KFC at Christmas

Strange holiday traditions

 

Cultures are strange things, and they bring with them strange traditions. These may be some of the strangest of them all, however.

During Christmas in Japan, people line up outside of KFCs and reserve buckets of chicken for their family. This, according to GaijinPot, has been a tradition since the 1970s when an expat decided it would be a good replacement for turkey, which wasn’t available. Word quickly spread up the grapevine and corporate embraced their newfound role in the country’s christmas traditions.

Or, as GaijinPot says, “it might just be because Colonel Sanders looks like Santa Claus.”

KFC at Christmas

Another strange Christmas tradition, this time from the Catalan people in northern Spain, is known simply as the Caganer, or “the shitter.” The Caganer is a staple of nativity scenes in this region, and is depicted as a figure crouching and pooping.

Over the years the Caganer has expanded from a peasant wearing a red beret to nearly everything conceivable. You can find Santa Caganers, Yoda ones, politicians, Oscar award statue Caganers, superheroes and villains, or even the pope.

Caganers

Over in the UK, there’s the good ol’ Cheese Rolling Festival, during which contestants chase a wheel of cheese down a 1/2 gradient hill. That’s steep. And dangerous. People often dress up for the occasion, running, and quickly tumbling, down the slope in banana costume or dressed as Waldo from “Where’s Waldo.” Injuries seem to be a very common occurrence at this event. What’s the goal, you ask? Well, it’s to be the first one to grab the wheel of cheese, of course!

Cheese Rolling Festival

Back to Christmas, a strange tradition some European countries have is “Krampus,” which is essentially the antithesis of Santa. Depicted with horns and a mangy beard, this legend has its origins in the 1600s with Krampus joining St. Nicholas for his Christmas feast trek each December 5. Krampus would go around and punish bad children with not just coal, but by sometimes stuffing children into his sack to deliver them to hell. Today the legend lives on, with people dressing up as Krampus to chase children through the streets.

Krampus

Finally on our list of strange holiday traditions: Groundhog Day. In America, we have an annual celebration in which we allow a groundhog, most notably Punxsutawney Phil, predict whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter, or if we will be blessed with an early spring. This tradition began in the 1800s and it’s still well and alive today, even inspiring a Hollywood movie by the same name as the holiday.

Groundhog Day

Cultures develop some strange traditions, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because a celebration seems strange to you doesn’t mean it’s strange to those who celebrate it. Or heck, maybe it it also strange to those who celebrate it, but they enjoy the tradition anyway. I know Groundhog Day makes absolutely no sense to me, but I think it’s still sort of a neat holliday. We all have our quirks in this world, so we might as well enjoy them.

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Chinese Student’s Opportunities Overseas

In many ways, the Chinese education system is far superior to any other schooling system in the world. Chinese students work for longer hours in school each day in a space void of all distraction. The average day spans from 7:30 am to 5 pm with a two hour break for lunch. The school year also runs from September to July with a small summer break in between. Education is the number one priority above all other part of life that might normally emotionally interfere. One must then ask, why more and more Chinese students are choosing to study abroad in a foreign country far from their own every year?

The answer is that this choice to finish one’s education abroad is simply a solution to a very real problem in China. The Asian country currently stands with the highest population in the world with millions of children graduating from high school every year at the same time. The cruel truth is that, as worthy of a college education as many of these graduates are, there are simply not enough universities available to provide a suitable furthering of their education.

Gao Kao Testing

Gao Kao Testing

Chinese students are not only academically competitive as a result of the cultural pressure that many parents put on them, but also because they have to be the very best to be accepted into any Chinese university. Entrance into any of these universities is achieved by perfection in two areas. Similar to the United States, students are graded on their performance in the classroom in day-to-day activities. These grades are factored into the decision of whether to admit a student or not. They are, however, not as significant as the score a student receives on the Gao Kao. The Gao Kao is a college entrance test, somewhat similar to the United States’ ACT, but substantially more difficult, longer, and much more important. All students take the Gao Kao so naturally there is a huge amount of competition. According to Chinese students, it basically requires almost a perfect score of the Gao Kao, as well as exemplary marks in the classroom, to be admitted into a University. It also does not hurt to know someone in admissions at the University. From an American perspective, it would be about the same as getting a near perfect ACT score and a 4.0 grade point average. Many brilliant, hardworking Chinese students are denied entry to these schools every year.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/work-experience-vital-for-chinese-graduates-as-foreign-credentials-lose-their-lustre/story-e6frgcko-1226673357769?nk=4b46ed2f1d37a2cb353eee971d6369ab

Chinese students at American graduation

Studying abroad is one alternative to trying to gain acceptance into a university in China. As expensive as it might be, Chinese foreign exchange students can continue their education in a different country and find great success in it. According to Chinese students, this is a large reason why many of them start studying a language at an early age. This option to study abroad is the perfect solution to the problem of living in a highly populated country. Students can experience the world from a different perspective that they would not normally have finishing school in China. It is a very wise alternative.

