And here we have it, tumblr, the number one place I have ever visited.
If you’re in the mood for a long read, here’s the detailed post I wrote about my days at Jiuzhaigou.
I do not wish to repeat myself, and in contrast to the number two post, I would like the photographs here to speak mostly for themselves. But I will say this:
If you ever have the chance to see nature in its full, de-humanized glory, do so. Many people will tell you that magic is not real, but I am here to tell you that magic is in every blade of grass, every drop of water, every pine needle, every piece of tree bark, every millimeter of mist. Places like Jiuzhaigou are rare. They must be loved, embraced, preserved. We must hold ourselves accountable to not only experience places like this, but to let the world know that they exist so that we may not tread on them. I don’t want to preach, and I am certainly not the best example of an environmentalist. Simply understand that the world is not for us to take advantage of; we shall enjoy and give back.
Unfortunately, I do not have any of my own pictures of this fantastic place. Tourists are not allowed to get their cameras out, so my group was advised to not even take them into the Valley. You will just have to deal with my words on this one.
Let me begin by saying that going to the Valley of the Kings was my dream from the age of four. As I believe I’ve said in earlier posts, Egypt has been a part of my life since I could read, and going to these places I had read so much about was like being in a dream. Even now, the memories don’t feel at all real.
Our tickets into the tombs were covered by the tour group. Any extras were on us to purchase. That meant making the decision: am I going to be cheap and skip Tutankhamun’s tomb, or will I splurge a little and go see the tomb and mummy of the pharaoh who started it all for me? After a moment of thought, I came to the conclusion of, “Don’t be an idiot. You’ll regret it if you don’t go.” So I purchased my ticket and walked forward.
We divided into small groups, and my group first made its way to Tutankhamun’s tomb. The annex and treasury rooms are blocked off to modern tourists, so that only the antechamber and burial chamber can be investigated. Some of the people I was with thought Tutankhamun’s tomb was a bit anticlimactic since it was so much smaller than the other tombs, but I tried to reason with them and explain that Tut had died the young age of eighteen; he didn’t have decades of planning like most of the pharaohs before and after him in order to build the other large, elaborate tombs we saw. No one wanted to hear the sermons of a self-taught Egyptologist, and most spent two minutes in the tomb and got out. I could have stayed for hours.
The colors on the walls were vibrantly alive, as if they had been painted three years ago, not three-thousandish. The tomb was completely empty except for Tutankhamun himself and his innermost sarcophagus. Everything else was in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which I would see later in the week. The sarcophagus was quite beautiful, made from one solid piece of granite. Four different protective goddesses adorn each corner, their arms reaching out to each other in order to guard Tutankhamun. Inside the sarcophagus lay the innermost coffin of Tutankhamun (he had three), and I remember being stunned when I looked at it – I thought for a moment that my asthma was flaring up because I wasn’t breathing all that well. It is made of pure gold, and it is perfect and detailed unlike anything I would have imagined. I had seen pictures, of course. But there’s nothing like seeing wink of flawless gold just a few feet away.
Tutankhamun’s mummy was put on separate display within the tomb, under some crazy scientific piece of glass meant to protect it. I was the obnoxiously greedy tourist crowding the case. Tutankhamun was covered from the neck to the ankle with linen, so only his head and feet were visible. I would have kissed him if I could. (The poor boy was married to his sister; he needed some other companionship. Ancient Egyptian royal incest was very common and highly regarded. And I don’t mean to sound like a creep here; I was just very overwhelmed with emotion.) His goofy smile and overbite were clearly visible, just like I thought they’d be, though I had to get close to see them. Tombs in the Valley were dark, for very little electric light was allowed in order to preserve the wall paintings. The “guard” of this tomb – that is, the poorly paid man who did just about anything to get a good tip – came over to me, because he could see just how interested I was. He had a flashlight. A flashlight that was not supposed to be used for corrupt purposes, like, say, shining light onto delicate, ancient objects. He smiled hugely at me, showing me his yellowed teeth and fantastically bright smile and shone the flashlight on Tutankhamun’s face so I could see it clearly, then onto his toes. I counted them; ten. I gave the man his tip for my crime, and moved out of the tomb that felt like a sort of home.
