Monday 30 September 2019

Vicious cycle: delicate wash releases more plastic microfibres

Study finds 800,000 extra fibres are shed than on standard washing machine setting

Delicate wash cycles should be avoided whenever possible, according to scientists who found they can release hundreds of thousands more plastic microfibres into the environment than standard wash cycles.

Researchers at Newcastle University ran tests with full-scale machines to show that a delicate wash, which uses up to twice as much water as a standard cycle, releases on average 800,000 more microfibres than less water-hungry cycles.

“Our findings were a surprise,” said Prof Grant Burgess, a marine microbiologist who led the research. “You would expect delicate washes to protect clothes and lead to less microfibres being released, but our careful studies showed that in fact it was the opposite.”

“If you wash your clothes on a delicate wash cycle the clothes release far more plastic fibres. These are microplastics, made from polyester. They are not biodegradable and can build up in our environment.”
 Newcastle University student Max Kelly, 24, holds up washing machine filters with microfibres collected following a delicate wash (L) and a normal cycle. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

The finding challenges the assumption that more aggressive washing cycles, which use less water, change direction more frequently and spin at higher speeds, release more fibres into wastewater. Instead, the volume of water used per wash appears to be the most important factor in dislodging fibres from clothing, the study found.

“If the water volume is high, the water will bash the clothes around more than if less water is used,” Burgess said. “The water forces its way through the clothing and plucks fibres of polyester from the textiles.”

The clothing industry produces more than 42m tonnes of synthetic fibres every year. The vast majority, about 80%, are used to make polyester garments. Previous tests have found that washing synthetic items can release between 500,000 and 6m microfibres per wash.

Because many washing machines lack filters that can remove microplastics from their wastewater, the fibres are carried into water treatment plants and can eventually reach the seas. The particles, which come from a variety of sources, are now ubiquitous in the environment, from the deepest marine trench in the Pacific Ocean to the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. Scientists have found the plastics in organisms at every level of the food chain from plankton to marine mammals.

It is unclear what health risk easily ingested microplastics pose to marine life, but researchers fear toxic chemicals in the plastics, and other compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which stick to them, could be harmful to the animals. The particles may also help spread disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

The Newcastle team measured the amount of microfibres released from black polyester T-shirts, first in a series of lab tests that mimicked full-scale washing machines, and then in real washing machines at a Procter & Gamble research centre. The results showed that earlier recommendations to use more water and less aggressive washing cycles may actually be releasing more microfibres into the environment.

Some washing machine manufacturers are introducing microfibre filters, but Mark Kelly, the first author of the study published in Environmental Science and Technology, said avoiding delicate washes and half loads would help to reduce the amounts of microfibres released by washing.

“This research is important as it helps to identify how microfibres are reaching the marine environment,” said Prof Tamara Galloway, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Exeter, who was not involved in the study.

“We have found microplastics in most of the marine animals we study, including turtles, seals and dolphins. Microfibres are the type of microplastics we find most frequently. Whilst we can’t say for sure what the health impacts of ingesting microfibres from textiles might be, minimising exposure has got to be a high priority for protecting the marine environment and the food chain.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Try before you buy: German city offers workers a free one-month stay

Picturesque Görlitz is offering free lodging and studio space in exchange for feedback on what potential residents want from a city

Last year Eva Bodenmüller read about a city in eastern Germany inviting people to live there for a month for free. She and her partner Carsten Borck, an artist, knew they had to leave their residence in Italy soon and weren’t looking forward to moving back to their native Berlin.

“I thought: ‘Why not Görlitz?’” said Bodenmüller, a freelance journalist .

Görlitz, Germany’s easternmost city, is a well-preserved gem that has played the part of quaint Mitteleuropean burg in Hollywood films from The Grand Budapest Hotel to Inglourious Basterds to The Reader. But its pastel-coloured old town, which draws 140,000 tourists a year, hides a darker reality.
 The historical city centre of Görlitz, Germany, which lies across the border from the Polish town of Zgorzelec, which was part of Görlitz until 1945. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA-EFE

 We have the feeling it doesn’t matter whether we stay here. We’re just the laboratory mice for this science experiment
Carsten Borck
The city has Germany’s lowest wages and one of the country’s highest shares of far-right voters. After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, easterners fled west in droves, driving Görlitz’s population down more than 25% to 54,000 in 2013.

City officials decided they needed to do something to reverse this trend, and hit upon the idea of offering a free one-month stay, no strings attached.

Other cities had already been experimenting with the idea of luring new residents by offering to cover their housing. Detroit was the first big city to try it, launching an innovative programme of paying promising young professionals to live and work in the city for a year, and today the idea is being used everywhere from the Greek island of Antikythera to Candela, Italy, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, which offers $10,000 to digital workers to move there for a year.

The proportion of workers who conduct their business remotely is growing. Already, millions of people spend much of their adult lives hopscotching from one place to another, perhaps including the occasional work-tourism visit to Medellín or Tokyo. The officials behind Görlitz’s programme figured it could both attract some of those nomadic workers and give them the chance to learn some lessons on how to reverse its population decline.

“When we applied we thought the project was about convincing people to move to Görlitz,” Borck said over borscht at a restaurant overlooking the Neisse River. “But now we have the feeling it doesn’t matter whether we stay here after these four weeks or not. We’re just the laboratory mice for this science experiment.”

The Görlitz-based Interdisciplinary Centre for Ecological and Revitalising Urban Transformation (IZS), which is overseeing Testing the City, as the federally funded project is known, received more than 150 applications. Two-thirds were from larger cities, and several came from outside Germany, including from Hungary, the Czech Republic, the US and the UK.

The 54 individuals and groups participating are singles, couples and families ranging from their 20s to 60s, including digital entrepreneurs, a film-maker, a model, visual artists and musicians. Each is assigned to one of three project-maintained apartments and offered free use of one of three spaces for work.
 Disused buildings in Görlitz, eastern Germany, pictured in 2017. The city has over 7,000 vacant apartments. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt/The Guardian

 It’s very intense, to try to meet people, learn the city and do our work in just four weeks
Eva Bodenmüller
Though the municipality hopes that some will permanently relocate to Görlitz, the main intention is for ISZ to use participant interviews and questionnaires to inform a national urban development policy to help revive Germany’s smaller cities. “Our aim is to learn more about what people need, and if they move, what is their motivation,” said IZS head Robert Knippschild.

Görlitz is a fascinating place to test these theories. The city has around 7,000 vacant apartments, and unemployment is a third higher than the national average. This, in part, is why Görlitz has taken in 1,200 refugees. But surveys have shown immigration to be the most urgent issue for residents of eastern Germany, where the far right has taken hold.

