Category Archives: culture

Globetrotting, sensible tourism

The 29th of September was a fantastic Saturday. It was sunny, which was ideal for outdoor activities, and peaceful. My friends and I opted for a 10-km walk that brought us to scenic, quiet places in three borders (France, Germany and Luxembourg).

We left our dwellings at 1:30 PM for the French village of Contz-les-Bains where we joined the 60 men, women and children eager to do the bush hike. The weather was conducive, the company was great, and the organisation was flawless. Above all, I felt close to nature, especially with the absence of “western” toilet.

Considering that there were some steep and sloping areas, we did fairly well. We got to our destination and came back in one piece feeling proud and wanting to do a similar undertaking soon.

What impressed me most was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste chapel, which was built in the first half of the 15th century and whose choir is classified as a historical monument. We passed by Stromberg, which used to be a place of exploitation of gypsum and dolomitic stones. We also stepped on grounds that lead to a village known for the Schengen Agreements which got rid of borders in most of Europe.

After the walk, I had the opportunity to talk with the organiser, who gracefully explained the principle and modus operandi of “Just Boarded”. I liked what I heard. They organise small adventures that respect the environment and give fair remuneration to everyone involved, particularly the local hosts and guides. In short, for me, it’s a sensible tourism in which you are a responsible traveller and not an insensitive tourist.

With concerns about overtourism and drive for health and fitness activities, this sort of holiday, weekend getaway or day trips is a positive action not only to our wellbeing but also to the sustainability of our planet.

According to the CNN, travellers should think twice about visiting these following places as their number of tourists have increased significantly and there are risks to their ecosystem: Isle of Skye, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Venice, Italy; Santorini, Greece; Bhutan; Taj Mahal, India; Mount Everest, Nepal-side; Machu Picchu, Peru; Galápagos Islands, Ecuador; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Antarctica (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/places-to-avoid-2018/index.html).

“Tourists who come to Nepal look at terraced fields and see their beauty but remain blind to the hard labour they extract from tillers.”
― Manjushree Thapa, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy

(I’m writing this article while in Sarreguemines for the annual Moselle regional chess championship. I did 2 games today and still 7 to go till Sunday.)

Summer 2018

Many of us cannot wait for the summer holiday to arrive as it means no school, no work, getting together with relatives and friends, and leisuring. Some individuals and families are fortunate to afford a relaxing, fantastic getaway somewhere sunny and vibrant. The 2018 summer, however, was not only a question of money. It was so hot that many English and French vacationers opted to stay home. French radio stations had 24-hour updates of traffic situations with their warning of orange “dense – bad” and red “very bad”.

Holidaymakers expected heat in the mid-30s in their favourite countries of Greece, Portugal and Spain, but it went up to 50°C; while the rest of Europe had above-average temperatures in July and August.

Some experts had said that the heatwave was due to warming in the tropical equatorial Pacific Ocean while others disclosed that it was because of the very dry, hot air from the African continent. Whatever the official reason was, our consumption habits and environmentally-unfriendly behaviours have contributed, and will continue to do so, to the erratic climatic conditions and heating up of planet Earth.

Given the hot weather and the time I spent outdoor and in the water, I had my share of bites from fleas and mosquitoes and a mild pollen allergy. Fortunately, with preventative measures, I was able to avoid athlete’s foot, food poisoning, heatstroke, and sunburn. I had a fabulous 5-day stay in Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) visiting the Rila Monastery and awesome Orthodox churches. Bulgarians were friendly and considerate, and it was amazing how they (even those with little or no English) went an extra mile to help me. My forthight’s stay in England and Wales was terrific, too.

Last year, the most visited countries were: France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Thailand (https://earthnworld.com/top-10-most-visited-countries-in-the-world). The World Economic Forum has reported Euromonitor International’s latest top 10 city destinations as: Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Singapore, Macau, Dubai, Paris, New York, Shenzhen, and Kuala Lumpur (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/these-are-the-world-s-most-visited-cities/). Even with the spiralling prices of most things, from public transport and entertainment tickets to car parking, tourists continue to pour in these metropoles (metropolises).

