North Korean Gifted Children

Dear Reader,

There are still many mysteries for which my friends and I still have questions for. How much of what we saw and witnessed in North Korea was actually true and how much of it was staged for us?
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No offence to our devoted guides but I think this is a question that many people who have been to the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea have asked themselves. Sometimes the reaction of people or even the very performances we have seen were so perfect that we were bewildered by them to the point we didn’t know if it was all part of an act or was true genuine talent.

Staged or genuine, the DPRK is still one of the most impressive countries I’ve ever been to. And the Mangyongdae Children Academy was another milestone of my North Korean journey.
In this particular case we didn’t think what we saw was staged at all but we did think it was all part of really hard work and training imposed on these children. Same sensation I’ve got after watching the Mass Games in Pyongyang.

The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace is a facility where children of most ages can engage in extra-curricular activities such as painting, playing chess, learning music, sports, ballet dancing and various other kinds of art.
To date it is the largest palace dedicated to children and is located in the north side of the Mangyongdae-guyok district.

Here we saw children practising a variety of artistic activities and hobbies.

This is the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

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And this is our welcoming tour little girl who will take us through the palace to see the performance in various disciplines that astonished us one after the other…

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The dancing class

The music class

The calligraphy class where students learn how to write in the proper order and fashion the original characters of Hangul writing system

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Speaking of writing and calligraphy, some Readers have asked me if North Korean speak any different from South Koreans. Originally, yes. The Korean Peninsula has used a Unified Korean Orthography since 1933 as defined by the Korean Language Society. The system has endured the Japanese rule of Korea even, but with the establishments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea in 1948, the two states have taken on differing policies regarding the language. In 1954, North Korea established the rules for Korean orthography which was only a minor revision in orthography that created little difference from the one used in the South. In time, the standard language in the North and the South gradually differed more and more from each other having the North Korean version sounding and reading like a very old Korean language that hasn’t evolved through time. Keep in mind that most of the population (with the exception of the Government elite) haven’t had any window to the rest of the world, therefore their language hasn’t had a chance to evolve like in South Korea (which in time has indeed adopted new words like most languages do).

The sewing class, I remained to stare at their creations for who knows how long as these girls worked patiently on their marvellous drawings…

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A girl sewing a grape plant marvellously…

The chess and board games class

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The ballet class

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At the end of our visit the children gifted us with a remarkable (to say the least) performance. I’ve never seen children performing with such talent…

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The performances were truly out of this world, absolutely dazzling.

 

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Stanito in the Smallest Theatre on Earth

Dear Reader,

this is just a little hint of a true gem I found in Umbria: the smallest (and serious) theatre on Earth! The Teatro della Concordia.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the whole story and enjoy this pic of Stanito on stage!

 

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Tianjin: the city with no past

Dear Reader,
Where were we? Oh yes! So my friends Riccio and Mr. Ames were spending the day in Tianjin, right?

It was a very hot day and we wished to avoid the crowds of Beijing and explore something new, different. Tianjin was our choice 🙂

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View of downtown Tianjin and the Haihe River.

Tianjin, the largest sea-coast city of northern China, is located in the northeastern area of Hebei Province and borders the Beijing municipality. As per population, Tianjin is among 4th or 5th place.

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This is the Tianjin Century Clock Tower,

Thing is, dear Reader, it also came as a big surprise. The reason why I wanted to go there was due its illustrious historical heritage… and somehow I found none of it.

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It was once known as city with historical significance until it was desecrated by foreign invaders long before the foundation of People’s Republic of China. In fact, the city has been home to Italians, Germans, French, British and Japanese among others. Their presence marked the city profoundly, in fact, we felt no air of “old” or “ancient”.

Can we blame only the imperialist forces? Not really. Let’s see what’s happening today.

Temples, century-old houses and street that could still smell of old trade are basically gone here.

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The fancy Italian Style Town where many Italians used to reside. Today is Italian looking and filled and with delicatessen little shops.

The reason is simple: China’s rapid economic development drives to build, modernise and emulate the Western cultures by clearing old city quarters to make room for banks, malls, office sky-scrapers, compounds.
This moves dramatically changed the history of the city. And it’s not just in Tianjin. If you go to Shanghai you can see the same cultural massacre taking place at rapid pace for the sake of modern development.

