My Most Disappointing Bucket List Item

Now don’t get me wrong, I was impacted by seeing this landmark. This architectural marvel has a long and interesting history. The disappointment wasn’t the list item itself, rather the issue was one of disparity. Unlike prior life list items, the reputation of this item proved to be greater than the experience of actually walking through it.

The Forbidden City was the first life list item that I have experienced where I thought the photos had actually been more impressive than the real thing.

I sometimes have a fear that after finishing my Life List, I will have become jaded to normal excitements. After you explore the best the world has to offer why bother exploring anything else? Or so my thought process goes.

Luckily, real life repeatedly shows me this is not a likely outcome. I still chuckle when I fart and I still trip over myself every time I pass an ice cream stand.

It is these moments that remind me that my inner voice of doubt is just that, a silent inner voice.

So then why wasn’t I gushing at the sight of the Forbidden City?

The Power of A Symbol

There are very few things that are more powerful than a symbol. A symbol is the bridge between a marker and an idea. A marker by itself is nothing. An idea by itself is tremendously powerful but can’t become immortal until it is marked by some kind of symbol.

I didn’t get inspired by the Forbidden City because I fundamentally disagreed with what it symbolized.

forbidden-city-detailsThe Forbidden City is rumored to have 9,999.5 rooms. (The half room is a two story elevator.) 15 years were dedicated to growing the trees that comprise the elaborate palace ceilings. The complex is partly surrounded by a man-made mote and includes in its boundaries a man-made river. It contains 12 bedrooms solely for the emperor and at least three throne rooms. The Forbidden City is the epitome of obscene luxury.

It also happens to have been built during one of the cruelest and saddest times for the common Chinese people. While thousands died of starvation and exhaustion, the emperor rescheduled his parties so that he didn’t have to be inconvenienced to walk from one meeting room to another.

These were the thoughts that went through my head as I witnessed the ridiculous luxury of the Forbidden City. It was impressive in terms of grandeur and scale but to me, it seemed like an incredible waste of precious human resources.

In this way, I saw the Forbidden City as a symbol of class disparity and the resulting waste of precious human resources. This won’t be true for everyone who visits the landmark but it was true for me.

It is important to note that many of the other man-made items on my Life List have also had similar human hardships buried in their foundations. The Pyramids of Giza, the Colosseum in Rome and the Moai on Easter Island were also built by slave labor. I realize this. That is a fair and valid argument.

The difference to me is that while these other wonders of the world were also built by commoners for the elite rich, they were not as powerful of a symbol of human waste as the Forbidden City was to me. Whereas, the other items on the list left me saying “wow!”, this item left me thinking “why?”

Looking back I am glad I experienced walking through the Forbidden City. It didn’t inspire me like previous man-made wonders but it did impact me in a way that was new. It might have been disappointing but it was powerful enough to leave a mark on me. It reenforced my beliefs in minimalism and equal opportunity. In its own roundabout way, the Forbidden City made me better appreciate the benefits of minimalism by showing me the extremes of luxury.


Note: I was actually a little hesitant to publish this post as I don’t like the underlying theme of cynicism and judgement that this post brings. I thought about scraping this post but ultimately felt it was better to be honest and tell my whole Life List story rather than just show the highlights. What are your thoughts? Is this the right direction to go?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Do you think the places you’ve chosen to visit are “the best the world has to offer”, or just “the most popular / famous the world has to offer”?

    This isn’t an attack, but a genuine question. There are loads of other wonders, architectural, social, etc, that aren’t on your list – how did you choose which ones made the cut?

    -C

    • Hey Chris, good question. Very insightful of you.

      >Do you think the places you’ve chosen to visit are “the best the world has to offer”, or just “the most popular / famous the world has to offer”?

      I think to be 100% accurate it would be “the best that world has to offer that I was aware of when I wrote the original list” :-p The beauty of this whole adventure is that the more I see of the world, the more places I want to go and experience.

      >how did you choose which ones made the cut?

      The original process for creating my list was grabbing coffee (or beers) with people I respected and asking them what they had done in their lives that had really made an impact on them.

      • “The beauty of this whole adventure is that the more I see of the world, the more places I want to go and experience” that’s awesome.