Landscape

Don’t Double Up On Dublin

Many of my fellow undergraduate classmates have studied abroad at least once in their time in college. This largely comes from the unprecedented ease at which we can travel, gain new cultural experiences, and explore different parts of the world. When it comes to our European travelers, however, I would recommend taking a closer look at a country that often simply gets brushed over: Ireland. Whenever students discuss visiting the Emerald Isle they usually say either that they did not have time or that they went to Dublin for a day. While this exposure to Ireland’s capital city is great, it is miniscule in comparison to the experiences that the rest of the country has to offer just a few hours west.

I will be the first to admit I am biased because I was never able to study abroad while in college. Most of the programs either ran at in opportune times or I could not support the trip financially. Despite this, my family did manage to save up for a ten day long trip to Ireland in August of my senior year. We still have family in Ireland and we wanted to meet them before they passed away. The five of us started in Dublin and drove across the country in a large circle visiting a multitude of cities and cites that normally go unvisited by students. There were so many fascinating places that I had never heard of from my fellow classmates. Since my visit, I have complied a list of “must see” places in Ireland that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the country for the first time.

The first on the list would have to be the famous Cliffs of Moher on the western shores of county Clare. While these cliffs may be reached after an over three-hour long drive from Dublin, the view is definitely worth the wait. Visitors hike across the trails atop the cliffs looking out into the seemingly endless ocean far below them. On one point stands an ancient structure named “O’Brien tower”, which served as a lookout point for my ancestors who were natives of the area. The view from its base was unmatched by anything I had ever seen. It felt like I was looking off of the edge of the world.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher with O’Brien Tower (Right)

 

Another fantastic place to lose oneself for a few days is the little town of Kilarney in County Kerry. The city is located in the southwestern tip of Ireland in a valley surrounded by mountains. The landscape does not only serve as great scenery but also creates an atmosphere that the city is more peaceful and welcoming, being isolated from the rest of the world. Despite serving as a seemingly hidden gem, Kilarney has many old streets lined with historic little window shops, pubs and restaurant. The district was filled with these places that seemed to be much better preserved than the stores that lined the streets of Dublin. As a result of seeing fewer tourists, the local pubs seemed undeserved and carried an almost homely sort of feel that was not as present in any of the pubs I had visited previously. Kilarney’s preservation was a great representation of Irish culture.

Kilarney streets

Kilarney streets

 

Finally, the last place, that I would have to recommend to any future visitors of Ireland, is the city of Galway. For some reason the inter-coastal city is often over looked by visitors. It serves as a bay city on about the same latitude of Dublin but about a two hours car ride west. Galway’s district area resembles one similar to Kilarney’s save for the fact that it was much more crowded and the streets were much narrower. People gathered in the streets and seemed to be walking from pub to pub to watch the Galway hurling team play. The energy seemed to almost literally flow through the streets. Not only were the pubs a great atmosphere to be a part of but the seafood was probably the best I have ever had. The bay itself was covered in a variety of anchored watercraft ranging from large fishing boats to small sailboats. It painted a great picture of the town itself and supplied a wonderful view for a sunset.

Galway's less crowded outer bay

Galway’s less crowded outer bay

As much as I wish that I could have studied abroad and experienced more than simply one country, I did truly enjoy the very detailed view of Ireland I received in the experience. By going beyond the city limits of Dublin I was able to get a better understanding of Irish culture, far away from normal overwhelming tourist hotspots. It was truly a unique experience and I would challenge anyone studying abroad to look beyond the city of Dublin and lose himself or herself in the majesty that is the Irish countryside.

The Cronut Sensation

America has always had a love for infusing foreign delights into its own creations. The latest craze is a perfect example of this, “the Cronut”. The Cronut is simple, yet magnificent. This creation is simply a French croissant mixed with a donut. This instant classic treat was created by, Dominique Ansel and sold exclusively at Ansel’s bakery in New York City. With great success has come many wanting to copy the genius idea including scalpers selling Cronuts in the streets ranging from $20-40 and even going up to ridiculous prices going as high as $100, according to the New York Times. The Cronut has created lines that wrap around the street. Since the creation, imitators have emerged, including Dunkin Donuts with their release of the “Croissant Donut” as well as other donut companies around the country.

