Earth is Also a Star: Saving the World by Pairs

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Every great joke starts with a conventional setting where you can find characters that wouldn’t usually be together. Like “there were two Argentinians and two Hondurans in a car heading to visit a small little village.” Yet this time this is no joke, it’s a story. And a really cool one.

 

During the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a small NGO in my city, called LARECOTURH. This organization was formed by a group of people from different communities, that wanted to develop tourism and to help these other communities discover their own potential as well. Within each community, they had assign delegates that represented the organization. This way, the organization is much more closer to the community, as it basically trains their members and makes them form part of the organization through specific roles. The organization carries out different projects and many of them involve the environment, since the main type of tourism in the northern coast of Honduras is ecotourism.

 

One project that I got to follow was located in a small little village that had tremendous problems with waste disposal. In this little trip I met an Argentinian couple who had met in Australia (let the internationality sink in!). Martina and Ezequiel were sitting in the back of the car while we were heading to Nueva Armenia. Martina always called Ezequiel ‘Bono’, cause his last name is Bonomi, so I adopted the name for him as well.  They undertook a trip around Latin America to promote the initiative of a campaign for the reduction of single use plastics in general. Their goal is to help communities transition into a healthier lifestyle.

 

Martina and Ezequiel had a desire to make a change and difference in the world through an aspect that they both were passionate about, the environment. Martina has lived and studied in Australia, and noticed that people there were very involved in initiatives that took the environment into account. Ezequiel said that the main reason he decided to go on this journey was the fact that he was in a stable job but he did not feel any passion for what he was currently working on. So he decided to try out his love for nature and help out. Martina felt like if she spoke Spanish, she had to help spread out the message through Latin America. The plan of the project was to start from Tijuana, Mexico and to finish in Patagonia, Argentina. As they travel from village to village they give talks to as many people as they can. Until that point they had spoken to about 4,500 villagers.  

 

They explained to me that the idea is to raise awareness. Many people use plastics once and have no idea where they end up after that. So as they show them the harms and impacts of plastics, they also teach children and adults how to do their groceries without plastic bags or how to create their own toothpaste, in order for them not to buy plastic products. Martina and Bono are very down to earth. They approach people and genuinely want to help them out. Their philosophy is to plant a seed but not leave it to its own devices.

 

One of the things that the couple finds rewarding is the reactions and gratefulness they receive from community members. Martina said that at times she would show videos that would help her prove a point, and usually she would love seeing the little kids reactions, like their bright little eyes of fascination in front of the screen. Bono said that what he loves is when something good comes out of it, when they reach people and through these talks actual change is generated. When people are truly involved and a positive outcomes grows out, and as a consequence a community develops itself thanks to this little seed they implanted. Their passion goes beyond a self driven purpose.

Indeed, Bono and Martina are really discrete individuals, and this project that may not seem transcendental proves an important point. It is not necessary to be a gigantic organization to be able to help. At the contrary, sometimes, big enterprises pretend to be saviors of small little villages and install projects but immediately leave. Martina commented that the whole point for them is to establish a connection, plant the “knowledge seed” and then keep in contact so that these seeds are able to grow into a plant, or even a tree.

 

Although both have admitted the job has not been easy at all, they valued many experiences as rewarding. Martina narrated this one experience she had in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. She said that she gave a talk and afterwards she proposed a groupchat with the environment enthusiasts and NGOs. She also proposed to add a member of government so that this would create an interesting dialogue. Indeed, afterwards, many law initiatives were proposed and the ban of the plastic bag was one of them. Martina said that this was very fulfilling, to see that a little contribution could become something so concrete and impactful. As for Bono, he says he really loves this one experience in Laguna de San Ignacio, Mexico. This is a small village of about 500 households and he tells how about 5 to 6 people attended the talk. At first he was disappointed. After the talk started he noticed how engaged and interested people were. For him, it was great to see the sense of happiness emanate from them. One thing Bono believes is that the numbers matter but not that much as interest. For him, one person really interested and enthusiastic could create a great change in a community, and that is what counts the most.

 

It’s true that a couple travelling around talking to people doesn’t seem too promising and yet they have influenced so many community and even law initiatives! One never knows the impact one might cause. At the same time, Martina and Bono are very aware that it’s not going to work well every time with every community. “Sometimes you know that seeds will grow and some others will not,” Martina told me. There are cases in which the seed get to grow into a plant and other were it gets to grow into a tree. However, always have in mind that the seed might not even survive under certain conditions. Both Martina and Bono know this well but still have a very positive approach.

 

Finally, the Argentinian couple concluded with a crucial part of why they took this initiative. “It is to move to actions, we have many studies in the world already. We need to get to the people!” they proudly said. Indeed, what good is it to study people from a little cubicle in front of your laptop, and find the best solution to their problems if you can’t adapt the solution to them? As for their journey, I really admired their sense of community. To me, Latin American has been too divided and recently becoming more xenophobic towards each other. As this couple travelled around it, it made me think it was a great example of how even our environment connects us. There’s not need for us to look for differences to separate us. Instead let us take care of nature, let us save the forests that give us oxygen, let us appreciate the ocean and the sun, the freshness of the mountain. Let us embrace that connexion.

Australia’s Home Trotter: 4 Man-Made Wonders of Australia

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Following one of my previous articles featuring some natural wonders found throughout South Australia, I began thinking on the well-known landmarks found all throughout Australia. The infamous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Ocean Road, and the historically rich Port Arthur. Now I’ve written a fair few articles showcasing some of the finest things, I believe, Australia has to offer, so why stop there? I’ll just keep going and do my best to get as many people excited about my country as I am!
So here it is, my top 4 list of iconic Australian, man-made, landmarks. Enjoy!

1. Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
Sydney Opera House 1The Sydney Opera House, partnered with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is possibly Australia’s most recognizable landmarks. It is easily one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations as a multi-venue performing arts centre that is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings of the 20th century. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, his now world-famous design was the winner of an international competition and was formally opened to the public on the 20th of October, 1973. Prior to the Sydney Opera House design, Utzon had won 18 competitions but never seen any of his designs constructed, making the Opera House his first. The design was praised throughout the world, with the Assessors Report of January 1957, stating:
‘The drawings submitted for this scheme are simple to the point of being diagrammatic. Nevertheless, as we have returned again and again to the study of these drawings, we are convinced that they present a concept of an Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world.’
Its fusion of ancient and modernist influences resulted in its the worldwide appreciation, with having “changed the image of an entire country,” according to U.S. architect, Frank Gehry.
Following the beginning of its construction on the 2nd of March, 1959, the Opera House cost about $102 million to construct and was about 10 years late in terms of its completion. Today, the Opera House hosts 40 shows a week and is home to the Australian Chamberlain Orchestra, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, and The Australian Ballet. If you’re ever in the Sydney area, the Opera House, as well as the many shows it puts on, is definitely worth a visit (or maybe even two!).

2. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney.
Sydney Harbour Bridge 2 - Construction.jpgThe Sydney Harbour bridge is, as mentioned before, another one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Construction of the bridge officially began on 28 July 1923, when an official ceremony was carried out to mark the “turning of the first sod”. However, the building of the bridge itself only commenced in 1924. The building of the monument took eight years by 1,400 men and cost about 6.25 million Australian pounds (which in modern terms is approximately $13.5 million AUD), with about six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel being used in the structure. The construction of the bridge also claimed the lives of 16 men, with only 2 of the 16 having fallen to their deaths – for that time, that’s pretty amazing.
The formal opening ceremony was conducted on Saturday, 19 March 1932 and, fun fact, the ribbon signifying the bridge’s opening had to be cut twice. Just as the Premier of New South Wales (the state in which Sydney is the capital city) was about to cut the ribbon, a man in a military uniform, named Francis de Groot, rode up on a horse and cut the ribbon with a sword – the man was arrested straight after. The ribbon was re-tied and the Premier finally got to the cut the ribbon and officially open the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the public. The bridge is also known as the “Iron Lung” as it kept many workers employed during the Great Depression, greatly assisting with continued prosperity of the Australian people during trying times; the bridge is largely considered a triumph over the Depression era in Australia.
Nowadays, the bridge is the world’s fourth-longest spanning-arch bridge and which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. The bridge also features the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, a walk up the southern side of the bridge, which is a popular tourist attraction that gives people an incredible view of the harbour and the city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also the centrepiece of the fantastical New Year’s Eve celebrations.

