Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
I was excited to view the Chairman’s body as I had recently read his doctor’s biography. The good doctor reported that immediately upon the Great Leader’s death, the Gang of Four demanded he preserve the body. Unfortunately, the timeline was too short and the equipment faulty. Thus, there exists a rumor that the body is a wax facsimile which might be substantiated by the fact that the viewing is closed on hot days. The body lies in an ordinary looking building. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to first visit as I brought my camera which was strictly verboten. On day two, I waited in a 45 minute line. There was an electronic billboard telling visitors what not to bring inside which, in additional to the aforementioned, included food and hand grenades. The mood in the line was jocular. I joked with other tourists. We were searched before entering an auditorium-sized room where the mood was somber but no crying. The body was roped off and I could see it from a distance of about twenty feet. It was a good looking body. In fact, he looked great which made me wonder about the wax theory. In the end, I couldn’t tell. The experience was not rushed, but there was nothing else to do there, so I stayed about ten minutes then left.
Highly recommend given the mystery aspect, especially as Tiananmen Square is a must see. 4 stars.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I was in the city so I thought I should go and see the body of the man who provided its name. The body lies in a big hall in a part of town without other sites of interest to tourists. There was no line and no crowd. The building is fronted by a big set of steps as if it were a capitol building. The viewing was a bit closer than Mao and he also looked good. Almost as if he were just sleeping, though there was something, the posture, perhaps, that let me know he was actually dead. Not much else to report, it was a quick visit.
Recommend for a quick stop, but maybe that’s just because seeing the bodies of dead leaders is becoming a habit for me. 2 ½ stars.
Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Red Square is of course the iconic visit on any trip to Moscow, but the body didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It’s housed in a long building with multiple tombs, important Russian figures, most of whom I didn’t know. The line was about a half hour and I chatted with some Chinese tourists who lived in Paris and had a strong interest in World War II history. I recommended the Great War museum in Moscow which is a must see. Inside the building it was appropriately somber. On the way to Lenin, you file past the other tombs. Lenin’s body itself was harder to see and he didn’t look as good as the dead Asian leaders. I didn’t stay long. Recommend as you will be in Red Square anyway. 2 stars.
Ramallah, West Bank
There is not much to do in Ramallah. I did find a decent restaurant and enjoyed the Stars and Bucks, yes that was the real name, coffee shop. However, the body was not on display as the building was under renovations which seemed to be permanent.
Not recommend. 1 star
Readers add context: Arafat’s body was not preserved. The building in Ramallah is a mausoleum to the leader and well worth a visit.
Pope John Paul
The Vatican, Rome, Italy
I was in Milan with several days to pass when, on a Saturday, I saw the news that the Pope had died. The next morning I hopped on a train to Rome. St Peter’s Square had lots of people but wasn’t jammed. People were singing, leaving notes, and crying. After seeing the Coliseum the following morning, I went to Vatican in the early afternoon to view the procession which brought the body into the basilica. I picked what I thought was a good viewing spot, but it turned out to be horrible which was disappointing. Then, there was a rumor that people could go in and see the body and I found my way into a very long line. Despite the occasion, there was a jovial atmosphere outside. By now the crowd was huge and the line moved slowly. I knew I would be waiting for a long time which turned out to be four hours. (Later I learned that the line became possibly the longest line in human history). When I finally crossed into the Vatican, the one step into the threshold was monumental. The atmosphere changed instantly. There was a reverence and solemnity I’d never previously experienced. Also the setting is unbelievable, but that’s well documented. No one spoke, except for the minders in hushed voices. Many of the viewers were in tears. We were made to move slowly past the body and viewed him at a distance of six feet. He looked perfect, just like the pictures. His eyes were closed and he could have been sleeping. He did appear to have make-up on. After a few moments, I, along with the thousands around me, had to move on so those behind us could see the man. A woman asked me if I felt the presence of God. As an atheist, I had to say no, but it was an incredibly moving experience.
Must do. 5 stars.
Readers add context: Pope John Paul’s body lay in state for a time after his death. He is now buried and this viewing experience is not possible.