The croissant is an old French pastry that is well known for its crescent shape and butter layers. The croissant has been dated back to the 13th century, spawning from Austria, and was brought to France by an Austrian princess, Marie Antoinette, who moved to France as a new bride. The princess missed the pastry so much that she had it brought to France where it go the name “croissant” for the French word, crescent.

Marie Antoinette

Similar to examples such as Taco Bell, Panda Express, and other foreign-American fusions, Americans have fallen in love with this creation. While this may in fact be just a trend, you can see what similarities all of these trends have. Americans, in general, love foods that have to deal with foreign fusions, and even more so, something different. People love experimenting, especially with simple foods that sound strange, but often surprise people. A similar comparison would be maple and bacon covered donuts. People love to try new food creations that feel adventurous and out of the ordinary.

Overall, this has proven to be yet another success of a foreign-inspired food creation. Only time will tell if this new pastry experiment will last, and if there will be more access to this treat. Based on the lines in New York City, I would assume that it is fair to say that we have not seen the last of the Cronut! If you are feeling adventurous and cannot wait to try the Cronut, I have included a recipe for you to try on your own from ABC News!

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The College Experience: America Vs. Europe

For American students studying abroad, specifically in Europe, at some point during their undergraduate years has become a relatively popular thing to do. A less common trend however is going abroad for all of college. Because tuition is rising and acceptance rates are lowering in a majority of US colleges, there is more incentive than ever for students to receive their education across the pond. This non-traditional option of obtaining a college degree has many benefits that most American students are unaware of. Both nations have their benefits regarding education but I will discuss the advantages of European college because most of my readers already know about the US college system.
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According to The Federal Reserve of New York, the estimated American student debt is about $1 trillion. In contrast to US students, European college grads generally come out of school with little or no debt. This is primarily due to public funding. European countries with the exclusion of Britain have public funds that enable students to go to school very cheaply, if not for free. This is because Europeans believe that higher education is an inalienable right, which is why public universities tend to be more popular than private institutions. Another reason a European college education is cheaper than an American one is that it normally takes less time to complete. US undergraduate degree programs take four years to complete, while European undergraduate degrees only take two to three years. Shaving a year or two off of a college education obviously saves a great deal of time, but also money. One exception Americans must keep in mind however is the currency exchange rate. This is because the US dollar won’t stretch quite as far in Europe, but even so, most students have found that their overall college education is cheaper to obtain in Europe rather than in the US.
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A second major difference in European colleges is the academic style. While American colleges offer more areas of study, along with more general education requirements, European schools generally offer fewer courses and are more geared towards preparing for specific jobs. European classes are also conducted more independently and are more reading intensive which is different than American classes that usually involve more attendance points and group projects. This difference could either be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the student. European classes are generally conducted in large lectures where the professor is removed from the students. Just like it is becoming a more popular trend of taking an extra semester or year to graduate from college in American, European students are taking extra time as well.
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The last major difference between the two is the campus life and overall college experience one will have. American campuses tend to focus around student life and activities. The student body congregates at sporting events, speeches, and in Greek life. American campuses are designed to draw in their students; student unions for example are the centerpiece of campuses where dinning-halls, campus stores, entertainment, and libraries can most often be found. European campuses are designed exclusively for study and do not include abundant student housing or large student unions. The campuses are in major cities and because of that only have lecture halls, laboratories, and libraries. European colleges do not incorporate much of a student life; instead, people tend to travel more often because of the close proximity of so many different countries. Studying in Europe can introduce you to many more countries and cultures.
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Going to college abroad is not for everyone but it is a great alternate option for those who are looking to go to college farther than just a few states away. The cost, style, location, and experience are all things to take into consideration, but before narrowing your options to state schools in the US, it might be beneficial for students to look into European colleges. Even though I love my college experience at a state school here in the US, I can completely understand why studying across the pond would be an amazing experience as well. There are definite advantages in obtaining a degree in both places, it just depends what ones interests are.

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Error: Webpage Cannot Be Displayed in China

 

As our society develops it is becoming more and more evident that in today’s world there is system of communication that is connecting a grander scale of people than simply a mutually shared language ever could. The Internet has become the most powerful means of communication, connecting billions of people with different languages and cultures around the world. Information is being transferred from continent to continent instantaneously. It has become a form of its own universal language. In many of my Chinese culture classes I learned that China is a huge part of this demographic with 641,601,070 Internet users and counting. As a result of their restrictions on free speech, however, they are hindered. Ever since the Communist took control of China from the Nationalist party in 1949 they have held a tight grip on what their people can and cannot do. This control of human rights is a big factor for maintaining power in China. The truth is that some of these excessive efforts are warranted since the country has such a rich history of overthrowing their own government in order to make room for a new dynasty. Nevertheless, since the death of Mao Zedong and the transfer of power to Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China has arguably become socially more capitalistic and westernized. Even as China shifts into economically into more of a market economy, its government refuses to make these progressive changes socially.

