightly lit floating head.
Ho’s Mausoleum may be less grand but he certainly looks more dead. The dim light does nothing to put Ho on display. Everything about the man is white – his face is devoid of any coloring, his white hair clings to his head and his colorless goatee flows down the front of his white outfit. Ho’s decrepit hands rest on top of his stomach and they’re clearly attached to decaying white arms.
Obviously, the Soviet’s hadn’t yet mastered Rouge 101 in 1969.
Mao and Ho are quietly resting inside elevated crystal tombs, their head’s positioned as if they’re staring down on the passing visitors. As you walk past the Chairman, you’re only able to peer in from one side before you’re hurried out the door. Mao gazes down at the four guards that are standing watch over his dead body, but Ho!
Ho lies there inviting his guests to view his body from every angle. As you circle around the base of his coffin his elevated head lies facing you straight on, like he could wake up at any minute and declare, “American! Get out! The imperialist aggressors can never enslave the heroic Vietnamese people!”
And it’s creepy.
The Chairman wins the prize for the most fake looking Commie – Madame Tussauds could do a better job! As for Uncle Ho, he simply looks dead. Which is how a man whose last breath was more than 40 years ago should look (though you know that takes a lot of cash to keep them looking fresh-ish).
Now that we’ve visited Mao and Ho, we ‘re on a mission to meet the remaining two Commie Zombies. It’s now a life goal to visit the the Eternal President of North Korean, Kim Il Sung and the founder of the USSR, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
We’re taking bets to see if Fidel will follow his fellow commies to a final resting place filled with glycerol and potassium acetate.