Some say it’s because Asian younger generation don’t seem to understand the significance of preservation, while others say that maybe it is because of a Buddhist belief that says that the world is in constant change and therefore they downgrade the notion of permanence. What do you think dear Reader? I ask this because I’m partly Italian so you can imagine what value “conservation” has for me.

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Still, historical sites aside, Tianjin is blessed with variety of attractions, Tianjin is a good place to explore. The top ten  attractions are Jinmen Shijing, are Gu Wenhua Jie, Dagu Emplacement, Huangyaguan Great Wall, Dule Temple, Haihe River, Water Park, Panshan Mountain, among others. And several natural scenes of beauty as well.

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How to help turtles

Dear Reader,

My last trip left me with a huge question: how do sea animals responde to lunar cycles?
It all happened last week end…
We went to San Blas and found a turtle conservation center. There are many in Mexico and normally they take over the turtle eggs once the mother leaves them buried in the sand.

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Turtle eggs and baby turtles are very delicate and vulnerable to predators. One of the worse ones is the seagull.

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This is the container where the hatched babies are kept for few weeks.
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My friend’s finger serves as a reference to understand their size. They’re absolutely tiny 🙂

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The procedure is simple: few weeks after the eggs hatch the babies are ready to go into the sea. Because of the presence of predators, the center guardians protect them carefully to make sure that the babies are able to walk safely from the beach right into the water. This is to ensure that a significant number of them make it safely.

However, it happens that one of more baby turtles are unfortunate and/or somehow face bigger challenge. Below is a deformed turtle which never developed disproportioned limbs and one of them completely inexistent.

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The moon revolves around the Earth in an elliptical orbit. But astronomically, these two bodies revolve around their own center which is also revolving around the sun. Because of this synchronised rotation and revolution of the moon, only the near side of the moon is seen facing the earth.

As common as this birth defect can be in animals, I found the explanation of the center guardian quite interesting. She explains that baby turtles can be born with defects and deformations due to lunar eclipses (in fact that had been one only few days earlier our visit).
So how does that work? How to marine creatures react to lunar eclipses?
The indirect effect of lunar cycle on the marine environment is the tide as in response to the gravitational pull of the moon to the earth.
This attraction is is strongest on the side of the earth facing the moon causing a bulge of water.
This is a schematic drawing that shows the high tides on the lunar portion of earth’s side.
There had been studies on the effects of lunar cycle on the behavioural patterns of marine animals. Some of these researches are focused on certain marine creatures that seem to show occurrence of lunar rhythms and their respective mechanisms to adapt with their environmental changes.
Some scientists also argue that certain animal behaviour is a response to lunar stimuli (like moonlight) while others reason that most marine animals have adapted to the long-term cycles and continue to persist because of “biological clock”.
The sun and moon cause rhythmic changes in our environment as in light, temperature in a predictable manner. These variations inevitably affect us humans, plants and animals and we can see how behaviour is adapted to these changes by improving and/or changing body parts that are no longer beneficial.
However… I still fail to find evidence that supports the notion that a lunar eclipse is harmful during turtle pregnancyso I think maybe it’s a myth or some sort of superstition. Humans are big on superstitions, remember my past stories on the most common Italian myths and believes?  This particular superstition about how lunar eclipse affects unborn baby animals is ingrained in India.
So what happened to the unfortunate baby turtle? Well, it was safely released the following dawn into the sea. Her limbs were disproportioned as you can see in the photos but they still allowed her to move around the box with her peers so hopefully she’ll manage to swim.

The Tiring Sagrada Familia

Dear Reader,

when you go to Spain and especially to Barcelona is sort of a must-see thing a visit to the Sagrada Familia basilica.
I have a strange feeling when it comes to visit super touristic places, like it happened in Beijing, so I had extra patience packed when I arrived in front of the basilica.

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The unfinished emblematic temple of Barcelona was lately under the hands and care of a Japanese architect so that he may finally put an end to its construction. In fact, apart from Gaudí, 3 architects put their dedication to it and yet the monument is still not finished…

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The 130-year master piece of art that is Barcelona’s Sagrada Família could soon reach an end, but I wonder, would Gaudí like it the way it is? Does the monument reflect his initial vision?