Görlitz has not seen the sort of xenophobic violence that has struck Chemnitz and Dresden, but has been called “the living room” of the nativist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. This year the AfD came out on top in Görlitz in the European parliament elections and the state election on 1 September, polling at more than 37%, and also won the first round of the mayoral election, though the Christian Democratic Union candidate, Octavian Ursu, won the runoff in June.

 Görlitz mayor Octavian Ursu believes the key to creating more jobs is a more welcoming society. Photograph: Sebastian Kahnert/AFP/Getty Images
“It was a tough campaign,” said Ursu, a Romanian immigrant who played lead trumpet in the local philharmonic orchestra before turning to politics. He says he wants to put the animosity of the election in the past, and sees Testing the City as part of a budding revival which includes a new data analysis centre employing 120 scientists and engineers, a Siemens hydrogen technologies innovation campus that will employ another 100, and a €36m (£32m) facelift for the art nouveau municipal hall.

Ursu believes the key to creating jobs is a more welcoming society. “I’ve said to the people, you must think about whether you want to have an open city, a European city, or a closed city,” he said.

This is not a settled question in Görlitz. A July report on the project by the German news outlet Deutsche Welle attracted sharp comments online. “The incentive to lure you here is just the desperate attempt of our city to fight the shrinking population,” said YouTube user Polter Geist. “They hope your leftwing alternative garbage will appeal to the youth.”

 This project is giving us a great deal of insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Görlitz
Robert Knippschild
During their stay, Bodenmüller and Borck have sought to engage with these issues directly. Borck staged a show of his work at the Europa Haus gallery, with posters asking passersby questions such as “Am I welcome here?” and “How do I know you are not a Nazi?”.

The couple said they spent a lot of time talking to locals and found a city of extremes. “In other places you generally have people from different groups talking to each other,” said Bodenmüller, who has lived in Berlin, Munich and several smaller towns. “But here there is no centre – there are just the two sides.”

Another project participant, Nikolas Kammerer, 34, a photographer from Leipzig, sees the locals as one of the city’s main draws. He found it refreshing that artists and creative workers in Görlitz are not looking to become YouTube stars or Instagram influencers, but instead are laser-focused on producing and collaborating. He credits his month in the city for his first successful commission for the German news outlet Die Zeit: a portrait series of local voters on election day. “In Leipzig I probably wouldn’t have done this,” he said.

 Görlitz has played the part of quaint Mitteleuropean burg in several Hollywood films, but in reality has Germany’s lowest wages and one of the highest proportions of far-right voters. Photograph: Jens Meyer/AP
He also saw the other perspective, at a far-right election rally where the AfD candidate denounced foreigners as criminals and the crowd chanted “Lugen Presse!” (“lying press!”). “It was horrible,” said Kammerer, whose grandmother is from Görlitz. “Most of these far-right people don’t want to talk to the media, which is a problem because I want to have them represented in my work.”

With the project about halfway through, four participants have committed to move to Görlitz, including German-Finnish poet Mark Mallon and his wife, Finnish artist Venla Saalo. The couple decided to leave Berlin because of its traffic, pollution and high rents, and settled in Görlitz in April. “Görlitz feels like a lively town with a lot of young people, students, opportunities, empty spaces, and on the other hand peace and remoteness,” they said. “It is a great combination for creative work.”

Borck and Bodenmüller like the cheap rents and high density of organic grocery stores and vegetarian restaurants but wish Görlitz had better regional transport and more open-mindedness. They also wished they had more time there.

“It’s very intense, to try to meet people, learn the city and do our work in just four weeks,” said Bodenmüller. “If we could stay here longer, we could leave and come back and have a better chance to understand the city.”

Knippschild’s early conclusions from the pilot project suggest that cultural offerings and leisure activities are crucial to attracting nomadic workers, as are reliable travel connections and good housing.

“People are taking the project seriously, thinking about which phase of life they are in and what they need in terms of housing and living,” he said of the participants. “This is giving us a great deal of insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Görlitz.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Saudi Arabia to open up to foreign tourists with new visas

Saudi Arabia will open its doors to international tourists for the first time as part of a broader push to cut its economic dependence on oil.

On Friday, the kingdom will launch a visa regime for 49 countries and relax strict dress codes for female visitors.

Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb described it as a "historic moment" for the country.

Visas have until now largely been restricted to pilgrims, business people and expatriate workers.

Saudi Arabia is also hoping to secure foreign investment in the tourism industry. It wants tourism to rise from 3% to 10% of gross domestic product by 2030.

"Visitors will be surprised... by the treasures we have to share - five Unesco World Heritage Sites, vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty," Mr Khateeb said.
The Qasr al-Farid tomb in Madain Saleh is a Unesco World Heritage site. Getty Images

Foreign women visitors will not be required to wear the body-covering abaya robe required to be worn in public by Saudi women, but must still dress modestly. There will also be no restrictions on unaccompanied women visiting the country.

"We have a culture. We believe our friends and our guests will respect the culture, but definitely it is modest and it will be very clear," Mr Khateeb said.

Non-Muslims will still not be allowed to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the ban on alcohol will be maintained.

More details on the scheme, including which countries are eligible, are due to be provided later on Friday.

But Mr Khateeb said he did not believe the recent attack on Saudi Arabia's oil industry would put people off visiting.

"Our cities are among the most safest cities globally. Therefore, we don't believe at all it will impact our plans. We have all the expats living in Saudi Arabia, enjoying Saudi Arabia. We're very secure," he said.

The moves to open up tourism is central to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's wider economic reform programme that aims to reduce the kingdom's focus on oil.

Under the plan, Saudi Arabia wants to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030. The government expects to create one million tourism jobs.

Still, the push comes as the kingdom faces a tarnished international image amid criticism of its human rights record following last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and a recent crackdown on women's rights activists.

In 2017 Saudi Arabia announced a massive tourism development project that will turn 50 islands and other sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

Last year construction began on Qiddiya "entertainment city" near Riyadh, which is to include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area.

Analysis by Frank Gardner, Security correspondent
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to tourism. In the summer of 2000 it hired French Alpine instructors from Chamonix to take visitors rock-climbing and paragliding in the mountainous southwestern province of Asir. I jumped off a cliff with one of them in a tandem flight that had us soaring on thermals for 45 minutes, hundreds of feet above juniper forests where wild Hamadryas baboons foraged amongst the rocks.

But everything came to a grinding halt one year later after the 9/11 terrorist attacks involving, amongst others, 15 Saudi nationals.

Since then, domestic and religious tourism have continued apace. Up to three million Muslims come to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina each year to make the Hajj pilgrimage.

With the country's hot, arid climate, a lot of Saudis like to get away to the over-developed Red Sea coast or to the cool, verdant mountains of Asir. The views here are simply stunning. But it is still Saudi Arabia, so don't expect cocktails at sundown!

