A Chinese traveler's photos from 84 countries he visited over a decade are on display in Beijing.
The first memory of travel for Qi Juanjuan was seeing mural paintings at the Bingling Grotto Temple along with his father as a child. The well-known tourist site in Yongjing county, Northwest China's Gansu province, is where Qi was born and raised. While being impressed by the 1,600-year-old Buddhist art, Qi also saw many foreign tourists then.
"I wondered why those people traveled thousands of miles to my hometown, and my father told me that it's because it's exciting to explore a different culture as well as enjoy the beautiful scenery along the road," recalls Qi, adding that his father also showed him the location of China on a world map. "The love of traveling was like a seed planted in my heart."
Over the past 10 years, Qi, 42, has traveled to 84 countries on five continents. He selected 480 photos from thousands he took during his trips, which are now being displayed in an exhibition in Beijing.
Having started on Friday, the show will run through Feb 7 at the Beijing Fun complex in the capital's Qianmen area. The photos on display present landscapes and customs from around the world to the audience, as part of the Polaroid Traveler public project.
After graduating from Lanzhou University of Technology with a degree in architectural engineering, Qi became a full-time traveler and photographer about a decade ago by collaborating with travel bureaus and companies.
He has spent four to five months each year traveling in other countries by himself or along with friends. He planned to drive through South America in March. But due to the pandemic, he had to postpone the plan.
"Since I had much more time staying at home, I could look back on my past trips by going through my photos and diaries. The process of selecting photos for the exhibition was full of surprises. It reminded me of the beautiful moments I had and the lovely people I met during my trips," says Qi, adding that some of his memorable trips include seeing a meteor shower over the Sahara Desert in Tunisia, crossing the Drake Passage via Antarctic cruises and playing soccer with children on Cuba's streets.
A photo, a painting, a movie or a song may become his reason for travel.
For example, Qi's longing to visit Ireland started after he heard songs of the legendary Irish band U2 while in high school.
One of his favorite U2 songs, titled One, has lyrics that go: "One life. You got to do what you should. One life. With each other. Sisters, brothers. One life. But we're not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other."
Qi traveled to Dublin, the city which will always be at the heart of U2's story. He also traveled to the Slieve League (Grey Mountain) cliffs, situated on the west coast of Donegal, Blarney Castle, a medieval fortress in Cork, and Killarney National Park, the first national park in Ireland.
In 2012, Qi traveled to Cuba. The internet was not accessible except in big hotels. The buildings in Havana were mostly old and dilapidated. However, the ambient sounds of the city conveyed a cheerful atmosphere.
"There were lots of people dancing and playing musical instruments in the streets at night. I stayed in a small house and the owner had a computer. I asked him why he bought a computer with no connection to the internet and he told me that the connection would happen some day," says Qi.
"One of the most rewarding things about traveling is that you can see the world with a fresh perspective."
When Qi arrives in a city for the first time, he usually visits two locations to start his exploration-food markets and parks. He likes homestay tours, which bring him firsthand experiences of local customs, cuisine and lifestyle.
Besides taking photos, videos and writing diaries to record his trips, Qi also enjoys running when he arrives in a foreign place.
"Running in a city, which I have not visited before, allows me to discover something new and soak in its sights, sounds and smells."