I’m sipping from a large cup with steaming hot black tea, of course with milk and sugar. Tea as it is supposed to be: the British way. It is one of those things I like on a quiet morning while enjoying the cool start of the day from my living room balcony. No work. No rush. No family members awake yet. The ideal Saturday morning. Birds chirp in the trees below. A baby cries for its first breakfast fresh milk. Geese honk from a neighboring rooftop ready for diner. Somewhere a child is practicing violin before going off to her extra English class on this day off. A boy yells his orders to his mum or maid – and honestly , what is the difference? Mornings in our neighborhood start slow. A little later the tick-tick-tock sound of bamboo sticks hit on each other from a knife sharpener or ear cleaner looking for early business is added to the symphony of street sounds and the first buses can be heard for their horn seems to be connected with the gas pedal. As I said, quite a quiet morning to enjoy. But on weekend-days like this, there’s always music blaring from the neighborhood loudspeakers that are hung in trees or hidden in fake rocks or giant mushrooms. Often it is some Chinese traditional tune played by a flutist nobody knows. Sometimes it is classical music nobody would want to know. Most of the time the music is pleasant enough or was it not that you have no choice. For whatever reason the guard or gardener or cleaner in our compound turns on the music box at the time we turn off our alarm clocks. No one is really listening but you can’t escape hearing it.
In days long gone, in the grey past of ages not yet forgotten but surely not willfully remembered, these speakers would blast hymns to Chairman Mao in an attempt to educate his people. But his people wouldn’t listen. And still don’t. They’ve learned to ignore all sounds around them. Horning on the roads; shouting in the restaurants; the noisy morning exercises from a nearby school; they couldn’t care less. They’ve become a good example of a tolerant society.
But these community announcements have become rare. Gone are the days that the loudspeakers were used to spread Mao’s enlightening thoughts from his Little Red Book. While Mao is still overlooking Chengdu’s central square, holding his giant hand up (and I’m still not sure whether it is in the give or take position), people hardly remember him. His thoughts are forgotten and his mistakes carefully covered up -nobody wants to loose face. Right in front of his stony eyes, the solid grounds have been up-turned and dug away. No earth nor clay is left for his fellow countrymen to go back to and put their hands in. Instead, the huge square, once only used for extravagant shows and massive parades for this last emperor has become the center of capitalistic development and the heart of Chengdu’s new subway network. Lots of space is reserved for chain stores, magazine stalls and souvenir shops. And like everywhere else in China, the best selling souvenirs are Mao’s Little Red Books; small Mao statutes; small Mao busts and large Mao posters. Mao is popular once again. He – or is it better to say ‘it’- has become bestselling commodity in China’s capitalistic 24-hour economy. Somehow, comrade Hu can make it all fit in his “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It’s the Chinese way. Not my cuppa-tea!