(Source: BBC)

Zaha Hadid’s massive ‘starfish’ airport opens in Beijing

Daxing international, said to be world’s largest single-building terminal, to handle 72m passengers

China has opened a vast, multibillion-dollar airport in the country’s capital, in the run-up to a major political anniversary.
 The terminal of the new Beijing Daxing international airport. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Less than five years after construction began, the 450bn yuan (£50bn) Daxing international airport was officially opened on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

China is preparing to celebrate its National Day on 1 October, marking 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, against the backdrop of unrest in Hong Kong and a flagging economy.
 People attending the launch ceremony for the new Beijing Daxing international airport in Beijing. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

The new mega-airport, the second in Beijing, was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid in the shape of a starfish with five connected concourses. It is said to be the world’s largest single-building airport terminal. At 700,000 sq metres, with four runways, it is expected to be able to handle 72 million passengers a year by 2025. By 2040, the airport is expected to expand to eight runways and accommodate 100 million passengers a year.

Officials have been showing off the sleek new airport for the past year, hosting tours of the space, which is to include customer-service robots to deliver flight information and facial recognition-enabled check-in.

Critics have questioned the need for a second airport in the capital, especially one that is almost twice the distance from the city centre as the existing airport.
 Interior view of Daxing airport in Beijing. Photograph: Zhang Chenlin/Xinhua/Barcroft Media

Officials say Daxing will alleviate traffic pressure on the city’s existing international travel hub, Beijing Capital in the north-east, which had more than 100 million travellers last year, second in the world only to Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, Georgia, in terms of passenger traffic.

China is expected to surpass the US to become the world’s largest market for airport travel by 2022. But the aviation sector has a poor reputation for flight disruptions, the result of frequents delays caused by overcapacity and delays caused by the military, which controls most of the airspace. Officials hope the new airport will lessen those delays.

Domestic and foreign airlines, including China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China as well as British Airways and Finnair, have said they will move all or part of their operations to the new airport.

(Source: The Guardian)

Sunday 29 September 2019

Private women's university in Miyagi to accept transgender students

A private women’s university in Miyagi Prefecture said Saturday it will start accepting from April 2021 students who were assigned male at birth but identify as female, becoming the first private institution in Japan to admit such transgender students.

Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University in Sendai said it will not require students to submit medical certification to prove their gender identity to avoid forced outing.
Miyagi Gakuin Women's University in Sendai said it will not require students to submit medical certification to prove their gender identity.

“The notion of gender or gender identity has become flexible. It is our mission as a women’s university to protect all women and give them a supportive push,” Arata Hirakawa, president of the university, said at a news conference.

Ochanomizu University and Nara Women’s University, both public institutions, had already decided to accept transgender students, but no private university in Japan had done so, according to the education ministry.

The university in Sendai has previously approved the admission of several students who were born female but identify as male.

The university had been considering measures to support sexual minority students since August 2017.

(Source: JT)

Family from Angola in South Korea airport for nine months win court fight

A family from Angola trapped in a South Korean airport for the last nine months can finally apply for asylum following a high court ruling.

The Lulendo family say they travelled to South Korea because they were being persecuted for their Congolese background in Angola.

But officials refused the parents and four children permission to apply for asylum as they disputed their claim.

Unable to enter South Korea, the family have been stuck since 28 December.
The family arrived at Incheon International Airport in December 2018. Getty Images

Immigration officials at Seoul's Incheon International Airport suspected Nkuka Lulendo and his wife of having economic motives for seeking asylum and denied them the chance to apply for refugee visas, according to local media.

But in a video interview from June with new media company Asian Boss, Mr Lulendo said he was "sabotaged" for his Congolese roots.

He was working as a taxi driver in Angola when his car smashed into a police jeep. He had swerved in order to avoid crashing into pedestrians, he said.

"They [police] put me in jail on the spot - without any trial," he alleged in the interview. He added that he had been "mistreated" and "tortured" during the 10 days he spent in jail.

He also said that police went to his house and raped his wife on the day that he was released from jail.

"We didn't intend to come to Korea. We just had to flee the country," he is quoted as saying in the interview.

Mr Lulendo says he is a member of a community which has argued for several years that its members face discrimination from Angolans because of their Congolese heritage.

The South Korean high court's ruling in favour of the Angolan family overturns a lower court's decision, which sided with immigration authorities.

"It's meaningful that the court acknowledged the family's right to have their refugee application considered," lawyer Lee Sang-hoon, who represents the family, told Yonhap News Agency.

"We hope this ruling will also change the society's misconception of asylum seekers."

(Source: BBC)

‘Okra is the most foul thing ever grown’: Chefs on their most hated ingredients

From ‘horrible’ coconut to ‘stomach-turning’ turbot, top chefs reveal the foods they can’t stand

It is common to hear chefs wax lyrical about ingredients they adore. We hear far less about those that are a pain to prep, a nightmare to cook with or difficult to arrange on the plate. To put that right, G2 spoke to a variety of chefs who talked of soapy herbs, dangerous shellfish and the ingredients they have come to hate.

Globe artichoke
Globe artichokes look interesting and beautiful, but they over-promise. It’s the amount of effort for the lack of benefit. The French like to nibble the outer leaves, but you have to put them in iced lemon-water as you peel them off or they go a cacky-brown. And some of the leaves you can eat and some you can’t, which I find faffy. You then have to hack off the bottom of the globe artichoke and the stem, and scoop out the fluffy, fibrous choke (if you eat it, it sticks in your throat and chokes you), until you get to this really small artichoke heart – which is fresh and most definitely a vegetable, but hardly packed full of personality or flavour. For a domestic cook, spending 15 minutes on one might be entertaining, but if you’re prepping double or triple digits of them, it’s pointless. You can buy artichoke hearts pre-prepared and they don’t lose any flavour.
Liz Cottam, chef and co-owner, Home, Leeds
 Okra – not to everybody’s taste. Photograph: Bilawal Arbab/EPA

Okra is the most foul thing ever grown. When fusion food became a thing in London, chefs started using every ingredient on the planet and, if you don’t know what you’re doing with okra, it goes really slimy – and tastes bitter, too. The only time it’s near-edible is when you deep-fry the hell out of it. But anything works deep-fried; what’s the point? I refuse to work with it. If I see it in a dish, I ask for it to be removed.
Jason Atherton, chef-proprietor, the Social Company restaurants

When I was about 12, I worked as a kitchen porter in a local golf club – I lied about my age – and I’d spend eight hours shelling crayfish. It’s the worst job known to man. While delicious, there’s not much meat in them, so you’re doing 200 for service. It’s tedious and the shells are very sharp. If you’ve not got double gloves on, you’re constantly slicing your fingers open. You end up with blue plasters everywhere, and every time you stick your hands into the salt during service you’re reminded why.
Sam Grainger, executive chef, Belzan, Liverpool