3. Port Arthur, Tasmania.
Port Arthur 1.jpgNamed after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), Port Arthur is located approximately 97 kilometers south-east of Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula. While the settlement began as a timber station in 1830, it is best known for being a renowned penal colony. From 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for some of the roughest and most violent of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. The most troublesome of convicts from other convict stations were also sent there in order to bring these individuals under control. Port Arthur operated as a prison up until 1877, when it was put up for auction. Much of the land was destroyed in fear that it would remind people of the darker times in which the area was one of the harshest of all the penal colonies in Australia.
Thankfully, in 1979, funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance the critical role it played throughout the development of early Australia. Now, Port Arthur is a World Heritage Listed Historic Site with more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes set in 40 hectares of land. People are also able to take a cruise to the Isle of the Dead, join a guided tour of Port Arthur’s island cemetery, or even take a tour of Point Puer Boys Prison, which was the first reformatory in the British Empire that was built for housing young male convicts. People can also spend the night to fully experience all that Port Arthur and the surrounding environment has to offer. With it being such a rich piece of Australia’s history, as well as being a World Heritage listed site, why wouldn’t you go visit and experience a piece of history frozen in time?

4. Great Ocean Road, Victoria.
Great Ocean Road 2 - Memorial Arch.jpgThe Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243-kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia. It stretches between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford and is the largest war memorial in the world, dedicated to the memory of those lost from the ranks of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was planned at the end of World War I, as, by the time of World War I, the rugged south-west coast of Victoria was accessible only by sea or rough bush track. Construction on the road began on 19 September 1919 and was built by approximately 3,000 returned servicemen as a war memorial for their fellow servicemen who had perished in WWI. The construction was conducted by hand with explosives, pick and shovel, wheelbarrows, and some small machinery used to clear areas of land. This work was perilous at times, with several workers killed on the job. The road was completed in 1932, with it being claimed to be “one of the world’s great scenic roads” by the Tourist Development Authority in 1962. In 2011 the road was added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Today, the Great Ocean Road hosts the Great Ocean Road Marathon, a 45 km marathon which began in 2005, and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, 6.3 km cycling race that was first held in 2015. Another cycling event, the Amy’s Gran Fondo cycling event, is also held along the road and is held in September. With such an incredible journey through some of the most beautiful landscape in Australia (and indeed the world), featuring a variety of natural landmarks (like the 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands), as well as stunning beaches, great dining places, national parks, and hiking and walking trails, a road trip on the Great Ocean Road is an absolute must.

Clearly, I’m more than a little passionate about what my country has to offer tourism-wise. Visiting these places won’t only make you a grade-A tourist, but it will also allow you to experience little pieces of Australia’s history, from its beginning as a penal colony, all the way to its influential roles in the wars of modern times. If you ever have a chance to visit any one of these landmarks (or all of them!) do not hesitate. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed!

If you’re curious about any of the places I’ve mentioned here and would be interested in learning more, these links would be helpful places to start looking!
https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/our-story.html
https://www.sydney.com.au/bridge.htm
https://www.travellingking.com/fast-facts-sydney-harbour-bridge/
https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/attraction/portarthurhistoricsite
https://www.australia.com/en/places/melbourne-and-surrounds/guide-to-the-great-ocean-road.html
https://www.visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road

Chile’s Home Trotter: Why Visit Chile?

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The longest, thinnest country on the planet boasts an enviable geographic diversity. From the driest desert on Earth up north to the rainforests and glaciers of the south, through the Polynesian traditions alive and thriving found on Easter Island, Chile has it all. The fault-line between the Nazca and Latin-American plates gifted us the Andean mountain range, oft-visited by international skiers, and not far from the snowy terrain lie our sandy beaches to the west.

40033414_1675514325909637_5503474817107492864_n.jpgThe North: San Pedro de Atacama

This region possesses the driest desert in the world: the Atacama. Surprisingly, this is an area full of life and community, where the indigenous heritage is culturally front and center. The town of San Pedro de Atacama’s old and plain adobe houses are firmly planted at a crossroads between modern travelers and ancient culture. The town square is a great place to experience tradition and shop for goods in the true sense of the word; crafts and textiles. For those who love expansive territory for long-haul biking, wish to sand-board down dunes, or feel a desperate need for a privileged view of the stars (the region is host to world-class astronomical observatories), San Pedro is just the ticket.

 

40037114_1801454669904211_2229035456224296960_n.jpgThe Center: Santiago and Valparaiso

Given that Chile’s financial and cultural hub is in its Capital, Santiago is undoubtedly Chile’s most metropolitan city: from chic restaurants to museums and nightlife. This is where the local traditions meet the international scene. Impossible to miss is the Andes Mountain range which towers over the city and is often an unexpected surprise for visitors.

Chile’s center is host to a range of ski lodges which rank amongst the best in Latin-America. More importantly, many of them are open all year long. This means you can go to the beach and up the mountain to ski, in one trip (this depends naturally on the amount of time of your visit). The Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range are separated by only 2 hours of travel by car.
Santiaguinos are valley-people. Cozily tucked away between two parallel mountain ranges, the uniquely hospitable weather provides an indulgently ideal environment for wine production. Wine is one of Chile’s biggest exports and no visit is complete without a wine-tasting trip to one of the numerous scenic viñas that a short ride away from the city.

39986186_521000221671825_944883832933318656_n.jpgFor a different quick getaway, Valparaiso is a welcome change of scene, only an hour and a half away from Santiago. This coastal city is known for its many hills, artsy-colorful houses, quaint shopping opportunities, plentiful art galleries and delightful views. Historically an artist and activists hub, the town is a favorite among most Chilean artists working today.

 

40044402_1094095150758576_2472958803721584640_n.jpgEaster Island: Rapa Nui

No place on Earth is as isolated, geographically, as Easter Island. Annexed in 1888, the island has since become a powerful attraction for tourists that are curious to see the Moais, stone statues that have been silent witnesses to the island’s history. Unfortunately, some Moais were stolen from the Island in the past, by the British, as well as the French. Luckily these are but a minority, given that most Moais are still located on the Island. The small town of Hanga Roa is the Island’s capital. The beaches are always 20 minutes away. Scattered around the island are the Ahus, the bases upon which Moais stand. There is also a large volcanic crater Rano Kau which is undoubtedly worth a visit. Word on the beaches is ripe, sweet figs grow inside that lusciously green crater, if you dare retrieve them.

 

40008397_317956495420413_5911218808663572480_n.jpgThe South: a land of green

The south is the heart and the magic of Chile. Comprised of rainforests and lakes that are well protected, this area is noteworthy for its volcanoes (such as Villarica), many of which are open to hikers. The dominant culture here is courtesy of the Mapuche, the biggest aboriginal ethnicity in the country. The south also has a noticeable German influence, given that the Chilean state encouraged the arrival of German immigrants to the south of the country. This is obvious in picturesque cities such as Valdivia, Puerto Varas, and Frutillar, and in small bodegas where the baked good of choice is “kuchen”. These same bodegas usually have cheap, delicious home-made white bread (along the whole length of the country). Order marraquetas if you like light and fluffy, or hallullas if you prefer dense and chewy. Leave behind any pretenses to whole-wheat preferences. These will await you in your country of origin. And don’t forget the salted butter on top.