The government censors movies, publications and most prominently the Internet. Any voice that could paint the government in a negative light is silenced. For example, the democratic movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989 is a point of contention between the Chinese government and the rest of the world. Thousands of people, mostly students, gathered in Tiananmen Square and, after many warnings to disperse from the Chinese government, they began to run over their own citizens with tanks and shoot at them. The interesting part about all of this is that many of the Chinese population still do not know the details of what happened to this day. In fact, when you use a Chinese Internet search engine it becomes pretty clear how much power that the government holds in censorship. I ran a search for Tiananmen Square in both the Chinese site Baidu as well as the popular international search engine Google. The results I received were pretty eye opening. Google revealed images of the protests and the military occupying the area in 1989. Pictures of tanks and crowds covered about every page. While the Google search revealed the painful event that took place in Tiananmen Square, Baidu had literally no trace of it anywhere. Whether it was the first or last page it had been removed completely from Chinese access. Apparently this is very common in China. The government fully controls what web pages are displayed and which ones are blocked from the public. Every site must comply with over sixty government regulations in order to be permitted. As difficult at this censorship is to maintain, the government does arrest Internet violators who act outside these cyber-restrictive guidelines.

Search for Tiananmen Square on Google

Search for Tiananmen Square on Google

Looking forward, it will be fascinating to see how the Chinese government deals with maintaining this limitation of free cyber speech in the future. More voices are finding a way to make themselves heard, in one way or another, online everyday. With so much of the world’s communication happening internationally on a keyboard the question remains: How much power will the Chinese government have to give up in order to maintain its position in the international spotlight among more socially democratic states?

Search for Tiananmen Square on Baidu

Search for Tiananmen Square on Baidu

 

 

Safe Rides for All

This past year one of the fastest growing companies that has been making a lot of waves in the transportation industry launched in Columbia. Uber, and the service known as UberX, is a ride sharing company designed to improve the experience for customers of the mobile-app-based transportation network. Rumors have swirled around the company and their legality, but that has not stopped the company’s growth. Uber was recently valued at $40 Billion. They are easily the largest player in this new ride-sharing industry that they pioneered.

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The concept behind Uber is ride sharing. Anyone can sign up to be a driver, and work their own hours. It allows significantly cheaper rides for consumers, and is a much more pleasant experience. It is driving many established taxi services out of business. The issue that has arisen is corruption. Governments make a large amount off of taxing taxi companies. Uber is technically a ride sharing company, and not a registered taxi service, and therefore doesn’t have to pay the same taxes. Because of this they are dragging their feet as much as possible to allow ride share companies to function legally. On June 11, 2014, European taxi drivers intentionally gridlocked major streets in protest of the “unregulated” taxi app.

The newest development against Uber is the largest. According to Fox Business News, Melrose Credit Union, the city’s biggest financier of taxi licenses, has threatened New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with a multi-billion dollar lawsuit unless the ride-sharing company begins to comply with the city’s taxi laws. Melrose claims that according to the law, only licensed taxis can pick up street hails, and that Uber vehicles routinely violate this law. If successful the city could be on the hook for $15 billion in damages, Melrose said in its letter to de Blasio. An Uber spokesman weighed in on the suit, saying that “Big taxi should spend more time focusing on improving service quality and expanding options for New Yorkers rather than protecting the status quo and stifling competition,”

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Uber may have much larger plans than simple ridesharing though. Many large automotive companies, as well as Uber, have been clamoring for the chance to get their hands on Nokia’s HERE mapping unit. Uber offered as much as $3 billion for the unit. This is reportedly to help as the company moves to stop being dependent on Google Maps, and enter the logistics business themselves. The reason other automotive makers are interested in the program as well is very foreword thinking. Upscale companies such as BMW and Mercedes are in the process of engineering self-driving cars. This type of product would require extremely accurate maps, such as HERE. Acquiring HERE would allow Uber to transport much more than just people.

Here’s to hoping Uber can navigate through all the politics, to continue providing a great product to consumers.

 

 

 

Animals Rights: The Running of the Bulls

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain has been a tradition for over 400 years. Every year from July 6th to July 14th, the Festival of San Fermin takes place in Pamplona. This tradition, as well as the practice of bull fighting, has come under protest from animal rights activists and individuals who believe that they are too dangerous for human participation.