I always go through the “feeling sorry for others” period at the end of every summer. An out-of-country holiday is too expensive for my acquiantance and her family, so they always go for budget airlines and Airbnb during off-season periods. One of my students never travels because she doesn’t have anyone to go with. When I was in Bulgaria I met an English primary school teacher in her mid-30s who was holidaying alone. In the bus to Rila Monastery, I sat next to a Dutch man in his early 30s who was a solo traveller to several central and eastern European countries. Solo travelling shouldn’t be an excuse not to have a memorable vacation.

Travelling is an expression of independence and an effective way to learn new things (i.e. culture, places, people) but, unfortunately, some people cannot do it for financial, work and other reasons. When I was living in Down Under, I did not holiday abroad every year. The weather was so beautiful (warm and sunny) that we had picnics (in addition to regular barbies), went to the beach, and camped on weekends. There was no pressure to have an annual holiday outside Australia. Yes, a staycation can be as enjoyable and fun as going somewhere far. What is important is to recharge and be ready for another year of stress-free work.

How was your summer holiday? Was it a peaceful and relaxing staycation?

Who are you? What are you? Where are you from?

I am writing this while on a short holiday in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before heading to Spain and England. It is summer here in Europe and because we travel a lot during this period, we often get asked “Where are you from?” Depending on my mood, my answer ranges from my birthplace to current city or country of residence. Often, I give information on my nationality/citizenship, and I will tell you why later. In some cases, the enquirer really just wants to know the main language I speak and my religion.

During the world cup, when I wore my gold and green outfit, some strangers smiled and commented, “You’re from Brazil” thinking that I had something blue invisible to the naked eye. Whereas, friends and acquaintances teased me “Socceroos, go, go..” My gold and yellow dress, green sandal and green bag said it all. They did not question my citizenship (Are you Australian?), appearance (but you look Asian), etc. On other occasions, however, I have to answer a follow-up question “Yes, but where do you really come from, your family?”

A fortnight ago, a close friend invited me to her barbecue dinner party. Her house is 15 minutes on foot from where we live, and since it was a sunny day, I decided to walk. France had just won the 2018 World Cup and knowing that there would be jubilant crowd, I put on my blue, white and red apparel. The time it took me to her place doubled as I had to stop and shake hands, take photos for others and kiss strangers. Everybody was so happy, friendly, and courteous. How I wished it was like that every day. No one asked me “where are you from”? Instead, many nodded and shouted amicably “On a gagné” (We won). They ignored my physical attributes and my non-French accent. They made me feel like I was one of them, which wasn’t my intention. I am a lover and partaker of peaceful and jovial celebrations, festivals, and traditional gatherings.

I, too, sometimes ask people “where are you from”, but it’s only to start a conversation. When I recognise the accent, I even say, “You’re from _______, aren’t you”? So far, no one has been offended by this question; instead, people have been friendly and helpful.

The answer to the question “where are you from” is generally based on one’s personal identity related to national and cultural belongingness. Though I was born in the Philippines and typically look south-east Asian, I often say with pride “Down Under” then add a few Aussie slang words and expressions as it’s my country of citizenship and where I have my educational, professional and social roots (my dear relatives and friends live there). Furthermore, I have this sense of pride and familiarity with Australia being considered by many people in other countries (such as those in France and Luxembourg) as a great place with fair and peaceful inhabitants, which is always a bonus to new and old relationships.
When the situation warrants the question “where are you from”, I present myself as a global citizen with a Filipino heritage and dual nationality (Australian and French).

Regarding France, one thing that amazes me in this astonishing country is that 2nd and 3rd generations of North African immigrants still call themselves Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, etc. Recently, I said to one of my students, “Why did you say you’re from Algeria when you were not born and have never lived here? For me, you’re French”. He said, “That’s nice, I feel French when I’m with those who think I’m French”. Many French people don’t make me feel that way, so it’s ridiculous to claim I’m one of them”. This situation demonstrates that the question “where are you from” has a temporal element.

As well, the answer to the question “where are you from” has moral and political grounds, as my case with Australia. I can identify with its values of simplicity over exuberance, resilience and reward for effort, and layback mentality. Compared to the majority of nations, it is a more middle class country with more efficient social and welfare services.

Have you asked someone “Where are you from”? Did their answers meet your expectations?