The island of Chiloe belongs to this region. A legendary spot, you’ll here find colorful houses on stilts (palafitos), plus 16 wooden churches that were declared Unesco national heritage. The island is a great place for those who demand a stunning backdrop to go with their trekking or kayaking.

 

But wait. There is still more south to be found, well, further south. Keep heading down, and you’ll feel you’ve fallen onto another planet entirely; the land of Patagonia. The Carretera Austral will bring you here. This point in time-space is home to one of Chile’s most incredible national parks: Torres Del Paine, a sprawling place that requires at least a week to explore properly. Delightfully safe (only a small family of reclusive mountain lions pose a risk) choose between luxury sleeping quarters or old-fashioned eco-friendly camping and soak in the beautiful territory. You won’t miss the iconic towering stone peaks, nor the impeccably blue glacier-water lakes. Watch out for the adorable Guanacos- essentially miniature llamas.

40019648_675181776195116_1907873774812790784_n.jpgOnce you’ve made it this far south, you might as well keep going and visit the Glaciers of San Rafael. Climate change has unfortunately reduced its size, but it is still possible to hike around the glacier via the “Zodiac tour”. Or, if you’re truly ambitious, hop on a brief plane ride and check out our icy slice of the south pole!

Australia’s Home Trotter: The World’s Happiest Marsupial (and Friends)

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Now when I mention ‘Australian animals’ you’re probably thinking of the most horrific, most deadly animals that we, in Australia, are so lucky to call our own. Spiders, snakes, crocodiles and sharks will probably come to your mind. If not, then you’re thinking about the Aussie icons, the koala, the kangaroo, maybe the emu. But I can wager a guess that most people outside of Australia haven’t heard of some of our cutest critters. So that’s what you’re to read about today: Australia’s cutest animals that you probably haven’t heard of, including the world’s happiest marsupial. After everything that’s happening in the world currently, I feel like we could all do with a moment filled with fluffy cuteness (well, I could, anyway). So, read away and discover more about some of Australia’s most adorable furry friends…

The Quokka

Ah, the quokka. The world’s happiest (and quite possibly cutest) marsupial. These little guys are the epitome of happiness. They’re some of the friendliest, non-threatening Australian animals, with many wild quokkas happy to munch on their lunch surrounded by humans. They’re so friendly, they’ll even take a selfie with you. Yep. You read that right. Wild animals who will take selfies with you. If you don’t believe me, feast your eyes on these adorable pictures (and no, these haven’t been photoshopped).

Quokka Selfie 1.jpgQuokka Selfie 2.jpgQuokka Selfie 3.jpg

Quokka Selfie 4.jpg

Quokkas are a small type of wallaby (imagine a sort of small kangaroo), with greyish brown fur with lighter brown under surfaces. The quokka has a brown face, short rounded ears (which are adorable), black eyes and a black nose. Its feet, paws and short tail are brown. They’re generally found in Limestone heath, woodland, wetlands, and settlement, and in large numbers on Rottnest Island. The animal is the primary source of tourism to the island, with approximately 10,000 to 12,000 animals calling the island home. Quokkas hop along the ground and are, occasionally, known to climb trees as well. If the thought of these ridiculously cute marsupials hopping along the ground or scaling a tree (that’s probably more than ten times its size) with their adorable small paws and feet, doesn’t fill you with joy, I don’t know what will.

And, look, while I don’t suggest, recommend, or condone going out in the bush and looking for a quokka you can take a selfie with (as these animals are wild and shouldn’t really be interacting with humans in this way), they are very, very cute.

 

The Quoll

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While I’m speaking generally here, there are actually four types of quoll found in Australia, these being the northern, spotted-tailed, eastern and western quolls – but if I were to explain them all individually we’d be here all week. So, for now, we’ll just stick to the generic ‘quoll’.

Quolls are (mostly) carnivorous marsupials with a pointed snout, a long tail and brown to black fur spotted with white. Quolls are active creatures with bright eyes, an adorable pink nose (that begs to be ‘booped’) and many sharp teeth (that prevent you from ‘booping’ the nose). Depending on their species and size, quolls are known to eat reptiles and mammals, such as bandicoots, possums, echidnas and rabbits, insects, birds, frogs, lizards, snakes, and fruit.

Despite their dangerous(ly cute) appearance, three quoll species are an endangered species and one is vulnerable in Australia, with all four species having declined radically in numbers as a result of habitat loss or change across Australia, and introduced predators such as foxes and cats. Quolls also have a short lifespan, which may also contribute to their endangered and vulnerable listings. Small quolls live for only about two years, and the larger spotted-tailed quoll only lives for about four to five years. So, once you see a quoll, you probably won’t ever see it again. Sad, but the harsh truth, so enjoy its company while you can.

Similarly to the quokka, I wouldn’t recommend you go taking selfies with these cute little fluffs, mainly because they would most likely attack you and, with teeth like theirs, you’re more than likely going to be left with a nasty bite and some scrapes. So, just don’t do it and stick to taking pictures from afar.

 

The Bilby

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The bilby is possibly one of my favourite of all Australian animals and has been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember. There are two species of bilbies found in Australia, the greater bilby and the lesser bilby. However, due to the belief of the extinction of the lesser bilby in the early 1950s, the greater bilby is the only remaining bilby found in the world. Bilbies used to be found across 70% of Australia. However, now they can only be found in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, the Gibson, Little and Great Sandy Deserts, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and the Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland; this accounts for only 15% of Australia’s landmass. This dramatic decline (and continued decline) in bilby numbers has resulted in the species to be labelled as vulnerable, with a population of less than 10,000.

This adorable marsupial has large, long, pinkish coloured ears that are almost hairless. These provide the bilby with great hearing and are believed to help keep the Bilby cool, which helps when you live in a desert. The bilby has incredibly soft, blue-grey fur, with a white belly, and a white-tipped black tail. Clearly, with a face like theirs, it’s easy to see why these soft, fluffy babies have become so beloved by the Australian people. So much so, in fact, Australia has adopted the bilby as the Easter Bilby, instead of the Easter Bunny (though we do talk about both). We love the Easter Bilby so much, we even Easter Bilby chocolate. I’m not kidding. Chocolate bilbies. They’re adorable.

So it’s safe to say that the bilby is easily one of Australia’s most loved, and most adorable animals, and I mean, with a face like that, it’s easy to believe. (They’re just so cute!)

 

The Tree Kangaroo

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Now you’ve heard of the kangaroo… You know, the red (or grey) thing with big feet and a cute little head that hops around like it owns the place (and most likely does). Well, they have cousins. And they might be even cuter than they are. Meet the Tree Kangaroo. Yes, folks, a kangaroo, but in a tree. Imagine the cross of a kangaroo and a lemur. That’s a tree kangaroo. Also, I should probably mention, these guys aren’t only found in Australia like their overhyped (but still very cute) cousins. They can be found, not only in Australia, but also West Papua, and Papua New Guinea, with six of ten species being found in Papua New Guinea. So, while some Australians claim that they’re ours, they’re really only partly ours (just like Russell Crowe!). The two species native to Australia are Bennett’s tree kangaroo and Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, with both species being found in the rainforests of Queensland.