        As I said, I wasn’t being snarky by asking, just genuinely curious! I’ve had the same thing when planning trips, so trying to gauge how other people choose what to do/see/experience. Currently my method is similar to yours – beer based inspiration!

  • Good post. Liked the whole format of 3-5 lines. Regarding the thought of “cynicism and Judgement”,these are your travels and observations. We follow you for who you are. You know Ian from Seattle? I am just starting this. 2014 shall be a great year. Bucket list, worlds greatest, 7 continents, my list is short. I look forward to sharing. Dominic

    • > Liked the whole format of 3-5 lines.

      I didn’t even realize that I did that until you pointed it out. Awesome.

      > You know Ian from Seattle?

      Yeah, he is a really good buddy of mine. One of my major influencers for starting this whole thing actually.

      > I am just starting this. 2014 shall be a great year. Bucket list, worlds greatest, 7 continents, my list is short. I look forward to sharing.

      Sounds awesome man. Send me your blog (or whatever is relevant), I want to follow alone.

      Cheers!

  • Can’t believe that lazy ass used to postpone parties cos he couldn’t be bothered to walk from one room to another! Mannn!
    Your opinions are valid, and should of course be penned down. Positive or not, it is what you felt at the time, and that is relevant to the journey!
    A lot of places like this leave you feeling disillusioned. As long as you don’t let get to you (which you clearly haven’t!) I think you’ll be okay.

    • Disillusioned! I think that was the word I was searching for.

      As always, thanks Sanjana!

      > Your opinions are valid, and should of course be penned down. Positive or not, it is what you felt at the time, and that is relevant to the journey!

      Thanks :-) I’ll keep this in mind going forward.

  • I see your points on man-made tourist destinations… what similar criticisms do you have for natural wonders of the world? I actual thought that the Grand Canyon was under-rated — it’s just a hole in the ground (!), and the professional pictures that use filters and long-exposures look better than the normal eye view. Nearby Arches National Park, on the other hand, is much better, as the rock formations are closer and more exquisite.

    • Interesting question!

      I have actually really enjoyed all of the natural wonders on my list. (I wonder if there is something in that?) There is something about big format nature that never ceases to amaze me.

      Agreed about the photos with lots of post production, in most contexts that bugs me too. I like those type of images as a separate art but they aren’t really fair to compare to untouched photos.

      Cheers Glenn!

  • Matt Clausen

    You just described my visit to the Taj Mahal a few years ago. I appreciate you giving the different aspects and sides of travel. Keep on living it up!

    • Thanks Matt! I guess that is why we travel rather than just look at photos. The real thing is always different. Unfortunately, on occasion, this is a bad thing.

  • Hey Danny,

    I empathise with you on your experience of uneasiness. I feel this way almost everyday when I walk down my street in Dubai to work. I see beautiful skyscrapers and really awesome roads being built (tallest building, largest mall etc.), but when I see that these are all built on the back of the sweat and tears of low income workers, it does break my heart. I could never live with myself knowing that people died or went through serious hardship to build the house I live in. I just can’t understand the mind-set of such rulers.

    I honestly don’t know what to say to your question; I like to identify myself as a deeply religious person so I try to find meaning through religion and spirituality. But for most people that just doesn’t cut it.
    I’d encourage you to continue to be honest in your posts. It doesn’t need to be ‘catered’ to an audience; but by you being honest, it gives us an opportunity to critique you too and thereby helps open up a dialogue. The Singapore post being a case in point.

    May be such extravagance caused China to go the communist route and sought refuge in leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping?

    • Interesting point regarding honestly leading to open conversations and dialogue. I realized those were connected but hadn’t though of the former being a segue to the latter.

      I am sure the rulers justified it somehow. I have never experienced life in their shoes so it is a bit unfair for me to judge their actions. (Although with this post as an example, that didn’t stop me :-p)

      May be such extravagance caused China to go the communist route and sought refuge in leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping?

      That seems like like at least one of the reasons for going that route.

      As always, good insight! :-)

  • I mean “down the street here in Dubai” not MY street! :)

  • I looked at that first photo and I thought, “Well, with all that smog, it’s really not surprising why the trip was disappointing.” :D

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