Foosball – football’s/soccer’s cousin

Foosball international competition in Rouen, France in May 2018

Table football (EU/UK)/ table soccer (Australia/USA), which is also known as foosball, is a game for everyone (i.e. irrespective of age, gender and physical attributes). Playing foosball is a fun way to reunite with family, friends and colleagues. It brings out the competitive spirit in the players while making them mentally alert thinking of wise tactics to win the game. Therefore, if you want to be physically and mentally challenged, try foosball.

“Since this game involves the art and skill of coordinating your hands and eyes as well as keeping the body active, it is perfect to be done by all especially by people suffering from arthritis and brain injuries. In addition, foosball is a great rehabilitating sport for people with joint and bone problems. Aside from helping people in recovering from brain injuries as well as in joint and bone problems, foosball is not as tedious as other games and sports, thus, it does not cause too much pain on their part.” (https://foosballtablereview.com/benefits-and-reasons-to-start-playing-foosball/seen on 1/07/18).

Foosball is based on football/soccer, where 2 or 4 players try to hit a small ball into their opponent’s goal by turning rods with wooden figures then kick the ball downfield. Unlike football/soccer, there are no unified rules in foosball, i.e. there are different explicit regulations, styles of playing and table used in different countries. The Europeans generally use the Bonzini table (e.g. the Fédération Française de Football de Table in Rouen organised the World Series Bonzini in May 2018 — photo above) and emphasise quickness and skill “finesse”. The Americans have been using the Tornado brand for more than 30 years and focus on power and speed (I saw them play this way at Rouen last May).

While football/soccer is widely-known to have begun in 1863 in England, the origin of foosball is not clear. There have been some write ups pointing to its German history back in 1891 (foosball became its national competitive club sport the 1960s). So, foosball is most likely a German translation of «Tischfußball”.

In France, many brasseries and bistros have a table for foosball. Brasserie is an informal open restaurant that is often noisy and serve drinks and simple menus (e.g. soup, burgers and croque-monsieur). Whereas, bistros are small, intimate, and low-key as are they generally family-owned with the monsieur “the man/husband” as the cook and the madame “the woman/wife” as the manager of the cash registry and dining; or vice versa. In other European countries, particularly in the UK, foosball tables are found in pubs (derived from “public house”), which are drinking establishments fundamental to the Anglosphere culture. Since drinks are ordered from the counter and served by the bartender, it is a kind of bar except that it also serves simple meal/food.

Whether in brasseries, bistros or pubs, foosball enthusiasts eat, drink and play before, during or/and after their meals and drinks. You can hear a lot of laughter, cheers and sighs. Foosball can be an individual or collective game. It builds camaraderie, promotes fitness, and gives a sense of individual and team achievement. Some tournaments are held to raise money for good causes, such as to fund projects for sick and homeless people.

I don’t drink alcoholic beverages but go to brasseries, bistros and pubs for family and social outings, including watching foosball games. These places serve tea, coffee, fruit juices and water.

Schools and social/community centres should have foosball tables to provide diversity of choice when it comes to sports and entertainment. This will make foosball more accessible to those who don’t have extra money to go to brasseries and pubs; as well as prevent exposure to alcohol drinking.

Civility, respect and responsibility

It was a beautiful sunny morning; unlike the previous three months, it was neither raining nor snowing. At 7:30 in the morning, there were already more than 20 cross-border commuters lining up for the public transport. On the same street “Place de la liberté”, there was a local bus waiting for the traffic light to turn green. We watched in disgust as four teenage girls opened its window and threw empty cartons of orange juice that landed in front of the queueing passengers. I got out of the queue and picked these up then gave them a disappointing look wondering whether they realised that they had just exposed publicly their uncivility. When I returned from the nearest bin, their bus had left and mine had arrived, and no one uttered a word.

I didn’t think twice; picking up that litter was an instinctive reaction. I didn’t expect or want recognition from anyone; however, if I see you removing a piece of rubbish left lying in a public place, I’ll definitely give you some words of encouragement. Littering is hazardous for our health and environment.

During my first two years in France, while in parks and playgrounds with my toddler, I used to pick up wrappers of snacks and boxes of juice and put these in the bin while asking myself whether it was the kids or their parents who littered.