 

These furry, squishable little creatures aren’t just a pretty cute, squishy face. They actually represent a group of macropods (animals that evolved into the kangaroos and wallabies of today) who, after coming down from tree to live on land, re-ascended into the safety of the trees to become the tree kangaroos that we know, and love, today. They’re a unique, one-of-a-kind animal and I think they’re positively one of the cutest things I’ve seen, over the internet that is. Due to the rarity of these incredible creatures, and their love of heights, they’re very difficult to spot, so difficult that you may not even see them with expert help. So, if you do happen to see one in person (and not just over the internet like me), count yourself lucky. You’re one of the few. Be sure to get photos of these huggable, little cuties (though it may be near impossible to get a selfie with one!)

While I know I’ve only introduced you to four of the many adorable cuties that Australia has to offer, I’ve already rambled enough about these lovable creatures. If you do happen to want to learn more about these animals (and perhaps raise awareness for those which are listed as vulnerable and endangered), you can visit the links below. I hope that these ridiculously cute fluffy babies brightened your day a little and brought some happier news than some of the other stories making headlines around the world at the moment. So remember, if you feel overwhelmed with all the negative, doom-and-gloom stories that are currently flooding the news, there is an adorably sweet and constantly-smiling fluff-ball somewhere in the world, or a fluffy, cuddly tree kangaroo just chilling in a tree. So be like that tree kangaroo and try to relax and focus on all the positive things in life!

 

Discover more about these animals or look at some other cuties in these links below:

https://www.experienceoz.com.au/en/australias-10-cutest-animals

https://www.buzzfeed.com/simoncrerar/cutest-australian-animals-ranked?utm_term=.jk3XKBRay#.be30B31yn

http://wildlife.rottnestisland.com/land/fauna/quokka

http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-quolls-australia

https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/quolls

https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/bilby

http://members.optusnet.com.au/bilbies/About_Bilbies.htm

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tree-kangaroo

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2013/02/tree-kangaroos-best-photos-ever-taken

 

China’s Home Trotter: the Chinese Language and Glorious History

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The history of China, which some people say has been lasting for the past 4,000 years – but we Chinese usually think it has lasted for the past 5,000 years, depending on whether its beginning dates back to Shang or Xia Dynasty -, is long enough to be respected. A Chinese historian, Liang Qichao, advanced a statement last century that there were ‘four ancient civilizations’: Babylonia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and China. Whether this statement is acknowledged by others still remains a question, and the Chinese civilization would be the youngest of the four. However, the Chinese civilization would be the only one of the four that lasts until now. During thousands of years these civilizations have been invaded and conquered many times, making their once-advanced civilizations ruined. But China, to our glory, has never been completely conquered. The Mongol Empire, which almost invaded the whole Eurasian continent, also built its government on our homeland. However, their government chose to learn from or even copy our own culture. They chose to change themselves, but not to ruin us. While transfer of government happened all the way through – even a century ago we still didn’t have a sense of modern nation -, the development of the Chinese civilization was never interrupted. Of course, it has a lot of problems and will meet more difficulties in the future, but it is still alive until nowadays. To me, that is enough to be proud of!

Specific conditions can have quite a strong influence on the history and culture of a country or a region. According to A Global History (written by Stavrianos), it is, to a great extent, the specific geographical environment that made the Shang civilization, originating from 17 century BC, so different from any other civilizations in Eurasia. If anyone has interest in looking at a map, he may find out that China is located on the east side of Eurasia, surrounded by mountains, deserts and an ocean, which were all impossible to get through at ancient time. Compared with those located in the center of Eurasia, such as Mesopotamia, China apparently suffered mush less invaders because of those. But in the meantime, the constant war with nomadic people made Chinese people develop their fighting skills. Deserts in northwest China prevented foreign armies to invade us, but didn’t block normal trade between east and west. Compass, gunpowder and printing were introduced to west through a trade path going across the desert, called the silk road. Chinese civilization had kept an appropriate exchange with Ancient Roma, Arab, Persia during a long time. That means that Ancient China, at least sometimes, was not as unenlightened as one could think. Meanwhile, the topography and climate there are extremely suitable for agriculture development (most of the place is under a monsoon climate). Crops growing on this land were merely enough for its people at that time. Like specific conditions make Earth suitable for us to live, those made of the Chinese culture what it is today, guaranteeing its continuity and development over thousands of years.

Before we formally start with the history of China, I’d like to talk about Chinese, the language we use first. As we can figure, when talking about history, writing either names, people or places will be unavoidable. Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world. (Anyone who doesn’t believe it is welcomed to give it a try!) To those whose Mother tongue is English or French, or any other language where words are built as a combination of sounds, Chinese and Chinese characters seem amazingly different from what they have already known before. Chinese, marked as photography, comes instantly from symbols our ancestors carved. Actually, when a civilization first appeared, people tended to drew or carved some symbols to express themselves. These symbols were like drawings and hard to remember, so most of them gradually abandoned them and invented a totally different way to record things, known as alphabet. However, that was not the case for Chinese. Our Chinese ancestors didn’t give up on the drawing symbols. They chose to constantly simplify them until they became today’s Chinese characters. The very last simplification happened in 1950s-1970s. No matter how much they are simplified now, we can still find an obvious link between them and ancient drawings, which reflects even more apparently on some simple characters.

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As a kind of photography, Chinese doesn’t have any alphabet. Round 10 000 characters that make up for this lack of a Chinese alphabet. We don’t use a single ‘b’ because it is meaningless. Only in a word, ‘bee’ or ‘before’, does the letter ‘b’ have its meaning. But Chinese characters can be used alone, although we do also have words consisting of two or more characters. For instance, the word “马上”means ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’, but the single character “马”and“上”do have their own meaning. “马”means horse and “上”means up. It can be really free to express your thoughts. Knowing these, you can even create a new word yourself!

The problem is, it sometimes might be hard to translate Chinese into other languages such as English, and especially names. The British first name Mary is just Mary, you cannot spell something like, err… Maryiana. ‘Mary’ now is simply a name and the word itself doesn’t have real meanings. However, Chinese names (Japanese,Korean as well), consisting of one to three characters, most of the time two, can have their meanings, often the best wishes from parents. My name is Yihan. When it is written as Yihan, it is nothing but five letters. But Yihan, written as 艺涵 in Chinese, has a meaning. “艺”might mean ‘art’ or ‘talent’. “涵”can be explained as self-restraint. Names of places go the same. The capital of China, Beijing, also spelt as Peking, is written “北京”in Chinese. “北”is north and “京”is capital. Beijing means the ‘north capital’, because when it was first built it was in the north of the previous capital Yingtian, now known as Nanjing (南京,南means south, so it can be translated as the south capital. ) How could we know these through the seven letters that form the word Beijing? As you can see, if you are good enough at Chinese, you will find it interesting.

     Another difference is the tone. Chinese has a system of tones, which is a particular pitch pattern on a syllable that can be used to distinguish different meanings. We have four different tones in total. For example, characters 依yi 仪yi以yi义yi all spelt ‘yi’ in English, but they are read completely different in Chinese, known as first, second, third and forth tones. I notice that some foreigners find it hard to pronounce the second and third tones correctly… You may want to have a try!

Chinese doesn’t have any concept such as tenses or grammar. Especially in ancient times, people liked to use a lot of ellipsis and inversion, which needed readers to guess.

Language is a vehicle of culture. Translation can solve most of the problems, but not all. If you truly like Chinese culture, learning the language should always be a good choice for you!

 

Credits:: ciid.dk, blog.hutong-school.com

Honduras: A Norwegian in La Ceiba

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When people ask me what is the thing I like the most about my city, I always say that I love the combination of mountain, river and sea. Let me tell you the story of how these three get along…

 

They have a unique relationship. The river seems to seduce the mountain while she slides dearly through her jungles, giving life to the toucans and macaws. And the mountain, ah! She feels so fortunate to have a lover like the river, who’s so gentle and treats her like a queen.

