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Making a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

It’s a Wednesday, or maybe a Thursday. A warm and hazy afternoon like any other. You’re out walking around trying to see enough sights so you can still call yourself travelers, but you secretly just don’t want to go outside in Beijing.

Still, you’ve come this far. You have to see Tiananmen square–maybe the imbalmed body of Mao (even though some people claim its just a wax sculpture). One stop on the crowded subway and you’re there. Just you and about 5,000 Chinese tourists.

Instantly you feel uneasy. There are barriers everywhere. Men in suits with clear earphones. Men in army fatigues without. You can’t see more than a quarter mile in any direction. Even the sky is bearing down on you. You crowd through security with hundreds in front of you, hundreds behind. You tell yourself this feeling of clausterphobia will pass. But when you get through the gates, and there is more space, you feel even more crowded and invaded than you did in line. There are cameras everywhere. On towers, unapologetically watching you, stacked on each other, all the way to the top. Making sure you, or the person near you don’t hold up a sign about 1989, the Chairman, or anything else unsavory.

Just when your stomach starts to turn on itself and you realize you have zero control of the situation, you look to your left. Near the barriers, a few feet from the cars zooming by, a man dressed in a suit is being dragged along the ground. His feet are handcuffed, so are his hands. One of the five men dressed in an official uniform starts to pull him by the neck–it looks like he’s trying to rip his head right off his shoulders. They are punching him anywhere they can get a clean shot in. You turn your head because you’re not sure if you’re allowed to look, but you turn back around and watch them throw him in a paddy wagon. Before you know it, he’s gone. Off to who knows where, for some indefinite time between hours and eternity.

Your first thoughts are “fuck!” You look around and take some pictures. They don’t come out great. And you really couldn’t care less. Once you got behind the curtain, you can’t wait to get back home. No red slippers will take you there, but a quick cadence and forced smiles at security that let you past the gates and back to the subway help.

Its all really over before it started. You still don’t know if Mao is made of wax or not. But you’ve seen enough.