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The Ten Great Buildings of China, and Their Gruesome Pasts Historical Wonders 

The Ten Great Buildings of China, and Their Gruesome Pasts

In 1959, Mao was one hell of a proud man. As the new Emperor of China, he’d led an unbelievable boom in food production, completely eliminated the need for medicine and science, and “enticed the snakes out of their caves” with a hundred flowers — all in just ten years! So he decided to erect ten great buildings to honor his grand achievements. They would represent the people, the peasants, the army, the minorities — each building had a great semantic purpose. He would name them The Ten Great Buildings!…

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Photographing India, Then and Now Historical Wonders 

Photographing India, Then and Now

In London, I found the old box of slides. It was hidden in the back of my parents’ closet. I had to move fifteen other boxes to get to it. It hadn’t been touched in decades. I bought a slide scanner immediately, and went to work. Going through the treasures inside, I keep gagging at the photos that I’m retaking 30 years later. Some are awfully obvious, like these crackers of the Taj Mahal… and Humayun’s Tomb… But these are the de rigeur shots. Of course Dad shot them in…

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The Ossuaries of Paris… Historical Wonders Offbeat Museums The Occult 

The Ossuaries of Paris…

This was like the trip to Disneyworld I’ve never taken. My golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. Our trip to North Korea. I know you’ve already been. Many times. But walking these two kilometers, I realized why this was one of my mom’s favorite places in Paris. Two kilometers of stacked-up bones, all to us. Entirely alone. So damned romantic.

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Goodbye Telegram / Hello Telegram Historical Wonders 

Goodbye Telegram / Hello Telegram

If you’d asked me, I’d have confidently told you the telegram service was long gone, relegated to dusty 1930s spy thrillers, retro New York hipster bars, and awesome games I’m building. I would have been so completely wrong. It turns out India actually still uses telegrams. Barely. The service is closing in days! When I read this, I sent Woo an urgent SMS. “We’ve got to send a telegram. Pronto.” I looked at the note, and added one word to the end: “Stop.” And I knew, this was going to…

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Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal? Historical Wonders 

Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal?

Well, we made it to the Taj Mahal last weekend. Huge. Overwhelming. Magnificent. I wiped away a tear or two. Shah Jahan built it in memory of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. That’s like the awesomest romantic gesture, ever. But I was also reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi at the time. It’s a great book. And according to it, Shah Jahan wasn’t just a mad romantic. He was also the head of one seriously fucked-up family — a generation plagued by incest, murder, harems,…

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Rediscovering Beijing: Finding the Elephants Historical Wonders Strange Tourism 

Rediscovering Beijing: Finding the Elephants

On using an 1897 guidebook to explore modern Beijing… My adventures begin with the elephants. A few hundred yards westward of (the Shun-chih-men) is the place for the Imperial elephants, the Hsün-hsiang-so, a large enclosure in which the elephants of the Court are kept… The intelligent animals are taught to salute the Emperor by kneeling down, and receive a kind of adoration. A central-Beijing stable with kneeling elephants? How much cooler can you get?! I had to find this place.

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Monitor Lizards on the Road Historical Wonders 

Monitor Lizards on the Road

The bus ahead screeches to a halt, and we swerve into a ditch. “Iguana,” says our tuktuk driver with a grunt. I’ve never seen an iguana like this. This was more like a dinosaur or a dragon. It could probably eat a small child. (Komodo Dragons maybe used to eat pigmy elephants.) “Can you eat it,” I asked. “No! Very bad. In the jungle, they eat. But not here.” Looked tasty to me!

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Classic Chinese Torture Methods (and their cute names) Historical Wonders 

Classic Chinese Torture Methods (and their cute names)

From the strange reign of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705): “Inviting the Gentleman into the Jug” – Place the victim in a large vat, and heat it to roasting temperature with fires around its base. “The Phoenix Suns Her Wings” – Hang the prisoner by his arms and legs from a beam, and spin him. “The Fairy Maid Presents Fruits” – Make the victim kneel, with a heavy rack around his neck. Weight it down further with large tiles. “The Jade Maiden Mounts The Stairs” – Force the victim to stand…

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Cute Little Cultural Revolution “Learn Chinese” Booklet Historical Wonders 

Cute Little Cultural Revolution “Learn Chinese” Booklet

The cultural revolution-era “Learning English” book blew my mind, but when I stumbled on this little “Learn Chinese” booklet the other day, I was touched. It represented such a different side of the Cultural Revolution. Instead of war/hate/fear of the “Learn English” book, this one radiates with the hope, promise, and togetherness that was the one up-side of the cultural revolution. “Everyone was together then,” said a 96-year-old Maoist I met the other day. And these two kids really are. The little Red Guard — maybe he’s a farmboy, or…

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Pages from an Amazing English Textbook Historical Wonders 

Pages from an Amazing English Textbook

Back in the cultural revolution, China was in turmoil. Almost anything could get you in trouble. Han Xin, a blacklisted artist, told me that painting the sun the wrong shade of red would mean jail time. Absolutely everything had to be in unquestionable service to Mao and a Maoist China. The only plays were revolutionary operas and ballets. The movies were all incredible revolutionary melodramas. And the English books? Well, they were few. But they, too, were one hundred percent revolutionary. My good friend Ginger recently gave me this incredible…

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America started the war, and lost it, too. Historical Wonders Offbeat Museums 

America started the war, and lost it, too.

“Look at that soldier,” said a burly Dongbei redneck, shoving past me to get a better look at the painting. “He’s on fire. He’s a real man.” His sweaty pal leaned in, and laughed. The torched soldier was still letting loose a volley of bullets from his machine gun, mowing down a row of terrified pale Americans. “That’s awesome.” They probably didn’t realize I understood what they were saying. I didn’t stick around to find out.

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Inspector Black Cat: China’s Gore-Soaked Answer to Tom & Jerry Historical Wonders Sweet Movies and Wild Books 

Inspector Black Cat: China’s Gore-Soaked Answer to Tom & Jerry

Cute baby bunnies, frolicking in a field. Identical twin monkeys, playing hide and seek. A sweet baby panda, serving soup to his sickly mother. This is how the 1986 mainland cartoon for kids, Inspector Black Cat (黑猫警长), always starts. But then… well, let’s just say it’s Tarantino time.

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One Ghostly Cambodian Ruin Historical Wonders Modern Ruins 

One Ghostly Cambodian Ruin

It used to be a retreat. 90 years ago, the French spent 9 months building Bokor Hill Station up as the ultimate getaway: escape from the miserable heat and humidity of Phnom Penh. 900 laborers died while building it, but to the French all these ghosts were worth it. There was a casino, a ballroom, a hotel, and when all the sinning was done, a Catholic church. But this was a century ago.

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China’s all-time favorite (and all-time darkest?) comic book: Sanmao Historical Wonders Sweet Movies and Wild Books 

China’s all-time favorite (and all-time darkest?) comic book: Sanmao

Not many foreigners know about Sanmao. Here in China, though, he’s bigger than Disney. He’s as prone to mischief as Bart Simpson. As endlessly honest as Richie Rich. And as dark as Charlie Brown. Darker. Even though Sanmao comics are as much for kids as they are adults, they’re filled with death, bloodshed, and misery. Sanmao is one seriously weird comic book. (Many more pages, plus clip from the movie, below)

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Video of the Cultural Revolution Restaurant Extraordinary Eats Historical Wonders Strange Tourism 

Video of the Cultural Revolution Restaurant

I gave all the juicy details of this restaurant where you can make merry, while celebrating the best of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, earlier this week. But here, for your pleasure, is some video of the mad show and the flag-waving audience.

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