 

But the river is so fretful and he can’t declare his eternal love to the mountain. That’s why he continues his path until he finds the sea. Unfortunately, the sea lives forever in love with the sky, so much that it imitates its color. The beach is full of rocks that the river gifted to the sea, but the sea orders his waves to march only so that the sky can see them. The foam of the armies that come and go, imitate the clouds of the sky. The sea longs to be the sky, to be one with the sky, to share a romance with the bluish lover from above. However, this love is impossible. Here’s the tragic romance that starts from the mountain and ends with the sea. Nature is a tragic beautiful romance, an eternal paradox that entangles itself in the branches of the jungle, in the cold water of the river that longs for the heat of the sea, in the sea that thinks it touches the sky at the horizon, without knowing the perpetuity of his deception.

 

When people ask me what it is that i like the most about Honduras, I say it’s precisely how out of simplicity there is beauty, art, and love. The small little towns with tall grass. The abundant mountains full of palm trees, monkeys, snakes, waterfalls, and happy people that will work all day to avoid staying in bed. In the coasts, we are blessed by Garifuna communities, full of people that go out to greet the sun when it comes in the morning. They take advantage of the visit to find out what the sea will gift them with. They light us up with their dances, and their percussion sweetens our ears with melodies that seem to enchant our waist so that we move it on the rhythm of the music. They make us happy with their laughs, their expressions and their desire to live.

 

In the west, the Mayan left their mark. Stunning cities, doors to the path, full of history that tells us how we were made out of corn, and how we obeyed the sun when it was time to start building. In the east, we have La Mosquitia, land that is alien to globalization and to the predominant vice of destroying nature. It has its own language as well.

 

I like when people fall in love with my city, as much I am deeply lost in its beauty. A great friend of mine came from Norway to visit me the other day. I decided to give him an exclusive tour, that rarely any kind could give you! And it’s not a way to underestimate guides – or to pump my own self-esteem -,  but if you ever have a friend in any city you want to visit, make sure it’s you friend who tours you around the city. You won’t be a tourist anymore: you will be part of his culture. I for example, knowing that my friend likes nature, fish, and the sea, I designed a quick trip for him to visit a little bit of all this.

 

First, I took him to my uncles and my dad’s farm in Jutiapa, my father’s town. This is my favorite place on earth at night. There is no power, no technology, nothing to distract you from the light that the bugs or the stars give you. To get there, one has to pass a scene of Jurassic Park, up until now, without dinosaurs along the way. Once you get to the heart of the jungle, you will encounter the hot water rivulet. It’s magical, like another world in our world.

 

Then we took him to Nueva Armenia, a Garifuna community under the municipality of Jutiapa. My friend played a world cup match, the most intense one I’ve seen. All the players played their heart out there, and I’m also pretty sure that it was the match with the youngest players in history! After that, I took him to the sea, where the atlantic ocean clears you mind. Where the wind seems to have curative powers because it feel like no problem is too big when it caresses your face. And then, I took him to parts of my city, telling him their history and parts of my story.

 

After the tour, I was really glad to hear that he loved it and that he had spent such a great day. Of course, we had to experience a little of the night life, so I took him to a bar whose popularity has raised a lot recently, called El Jaguar. Here, he gave a try to the most well known shot, a tequila with chilli, know as Semen del Diablo. We were both very tired but lucky; the day had been great, with excellent weather, and at the bar, we even found some of my highschool friends I hadn’t seen for so long.

 

To my surprise, my friend told me my city really reminded him of his hometown. The beauty of the world is that two completely different countries can have more in common than what you think. What would Norway have in common with Honduras? They have different climate, economy, politics, culture,… CLIMATE! And then, he told me that his town was also a coastal town, the food that they eat was similar because they eat fresh seafood whenever they want.

 

Even the most opposite poles have something in common, they attract each other. Let’s not forget that idealists live all around the world. Whether it’s the desert or the north pole, there are always people everywhere with cravings of saving the world. The beauty of our world is that people from opposite countries can become best friends. The beauty is within all that we have in common, and it’s good to remind ourselves there’s always something we share, no matter how different we are to the other.

 

Credits: hondurastravel.com

 

France: We Are the Champions, my Friends

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3:20 pm. We were wandering in the Old Harbour of Fréjus, a nice little town on the French Riviera. I had a French flag wrapped around my shoulders like a cloak and my brother was wearing a roaster-like hat. On our way to the one bar that finally let us in, we crossed the path of more French flags and supporters than I’ve ever seen, including a man whose hair was tied in blue-white-red. Most bars were closed by a big sign claiming they were fully booked; the World Cup final, for which the French team was considered a favorite, would start in a bit more than an hour.

 

That French people were hopeful is the least we could say. There were omens, you see. The one and only French victory in the Football World Cup had happened precisely 20 years ago; in 1998 and 2018 alike, Israel has won the Eurovision, we’ve been in the Group C, we were opposed to Croatia… We had to win. And added to this, our national team was  cute, enthusiasm-fostering, and formed by a balance of older experienced players and young wisps. So were the supporters: some of them had hardly ever known any other World Cup, some others had obviously lived the 1998 one, but all of them were screaming and waving flags all the same.

 

It’s 10 pm now, and I’m writing seated on my flat’s loggia. Right outside, a man has just plunged in the normally out-of-bounds-by-night residency’s swimming pool, crying that ‘On est les champions’, ‘We are the champions’. We can still hear the cars’ klaxons on the other side of the town, and memories of this afternoon keep flooding in.

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Not even the skin-burning sun of the South could have deterred the French fans to be there, gathered in the bars on that day. Of the two hours I spent seated in that bar, I’ll remember the Marseillaise that we sang altogether at the beginning of the game; the joy of the supporters, that would literally jump from their seats and yell at the screen every time a goal was scored or a foul committed to one of our players. Behind us, a painted man was howling in a megaphone, claiming that we were the French people and that we would win, enumerating the names of the players or singing parts of the national anthem.

 

1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2. Every time we scored, we would see young men running to the bridge linking the two halves of the Old Harbour, climbing to its very top and jumping in the water, their fists raised and a French flag flying behind them like a superhero cloak. Five minutes before the Final whistle, someone in the bar stood up and cried, ‘In five minutes, we’re World Champions!’.

 

And indeed we were.

 

Next thing I knew, people were hugging people they didn’t know; my brother fell in my arms, yelling ‘We’re World Champions!’. Around us, everybody seemed exhausted as if they’d play the match themselves. Dozens of people were running to the bridge, clapping and singing the Marseillaise; the streets were now colored by blue, white and red smokes, and when people came back into the bar to watch the team being given awarded the FIFA World Cup, half of them were wet and happily wringing their clothes after jumping in the Mediterranean Sea fully dressed.

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When we came back in town, surrounded by the continuing sound of the klaxons, it was to see people half-seated out of their cars, giving high fives to every passer-by in the streets, waving French flags and still singing. Euphoria, that’s how we can call it, and the young boy that nearly ran into me yelling that we were World Champions could not deny that.

 

So now we won, the day after our National Day. On the eve of that victory, the French skies were illuminated by fireworks. But what is to be expected, now? This victory smells like a midsummer night’s dream. As the Captain Hugo Lloris, also gamekeeper, very beautifully stated, this team and their victory have united the French people in joy and happiness, and it’s like this that we love to see our country. Tonight, France was a nation like I hope it could always been: proud, with its head held high, and positive in the sense that our identity was not built on the rejection of others, but on something great that we have achieved. Not only them, the players on the ground, but us, the French nation, in the sense of a body of people that hold together and stay together.