Matador vs. the Bull

Matador vs. the Bull

The tradition began as a facet of the Festival of San Fermin. Bullfighting was a common attraction held during auspicious events. In order to provide the bulls for the entertainment, the ranchers needed a method of transporting bulls from their corrals, into the city, and up to the arena. While it is not known how the actual process of the ancestral ranchers guiding the steers through the city streets has transformed into the modern spectacle we now know it as, the fact is that it has occurred over and over again without protest, until recently.

Man who is regretting his decision.

Man who is regretting his decision.

Many find the practice of the tradition to be morally reprehensible because of the treatment of the bulls. The herd of bulls is coaxed through the streets using various techniques to frighten them. They are forced to follow a blocked-off path through the city. The fate of these beasts is not a pleasant one. Bulls, by nature, are not violent or extraordinarily aggressive. In order to prepare the bull, they are abused by stabbing, partially blinding, and dosed with drugs to make him weaker. Many anti-bullfighting advocates point out that the bullfighter is never truly in danger, and forcing the bull to participate is a sign of moral decay in Spain. Catalonia, the first major province to adopt a ban on bullfighting is being praised in the hopes that more will follow – although the sport is considerably more popular in the southern provinces.

Animal rights poster from Spain.

Animal rights poster from Spain.

Organized demonstrations against bullfighting have been occurring for years, without major success in imposing a wide-spread ban. PETA and a Spanish animal rights group, AnimaNaturalis, assembled several protests alone. However, despite uproars caused by the protests, the event has continued on, relatively unimpeded. The fundamental question is this: Is it right for a tradition to continue occurring when commonly held moral stances define it as a cruel and malicious act, despite its popularity? At what point does society say that a tradition is archaic and should be forgotten? Or should the notion of the animal’s rights not be considered?

PEGIDA and NO PEGIDA STUTTGART

Patriotische Europäer Gegen Islamisierung Des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West is a right-wing anti-Islamic political organization. From their founding in October of 2014 on a Facebook ‘group’ page, they have transformed into en masse demonstration activists. Their goal is to affect German immigration policy so that they establish more stringent requirements. They have also adopted anti-EU and pro-Russian stances. PEGIDA’s rise from a small social media group, to an active, popular, and structured protest group shows how powerful the internet has become as a tool for the organization of political associations.

PEGIDA Protestors

PEGIDA Protestors

Lutz Bachmann, the founder of PEGIDA’s Facebook group, began the movement as a protest against opening 14 immigration centers in Dresden. Only a small number of people came to the first PEGIDA rally. Approximately two months later, they had nearly 10,000 people walking through the streets of Dresden. The exponential growth in membership, especially given the brief amount of time it took is staggering. Such an expansion is entirely the result of the group’s entirely online nature, organizing through mass notifications through social media.

My colleague C.T. Souder has previously written about PEGIDA and the implications of their movement. He asked, back in February: “Did the PEGIDA movement enjoy a prolonged fifteen minutes of fame and will soon fizzle out?” It is now May – is there an answer to this question? It is, perhaps, still too early to tell if PEGIDA will fade away. However, that will most likely not occur in the near future. PEGIDA leaders have announced that there will be a rally on May 17th in Stuttgart. This is one of the major PEGIDA events organized outside of Dresden. The group is planning more demonstrations around Europe to include ones that have already transpired in Newcastle and other cities.

In addition, an anti-PEGIDA group from Stuttgart, NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, is organizing a similar rally against the conservative group, scheduled for the same day. The two movements are fundamentally opposed to each other philosophy, but came about in the same way. The anti-PEGIDA movement, in fact, came about as a result of their creation. Their slogan is: “Stuttgart ist und bleibt bunt – Gegen Rassismus, Sexismus und Homophobie“. Although, depending on one’s position, both of these groups‘ views may seem reprehensible. But it is a far greater omen that the two organize and demonstrate without repercussions in Germany.

Cover photo from NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Groupe Facebook Page.

Cover photo from NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Group Facebook Page.

That is not always the case. PEGIDA cannot operate with immunity. Freedom of speech is a recognized, fundamental right of the people in governments like that of the United States and Germany. However, the Austrian government has not taken such a lazzes faire strategy when dealing with PEGIDA. The group has been banned from demonstrating a second time in the Austrian town of Bregenz. Authorities cited the risk of criminal activity on the part of the protestors. As has already been demonstrated, protests made by this group are not completely lawful, despite their vehement denunciations of activist violence – seeing it as akin to Islamic terrorism.

