Ayasofya, Istanbul, Turkey

Ayasofya was a Christian church when it was first built but later became a mosque. Nowadays, it is a national museum. It’s hard to believe that such a delicate architecture was built more than a thousand years ago. Due to the “multi-function” of Ayasofya in the history, you can find both mosaic illustrating that the Emperor and Empress making donation to the Christ Pantocrator and various kinds of traditional Islamic calligraphy. Looking out of the window on the second floor, you will also get a fabulous view of the Blue Mosque!

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City Wall, Xi’an, Shanxi

The Xi’an City Wall is one of the oldest and largest surviving wall of its kind in China. First built in the Ming dynasty, the city wall has been a landmark of the city for nearly 800 years. Riding a bike or walking on the wall is probably one of the best ways to embrace this ancient and modern city: At one moment, you just learn about this smart idea of creating a “barbican” (瓮城) with the double-gate system to protect the “city” (which is inside the city wall) against attacks from the outside enemy, and then you will see nowadays the concrete jungle spreads way outwards the “city”; at another moment, you find that people in different ages are very much enjoying themselves in the calligraphy, painting and antique market at the foot of the city wall, and then you start to wonder whether hundreds of years ago, people at that time have also experienced such lively lives in then one of the largest international city of the world.

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Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Xi’an, Shanxi

This is the first time that I stepped onto the land of Northwest China. The destination is Xi’an, Shanxi, one of the oldest cities in China that is famous for being the capital for 13 dynasties in ancient China. This is really a historic city — walking on the street, you can’t keep thinking of that thousands of years ago, this is the center of the world. Of course one of the must-go sites in Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors and Horses (秦兵馬俑) in the suburb, which is thought to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Thousands of life-size soldiers and horses are buried underground with Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), the first Emperor of China, and they were only discovered in 1974 by local farmers. There is a saying that in the Terracotta army, “a thousand soldier have a thousand faces” (千人千面) — they are so realistic such that you can understand whether a soldier comes from North China or South China, what’s the official rank of the soldier in the army, etc. simply from looking at them. And it’s said that these sculptures are originally painted with colors! How gorgeous that would be!

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Lotus, Changsha, Hunan

Different from the Western arts, which emphasize on delivering a picture of the reality, Chinese arts are more likely to pass a mood. When I took this picture, I didn’t feel like I was taking a picture of lotus — It simply reminded me a poem by the poet Shangyin Li (李商隱) from Tang Dynasty, and I sensed what he might have felt thousands of years ago: a combination of the pleasure to see the beautiful scenes and a little bit sadness of missing friends who were thousands of miles away.

宿駱氏亭寄懷崔雍崔袞 (唐 · 李商隱)

竹塢無塵水檻清,相思迢遞隔重城。

秋陰不散霜飛晚,留得枯荷聽雨聲。

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Jazz Man, New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is a city of arts — and according to my recent knowledge from the Library of Congress, music belongs to arts in ancient classification of academic disciplines. Painters were sitting along the street drawing whatever coming out of their minds, ranging from the street view of Jackson Square to delicious raw oyster and crawfish; bands with young boys and girls were performing their self-composed songs, with the audience cheering here and there; behavior artists put on their costumes, standing still in the street as if they were sculptures. Among all the different forms of arts,  one of them is somewhat special for New Orleans: Jazz. This city is said to be the birthplace of Jazz. Indeed, I was almost surrounded by this slow and melodious music: Every few steps, you would hear a different piece of Jazz, coming out of saxophone, trumpet or double bass, elegantly and beautifully.

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Boston Public Library, Boston, MA

As one of the oldest city in United States, Boston owns quite some titles as “the first” in this country — and Boston Public Library is among the contributors to such titles. Quote from Wikipedia: Boston Public Library “was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials and take them home to read and use”.  Though having seen some other large libraries before, I was still quite impressed by the huge amount and diversity of the collection in Boston Public Library. Randomly wandering in the library, seeing the staff walking by with their carts and readers enjoying their books in a ray of warm sunshine, I recalled the ad slogan of the cafe in the library: The smartest place in the city to eat. Well, I guess the greatest thing about the library is not how smart you are now, but how eager you are to be smarter — and eagerness to be smarter is usually the first off to smart.

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Knocker and Door, Jingzhou, Hubei

A temple, which is said to be built in Tang Dynasty, locates at Jingzhou, Hubei Province, a famous historic town in China.  Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), the most powerful god in Han culture, has been worshiped in this temple for thousands of years. Though the paint was peeling and the red door looks weather-stained, we can still imagine how stately the temple used to be through the rusted knocker. I visited here at the very beginning of the new year, and thus happened to see quite some people stopped by to pray for blessings in the new year. Years may pass and times may change, but there are always something we share in common with our ancestries: our culture, our values, our most simple wishes for better lives.

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