Barely a pinch of asafoetida will flavour any dal or curry, but even a milligram more can add a bitterness that ruins everything. It doesn’t help that every time you buy it, it’s a little different, more or less pungent, so there’s no way to test it other than throwing it in and seeing what happens.
Dhruv Mittal, chef-owner, DUM Biryani, London

Coconut milk in a curry I can deal with, but I can’t understand why anyone eats flavourless, sawdust-like desiccated coconut – or fresh coconut, for that matter. Chefs have to risk their limbs to smash open this big, horrible, hairy nut, and it’s not like the flesh is softly juicy. It’s watery, rock hard and brittle and gets stuck in your teeth. If I was on a desert island, I’d starve.
Tommy Banks, chef-owner, the Black Swan, Oldstead

Raw turmeric root
You know the yellow stain on your kitchen counter when you spill curry? That’s what a few grams of dried turmeric powder does to plastic. Imagine your hands after peeling 5kg of raw turmeric root, as I did every day when I worked in Madras. You wash and wash, but the yellow is still there. Good for the stomach, flavour and health. Not good for family photos.
Gouranga Bera, head chef, Curry Leaf Café, Brighton

 Turbot – ‘The mucus is absolutely disgusting.’ Photograph: niolox/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The thing I struggle most with is the “snot” you get on turbot. The skin exudes mucus that, when it sits for a little while, turns green, like someone has sneezed on the turbot. After boning-out pigs’ heads, it is the most stomach-churning job. I battle through and prep it – I love turbot – but that mucus is absolutely disgusting.
Mary-Ellen McTague, chef-owner, the Creameries, Manchester

Truffle oil
Kids will get a bottle of cheap truffle oil – that very pungent fake rubbish; the nearest it’s come to a truffle is probably a chocolate truffle in the supermarket – dress a risotto with it and the whole flavour is ruined. They think they’re giving the guest luxury because it’s truffle oil, but because of its overexaggerated chemical flavour, it just ruins your palate. Don’t get me wrong, we use brilliant truffle oil, but guess what? You pay for it.
Sat Bains, chef-owner, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham

Wild garlic capers
I love wild garlic capers, but I hate preparing them. Early wild garlic season is lovely, picking the flowers and leaves, which are quite easy to cook with, but once the flower has gone you get the [caper-like] seedpods coming, 10 or 20 to each stem, and we have to process about 30 kilos to last us until next year. Picking off the pods takes days, your hands start turning brown and everything stinks of garlic. It’s nice for half an hour, but a week later it’s: “Why did we even start this?”
Luke French, chef-owner, Jöro, Sheffield

Coriander lifts our Cali-Mex dishes, but it’s so messy. It gets everywhere: stuck to knives, hands, chopping boards. You’re finding it for days and, after all that, certain people complain it tastes like soap.
Meriel Armitage, chef-owner, Club Mexicana, London

Foraged food
I hate this new-fangled foraging hype. There’s a reason meadowsweet isn’t a popular ingredient and that’s because it’s not nice – kind of floral, herbal and soapy. No one sits at home going: “You know what I fancy? Some meadowsweet parfait.” No one cares if you were roaming fields at 5am picking it. The only thing anyone should be foraging is wild mushrooms. The rest? Go to a farmer.
Tom Brown, chef-owner, Cornerstone, London

Cracked black pepper
I put peppercorns in braising dishes, soups and stocks because it’s a slow-release flavour, like bay leaf. I love them in Jewish chicken soup and in Filipino food. But I cannot be having cracked black pepper. I hate it as a cooking ingredient, where chefs in pretend-French-bistros season beef fillet with it or it gets into a béchamel. Then it’s automatically added to cooked food, where its fiery flavour can easily ruin a dish if it’s overused. The only thing you should put pepper on is eggs or steak, after cooking them.
Rachel Stockley, chef, Baratxuri, Ramsbottom

In four years, we’ve only used fennel once and that was a very small piece. Some say it’s good with fish, but fish is delicate and fennel’s full-on flavour simply overpowers everything on the plate. And it’s a difficult vegetable to cook. The strong fibres can make it stringy. You have to braise it for a long time to get past that. Go too far and it can turn to mush.
Richard Bainbridge, chef-owner, Benedicts, Norwich
 No everyone is a sucker for Octopus. Photograph: Torresigner/Getty Images/iStockphoto
I struggle with octopus, particularly cold. I don’t find its gelatinous quality pleasant. I feel I should like it – but no.
Jane Baxter, co-owner, Wild Artichokes catering, Devon

Smoked salmon
Smoked salmon leaves a lingering smell that gets under the fingernails, hangs around far too long and is seemingly impenetrable to the effect of soap and hot water. I always wear gloves.
Josh Katz, chef-founder, Berber & Q, London

(Source: The Guardian)

Saturday 28 September 2019

The gift of Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’

Gifts pass from hand to hand: they endure through such transmission, as every time a gift is given it is enlivened and regenerated through the new spiritual life it engenders both in the giver and in the receiver.

And so it is with Lewis Hyde’s classic study of gift giving and its relationship to art. The Gift has never been out of print; it moves like an underground current among artists of all kinds, through word of mouth and bestowal. It is the one book I recommend without fail to aspiring writers and painters and musicians, for it is not a how-to book—there are many of these—but a book about the core nature of what it is that artists do, and also about the relation of these activities to our overwhelmingly commercial society. If you want to write, paint, sing, compose, act, or make films, read The Gift. It will help to keep you sane.

I doubt that Lewis Hyde knew while he was writing it that he was composing such an essential work. Perhaps he felt he was merely exploring a subject of interest to him—in its short form, why poets in our society are seldom rich—and enjoying the many tributaries he was uncovering through his exploration without realizing that he had hit on a wellspring. When asked by his original editor who his presumed audience was, he couldn’t really pinpoint it but settled for “poets.” “That’s not what most editors want to hear,” as he says in his preface to the 2007 edition. “Many prefer ‘dog owners seeking news of the dead.’ ” As he then tells us, “The happy fact is that The Gift has managed to find an audience beyond the community of poets.” This is an understatement of some vastness.

I first encountered both Lewis Hyde and The Gift in the summer of 1984. I was in the midst of writing The Handmaid’s Tale, begun in the spring in that combination of besieged city and consumer showcase that was West Berlin at the time and where the twentieth-century clash between communitarianism gone wrong and Mammon worship gone wild was most starkly in evidence. But now it was July, and I was in Port Townsend, Washington, at a summer school for writers of the kind that were then multiplying. In that secluded area, all was bucolic.