Whose responsibility is it when children litter: parents or society?

We, as parents, have an immense responsibility and opportunity in educating our children to be respectful of people, properties and our environment. Our words and actions help shape our children’s values and behaviours. If they deliberately litter, we must tell them why this is unacceptable. (When my son was 3 years old, he said, “Mummy’s bag is a fridge and a bin” because I had water, snacks and fruits every time we went out and kept all wrappers till we found a garbage bin). If the parents litter, their children are likely to do the same, and this is a societal problem.

Is the onus on the society (i.e. governments, school, association, neighbours, families, etc.) to ensure that children don’t litter?

Although we learn values and behaviours from our parents, our society and cultural environment play an important part in making us “who” and what we are. If our teachers, politicians, relatives and friends reinforce the message at home that littering means being disrespectful and irresponsible, we grow up with an attitude that is averse to littering; otherwise, we get confused and may not appreciate the importance of collective duty of care for our global planet.

According to an Austrian activist living in Sri Lanka, Ms Carolin Baumgartner, different cultures have different attitudes towards nature. She reasons that in Europe and the USA there is waste management (bins everywhere, garbage collecting and recycling plants) unlike in Sri Lanka where there’s a lot of garbage throwing, plastic burning, turtle eggs eating or dolphin killing.

It’s not only the children and those in developing countries who litter. Sometimes, I take umbrage to the roadside litter, which is mainly recyclable plastic bags and beverage containers, in some places in Italy and France. Whether littering is cultural or not, it should be stopped through education at home and at school, effective government policies and programmes, and community involvement.

She lived with purpose and meaning

Today is International Labour Day; and in the 80s, Barbara and I used to have a stand of leaflets and Trading Partners’ products on May 1 to advertise and raise money for development education in Queensland. Three weeks ago, I received a very sad news about Barbara, and I will surely miss her.

I go Down Under whenever I can to be with family and friends and celebrate special occasions. Amid Barbara’s hectic schedule caring for her sick son and other commitments, she came to my 50th birthday party in my sister’s house in Brisbane, and we had a memorable time.

Even if I had known, I would not been able to attend her funeral because of my work and family situation in France. I’m writing this not only to appease my deep sorrow of losing someone who did a lot for many socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and families, but because she was an exceptional person – a role model and an inspiration, especially to those involved in local and international charities and aid agencies.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an article about Barbara’s many humanitarian endeavours, particularly as the first national president of the Save the Children Fund and past chairperson of the Refugee Council of Australia. (The photo above is from this article).

I knew Barbara as a work supervisor and a friend. She helped established the then Queensland Development Education Centre (QDEC), which is now called Global Learning Centre, and was its chairperson for a considerable period. As its foundation coordinator, I often talked with her about projects, networking and fundraising. She would spend time and money to raise awareness among Queenslanders on the interconnectedness of our developed and developing nations and the real causes of poverty. Other founding committee members (Beatrice, Mike, Jenny, David, and Wayne) got on so well with her that we always met our objectives.

She was truly interested in me as a person, and she even invited me and my husband to dinner parties in their home. She respected every person she encountered and made them interesting.

In Queensland, in the mid-80s and 90s, Barbara and I (through QDEC/GLC or other committees she was involved in) would organise or participate in rallies, public meetings and workshops aimed at making our world more just, peaceful and environmentally-friendly. Unfortunately, the causes that Barbara stood up for remain today (as our world has become even more complex and divided); and we need more people like her – generous, understanding, resilient, and active. I’ll always associate the Queensland GLC with Barbara Young who lived with passion, purpose and meaning.

Last month, two other influential women passed away. Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and an ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died aged 81. Ms Barbara Bush, the former US first lady and mother of former US president, died at the age of 92.

Is queuing (or lack of it) influenced by our culture?

I arrived at the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I was pleased to see my former student and we chatted while queuing. My smiling turned into frowning when I saw two women placing themselves before the more than ten persons already in line.

I was shocked not only because they jumped the queue but that no one said anything. Less than a minute later, three women did the same thing. I whispered to my student that it was unacceptable and we should say something. He turned red and apologised on behalf of the French people in France.