I spent the rest of my time in two other, less popular tombs in the Valley. I can still see how bright the turquoise paint was on the walls. Descending into the tombs was like going through a portal to other worlds. The air was staler but cooler, the rooms darker but brighter. They were devoid of their long-dead counterparts, but filled with the lives of those who once occupied them; the dead’s hobbies, loves, interests, and jobs were all plastered and painted onto the walls. I was observing the paintings of lives long since ended.
There is an element of offense in entering an empty tomb. I felt like a tomb-robber disturbing the final peace of ancient people who wanted nothing more than to rest unbothered for eternity. I am one among thousands, millions, who had desecrated someone’s final wish. As much as that thought haunts me, I would never trade the memories I have of the Valley of the Kings.
Emeishan is a famous mountain about a two hour’s drive away from Chengdu, where I was living when I visited this wonderful place. When my mom and her boyfriend came to visit me, we decided it would be well-worth it to make the day-trip to the mountain.
Emeishan is a mountain that’s very centric to Buddhist worship in China. Since Sichuan is right next to Tibet, Buddhist influence is very heavy in Sichuan; that’s encapsulated on Emeishan. The summit of the mountain is host to a large and beautiful statue of Samantabhadra, an enlightenment figure. There is also a large, gilded temple at the summit.
I’m not sure how to describe the golden summit. When I first started ascending the stairs to see the figure, I could barely make it out. It was a very smoggy/foggy day on the mountain, and much of the figure was obscured. I could tell there was something large looming above me. When I got to the top stair, I realized just how huge, intricate, and wonderful the Samantabhadra was. Then, as I began walking around it, the clouds parted just like a moment from a cheesy movie, and there was sun on the summit for about five minutes.
I’ve said before that I’m not a religious person; I identify as an atheist with a strong interest in religion and world religions. Buddhism is a religion (and a lifestyle) that I deeply respect. Emeishan only helped me to confirm that belief. It was a busy place, but I felt nothing but peace at the top of the mountain.
Emeishan is also home to quite a community of Tibetan Macaques, the monkey seen in the fourth picture. Let it be known that I got attacked by one. I was being the smart tourist, taking my pictures from a distance. Then, the mama macaque (not pictured), picked me out of the crowd and scratched away at my leg while I screamed like a four-year-old and hid behind my mother until it left. Not one of my finer moments, but it’s still quite memorable.
I’ve loved and studied Ancient Egypt since I was about four years old. I skipped all the “Learning to Read” books and went straight for the books about mummies and how Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb (imagine me as a four year old trying to pronounce Tutankhamun… I think my mom was secretly very amused.) So as I grew up, I saved all the money I could for a seven-day trip to Egypt in May 2010. I got to see most of the major historical sites, and on the last day of the trip, I got to see the sphinx and see (and go inside!) the pyramids.
Driving up to the pyramids in our air-conditioned tourist bus was surreal. They were everything I imagined. Their colossal size and geometric perfection amazed me as we got closer and closer. As we stepped into the Sahara and towards the Great Pyramid, I remember screaming internally and smiling maniacally. The pyramids never held the most mystique for me (compared to other aspects of Ancient Egyptian culture and achievements), but my understanding of their romance grew as I began to climb on the tourist-approved side of the pyramid. Each stone, even after thousands of years of wear, was still perfectly shaped, cornered by ninety-degree angles. Some of the original limestone outer casing still remains around the bottom of the pyramids, and it shows just how perfectly smooth these ancient architectural marvels once were.
I got to go inside the second pyramid (not the tallest one), but I was sadly not allowed to take pictures — it’s understandable. The walk into and out of the pyramid was cramped, but being inside the primary inner chamber was astounding. I wasn’t worried about the thousands of tons hanging above me or the possibility of a sudden cave-in. The air was thicker there — centuries of history were embedded in each particle of air and sand and stone.
My group then embarked on a camel ride around the pyramid complex. Talk about a dream come true. My camel was a lovely little guy. He did a very good job. This is probably the most surreal part of the day for me. I never in a bajillion years thought that I would be riding a real, live camel around the Pyramids of Giza. As far as I remember, everything was magical and the view was perfect. I took about thirty sitting-on-a-camel-in-front-of-the-pyramids selfless that day.
Finally, we went to see the amazing view of the Sphinx. You aren’t allowed to get up close and personal with it anymore, but the view of it in front of the pyramids is still lovely. The mysterious Sphinx lived up to all its hype. It crouched like a guardian in front of the pyramids, but its tranquil face seems to tell a different story — one of honor and pride, not protection.
