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Harvard & the Taj Mahal…

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Whirling around India

I had the honor of being Harvard’s guest speaker in India this fall. What a joy to lecture on the Taj Mahal–and then explore the Taj Mahal together in person!

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Right this way

Fortunately we entered the Taj Mahal complex at an early hour to avoid the crowds–so we could whirl around this architectural treasure without any hindrance. It was so lovely to be back at the Taj Mahal and see it again with fresh eyes. I have been very busy traveling (China, India, Algeria, and beyond), but when I get some time, I will post more photos from our grand adventure through “Mystic India.”

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Welcome to India

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Mongolia: Field Research Fellow…

Here’s an interview I was invited to do to explain my summer field-research on the steppe in very remote regions of Mongolia (with a fantastic crew of Mongolian colleagues). It was a total honor and joy to be a Field Research Fellow for the American Center of Mongolian Studies in Ulaanbaatar–looking forward to sharing my published research soon (and returning to Mongolia, my summer home)!

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Daoist Dream (青城山)…

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Boat to the monastery

I have come to Sichuan to study tai chi with Taoist/Daoist masters in the mountains of western China on the Silk Road — the birthplace of Taoism. Here are some photographs from my epic journey to this mountain monastery that requires a boat and cable car (along with many stairs) to reach it. I have shut down my social media as I immerse myself in this retreat of mind, body, and spirit to move more in synch with the Tao and not be distracted by the noise and temptations of the material world. Enjoy these photos as I make my way on the Way.

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Follow me

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Journey into nature

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Historic gate

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So many stairs

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Need a lift?

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Tai chi shoes

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Tai chi panda

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Marx and coconut water

First Temple

First Temple

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Spirit wall

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Repulsing the monkey

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The Tao

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Tai chi master

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Balancing the light and dark

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Taoist temple

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Temple stroll

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Remembering the Immortals

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Walk through history

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Paying respects

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Color explosion

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Snack time

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Mission accomplished

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Panda Volunteering…

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Hi this is a panda

Recently, I had the total joy of volunteering with pandas in the People’s Republic of China–a truly unique experience!

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Arriving early

I woke up very early to get to the panda center by 8:30 am–I made sure to wear my panda headband and panda cub pin to get in the spirit!

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Suiting up

At the panda base, we signed some liability papers (watch those fingers in case a panda takes a nibble!) and were asked to suit up in these blue Ghostbusters like jumpsuits.

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Panda prepared!

When we set out to trek to the panda enclosure to do some morning housekeeping, we noticed a panda hiding in the trees–our first panda encounter of the day.

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Panda peek-a-boo

There was barely any time to take a photo of this panda playing peek-a-boo as we had work to do!

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Pick a task

In addition to our spiffy suits, we also were given gloves that reeked of the chemical agent used to clean them.

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Sweeping for pandas

We divided into teams to do different tasks–some of us swept, others picked up dried up bamboo leaves and panda poop.

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Bamboo bash

All of us helped break down the bamboo stalks into more digestible strips. We raised them to the sky and then smashed them on the pavement of the road outside the enclosure.

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Bamboo therapy

One or two broke their bamboo in one try–the rest of us needed more tries. Everyone agreed it was a great exercise for anger therapy.

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Bamboo bam bam

Next, it was time to return to the enclosure and set out the bamboo so the pandas could have breakfast.

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Bamboo breakies

We went outside the gate to watch the panda enter and scout out the fresh bamboo.

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Bamboo yumminess

To our delight, the panda eventually took a seat and began enjoying his breakfast. He lounged back without a care in the world, reclining for most of his morning meal.

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Eat that bamboo (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Pandas have terrible eyesight, so they tend to pick up a long piece of bamboo and smell it first–trying to locate the spot they’d like to feast on first.

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Belly table (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

They also like to use their beautiful bellies as a table–loading up the top of their stomach with many bamboo stalks to choose from.

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Disabled panda (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We also got introduced to this panda with a disability–who was found very injured in the wild and rescued.

