One of the things that attracts me to fantasy as a genre is the ability to read about — and, even better, create — fantastical imaginary worlds that really sing themselves off the page. It’s the chance to visit wondrous places that only exist in fiction, and I heartily wish I could go there for real.
It’s probably not surprising therefore that I love real-world travel as well. Although there are still a great many countries I haven’t yet had the chance to visit, I’ve been lucky enough to visit such interesting places as Nepal, China, Alaska, New Zealand, and a fair chunk of Europe and the UK.
When travelling, my focus is almost always on the historical and cultural — particularly when the two combine. Show me an ancient temple or archaeological site and I am there. But I also love experiencing how others live in a modern context. It all informs my writing by providing inspiration for the creation of culturally vibrant alternate worlds that underpin fantasy storytelling.
As part of this week’s WordPress photo challenge, where the theme is culture, I am therefore going to share just a few of the photos I took during my trip to China in 2006:
Each of these photos evokes a unique aspect of Chinese culture for me:
- Calligraphers adorn the full length of the path leading to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, demonstrating the art of forming beautiful characters with just the right brush strokes…
- Authentic dumplings are made near Yu Yuan gardens in Shanghai — the locals line up for these much as we might for coffee or jam donuts…
- The reverence with which the locals burn incense at the Tibetan Buddhist Yonghe Gong temple in Beijing provides insight into the faith of other cultures…
As both a traveller and writer, I feel enriched by such experiences, all of which find their way into the melting pot of my mind to inspire my writing and worldbuilding. (I am not suggesting writers should necessarily appropriate elements of other cultures, but allow them to inspire us to create cultures of our own.)
China is certainly an amazing place, and the moments captured in these three photos barely scrape the surface of its cultural heritage. The Great Wall of China, for example, is simply breathtaking. I would love to return some day and see more of China’s remarkable monuments, buildings and landmarks.
I would love to hear about other favourite travel experiences — in either China or beyond. Do any other travellers passing through focus on history and culture as I do? I’d also love to hear from any writers whose work is informed by their travels, and how.
ADDENDUM Tuesday 30 April — For anyone that’s interested, here are links to the travel posts I wrote after my China trip in 2006:
- Blogger blocked in China! (Talks about Chinese style gardens)
- Oriental dragons and mythical beasts
- A food connoisseur’s Chinese experience – part 1 and part 2
Postscript: I’ve spent the past four days at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention, Conflux9. Coming up in the next few days therefore will be my thoughts on the con — including a worldbuilding workshop I attended on the first day. Stay tuned!