This day will forever be one of the best in my life. There was nothing out of place, nothing imperfect about it. Sometimes, I run my fingers through the Saharan sand I stole from in front of the Sphinx that day, and all the memories come rushing back in a glowing, fantastical blur.
Thank you so much! I’m working on some, especially the last half of the top ten! I’m also hoping to write down more about my travels soon, so be on the lookout for that. xx
First, I should mention that this very complicated day of my life has been previously chronicled here. It was a confusing and tumultuous journey to get to the Army, but it was so worth it. As a fan of history and wondrous archaeological finds, I knew I had to see the Army before leaving China; thus, I took a little bit of an off-course field trip to Xi’an before making my way to Shanghai to depart for the States. This was one of the best decisions of my life.
I think that the Army might be one of the most tangible examples we have of Chinese innovation, both ancient and modern. In the way that the Egyptian pyramids (to be discussed later…) showed ancient innovation of large objects on a large, not-so-obviously-detailed scale, the Army shows ancient innovation of mass-production of small, incredibly detailed objects. Even though one can’t get too close to the large majority of the statues, one can see from afar how beautiful and intricate they are. At first, it’s overwhelming, like walking around Times Square at dinnertime on a weekend — there are so many people in the crowd, it’s claustrophobic. But as I adjusted to just how many statues are in pit one alone, I could begin to see their idiosyncrasies. Of course, when I could actually see the soldiers up close (see the last two pictures), I was amazed.
The Terracotta Army is something that everyone should see. As a scholar, as a curious traveler, as a human: the Army offers beauty and wonder.
P. S. I really want to make an abstract painting out of that second-to-last picture. A summer project.
My friends and I had one total day off from our intensive study abroad schedule in London, and we decided to use our one day off to see Paris. This left us with about ten hours in the city, following and followed by an eight-hour bus ride. (Needless to say we were a mixture of grumpy and elated all day.) Notre Dame was one of our last sites of the day. I hadn’t been that excited to see the cathedral, but as we arrived, I felt all of that changing.
I’m not a person who gets really outwardly excited. When I’m truly excited or happy, I get really quiet and smile to myself. That’s how I started acting when we got to Notre Dame. Each click of my camera lens was like a trill of elated laughter. I’m not a religious person, but I like to learn about and discuss religion. Visiting Notre Dame is as close to a religious experience as I get. I started crying when we were inside; it was too beautiful to behold. I’m 100% sure all of this sounds horribly cheesy, but it’s true. The beauty of Notre Dame is something I’ll never forget.
My day at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was perfect. I was there with my mom and her boyfriend, who were in town to visit for a week or so. I had waited to go to the Base until they had arrived, and it was well worth the wait.
First, I just want to mention how beautiful the grounds are. Most of Chengdu is actually very pretty and well-maintained; green space exists quite plentifully in Chengdu, and the Base epitomizes that well. The gardens are so lovely and curated with care.
The pandas are also very happy. They get lots of space to play (as much as they do; they are inherently lazy) and eat. It’s obvious that the pandas are living the good life at the Base.
The Base sprawls over a lot of land, and it feels more like a luxurious zoo or fine park when you’re visiting. There are several panda exhibits, but there were also red pandas and several peacocks around. The large pond was host to colorful goldfish and many black swans. Then you could visit the nursery to view the baby pandas sleeping in their crib (insert obligatory “awww” here).
I was lucky enough to be able to sit with a panda and cuddle for a bit. If you make a donation to the Base (something around US$200, I think), you can have that opportunity, and it is well worth it.
This post seems very disjointed to me, but I attribute that mostly to me not knowing what to say first and what to emphasize the most. It was a gorgeous day when I went, and I had a delightful time with my family as we were able to watch one of the most endangered species in the world play. But pandas are also a symbol of China. By the time I was visiting the Base in October 2012, I was completely in love with the country and Chengdu. Seeing the pandas was a moment of clarity: I could see with sharp vision that my love for China was not just born out of a honeymoon phase of travel, but my love was genuine. China (and subsequently, Chengdu) is a magnificent place, and feeling the warmth in my heart from seeing a symbol of the country eat bamboo and lounge about was assurance that I was where I was supposed to be.