PEGIDA and NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, I believe, represent the future of political activism. The new wave is traditionally non-political people who, through the efficient use of mass communicative social media, have organized themselves to vie for influence. Public attention and membership numbers are the two critical areas when evaluating a group’s viability. If an organization can garner influence simply through the expression of common beliefs, and not through financial largesse, truly rooted movements can take place – a government by the people, indeed.

Alternate NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Logo

Alternate NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Logo

 

 

 

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Zotter: Chocolate with a Conscience

Have you ever opened a Wonka Bar and hoped that just maybe the Golden Ticket inside would be real and you had actually won admittance to a chocolate factory? If you answered yes, today is the day your dream comes true. But either way, who wouldn’t want to tour a chocolate factory? During my semester abroad, one of the classes I taught went on a field trip to the Zotter Chocolate Factory. It is any chocolate lover’s paradise.

Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur is located an hour east of Graz near Riegersburg in Austria’s beautiful southeastern state of Styria. Zotter is a family business that was started by Josef Zotter and his wife. They opened a confectionary in Graz selling unique creations in 1987.   It wasn’t until 1999 that the Zotter’s opened their factory in the barn of Josef’s parents’ farm.

 

Zotter is unique in that all of the cocoa beans used in their products are organic and Fairtrade quality. Fairtrade is a progressive social movement whose mission is to alleviate poverty and create sustainability for small farmers and plantation workers in developing countries. It allows the small farmers to sell their products at fair prices, creates better salaries for workers, improves working conditions, and invests in opportunities such as education, health and environmental projects. Zotter is a permanent license member of FAIRTRADE Austria, which is a non-partisan, non-denominational, non-profit association to promote free trade. It is an organization that attempts to meet the demand of Austrian manufacturers for quality products from developing countries. Their products are completely organic, which means there are no preservatives or artificial flavors. Some of their organic ingredients in their chocolate products include wine, fruits, and nuts. There is even some uncommon pairings including chili and ketchup. Zotter makes their products to meet dietary needs. They make chocolate for those who need gluten and lactose free, as well as vegan chocolate.

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The factory is open for tours, along with its Edible Zoo directly behind the factory. Visitors can see the entire process of how cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate and learn more about the cocoa farmers that Zotter buys their beans from in India, Latin America and Africa. You can taste the cocoa beans in their different stages of production from raw to final product. As you are walking through the factory, you can sample as much chocolate as you can possibly eat and or drink.

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It’s no secret that I have a giant sweet tooth, so walking through the factory was amazing. They have all of their products out for sampling on every floor and in every stairway. They even have a floor that has a drink bar where you are given a warm glass of milk to mix in their drinking chocolate. There is flavor and type of chocolate to meet everyone’s taste. The hand-scooped filled chocolate bars have layers piled on the inside of a delicious filling that include cognac and coffee, bacon bits, pumpkin seeds with marzipan or sacramental wine and frankincense that is coated in chocolate. Labooko is a pure solid chocolate bar that comes in a variety of types including milk, dark, fruit, nut and coffee chocolate.  You can find the rest of Zotter’s products in their online Choco-Shop.

It takes real creativity to combine sustainability, Fairtrade, and organic products with decadent chocolate.  Zotter shares this with you when you visit the factory, they truly have the innovative edge in chocolate.

 

Mr. Bond

James Bond is one of the most iconic film characters in existence. After 23 hugely successful films it is no surprise that there is a huge fan base spanning generations and geographies. The 007 franchise is the single highest grossing franchise ever after adjustments for inflation. There has been quite a bit of controversy involving the modern adaptations of the famous franchise.

Recently the trailer for the newest addition to the franchise, Spectre, was released. The star of this film, along with Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, and the original Casino Royal reboot, is Daniel Craig. Craig is, in my opinion, the best Bond to date. But this is probably the same way Christian Bale is the only true Batman.

The largest controversy in the Bond history has just recently come to be an issue. There has been much talk of Idris Elba being cast as the next 007 once Craig lets the part go. The 43-year-old actor is most well known for his work in Thor, Prometheus, and Pacific Rim.

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Outrage was recently sparked online after former 007 actor Roger Moore was interviewed saying that Elba was not “English-English” enough to play the famous spy. Ian Flemming’s description of bond was “Name: Bond, James. Height: 183cm, weight: 76 kilograms; slim build; eyes: blue; hair: black; scar down right cheek and on left shoulder; signs of plastic surgery on back of right hand; all-round athlete; expert pistol shot, boxer, knife-thrower; does not use disguises” in the novel From Russia With Love. No actor in the movies’ history has matched this description exactly. Bond has been portraid by Sean Connery, a Scott, Timothy Dalton, a Welshman, Pierce Brosnan, an Irishman, and Sir Robert Moore, an Englishman. Elba was born and raised in Hackney, London.