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Three-legged panda (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Unfortunately, his mutilated leg (likely from an attack) could not be saved, so the panda doctors had to amputate. Today he has three legs and like all pandas keeps to himself (they are solitary creatures).

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Cubs wrestling (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We had the rare chance to watch panda toddlers wrestle for a very long time–they have quite a repertoire of wrestling moves!

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Play time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Pandas are solitary creatures–mothers leave their cubs when they are two years old. So it is only when they are young that they are in such close physical contact with another panda.

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Play date (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

It was so fun to watch these babies play, and we could have watched them play all day–but we had work to do! The time had come to feed the pandas!

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My new guru (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

On our way to feed the pandas, we passed by this little guy–my new furry guru (total relaxation, what an inspiration).

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Omg panda!

How cute is this panda? I was elated to have the opportunity to feed this friendly panda–and managed to keep all my fingers intact!

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Have a snack

We took a bucket filled with carrots and bamboo into the enclosure to feed our new furry friend who was ready for a snack.

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Yum yum

Fortunately, one of the keepers was on hand to guide us as we fed the panda–to be face-to-face with a Giant Panda is a very special thing.

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Panda shop

I felt so grateful for the opportunity to commune with a panda in China–was a really unique and moving experience. Afterwards, I just had to buy some stuffed pandas for Anubis and as a reminder of this special day.

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Certified!

The panda center gave me a bag of goodies and a certificate for my panda volunteering. When I went back to our apartment, Anubis was excited to bond with pandas too.

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Anubis with pandas

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Du Fu Thatched Cottage…

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Du Fu Thatched Cottage

I spent a lovely afternoon at Du Fu Thatched Cottage, a 24 acre museum complex that commemorates Du Fu–a celebrated Chinese poet from the 8th century.

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Du Fu diorama (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda

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Du Fu’s writing room (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Waterfall of peace

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Special liquor for sale (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Bamboo stroll (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Panda purchase

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Friends in pandas

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Snack time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Pagoda time

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Tea time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Say cheese (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Statue of Du Fu (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Calligraphy exhibit (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Such peace

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Leshan Giant Buddha…

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What do we have here?

I traveled to Leshan in China for an incredible adventure–exploring every inch of the Giant Buddha (the largest stone carved statue like it in the world!).

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Put on your body brace!

The Buddha is surrounded by beautiful landscapes (look at those trees)–and it sits upon the water for a dynamite view of the entire city. My Yale surgeon told me to wear my body brace to help me get up all of the many stairs.

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Shall we?

If you like, I can show you how we climbed like ants on each side of the Buddha’s body–so put on some comfortable shoes because this adventure isn’t easy!

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Descending Buddha (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Make sure to pause as we go down the narrow and steep staircase to get some glimpses of each inch of the Buddha’s body as we descend down to the water’s edge.

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Buddhist prayers (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

At the feet of the Buddha, many were offering Buddhist prayers with incense–an incredible view to gaze up at the entire body carved with devotion out of the rock.

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We made it

Congratulations for making it to the bottom–now we have to go up the other side of the Buddha which is no easy feat–not to mention that pathway hovers over the water so hold on tight and no wrong moves!

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Almost there

You’ll find yourself sweating alot if you go in the summer or early fall–so make sure to bring water and hydrate as it’s quite a work-out to climb those stairs (not everyone can be cool like me and have the help of a body brace).

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Mission accomplished

When you get to the top, be sure to take some time (and deep breaths–you’ll need them) to appreciate the fine carving of the head–such detail. Then it’s on to the Buddhist temple which you’ll just have to see for yourself in person as photographs are not allowed (and yes, it’s definitely worth seeing!).

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On to the temple

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Summer Palace…

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Summer Palace

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Summer Palace in Beijing where a friend and I spent several hours walking through its lovely gardens, pavilions, and temples.

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Bring a friend

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Exploring Chinese history

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Beauty in Beijing (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Shall We?

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Buddha time

Any interest in me taking you to see this giant stone Buddha carved into the side of a mountain in China?

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