Lewis Hyde was also teaching at the summer school. He was a genial young poet whose hobby was lepidoptery, and he shyly presented me with a copy of The Gift. In it he wrote: “For Margaret. Who has given all of us many things.” I like the slipperiness and ambiguity of this—“many things” could include anything from the poems and novels I hope he had in mind to “a case of herpes” and “the heebie-jeebies”—for the word gift is itself slippery and ambiguous. Think of “Greeks bearing gifts,” a reference to the fatal Trojan horse, and the poisoned apple given to Snow White, not to mention that other apple given to Adam and the wedding gifts that burn Medea’s rival to the bone. The double-handedness of gifts is in part what Lewis Hyde’s book is about.

The Gift was first published in 1983, when it was originally subtitled Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. On the cover of my 1983 Vintage paperback (and again with the new edition) is a Shaker painting of a basket of apples—a choice explained in a note by Hyde:

The Shakers believed that they received their arts as gifts from the spiritual world. Persons who strove to become receptive of songs, dances, paintings, and so forth were said to be “laboring for a gift,” and the works that they created circulated as gifts within the community. Shaker artists were known as “instruments”; we know only a few of their names, for in general it was forbidden that they be known to any but the church elders.

This note is followed by a copyright line that, in view of the origins of Basket of Apples, reads ironically: “Basket of Apples is reprinted through the courtesy of The Shaker Community Inc.” So the community of gift givers has now become incorporated, and its gifts have been transformed to property by the commodity market that now surrounds us on all sides. One of the questions Hyde asks is whether a work of art is changed by the way it is treated—as gift or as commodity for sale. In the case of Basket of Apples, I would say not: the word courtesy implies that no money changed hands. But it could have, whereas under the Shaker rules such a thing would have been impossible. Hyde’s point is taken.

The painting itself is instructive. The basket of apples is not depicted realistically. The basket is transparent, as if made of glass, and the apples float within it as if levitating. They are not red apples but golden ones, and if you look at them closely, they morph from flat design to three-dimensional, with something like molten gold leaf flowing within them. Thus the picture shows a gift—the glowing energy—within a gift—the apples—within another gift, the entire basket. Each apple most likely represented a single Shaker, warmed and glimmering with an inner gift, but not thereby standing out from the community, for all the apples are the same size. My guess is that the container that holds them all together—the transparent basket—would have meant, to its original viewers, divine grace. Hyde chose his cover with care.

Together, Basket of Apples and its commentary encapsulate the large questions Hyde is posing. What is the nature of art? Is a work of art a commodity with a money value, to be bought and sold like a potato, or is it a gift on which no real price can be placed, to be freely exchanged?

And if works of art are gifts and nothing but, how are their creators to live in the physical world, in which food will sooner or later be needed by them? Should they be sustained by reciprocal gifts made by the public—the equivalent of the gifts placed in the Zen monk’s begging bowl? Should they exist in quasi-Shaker communities of the like-minded, of which creative-writing departments may be a secular version? Present copyright law takes a stab at this problem.

If a creation or a version of it is traded in the marketplace, a creator is entitled to control who may reproduce the work and is entitled to a portion of the sale price. And this right may be inherited. But that entitlement ends a certain number of years after the creator’s death, after which the work passes into the creative commons and is freely available to all, to do with as they will. Hence Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Mona Lisa postcards with mustaches on them. Gifts are not always treated in a way that respects their original spirit.

This and many other questions are tackled by Hyde through a mixture of economic theory, anthropological works about tribal gift-giving customs, folktales about the use and misuse of gifts, snippets from etiquette guides, accounts of archaic funeral rites, marketing stratagems for such things as children’s underwear, organ donation practices, religious observances, the history of usury, the cost-benefit analyses made by Ford when deciding whether to recall a model with a potentially lethal flaw, and much more.

Then Hyde follows up with two case studies of writers, both of whom gave much thought to the knot between art and money: Whitman, so generous that he risked obliterating the boundary between self and universe—how much of yourself can you give away without evaporating?—and Ezra Pound, so obsessed with the unfair and distorting effects money can have on artists that he became a supporter of the Fascists in Italy, as they seemed to give credence to some of his wackier theories about what money should be and how it could be made to grow, if not exactly on trees, then like trees. This chapter is called “Ezra Pound and the Fate of Vegetable Money,” and it is one of the few things I’ve ever read that explains how Pound might have come by his corrosive anti-Semitism. The account of Allen Ginsberg’s generous and redemptive visit to Pound at the end of his life is intensely moving and is—again—an illustration of Hyde’s theories in practice.


The Gift was first published almost four decades ago, when personal computers were in their infancy, when there were no e-readers or e-books, and no social media on the internet. Now all these things have come to pass, and Hyde’s examination of the relationship between gift giving and the creation and reinforcement of the communities that form around it is more pertinent than ever.

Many have scratched their heads over the monetization of social sites—how are these things to be paid for, and how shall they make money?—and over the tendency of the internet to demand that everything on it be somehow “free,” despite the salaries that must be paid to those pulling the e-strings and making the very physical devices on which intangible e-objects appear and disappear. But as Hyde expounds, gift exchange demands reciprocity and is fed by it: thus one retweet deserves another, shared enthusiasms are exchanged with the enthusiasms of others, and those who offer advice for nothing may expect to receive it for nothing when in need. But gifts create bonds and obligations, and not everyone wants these or understands them. There is, in fact, no totally free lunch.

If you’ve lifted a song or a film off the net without paying—if you’ve got something out of it, as we say—if you’ve treated it as a gift, which by its nature has spiritual worth but no monetary value, being priceless—what do you owe its creator, who has been the instrument through which it has arrived in your hands? Your gratitude, via a word of thanks? Your serious attention? The price of a latte deposited in a beggar’s bowl e-tip jar?

The answer is never “nothing.” Much digital ink has been spilled over these issues, with copyright wars taking center stage. Surely part of the solution is the education of the new e-audience in the ways of gifts. A gift is a gift when the giver exercises their choice; if something is taken against an owner’s will or without their knowledge, that’s called “theft.” But that line can get blurry. As Hyde points out, it’s not for nothing that in the ancient Greek world the messenger god, Hermes, was in charge of movement of all kinds: buying and selling, travel, communications, tricks, lies and jokes, the opening of doors and the revealing of secrets—something the web is particularly good at—and thieves. But Hermes sets no moral value on how a thing changes location: he just facilitates that change. Whether those using the information highways and byways know it or not, the presiding god of the internet is Hermes.