I often witness queue jumping (or cutting) in France and was a direct victim of it several times. I haven’t forgotten the first time I experienced this. Coming from Australia, where falling in line for everything and in everywhere is a natural behaviour, my first year in France was quite a shock. While queuing in a local bakery, a well-groomed woman bypassed me and 5 other persons. Stunned and a bit angry, I put together a few French words alerting the man in front of me. Unfortunately, he said “ça va, j’ai le temps” (it’s all right, I’ve time). I couldn’t believe what I heard. It wasn’t a question regarding time! It’s about respect and courtesy!

The female queue jumper didn’t apologise and walked out proudly, as if she was the centre of the world. I was so disappointed that I gave a minute sermon to my two-year-old son (who was in his pram) on respect, discipline and social manners. He understood nothing, of course; but, I knew there was at least one person in that bakery who worked out the message I tried to impart.

For me, falling in line for goods and services is about fairness and civility, as popularised in the adage “First come, first serve.” When this norm is broken, there’s individual disgust that can lead to social disharmony. There have been incidents of individuals hurting each other because of perception of fairness related to queuing.

I’d also experienced something related to queuing that was as annoying but not so straightforward. While at the cinema, a woman queued for her daughter and her friends. I didn’t expect it and was taken by surprise when she left and wished the girls a good time. Is it right for a person to hold a spot for another (or a group)? How about paying someone to do it for us?

In western countries, like the UK and Canada, standing in line while waiting for goods and services in shops, government offices and everywhere is an expected human trait and behaviour. In France (also a western nation), however, this seems to be more of an individual prerogative.

Italy is another western country where non-queuing is a cultural phenomenon. As The Local (https://www.thelocal.it/20150410/my-italian-habits-that-foreigners-just-dont-get seen on 15/10/17) has stated, “We’re not into queuing. We don’t queue, we just stand close to one another until we see an opportunity to overtake you. But for Italians, it’s perfectly normal! Arm yourself with a lot of patience, or download a game on your phone – and don’t get offended by nudges, they most probably didn’t mean it.”

In India, Shefaly Yogendra has this to say: “Queues are for societies that at least have a pretence of egalitarianism. India is hierarchical and none misses a chance to impose their authority over the next person, the commonest phrase being — Do you know who I am?” (https://www.quora.com/Why-are-people-in-India-generally-disrespectful-of-forming-straight-lines-when-queueing-up-for-something seen 15/10/17).

For queue believers (like me), line jumpers or by-passers/cutters are annoying and unpleasant; so, what shall we do?

(I’m posting this from Cap d’Agde in France where I’m participating in a 7-day international chess tournament. So far, I’ve more losses than wins; but this doesn’t matter as what’s important is how I play and progress. The best part of this event is the nightly game between Karpov/Russia and Vaisser/France).

No swimming, no sunbathing but a memorable summer holiday

You’ve probably heard about the simplicity and generosity of Polish people; well, I’ve been a recipient of these admirable human traits. I recently spent a week in Gdansk in the company of a cordial and considerate Pole and her mum.

Gdansk is one of the five big cities in Poland with about 470,000 inhabitants. (I’d like to visit its capital, Warsaw, one day). This country, which is rich in mineral and agricultural resources, is often referred to as “ex-eastern European nation” when geographically it lies entirely on the north European plain and is in the central European time zone. It’s one hour ahead of standard Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter months, and two hours ahead from late March to October due to daylight saving time.

I’ve been told by my hosts that winter in Poland is very cold and summer is not-so-warm. I agree with them concerning the later; I haven’t experienced the former yet. I was there in the middle of August but always carried a jumper when I went out. I was lucky to experience several sunny days promenading in the famous Royal Way which included the Old Town Street, where Polish kings used to parade; the Golden Gate; the Torture House; the Prison Tower and Neptune’s Fountain.

The majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, so there are churches and places of worship in almost every corner and street; I went to half a dozen of them. Some Poles belong to the Polish Orthodox Church and various Protestant denominations, such as the Lutherans. Of course, there are also members of minority religious groups.

