World Heritage: Secular Structure

Secular Structure

12 sites


Classic Gardens of Suzhou

Last visited: June 5, 2009

Of the three classic gardens I visited, Humble Administrator’s Garden (HAG from here on) most resembled my expectation of how a classical Chinese garden should look like. HAG is large by Suzhou garden’s standard, but still it feels crowded because almost every square inch of the garden is used. Unlike the classical gardens in Japan, where a sense of spaciousness and simplicity is valued, an almost complete opposite is true for Chinese gardens. Empty space is treated as being wasteful, and every corner is delicately designed. While I personally prefer the simplicity of the Japanese style, I must say HAG’s attention to detail trumps anything I have seen in Japan. I am especially impressed by the many different angles in the maze like garden, when you can often find up to three to four layers within a single point of view.


Last visited: June 13, 2011

The complex is made up of five separate museums. Of the five, I had visited the Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum and the Bode Museum. They cover different topics and together I find them to offer some of the best museum-going experiences anywhere.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial

A quick walk and we were on the next tram to the Shinkansen station. The memorial did nothing for me, but I am sure grateful that such kind of weapons have not been deployed since. Peace.

Last visited: June 15, 2008

It is difficult to find the proper mood to visit a place like this. I understand the symbolism of the memorial and the magnitude of what happened here, but I didn’t share the same overwhelming flow of emotions many people said they felt at this place.

This place isn’t an attraction. It is a somber reminder of the consequence of war and the profound destruction of atomic weapon. My feeling about this issue is the same, no matter seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome in person or first reading it in a textbook.


Last visited: April 6, 2014

Located an hour south by train in the city of Suwon, Hwaseong is a 18th century-built wall that completely surrounds the city centre. Long been obsolete, the wall is a rarity in modern Asia which prizes urban development space as a premium. Nowadays instead of the wall protecting its city, it is a sprawling mass of skyscrapers and low-rises that stretches out to the end of the horizon.

Maritime Greenwich

Last visited: February 12, 2013

This London suburb’s quaint appearance belies the great contributions it has once made in the fields of navigation and astronomy. Take a look at a world map – at the centre of the earth is the Prime Meridian, based at Greenwich’s Royal Observatory. Ever wonder why your time zone comes with a +/- sign? That’s because all time zones are benchmark against the Greenwich Mean Time.

With only a morning, we weren’t able to see too much. Instead of scattering our scarce time all over the place, we focused on the Queen’s House, a former royal residence designed by Inigo Jones. The house’s main draw, the Tulip Stairs, is the first geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain. Also worth a look is its substantial collection of maritime-themed paintings.

Statue of Liberty

Last visited: December 28, 2007

The best part about visiting the Statue of Liberty is that you get to visit Ellis Island as well. Otherwise there is no point in taking the ferry from Manhattan to Liberty Island. Without the New York Harbour in the background, looking at the colossal bronze sculpture at its base is one of the least interesting angles possible. Try to take photo of the statue on the ferry while approaching Liberty Island.


Bauhaus in Dessau

Last visited: June 10, 2011

For many architectural buffs, a visit to the Bauhaus Dessau is a pilgrimage of sort. Since I am not one of them, I didn’t share the same adrenaline rush. We walked around the campus in a lazy early summer afternoon when much of the school was on summer holiday. As a direct tribute to the success of the Bauhaus movement, the school’s once revolutionary buildings appear rather ordinary today because its style has been copied across the globe. The surprisingly meager exhibition at the basement of the main building also didn’t provide much insight to the Bauhaus movement or the Bauhaus Dessau. In comparison, the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar gave me a much better perspective on what Bauhaus stands for and the turbulent era that defined the movement between the two World Wars.


White City of Tel Aviv



Kaiping Diaolou

Last visited: June 15, 2012

My friend Fai picked me up at Zhuhai’s Jiuzhougang ferry terminal. From Zhuhai to Kaiping the drive took a little more than two hours and we arrived right around noon. Villages that contain diaolou are quite scattered, and given my limited time I decided to spend my time mainly in Zilicun (自力村).

Upon arrival it was immediately apparent that the WHS status granted in 2007 has impacted this village of less than 200 locals. We chatted with a middle aged lady at a noodle stall by the entrance while having a quick lunch. She told us that just a decade ago Kaiping was a backwater but now it is a major tourist destination and investment has poured in. According to her, life has become much easier. Next to her stall was a poster of a recent Chinese blockbuster called Let the Bullets Fly, with a bold caption detailing the locations where some of the scenes were shot in Kaiping.

Each village charges separately, and Zilicun’s admission was a whopping 80 RMB. Another reminder that China is really not a cheap place to visit anymore. The village was clean and tidy; many houses had been very heavy-handedly refurbished.  All the villagers seemed to be either offering lunch or selling souvenirs to visitors. Nobody was working in the field or at the fish ponds.


National Museum of Western Arts, Tokyo

Last visited: June 14, 2017

Le Corbusier was one of the most influential architect of the 20th century and a pioneer in contemporary architecture. His Five Points of Architecture (pylon, roof terrace, free plan, ribbon window, free facade) has since been incorporated into buildings around the globe. Most of his most famous projects are located in Switzerland, France, Brazil and India, but he had also designed buildings in Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States. 17 buildings in 7 countries were enlisted as WHS in 2016.

I visited perhaps the least representative building on the list, the National Museum of Western Arts in Tokyo, completed in 1959 as a symbol of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Japan and France after World War II. As one of Le Corbusier’s later works, the three-story, reinforced concrete building had borrowed many elements from his earlier famous designs. The building itself is simple with a square plan, one that wouldn’t look out of place in many university campuses. In fact my alma mater UBC has several that are very similar.

The ultimate symbol of respect is how many imitators one’s design has spawned — in this respect the National Museum of Western Arts is very important to Japan, with titans like Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban and Kenzo Tange citing as influence. And unless you happen to be near Ueno, precious travel time in Japan is better spent to visit the works of these local masters.

Shichahai, The Grand Canal

Last visited: May 19, 2013

The Grand Canal is the longest artificial waterway in the world, spanning 1,776 km from Beijing to Hangzhou. I have seen various points of the canal in Beijing, Suzhou and Hangzhou. None of which is particularly interesting. Shichahai, a lake in central Beijing which links to the Grand Canal, is a popular nightlife spot and close to numerous attractions like the Drum Tower and the Lama Temple.


Last visited: February 26, 2014

This World Heritage Site quest occasionally brings me to some unexpected situations. Case in point – I found myself alone at a cemetery one late afternoon in Stockholm. An inspiration for cemetery design, without the adequate knowledge about the history of cemetery design I have a hard time differentiating this admittedly beautiful cemetery from hundred others.


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