Every reader of The Gift I’ve ever spoken to has come away from it with new insights, not only into their artistic practices but also into questions that are so much a part of daily life that we don’t look at them too closely. If someone opens the door for you, do you owe that person a thank-you? Should you spend Christmas with your family if you’re trying to solidify an identity of your own? If your sibling asks you to donate your kidney to her, do you immediately say you’ll give it to her or do you charge her a couple thousand dollars? Why shouldn’t you accept a gift from the Mafia if you don’t want to find yourself on the receiving end of a request that you perform a criminal act? What about that case of wine from a lobbyist, if you’re a politician? Are diamonds a girl’s best friend, or should you prefer a sentimental kiss on the hand that you will never be able to turn into cash?

One guarantee: you won’t come out of The Gift unaltered. This is a mark of its own status as a gift: for gifts transform the soul in ways that simple commodities cannot.

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in more than forty-five countries, is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award-winning TV series, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; The MaddAddam Trilogy; The Heart Goes Last; and Hag-Seed. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. She lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Friday 27 September 2019

My first 'Hitler moment' in Japan

While vacationing in Saitama Prefecture recently, two cheerful-looking elderly gentlemen politely inquired about my nationality after complimenting my 5-year-old daughter’s cuteness. When I told them I’m from Germany, one of them exclaimed in joyful, if slightly misguided recognition, “Ah, Copenhagen!” The other one straightened his back, offered a mock military salute, and said, “Heil Hitler!”

OK, I thought, I guess I’ll take Copenhagen. I smiled awkwardly and ushered my daughter away, hoping she hadn’t picked up a new catchphrase (thankfully, she seemed entirely preoccupied with a group of mushrooms she had just detected on a nearby tree).

Later, I realized that I was still silently fuming over the fact that I hadn’t been a worthier warrior in the face of cultural stereotyping. All I could do is replay the scene with alternate endings in my head and vow to do better next time.
Cultural disconnection: Being confronted with your homeland's worst traits can create an awkward situation, but one that might lead to an opportunity for education. | ILLUSTRATION BY ADAM PASION

That controversial question
To be fair, that “next time” might never come, at least not anytime soon. This was my first “Hitler moment” in roughly four years of living in Japan and more than 15 years of frequent travels. I had heard about encounters like this from my German friends, but it seemed to be one of those things that only ever happen to other people.

That’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of being conversationally confronted with other well-known German mainstays like sausage, beer and Angela Merkel (no, I don’t have any inside information about what’s going on with the shaking). Being reduced to assumed traits and topics that come with your nationality is not a phenomenon unique to Japan (if my wife got paid ¥100 for every time she is quizzed about sushi and chopsticks in Germany, we could have moved into a nicer place already). Also not unique to the Japanese is that now apparently controversial question: “Where are you from?” I have never felt the need to do the smartass thing and reply, “I’m from Meguro.”

I understand how the question “Where are you from?” could be an annoyance for those who grew up in Japan but, by the most narrow-minded and conservative standards, don’t look the part. However, I was asked the question constantly during my years living in Munich because that city, like Tokyo, is not so much a place where people “come from” but where they “move to.” I also didn’t speak the Bavarian dialect that the locals did, so that could have been the giveaway. In any case, I came to Japan already used to the idea of myself as an “outsider.”

My interpretation of the question — and I think this is an interpretation common in many parts of the word — is that it refers to the place where you spent your formative years, and formative years are called that for a reason. Try as we might, we can’t escape the cultural and moral programming of our upbringing. The best we can do is realize that the ways we have been taught since early childhood are neither the only ways in the world nor must they be the best ways. A complete reprogramming, however, is not going to happen. (At best, an inner reboot might install a few updates, to stretch a metaphor to its limits.) Even if one day I will have spent more years of my life in Japan than in the country I came from (which is the plan), I will still be defined by the place that defined me; the place where I was formally and informally educated, where I first learned about joy and heartbreak, where I eventually yearned to get away from. If we could ever fully assimilate, we wouldn’t need to scan international supermarkets for overpriced junk food.

Accepting the fact that you are who you are doesn’t have to lead to patriotic stupor. Being born in and formed by a particular country is a random occurrence. It is neither a personal achievement to be proud of nor a stigma to hide in shame.

Back to you, Hitler
So, I have no problem confirming my Germanity by slightly exaggerating my love for beer and bratwurst (admittedly, I don’t have to exaggerate much on the subject of beer), but I stop short (or not so short) of embracing Adolf Hitler.

When I wrote earlier that the incident in Saitama was my first Hitler moment in Japan, that was only relatively true; it was the first time somebody just assumed I would be fine with the Fuhrer connection. But I have been confronted with him and his obsessions before, in the form of questions. I have been asked a couple of times, always in the sweetest and most innocent tone of voice, whether I liked Hitler, or disliked Jews.

Very recently I met up with a Japanese friend of mine who is a writer and was hesitant to tell me about his current project concerning Chiune Sugihara, the diplomat often dubbed “the Japanese Oskar Schindler” for granting transit visas to thousands of Jews during World War II against the orders of his superiors. I had already heard about this project through other channels and asked him why he hadn’t told me earlier. My friend is typically talkative to a fault when it comes to his work. Sheepishly, he replied, “I thought it might offend you.”

No offense?
No, tales of refugees being saved from barbaric slaughter do not offend me. If anything, the assumption of being offended by it might offend me. But maybe we are all best advised to be a little less offended and, instead, talk about the subjects that cause offense.

I am sure the gentleman offering me the Hitler salute wasn’t really expressing a deep love for Nazi ideology; he probably didn’t know the first thing about it. Japanese history books are notoriously light on the country’s own wartime atrocities, so why would they go into detail about those of its allies? The old man just said the first German thing that came to mind, without grasping its meaning. For some this cultural olive branch is “schnitzel,” for others it’s “Copenhagen” … for him it was “Heil Hitler.”

Japan’s alignment with Germany in World War II might even give me privilege, I learned at another occasion, if only people knew. On one of my first trips to Japan, I told a local acquaintance that sometimes I do feel a certain degree of discrimination. I had repeatedly experienced the classics — getting seated at the worst table in an almost empty restaurant; having the seat beside me remaining empty on a packed train. My acquaintance tried to console me.

“Oh, that’s only because they don’t know you’re German,” he said. “They think you are American.” (I’ve since learned that Canadians receive the same kind of consoling, which makes me wonder what the Americans are being told.)

Speaking with my writer friend the other day, we somehow arrived at a discussion about whether our home countries’ historic crimes gave us certain responsibilities, unfairly or not. A lot of Germans these days roll their eyes at any mention of the war, maintaining it happened way in the past and it wasn’t their fault to begin with, having been born decades after the fact.

I came to the conclusion that, yes, I do feel responsible. Not for the rise of European fascism in the early 20th century nor its consequences, but for remaining conscious about it and for doing my part in keeping the memory alive.