 

Even though that evening also contained its share of evil (hundreds of cars caught fire and many women were sexually harassed in the crowds), I do expect positive effects of this victory on France. Economically at first; this day probably made many bars’ turnover skyrocket, and football clubs will probably welcome more newcomers than they’ve ever dreamed of. French football players will have a new reference and an enduring trust on this Golden generation. The feminine football World Cup, that is taking place in France in 2019, will also, as far as I can imagine, be much more followed than it could have been without this triumph.

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Deep inside myself, I hope that it will go beyond. I’m however afraid that in a week, these French flags that have flourished on the windows through the past weeks will disappear, even though there would be thousands of reasons to keep them, as there are thousands of reasons to be proud to be French. Here’s one: two weeks ago, I watched the France vs Argentina game surrounded by young people who’ve survived cancer. When time came to sing the Marseillaise, they stood up hand on the heart, and simply told me after that, by its universal social security that paid for everything to heal them, ‘France has saved their life’.

 

We could be even prouder if we now could see immigration as what brought us the player that scored our 4th goal in the final. Kylian Mbappé is the second player in history who ever scored a goal in a World Cup final before the age of 20; for weeks now people have been replacing the Fraternité in our motto by his name, to make it ‘Liberté Egalité Mbappé’ – and his Father is from Cameroon and his Mother from Algeria.
A few hours after this victory, that made France – and its President – smile broadly and yell of happiness, I can only hope that its effect will hold as long as possible. Now I can only thank – that’s gonna be terribly cheesy and non-original, I’m sorry – everyone who made this possible. Our wonderful team first, who two years after our country was deeply wounded by a terrorist attack on the National Day, embodied its beautiful values with a talent pushed to its unexpected. The Croatian team, too; we say, in France, that winning against no danger is triumphing with no glory; and even though I do not quite agree with the two goals you scored on that day, your game made us shiver and be proud of playing against such strong opponents. And eventually, in advance, I’ll say thanks to the French nation: our 23 players, their coaches and their staff have brought that Cup home, but the show must go one. It’s our role, now, to decide what we want to make of this victory.

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France: Vive la République, et Vive la France!

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It happened 229 years ago, at the early dawn of the first French revolution. On July 14th, 1789, the French people marched over to the Bastille, a prison that embodied the absolute authority of the King, overthrew its administration, and took hold of the weapons it contained. It was the very first time the people of Paris would get directly involved with the French revolution.

 

The 14th of July has since become our National Day. I usually spend it on holiday at the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast in the Southeast of France. I have always associated that day to the sand cracking under my feet while I picnicking on the beach with my family. My brother and I would go swimming in the sea until we were freezing and then we would all go to the neighboring harbor to have ice cream. As the sun progressively disappeared, I would read under its declining light until my parents forbade me to go any further. We would make jealous remarks on how wonderful it would be to be on a boat instead of the crowded beach; and then, we would wait for the National Day fireworks, say that ‘They threw it later than last year’, that ‘It was one of the best ever, without doubt’, and then hurry up to the car to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

It’s because of these kind of moments that I love my country.

 

I love France, because we have so many various landscapes. If each landscape corresponded to a planet as in Star Wars, a whole galaxy wouldn’t be enough to depict them all. From the heaven-like Riviera, in which the Sun has the scent of olive oil, lavender, and the sound of crickets; to the neighboring Camargue, with its deafening flamingos and its salt marshes. From the Northern Lille that looks like a colorful mash-up between Disneyland and St-Petersburg, to the greener-than-green Périgord in the Southwest, so full of forest that it looks black from above. We have a bit of England, Italy, Germany, Spain and so much more, as much as we have mountains and prairies, dynamic towns and deep countryside, rainforests and hot beaches.

 

I love France, because the country still wears the remains and the open wounds of its history. We still have the aqueducts and walls built by the Romans that invaded us, which stand firm and proud in the South, thousands of years after they they were erected. Castles from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can still be spotted everywhere, each with its own glorious past, notorious characters and architectural originality. In France, men competed with nature to create the most beautiful wonders, and it sometimes did not even need to build to win the game. The beaches of Normandy, where Eisenhower’s troops landed to free the country in 1944; the maquis, where the French Resistance would hide during World War II; or the terribly sad Verdun in the East. All of them keep reminding us that our ancestors fought for the right reasons.

 

I love France, because I love the way it’s seen by foreigners. Travelling to the other side of the world, I have been told about this universal cliché of Marcel the mustached cyclist wearing his beret and carrying his baguette and croissant – which is both very French and ridiculously non-French at the same time, and a quite good depiction of my late Grandfather. I have been asked whether France was in Paris – ‘well, that’s not exactly true’ – and I have been mocked for my love relationship with cheese. Last, but certainly not least, I have almost fondly fainted in front of foreigners turning our Bonjour into a ‘Boonjouh’ – which is so inhumanely cute that I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I feel so honored whenever foreigners try and learn our beautiful headache of a language.

 

I love France, because of our gastronomy. French-gastronomically speaking, I am a living shame; I can’t help but declare my love for thai food and, even worse, I am a vegetarian and will make a face in front of a boeuf bourguignon or a blanquette de veau. However, I’m still the first one to very scientifically demonstrate that, since France is the world center of gastronomy, and Lyon is the French center of gastronomy, and the indoor supermarket Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the Lyonnese center of gastronomy, and having lived seventeen years right in front of the establishment, I am therefore the happy embodiment of French cooking. More seriously, and even aside of our typical and universally known dishes that boldly mix meat, vegetables and tasty sauce, our cheeses are a delight, our desserts are life-saviors, and a British journalist found exactly the right word saying that our croissants are nothing but ‘buttery pillows of perfection’.

 

I love France, because of the memories of our past and our art. There is a place in Paris that I love among all others, called the Panthéon. Great men and women are buried in this impressive building that always gives me strength, confidence and unlimited love for those who lived there before me. Recently, an incredible woman, whose name was Simone Veil, and her husband Antoine, joined the Panthéon as a show of gratitude for Simone for her involvement in the debut of the European Union, her contribution to the memories of the Shoah after she was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and her fight in favor of women’s rights and abortion. This country is also that of Victor Hugo, whose torrential writing style makes him our land’s most well-known Writer; of Edmond Rostand, whose character Cyrano de Begererac is a perfect embodiment of France; of Pasteur, who invented the vaccine…

 

I love France, because of Paris. Paris is a town like no other. It’s a whole. It’s not only because of the comforting light of the Eiffel tower that caresses one’s windows at night. Neither is it only because it’s impossible to get lost because one always has a famous monument to guide them back on path, such Montmartre, the Invalides, the Louvre or the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It can be because whenever one is randomly walking in the metro or in the streets, one can simply happen to find the Panthéon or remains of the Bastille by chance. Paris is the town of the unexpected and of the sweetness of life, that endured even when it was hit by one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of our time.

 

I love France, because I recently spent a weekend with young people who were sick with cancer and whose treatment was paid entirely by the social security, no matter their age or their social situation. My Grandfather – not the one that looked like Marcel the cyclist, the other one – was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 65, and the State paid to ease his life and make it last in the best possible conditions, without even counting. These social benefits may cost a ‘crazy money’, Mr President; but last Saturday, as the sound of the Marseillaise played for a football match, all these people whose lives were saved thanks to it, got up and sang with their hands on the hearts, spontaneously declaring « J’aime mon pays » (I love my country), « Vive la France ». I sang with them.

 

I love France, because I was lucky enough to travel, and to see enough beauty and kindness in the countries I visited as to not compare them to mine. But every time I would go abroad, I would feel a peak of patriotism, far from any aggressive nationalism, and make myself my country’s ambassador, and hope I’d give enough of a positive snapshot of France to, one day, welcome home those people who welcomed me.