One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to Westerplatte, where the first battle in the invasion of Poland took place that marked the start of the second world war in Europe. In September 1939, German naval forces and soldiers assaulted the Polish Military Transit Depot (Wojskowa Składnica Tranzytowa or WST) without warning. The German battleship sailed into the free city of Danzig on a ‘courtesy visit’ but had planned to launch an assault on 26th August, which was postponed by Hitler. It was difficult for me not to be sad and angry looking at the photos of the atrocities, but it was also a moment to admire this symbol of resistance to an invasion. Several nights after I had left Gdansk, I still thought of the 182 men (armed only with machine guns and mortars) fighting heroically against a much stronger and better-equipped invader of 2,600 men with planes and battleships for over a week.

Another moving experience for me was the visit to the Solidarity Museum, which has a monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. Inflation and destabilising economic conditions led to protests and crackdowns. Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work at the Gdańsk Shipyard on 7 August 1980, five months before she was due to retire, because of her participation in the protest. Subsequently, Solidarity was born on 31 August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyards. In September 1981 at the Solidarity’s first national congress, Mr Lech Wałęsa was elected president. However, the government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981, and several years of repression followed. During these years, in Australia (though I knew almost nothing about Poland), I participated in public meetings and fund-raising events to support the shipyard workers and their families. In Gdansk, I was nearly in tears seeing photos of Australians who were involved significantly in these operations. The contributions of other countries and individuals are also exhibited in the museum.

The roundtable talks between the government and Solidarity-led opposition produced a semi-free election in 1989, and a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed in August that year. Poland was the first country in central and eastern Europe to break out of state communism.

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation and World Economic Forum, the most visited countries in 2016 were 1. France, 2. US, 3. Spain, 4. China and 5. Italy. Some sources ranked the UK 7th while others placed it on 8th.

I believe it is more important to know why you’re going to a particular place rather than the destination per se, and these are some of the considerations:

Purpose – to relax, to shop, to improve our cultural and historical knowledge, to have an adventure, to visit friends and relatives, etc.
Budget – how much we want to spend affects our transport, accommodation, food, activities, etc.
Environment (cold or hot weather) – beach, city, countryside, amusement parks, snow fields/skiing resorts, etc.

Wherever we are and whatever we do, let’s be respectful of local traditions and customs and be open-minded.

Fake news – a global concern

Last March 4, the BBC reported on the joint declaration regarding fake news, disinformation and propaganda by Mr. David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and his counterparts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of American States (OAS) and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

After some minutes of flicking and clicking online, I got into one of the United Nations’ websites which I thought would shed more light on this declaration. Someone from the Special Procedures Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights responded promptly to my request for a copy of the declaration.

This declaration focuses on concerns about fake news and the risk of censorship while trying to combat these. It, likewise, mentions the danger in which the growing prevalence of fake news or disinformation, fuelled by both State and non-State individuals and agencies, mislead citizens and interfere with people’s right to know the truth. Charter 6, the last section, says “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”

Last month, you most probably heard about the much publicised video of a female cyclist responding to catcalls from men in a van by chasing them and destroying their vehicle’s wing mirror. This was posted on Facebook then by the media; several of them later updated their stories calling it as a hoax or fake.
How to recognise fake news?

Publishing or reporting fake news undermines the trustworthiness of the media as a whole. But, why are some media outlets and journalists not careful and thorough with their information?

Facts and information take more time, effort and money to produce than entertainment-style reporting. Even well-known major media organisations use entertainment model to gain maximum audience and profits.

The onus, therefore, is for us – the consumers (readers, listeners, audiences) to decide whether we want to be informed or entertained. If our goal is the former; firstly, we should find out about the source of the information (i.e. do we recognise the author or publisher)? Are there supporting materials or reports from credible sources, i.e. has it been reported elsewhere? Most importantly, let’s be more questioning and less accepting, such as thinking about underlying purposes or intentions of the story and its source (e.g. income from ad platforms, political gain or propaganda).
Why are fake news believable?

Stories are attention getter (e.g. outlandish, involving famous people) and disseminated to meet specific agenda, but not really to inform factually. As well, often their formats and sources resemble those of reputable media outlets. According to the U.S. News & World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2016-11-14/avoid-these-fake-news-sites-at-all-costsPrdicker@usnews.com.ublication), these news outlets produce fake news: The Onion (satire), The Borowitz Report – The New Yorker (satire), American News (hoax), Daily Buzz Live (propaganda) and World Truth TV (propaganda).