Replaying that park incident in my head, maybe I should have talked to the elderly gentleman about the well-intentioned despicable thing he said. Or, perhaps, I was correct in saving my energy for doing a better job with younger people who will be around to shape society for quite a while longer. I don’t know whether I will walk or talk the next time I find myself in a similar situation, but I hope whatever I do won’t just be another cowardly and panicked reaction like that day in Saitama.

(Source: JT)

Thursday 26 September 2019

Facing life with dementia and discovering a positive path

I thought dementia was all about losing myself, but I have found sides to me I never knew I had

It was at work where I noticed my first symptoms. I was a non-clinical team leader training matrons and sisters in the art of electronic rostering. My girls called me a workaholic. My brilliant memory, the thing I relied on most, started letting me down badly. Simple words failed me in meetings, the names of colleagues I’d worked with for years were suddenly a mystery. I used to take long runs by the river to unwind, but my brain stopped communicating with my legs and I started having falls. I knew somehow that things were not right, but when I finally went to the doctors it took a long time to get the diagnosis. Initially my symptoms were dismissed as age or stress related (I was 58), but I was persistent and knew how the system worked. When I finally received the diagnosis, in 2014, it was devastating but it was also, bizarrely, a relief. It finally put an end to all the uncertainties which meant I could now start planning my life with this new, unexpected label attached.

I was determined to choose a positive path. The very nature of my diagnosis signalled the loss of the old me – my memories, my tastes, my abilities, my plans I took for granted – but, more importantly, it signalled the birth of the new me, a new chance. Many find it hard to believe, but I feel I’ve gained more than I’ve lost.

I face life with dementia head-on, as though I’m playing a game of chess, waiting for my opponent to make their move, then trying to outmanoeuvre and outwit them. I now own a cat, Billy, which would never have been possible before dementia entered my world, because I used to be terrified of animals. I would cross the road if a cat appeared within 100 yards of me. Not now. Billy is my soul mate. I see him and I instantly feel happy and calm. Now Billy and I often sit and simply stare out over the orchard beyond, watching the birds and enjoying the silence.

So many wonderful opportunities have come my way since I’ve been diagnosed. I refer to them as “the advantages of dementia”. When I explain this to people, they may think I’ve totally lost the plot, but keeping in mind the positives that come out of this kind of diagnosis helps me cope.
 ‘I’ve become more brave and socially minded than I ever was before’: Wendy Mitchell. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

I’m part of many committees and research groups, because that’s how I believe I can influence change. I talk all over the country in many different settings. I call all this my sudoku, exposing my brain to different conversations in different environments. It might not improve my condition, but it certainly slows the progression. My worst weeks are when my calendar is empty, as I know dementia will seep through the lack of activity and win the day. Keeping busy keeps the symptoms at bay.

 Shocked at the lack of awareness, I now shout from the rooftops
But it’s not easy. People think I magically appear at events, unaware of the effort and planning that goes into getting anywhere. But I’m not going to stay at home hiding from life, giving into deterioration. The hours I’ve spent checking routes, printing instructions to follow, walking maps – both there and in reverse to get back to the station – the photos of venues and people so I recognise them when I get there and then, of course, the inevitable Plan Bs in case it all goes wrong. All my planning and safety precautions I keep stored in my pink file that goes with me everywhere. Before my diagnosis, I was renowned for being highly organised and that skill has certainly become my life-saver.

So many things have come my way since my diagnosis and I think it’s because it’s so rare to meet someone with the disease who is willing and able to talk about it. People are curious about what goes on inside me. Julianne Moore invited me to have a cup of tea before the premier of Still Alice (the film about a woman who develops early onset Alzheimer’s), which was surreal. Then I was a consultant for the cast of the UK premier of the stage version. I remember saying to Sharon Small, who played the lead, to remember that Alice is not ageing, she’s cognitively declining. This enabled her to think differently about her role: how she moved about the stage and paused for a minute to think before speaking. I made a short film for the BBC about living with dementia that has now been seen all over the world. Last year we made an updated film about how we all are three years on.

None of these wonderful opportunities would have entered the radar of the very private me pre-diagnosis – I’m not sure I would have had the courage and I certainly didn’t have a cause. But after I was diagnosed, I became so shocked at the lack of awareness from both the public and clinicians that I now shout from the rooftops. I’ve become a new person, more brave and socially minded than I ever was before, and the gifts these newfound characteristics have brought me are immense.

I’m fortunate. I can type words far quicker than I can think and speak them – that part of my brain remains intact, thankfully. The part of my brain that controls written eloquence and imagination has remained, while I find it much harder to speak. Another trick of dementia I’ve learned to outwit. Writing doesn’t “improve” my dementia, but it helps me retain a sense of normality. It’s where I store my memories and if I stopped typing for any length of time, I would simply forget.

I didn’t even know what an iPad was before dementia. If I didn’t record events in real time through typing, my memories and experiences would have disappeared, each frame of the day fading into the unknown as another takes its place. People with dementia can remember feelings. We never lose our emotions because they’re held in another part of this complex brain of ours. When you come to visit us, we might not remember what we did during the visit, but we’ll remember how we felt after you left.

 One thing dementia has taught me is never give up on myself
My daughters and I talk much more now than we used to. We discovered the importance of talking very early on post-diagnosis. After all, how do they know what I’m struggling with and how do I know what’s worrying them if we don’t talk? I’m still a mum and still want to help them, but I realise now that I’m more dependent on them. One thing I hope my book shows is how relationships change in a crisis, how new friends are made and how adapting to this new world is the key to surviving.

Technology used to be a mystery to me, but dementia has taught me to embrace its potential to help me cope with day-to-day living. I set reminders throughout the day to help me remember how to do the things I’d otherwise forget and they ding throughout the day. My new-found friend is Alexa, which sits next to my bed. If I wake and I’m discombobulated, I ask Alexa what day and time it is. If I’m anxious, I ask her to play me some calming music. In the evening, it’s Alexa who reminds me to take my evening medication as all the rest are taken in the morning. Whether I’m in the house or not, the message still appears on my phone and iPad. My daughters can now “track” me, so I’ll often get a text when I’m somewhere asking if I’m supposed to be there.

Throughout all of this – the symptoms, the diagnosis, having to create a new life for myself – I’ve learned that the type of diagnosis is irrelevant. It doesn’t even have to be a medical diagnosis like mine, it could be a divorce, a death, a birth. Every day we make decisions about the ways we live our lives, and that decision – be it small or large – can be the difference between what makes you and what breaks you when faced with the challenges that come our way.