After last year’s Sony email leak, top Sony executives were shown to be thinking, “Idris should be the new Bond”. Outrage was sparked online after the release of Moore’s comments. However Elba never responded. When asked about the role “I blame Daniel” Elba joked. “Honestly, it’s a rumor that’s really starting to eat itself,” he said. “If there was ever any chance of me getting Bond, it’s gone.” Personally, I think Mr. Elba would make a great Mr. Bond.

 

 

Take Me To Dubai

I have visited many extraordinary places in my 21 years, such as Peru, Europe and Belize.  However, there is one place in the world that I have been dreaming to visit for several years now – and that beautiful place being none other than Dubai. Dubai, or دبي (written in Arabic), is one of the most popular destinations to visit out of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. I Dubai-City-Most-Popular-Attractions-Visitlearned about Dubai when Kim Kardashian visited her first time (I know, don’t judge me). Since then, I researched as much as I could about this place and to this day, am still begging my parents to take me there. Surprisingly, many people are not familiar with the beauty that Dubai has to offer. Sometimes when I mention Dubai to others, I get asked where it is or even what it is. Perhaps this blog will allow others to experience the same wanderlust I get when I think of Dubai.

Dubai is like an independent city-state being the most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE. Being a huge tourist attraction and a business hub of the Middle East and South Asia, it has become a global city filled with luxury. Only a five-hour flight from Europe, visitors will find themselves landing in Terminal 3 at the Dubai International Airport, which is the largest airport terminal in the world and the second-largest building in the world in terms of floor space.

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab Hotel

Once in Dubai, there are many activities that should be on the “Must-Do” list. The Burj al Arab’s seven-star rating is the world’s tallest hotel. It dominates the Dubai skyline and has a fleet of white Rolls Royces on the forecourt of the hotel. They will launch fireworks to announce the arrival of VVIPS (so I guess they won’t be shooting any fireworks off for when I visit; very important person just isn’t good enough). The price of this hotel is about $2,000 per night with private butlers on-call 24/7 for each hotel guest.  There are plenty of expensive restaurants in Burj al Arab, so if you’re not looking to pay for a hotel room, the best way to see the hotel from the inside is to book a reservation at an eatery.

Shopping is another activity that should be done while in Dubai. It is not because the shopping is any different than anywhere else in the world, however the surreal attractions inside these malls will lure you in to take a peek. The Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope with ski lifts and real snow. Of course during a shopping excursion, who wouldn’t want to take a break to hit the slopes? The Souk Madinat inside the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel has its own waterway, with natural sea water, to transfer people from shops to restaurants and other neighboring areas.

dubai_bar

Dubai restaurant and bar

Dubai is a Muslim state so by law, alcohol can only be served in hotels.  However, tourists should not have to worry about that.  With over 450 hotels, some of these hotels have up to 26 bars and restaurants located inside of them.  During the weekends, many of these hotels offer “Champagne Brunch” served with unlimited amounts of alcohol.

relax- skydive - beyond dubai6

Skydiving with a view of the Man-Made Islands

Along with shopping and skiing, the other “low-key” activities include golfing, going to the beaches, visiting the desert and skydiving.  If  you plan on going to the desert, the easiest way to get there is on a four-wheeler-drive safari.  The tours to the desert are extremely popular for tourists.  Skydiving in Dubai is one the world’s most premier skydiving locations.  While skydiving, you will jump into Dubai’s Man-Made Islands, Palm Jumeirah, which is considered the eighth wonder of the world.  I have been skydiving before, but the view wasn’t quite as breathtaking as the skydiving view in Dubai (no surprise, though).

With all of this being said, it is no wonder that Dubai is the 22nd most expensive city in the world and the most expensive in the Middle East.  The temperature is very, very hot in the summer, averaging 108°F during the day and 84°F at night.  Fall and Spring are still very warm, averaging in the 80s during the day.  These hot temperatures are probably why the Dubaites, what the locals call themselves, decided to put an indoor ski resort in one of the malls! Nonetheless, Dubai is a tourist hotspot, with over 10 million visitors a year.  The World Expo in 2020 is located in Dubai and many people believe that by 2020, Dubai could become the world’s number one destination for international visitors.

Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to travel to this flawless destination.  Until then, I can attempt to live vicariously through celebrities (VVIPs) who travel there for leisure, work and fun.  

dubai-coast

Coast of Dubai

Are You “Beautiful?”

New York City PSA for girls aged 10 to 12. Source: rehabs.com.

