By Donnell Gavin
BEIJING, China, 10:17 p.m. — Since we didn’t have any tickets to the Games today (though Phelps has surpassed the record for total lifetime gold medals, and is within shooting range of Spitz’s 7 gold medals in one year), we ventured over to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City, which contains the Emperor’s palace and several naked babies (diapers, it seems, are pretty uncommon, as people just dangle their half nude infants at arm’s length). We missed seeing Mao’s body by mere seconds (though the general consensus is “overrated” and “like a bad wax sculpture”) and the weather was by far the worst it’s been since we got here. The air more or less felt like grilled cheese — hot, thick, close, and inescapable (though perhaps the analogy doesn’t hold up so well, as I’ve never found grilled cheese particularly close or inescapable).
Though it was hard to look past the low hanging clouds of haze, what was perhaps most striking about the visit (and a prior venture to the Temple of Heaven) is that nearly all of the historic buildings have been repainted within the past month (the centermost of the Palace buildings smelled distinctly of spraypaint). While it’s often brought up that Americans are overly conscious of our brief history (“sitting on a park bench that’s older than my country” was I believe how Minus the Bear put it), the regular refinishing of monuments that are hundreds of years old makes the Forbidden City feel frighteningly like Epcot.