Why should we be vigilant about fake news?
According to research results by Zubiaga, Arkaitz; et al. (PLOS ONE, 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal), “Whilst one can readily see users denying rumors once they have been debunked, users appear to be less capable of distinguishing true from false rumors when their veracity remains in question.” As well, “highly reputable users such as news organizations endeavor to post well-grounded statements, which appear to be certain and accompanied by evidence. Nevertheless, these often prove to be unverified pieces of information that give rise to false rumors.”

Though we may know that it’s a fake news, we (human beings) have the tendency to remember this because of its entertaining element that interests and abets processing.

False news influences beliefs, attitudes and actions; therefore, can lead to fears, conflicts and loss of job/family/friends/belongings. It divides and destabilises communities and society as a whole.

For instance, fake news about crimes committed by illegal entrants and refugees, such as the reported rape in Germany that led to street protests (although Germany’s government officials debunked it quickly), undermine peace and the country’s refugee and humanitarian programme.
When it comes to our decisions and actions, there’s no short cut or substitute for facts and truths. Thus, we should always go for reports that have in depth analyses and are professionally-generated.

*(The prefix dis indicates reversal while mis means wrong or erroneous. Misinformation is a form of disinformation that is disseminated intentionally to mislead or confuse).

Carnival here and there

This week, 9 of my acquaintances are on holiday or have taken days off from work to participate in carnival activities. One of them lives in Binche, Belgium, where every year during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday (i.e. today) there are street performances, dancing and merry making. The Shrove Tuesday’s parade includes the throwing or giving away of oranges to spectators by the Gilles – famous participants colourfully dressed with wax masks, ostrich-feathered hats and wooden footwear. The oranges are considered to bring good luck because they are a gift from the Gilles and it is an insult to throw or give them back. (Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, Pancake Day or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French as it’s the last night of eating rich and fatty food before fasting during Lent, which is 40 days before Easter).

According to http://www.carnivalpower.com/history_of_carnival.htm, the Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” As time passed by, carnivals in Italy became quite famous; and the practice spread to France, Spain and all Catholic countries in Europe.

Two years ago, I was at the Notting Hill carnival in London and it had a fully Caribbean flare with lots of feathers, and I have since found out that in Africa feathers are used in masks and headdresses as a symbol of humans’ ability to overcome problems, pains, illness and difficulties. I’m certain you’ve heard a lot about the spectacular carnival bonanza in Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, and the lavish Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Sydney, Venice and other cities.

During my early days in Luxembourg when I read everything from billboard notices to free newspapers, I remember seeing something like “You haven’t lived in Luxembourg properly or fully until you’ve sampled the country’s magnificent array of carnival processions and parties.” Indeed, in Luxembourg, carnival is a serious and month-long celebration with various Luxembourgish associations organising a host of festive events and cavalcades (tradition that goes back to 1870); and February 27 was a no-work day in some companies.

During the carnival period, people enjoy tasty doughnuts, pancakes and other local specialities, such as knots of pastry sprinkled with icing sugar (Verwurrelt Gedanken) and small cakes made of scalded pastry (Stretzegebäck).

I did make some pancakes last weekend. As well, I was in a fancy-dress party organised beautifully by a lovely Polish-French couple, which included games, dancing that lasted till dawn and devouring on bigos (made of cabbage) and faworki ‘Angel wings’ (a yolk-base dough well aerated, kneaded then fried in deep oil, which are traditionally eaten on the last Thursday of the carnival).

Often, we hear about disorders and drunkenness that result from carnival festivities. Generally, however, there are more ups than downs: they liven up arts and cultures, vitalise local economy, provide employment and attract tourists. They encourage community spirit (e.g. one of my students serves as a volunteer First Aid personnel in his German-speaking hometown in Belgium); social integration; self-esteem; optimism and happiness. They also provide opportunities for authorities to showcase their organisational skills in terms of security, safety, transport, etc.

If you want to go beyond the carnival atmosphere, check the following local and world events in March: concerts and shows in your towns and cities, Water-Drawing Festival in Japan, Festival of Colour in India and Nepal, Bali Spirit Festival in Indonesia and Semana Santa in Mexico.