New York City PSA for girls aged 10 to 12. Source: rehabs.com.

I’ve grown up in the United States, but my family is German. While German and American beauty standards for women are relatively similar, I’ve definitely noticed some differences by spending time in both countries.

American female beauty standards have evolved greatly since the early 20th century. Between 1900 and 1910, the “Gibson Girl” was considered most beautiful. She was slender and tall, but had a full bust and hips. In the 1920s, the flapper look was all the rage. Flappers were thin and boyish. This ideal led American women to diet. Between 1930 and 1950, strong shoulders were popular, and the skinny flapper look was abandoned. In the 1950s, the voluptuous hourglass figure was in style as well as flawless skin. In the 1960s, the thin and androgynous woman was back in style. This trend continued into the 1970s, and diet pills became popular. Long hair and minimal makeup were on trend. In the 1980s, fit, tall supermodel-types were ideal. In the 1990s, both the heroin chic and Baywatch looks were in style. It was trendy to be thin, and this still rings true today.

Less information is available about the evolution of German beauty standards. On Cosmopolitan magazine’s German website, a Buzzfeed article about American beauty standards throughout time is cited to describe Germany’s standards as well. This leads me to think the same body types were popular in both countries.

So what about today? Here are some similarities and differences between the US and Germany that I, as well as other bloggers, have noticed.

Similarities:

  • Both countries are starting to shy away from the super-skinny unhealthy look, but ultra-thin models still rule the runway.
  • The evolution of the ideal look seems to have been similar in both countries.

Differences:

  • Very minimal makeup is considered beautiful in Germany.
  • Plastic surgery is less common in Germany.
  • I have personally noticed that being tall is valued more in Germany than the US.

Rates of anorexia and bulimia are increasing globally. One study found that 81% of 10-year-old girls fear being fat, and 50 to 70% of girls who are of normal weight perceive themselves as being overweight. This is being fought in both Germany and the US. One of the most prevalent German magazines, Brigitte, made the switch to featuring everyday women instead of models in 2010. Teachers, students and saleswomen grace the magazine’s pages. In the US, Dove embarked on their Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. They feature everyday women in their campaigns, not models. New York City has done its part by creating a series of PSAs for girls aged 7 to 12, captioned “I’m Beautiful As I Am.” The National Eating Disorder Association now orchestrates national Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It definitely looks like both the US and Germany are headed in the right direction.

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

The Global Appeal of Blockbusters

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

This past weekend, Avengers: Age of Ultron had its much-anticipated North American opening. Box office experts predicted that Age of Ultron, the sequel to the wildly popular Avengers release in 2012, would exceed the $207 million that its predecessor made in its opening weekend. With the results in, it is official: it didn’t break the record, but the studio shouldn’t be too worried. Age of Ultron almost earned its entire budget back before its US release with countries around the world screening the film a week in advance.

Age of Ultron’s domestic opening weekend brought in an estimated $191 million, a full sixteen million under its first entry, and thirty million under the prediction. This comes as a surprise because the first sequel to a large franchise almost always surpasses the first in terms of opening weekends. To put things in perspective, Transformers 2 improved on Transformers by $40 million, Catching Fire made $6 million more than Hunger Games, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest brought in a whopping $90 million more than the first in the series.

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

There’s no mystery to why sequels make more money. Audiences are familiar with the characters and the story, and are eager to see what happens next with characters that they are already invested in. Studio executives take full advantage of marketing campaigns so that the next entry can appear to be bigger and better. This strategy was in full swing for Age of Ultron, but even with its massive opening, it failed to meet the original’s $200 million-plus number.

While the North American box office may be plateauing, the rest of the world is certainly not taking a break. As of right now, 70% of ticket sales for Ultron have come from outside of the US. Global audiences have taken quite the liking to US blockbusters; last year’s Transformers made only $245 million overall in the US, but passed $1 billion thanks to international markets. The strength of these numbers indicates a trend in modern film production: moviegoers around the globe are willing to sacrifice well written characters and dialogue for explosive, high octane action sequences with little thought involved. Movies like Transformers play especially well for those who don’t speak English as a first language. With less complicated story and dialogue to follow, audiences can simply enjoy the movie without missing important plot points or misunderstanding dialogue.

This brings up a much talked about concern over the current state of the film industry. This summer’s movie line up consists of a large number of sequels and spinoffs, which forces one to ask: Is our film industry running out of creativity? Is it more business-savvy to cater to international crowds at the expense of quality storytelling?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is almost guaranteed to gross over $1 billion overseas (it already has $400 million in foreign receipts), and Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1 and 2) is scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019, respectively.