 

I love France, even though we did not welcome the 629 migrants saved by the Aquarius, even though we’re plagued by an enduring crisis and well-known for our strikes, even though we’re criticized for our ambiguity towards laicity and for the laws of our state of emergency; I love France, even though the memories of our past are far from being all glorious, and wars and colonization should not be forgotten.

 

I love France, because I have the right to point out what I think are its flaws without fearing anything. I love France, because those flaws do not make me want to leave but to try and change them a bit, at my level, because besides them, there’s everything else to love.


Vive la République, et vive la France!

 

Credits: An Adventurous World

China: Is Our School Life Heaven or Hell?

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Like many other countries, China takes education seriously. In China, we normally have a six-year primary school, followed by a three-year middle school (Junior) and a three-year high school (Senior) before we finally enter college. Many differences between China and other countries may be found throughout these twelve years.

 

Why heaven? School life in China brings its teens a lot of good qualities!

Team spirit: We Chinese like to emphasize the conception of a team. While many foreign schools allow their students to choose their lessons themselves and therefore, be put in different classes with different classmates, it doesn’t apply to most of Chinese schools. We have certain schedules and are supposed to stay in a certain classroom, together with certain classmates. So the conception of a “team”, or in this situation, a “class”, seems to be much more important, for we spend a lot of time with our mates. Almost every teacher in Chinese schools considers ‘class-building’ as a hard but unavoidable task. So do we, the students. We study together, exercise together, eat in our school dining room chatting with others. The time spent together strengthens our relationships. Classmates are also our great friends. Even after many years pass, students may keep in touch with their previous classmates.

To improve students’ team spirit, many school activities are held in the name of the class, such as the annual celebration of New Year, which encourages students to make performances in their class and have fun together. There are also some activities for which classes compete against each other, such as our Art Festival, Technology Festival and sports meeting. Winners of such activities are often announced as “Class One” or “Class Two” instead of their names, even if the victory is due to only one student.

While fully respecting every individual, we have to acknowledge the great importance of team. All the wonderful achievements in China today rely on a team of people devoted to the group.

 

Discipline: Chinese schools especially emphasize students’ sense of discipline. It doesn’t mean we need to live as soldiers, but means that we have a much stricter code of conduct to obey, especially in those famous schools. This code of conduct aims to instruct students about what is good and what is bad, how to do things correctly when we are still young and easily misled by others. We are supposed to follow it exactly, in order to grow to be a better person.

Military training is a necessary part in almost every Chinese middle schools, high schools and colleges, often before new students start their new school life. It is held in a special base, not real army, but by real soldiers. During these days students are required to learn some basic skills like goose step. But the most important thing is that students can learn discipline and tenacity from a-week-or-more training. These qualities are thought to be significant in study and in daily life.

 

Depth of knowledge: Chinese students usually have nine main subjects (including Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and geography) and several other subjects (such as music, art, physical education and computer). Before going to college and choosing a specific major, we have to study all these subjects. Because of that, we Chinese students can grasp comprehensive knowledge during middle school and high school.

Chinese courses are generally more difficult than in many other countries. For example, in Australia, when students learn conic curve, they merely know its definition. However, in China, the use of some relevant theorems is more important. Generally speaking, Chinese students learn much more difficult things than some others’.

 

Why hell? Breaking off teenagers’ wings

Utilitarianism: Chinese education is often called an ‘exam-oriented education’. This nickname is a typical expression of the utilitarianism in the education practice.

Here’s a typical situation as an example. Qian Liqun, one of the most famous professors in Peking university, once taught a session named “Selected readings of Lu Xun” in a famous high school. But then, he found that only twenty students came, for the reason that “We wouldn’t have disliked coming to your class, but it was not relevant for Gaokao (college  entrance examination), so we’d rather get infos on Peking university at first and then come to listen to your class”

To get a higher mark in the college entrance examination, students have to give up on their own interests and only focus on studying mandatory courses. In my school, most of the books are forbidden when we are in third grade, because the books are seen as a waste of time, no matter how fantastic they are are. Also,most of the students only have to worry about their school work, so they rarely get part-time job when they are young. Nor are they devoted to social or volunteer work, which makes them lack some basic and essential skills when they grow up and get to work.

Even more: Chinese children, especially children in primary school, also study many extra skills such as music, drawing, dancing. However most of them do not study for fun or to follow their hearts, but according to their parents expectation of upward mobility.

Most of the time, what the students study and know is not what they like; what has a tremendous importance is not what they need. The society never needs a worker who only knows how to work out a mathematic problem, but doesn’t know how to live and work with other people.

 

Simplification: In Chinese middle school, we hardly have any optional courses, and because of the existence of the settled class, all of us get the same knowledge. The single examination system also limits students’ horizons. In China, there is a vivid metaphor: our middle school education is just like an assembly line, producing the exactly same product, not taking care of the personality at all!

On the other hand, in a couple of top-range middle schools, there are abundant clubs and school activities prepared for students. But we also have to admit that the clubs are virtually imaginary in a certain sense, for students have few breaks and time to organize various activities, and the school activities are limited to a number of traditional ones (such as reciting, singing, sports meetings and so on). Most of these activities are still team work and lack demonstrations of any personal ability.

The homework we are given is also a reason why we can talk about simplification. Unlike some European and American countries, there is no essay to write in our middle school homework, but fixed subject. Even Chinese compositions, the one task that can best reflect one’s theoretical thinking, also have many fixed routines. Therefore, Chinese middle school students easily lack personal analytical and thinking skills.

So when everyone learns the same courses’ content, reads the same books, does the same exercises everyday, how can our education raise skilled people who love the field they’ll be working in and are good at it? 

 

Harm: The harm caused by education in China is divided into two aspects: physical and mental.

Long hours of study have seriously affected the health of Chinese students. In China, due to the serious pressure of competition, most of the students have to work more than 16 hours a day. For example, in our school, we have to go to school at 6:50, and go back home at 23:30. Many students still can’t finish their homework at that time, so after they get back home, they still have to work many more hours. “Sleep only five hours” is a typical thing people in grade three can be told, because it is an evidence of dedication and in some cases, it can lead to better grades. But apparently, chronic lack of sleep and physical exercise can do great harm to health. In a general way, high school graduates are always in poor health. (We have a joke that says: every student in grade 3 will gain more than ten pounds!)

Distorted competition regimes and excessive pressure can also be the cause of many psychological problems. “Every senior grade 3 student cries at least once a year “. More seriously, some students develop autism or anorexia. Some students only consider their grade and are never curious towards the outside world. They even think that chatting with others is a waste of time. It’s a vicious circle: they become more and more asocial, and without necessary communication, the pressure on their shoulders becomes heavier; so they see, even more, their grades as a reflection of their own value as an individual. And once they loose the competition, their mental state will sharply deteriorate.

 

Education is a thing that has its good and bad sides but can hardly be evaluated fairly. Many Chinese parents hate the education they have gone through, so they spare no effort to send their own kids abroad. But there also rumors that some schools in Britain and America want to introduce Chinese textbooks to their class. Actually, the evaluation of education can never be separated from the conditions of the country. What’s the special national conditions of China? It is huge and has a large population. There is an obvious gap in economy, society and population quality and therefore, education. The normal solution in some developed countries now seems unfair in China. Some provinces, that have a better environment and better opportunities, are much better in education without doubt, which is also unfair for those who live in mountainous areas. Also, there are a huge number of graduates every year. Only in Shaanxi, my province, the number of high school graduates goes up to 268,000. A universal examination may then appear to be a convenient way to deal with the problem. School life in China today is then merely decided by the way colleges choose their students.

Twelve years have passed. Now, when I look back to the life I have had these years, I can’t say whether they were good or bad. They are memories. How many twelve years will we have? Eight? Nine? No more than ten. These years were, at the utmost, 10% of my lifetime. And no matter whether they were heaven or hell, they are a precious period of time in our life, that make us the people we are today. School life in China is far away from perfect. We are still trying to improve it. But more important, it is neither heaven nor hell: it is memory, or rather, life.