When he died he left large plaster models of the nave and of key elements. He also left drawings of the whole temple idea which included the famous cucumber tower everyone talks about but that is yet to be built. Seems like Gaudí himself changed his mind during the development of the church giving the idea that maybe during the progress he would have continued adding new elements or changing style direction.

Reason why I wanted to mention this monument is because of the tiring feeling it provoked in me.
The art nouveau gothic temple made my eyes feel very tired due to the extensive amount of details and the mix of styles of each architect confused my eyes and decreased my enthusiasm…

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If you count each row no matter which order you choose or direction, the sum will inevitably be 33, the age when Jesus died.

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Lady in Red of Tianjin

Dear Reader,

Riccio, Mr. Ames and I were tired of Beijing… We had seen the most important sites but crowds and heat truly took a toll on us. So one night Mr. Ames says “Beijing is not working for us, lets go to Tianjin for the day”. And so we did.
Thing is humidity and heat were everywhere but at least we escaped the unbearable crowds.
The humidity we found that day in Tianjin was truly appalling… just look at the air to have an idea of how thick humidity was that day in this port-town close to Beijing.

However, romance finds its way even in these conditions. We spotted several newlywed couples posing for pictures. Here is my favourite one, the lady dressed in red.

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What you see in the background is the Bei’an Bridge 北安桥, built in the 1970’s inspired by the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. At first glance, it would be easy to assume that it were left over from the colonial era, particularly as it is situated just meters from the old Italian Concession.

I’m glad she didn’t mind me and Riccio taking her photo from so close, they just looked so beautiful.

lady_red_wedding_tianjin_beijing_china_stanito_1As a side note: not much of the old town of Tianjin is left to see. More on Tianjin on my next post!

Hagia Sophia: Islamic Calligraphy Roundels

Dear Reader,

Turkey is an astonishing country filled with cultures blended together and marked by wars and empire atmosphere can still be felt in the air.

Where do you see this majestic blend? Basically everywhere you walk although my favourite place still is the Hagia Sophia.
This temple was once a church, then mosque and then museum is known as Church of the Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia (Άγια Σοφία) in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin or Aya Sofya in Turkish, is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. Now is mostly a museum and is globally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world.

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This is a photo I took of the interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome which are called Roundels.

It is truly breathtaking and decorated with mihrabs, portals, domes, mosaics and urns.
Inside the monument I found 8 beautiful hanging medallions which are in fact known as Roundels. To me these medallions, added in the 19th century, represent a strong contrast with the Christian mosaics giving us an idea of how these religions blend in one place.
These roundels have Arabic calligraphy signs painted painted wooden plaques that were added in the 19th century as part of the restoration ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and supervised by the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The calligrapher is Kazasker Izzet Efendi and the roundel I show above is the name of the Muslim Rashidun Caliph Uthman Medallion written in in Thuluth Arabic calligraphy.

Mexico City from Up in the Air

Dear Reader,
Flying over Mexico City is always an incredible experience. This is the most populous city in Mexico, its capital, and one of the most populous cities in the world ranking as #4. Mexico City, the Distrito Federal, holds about 22 million people that occupy endless rings of homes. It’s a megalopolis, indeed. The incessant population and its lack of infrastructure makes it inevitable that buildings and houses sprawl everywhere, taking on hills and flatlands.

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Mexico City is also extremely polluted and fog often mixes itself in around the mountain peeks and flatlands.

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And this is only a teeny tiny portion of this enormous city…

Lima by Night

Dear Reader,
my vacation is coming to an end soon but it obviously couldn’t finish without some surprise elements: a sudden stop in Lima, Perú.

That’s right, Stanito is currently in Perú for few more days with an “oh my God” feeling. Beautiful city, filled with life, culture and entertainment, constantly clouded I’m afraid, spectacular food, history & mysteries, Lima is home to the most diverse abd peculiar beliefs and rituals. Coming up on my next post 🙂 don’t miss it!

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Barrancos neighborhood, Lima.

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