 

Written by Yihan Liu, Keeper of China

Photo credits: http://shsworldstudies.blogspot.com

Australia: Five Natural Wonders of South Australia

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Living in the suburbs of the city of Adelaide in South Australia, I’ve always felt like there weren’t that many eye-catching natural phenomenon around my home state. We don’t have a beautiful harbour (or a harbour bridge), nor do we have magnificent gorges. For all I knew, South Australia was basically a random mix of ordinary climates and landscapes.

Guess what? I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

After a trip to Mount Gambier for a music event, I remembered, and re-discovered, the beautiful sink-holes that litter the Mount Gambier area. This prompted me to search for other incredible landscapes and landmarks around South Australia and, lo and behold, I found many more incredible places that either I had forgotten about or hadn’t even heard of before.

So, I present to you the Five Natural Wonders of South Australia (that I have discovered thus far).

  1. The Umpherston Sinkhole

IMG_5533The Umpherston Sinkhole is actually the sink-hole that inspired this article in the first place. It was the first sink-hole I ever visited (about 4 years ago) and it left a lasting impression on me. It remains one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited, and I’ve made some treasured memories while I have visited. This special place is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing attraction I’ve visited, with the hole itself hosting a stunning, unbelievably green, garden of a variety of plant life, making it the perfect place for some stunning photo opportunities.

The Sunken Garden, as it’s also known, was naturally formed when the limestone roof of the underground chamber collapsed, forming the gaping cavity that can be seen today. The garden that now occupies the cavity was only appeared in 1886, when James Umpherston, the name-sake of the sink-hole, created the oasis that can be seen today. The lush ferns and hydrangeas, as well as a serene fountain, are just some of the reasons why this garden is so popular, though its popularity may also be a result of the (adorable) possums that also call this masterpiece of nature home.

If you haven’t visited this gorgeous place, I highly, highly, recommend it. However, if my words haven’t convinced you, then maybe my pictures will instead.

  2. The Remarkable Rocks

IMG_5535.jpgThe Remarkable Rocks are a group of granite rocks that, after 500 million years of erosion by wind, rain, and sea-spray, form a unique set of shapes and shadows, depending on the position of the sun. These lichen-stained rocks can be found on Kangaroo Island (which is also a beautiful place and is one of the most highly recommended places to see in South Australia). The orange lichen decorating the surface of the rocks also changes colour, from rust to gold, depending on the lighting.

Not only are the rocks themselves great photo opportunities, but they sit on a cliff overlooking the ocean, providing a beautiful ocean setting that the island itself is so well-known for.

The best time for viewing the rocks is said to be in the early morning (around sunrise) and in the evening (during sunset). This golden lighting provides one of the best for the viewing of the rocks, and, partnered with a serene sea, makes for a beautiful scene.

I myself have not the opportunity to visit these magnificent rocks, but people who have visited have highly recommended their visiting and, generally, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. If you’re ever visiting Kangaroo Island, give this rocks a visit, you won’t regret it.

3. The Blue Lake

IMG_5534.jpgThe Blue Lake is another masterpiece of Mother Nature that can be found in Mount Gambier. The Blue Lake, which occupies an extinct volcano crater, is one of the most incredible sights of Mount Gambier, with the site being renowned for the cobalt blue waters which can be seen between December and March (summer and early autumn months). While the cobalt blue waters, unfortunately, don’t last throughout the entire year, the lake still retains a remarkably pewter blue (which can be seen in the first image of mine) from April to November.

The reason for the magnificent colour change of the lake remains unknown, though there are many legends and stories that attempt to provide an explanation, with one legend (my personal favourite) speaking of bunyips (an Australian mythical beast) that live on the bottom of the lake coming to the surface for summer. This migration of the bunyips, is said to cause the colour of the lake. Some people say that the lake reflects the blue of the sky, and others (jokingly) say that vibrant blue is merely food dye. It’s more likely that this colour change is due to chemical reactions occurring between the water and rocks.

While I can’t confirm the existence of bunyips in general, I can say that the Blue Lake is a must visit if you’re ever spending time in South Australia.

4. Wilpena Pound

IMG_5536.jpgWilpena Pound (wilpena an Aboriginal word meaning bent fingers, describing the rock formation), a  large rock basin located in the heart of picturesque Flinders Rangers, home to the highest peak of the Rangers, St. Mary Peak. I successfully climbed the 1170 meter mountain on my year nine camp four years ago (when I was much fitter) and attempted to climb (but only got halfway due to failing light) once again with French Keeper, Camille, and a few other friends.

Wilpena Pound is, while quite harsh and very much belonging to the bush, one of the most famous areas in South Australia. It is a popular camping spot due to the attraction of St. Mary Peak, the Hill family homestead, ancient Indigenous artwork found at Arkaroo Rock, and the beautiful, sweeping lines of the mountain ranges.

This incredible feat of nature is definitely more than worth a look, and there are many accommodation options if you are keen for a visit. If you are heading over to stay, I would recommend staying for at least a few days (although don’t be surprised if you end up wishing you didn’t have to leave).

5. Lake Bumbunga

Lake Bumbunga-2.jpgHave you ever seen those extremely aesthetic pictures of people on Instagram sitting by a pink lake? You probably just thought, ‘Oh they’ve edited the lake to look pink, that’s cool’. Well would you believe me if I told you it wasn’t edited? One of the most popular pink lakes found in South Australia is the fairy floss (or candyfloss) pink lake of Lake Bumbunga.

The word ‘bumbunga’ is, reportedly, the word for ‘rain water lake’, for the Parnpangka people (indigenous community) of the area. The use of this word for the naming of the lake is a nod to the Indigenous people who lived on the land, as well as their rich history and culture.

The lake is located in Lochiel and is made up of three salt pans that have been harvested for over 30 years for a variety of uses. The colour of the water, despite being best known for being pink, has also been known to change to white as well as blue, this change being attributed to the salinity of the water which is known to fluctuate throughout the year.

The lake is also a short drive away from the Clare Valley, a famous wine region in South Australia.  So, if you’re a fan of wine and uniquely striking views, Lake Bumbunga is the place for you!

After writing this article, I’m honestly shocked that I ever thought that South Australia was the least picturesque state in Australia (seriously, look at this picture from the sink-hole!). While I’ve only provided five here in this article, I’m more than certain that there are more natural gems that are just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the ones you’ve seen here.

If you’re ever able to visit any one of these places that I’ve listed, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.

 

// EDIT BY CAMILLE, Keeper of France // Two years ago, I spent two months in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, to study in Siobhan’s high school. My host sister Lucy and her wonderful family showed me around, and I was lucky enough to discover almost all the places Siobhan wrote about. This will probably remain one of the most astonishing road trips of my life… and a good proof that Australia is not only about koalas, kangaroos, Ayers Rock and dreadful animals 😛

 

Links:

https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/8-amazing-natural-wonders-to-see-in-south-australia/

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/11/01/3881917.htm

http://www.traveller.com.au/wilpena-pound-south-australia-travel-guide-and-things-to-do-12mah1

http://austhrutime.com/wilpena_pound.htm

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g499708-d1813068-r70573658-Arkaroo_Rock-Flinders_Ranges_National_Park_Flinders_Ranges_South_Australia.html

https://southaustralia.com/travel-blog/south-australias-pink-lake-bucket-list

https://www.kidsinadelaide.com.au/lake-bumbunga-pink-lake/

Credits: Siobhan Reardon (Keeper of Australia), Camille Ibos (Keeper of France), southaustralia.com