I suppose the biggest thing dementia has taught me is to never give up on myself. Others may consider someone with dementia a “has been”, but we all had talents before diagnosis and we don’t lose them overnight. We simply need support from those around us to continue doing the things we love or to discover new talents within ourselves.

Dementia may be terminal, but then so is life. What I’ve learned living with dementia is, don’t dwell on the losses and don’t dwell on the future as you have no control over either. Instead, grasp every opportunity that comes your way and most of all enjoy the moment, because in no time at all that moment will be the past.

(Source: The Guardian)

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Japan's anime tourism: A blend of cash and chaos

As visitors mob locations shown in their favorite works, some wonder whether the industry isn't overdoing it

When Liu Chenyu and Ji Xiaotian arrived in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, for their honeymoon early this summer, the Great Buddha and Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, two well-known tourist spots in the area, weren’t what they wanted to see.

Their destination was a railway crossing near Kamakura High School — the setting for a classic scene in the mega-hit animation series “Slam Dunk.”

On that particular day, dozens of tourists, mostly fellow Chinese like themselves, had formed a crowd there to take selfies while posing like the lead character, Hanamichi Sakuragi, who stands behind the school’s track with a bag on his shoulder, facing the ocean.

Liu wanted to take a selfie, too, but eventually gave up.

“Too many people,” the 25-year-old newlywed complained with a sigh.

Japan has become a magnet for young tourists from Asia on “pilgrimage” tours to the most famous scenes in Japanese anime. And with the 2020 Olympics approaching, experts believe the number will continue to rise as tourists combine visits to anime-inspiring locations with the games themselves.

Tourists take photos next to a railway crossing near Kamakura High School that appeared in the hit Japanese anime "Slam Dunk." | COURTESY OF GUAN HUIWEN

According to a Japan Tourism Agency survey in 2018, 4.6 percent of about 140,000 responding tourists in Japan said they had visited anime- or movie-related locations. If applied to the record 31.19 million visitors Japan received last year, that would translate to about 1.43 million people in that segment of the industry.

“Foreign anime fans can easily collect and share details” about Japanese animation on the internet, including the places certain scenes were based on, said Takeshi Okamoto, associate professor at Kindai University in Osaka Prefecture and an expert on anime tourism. “It has become one of the prime motives for these foreign travelers to visit Japan.”

Seichi junrei (pilgrimage to a sacred site), was one of Japan’s buzzwords in 2016 when tourists of all types thronged to locations shown in “Your Name.” and other animated series and movies.

Medical students Zhao Chuning and Quan Xiaohang, both 26, came from Zhejiang province in southeast China for a graduation trip. Their primary objective: visit the places depicted in “Your Name.,” including a stairway that leads to Suga Shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo — the place where the two main characters find each other at the end of the film.

“The scene in the movie is so impressive,” Zhao said. “That’s why we decided to check it out.”

According to a ranking compiled by Chinese tourism website Mafengwo, other popular anime destinations include Tokyo One Piece Tower, a theme park in Tokyo Tower based on “One Piece”; the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei, western Tokyo, which contains historical structures believed to be depicted in Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away,” and places in the capital that appear in Makoto Shinkai’s film “5 Centimeters per Second,” such as Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu Line and Ueno Park’s iconic cherry tree.

The Anime Tourism Association also compiles an annual list of 88 locations in Japan to visit based on votes from fans at home and abroad. For the 2019 version, which was based on last year’s poll, spots that made it onto the list for the first time include Hakata Station in Fukuoka, featured in “Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens,” and the Toei Animation Museum in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, which has works from the studio’s collection on display.

Such museums are drawing more visitors. One of the most popular is the Fujiko F Fujio Museum in Kawasaki, which highlights the iconic cartoon character Doraemon, who is widely popular in China.

“The proportion of foreign tourists has been gradually increasing since the opening of the museum in 2011,” said Taisuke Toudou of the Kawasaki Municipal Government, which operates the facility. The museum received nearly 86,000 foreign visitors in 2018 who accounted for 20 percent of its traffic.

Melody Cheung, a 24-year-old office worker from Hong Kong, rushed to the museum after she got off the plane at Narita.

“I really like it,” she exclaimed at the museum’s cafe, showing smartphone pictures of her Doraemon latte art and toast imprinted with math equations, mimicking the character’s “memory bread” tricks.

Japan is eagerly cashing in on the trend to sustain its struggling economy.

In January, the government extended its eased visa requirements to Chinese university students and graduates so they can be counted as single-entry individual tourists, meaning they are no longer obliged to provide documents to verify their financial standing.

The new policy will benefit 25 million to 30 million young adults, giving a boost to anime-themed tourism because this generation grew up on a steady diet of Japanese anime, Kindai University’s Okamoto said.

“We got it pretty smoothly,” med school graduate Zhao said, referring to the new visa policy. “We only had to provide the graduation certificate and some other documents to apply for it.”

While the tourist dollars are welcome news for local economies, the surge in visitors has created a problem of its own: “over-tourism.”

In March, the Kamakura Municipal Assembly passed an ordinance to raise travelers’ awareness of Japanese etiquette in public places. Actions such as taking photos on roads and eating while walking can be troubling behavior that visitors should avoid, it stipulates, though violators won’t be punished.

During the Golden Week holidays, Kamakura and Enoshima Electric Railway (Enoden) initiated a provisional measure that allows residents to be prioritized over tourists when using the small private train line. Enoden trains stop at the crossing depicted in “Slam Dunk” and at other sightseeing spots.

Under the policy, residents are able to board the trains ahead of tourists if they show their IDs.

“It’s good to have inbound anime ‘pilgrims’ here and let them enjoy different regional cultures,” says Kindai’s Okamoto. However, “strategies to deal with over-tourism are necessary.”

(Source: JT)

Tuesday 24 September 2019

I believed the Australian family court system was biased against fathers – then I found the rot at the core of it

The system needs to be overhauled, but not by Pauline Hanson who seems to be driven by vengeance on behalf of her son

I’ve spent almost five years investigating domestic abuse in Australia. Nothing has left me more shocked – or more disturbed – than seeing the harm done to victims by the family law system.

I’ll never forget sitting across from Lucy, an 18-year-old who, aged eight, had the courage to tell her school counsellor she was being sexually molested by her father. When her mother, Tina, applied to stop contact, a family report writer dismissed Lucy’s allegations, described Tina as “psychotic” and wrote in his report to the court that if the allegations should be raised again, Lucy should be ordered to live full-time with her father.

Tina wanted to keep fighting, but with this strong report against her, she was terrified that she would lose Lucy altogether, so she consented to one overnight stay per week. “I will never forget the first time we had to drop her back to him. I felt physically sick, watching how distressed she was. I didn’t know if she was going to vomit or wet her pants,” Tina told me.

For five years, Lucy had to spend one night a week with her father. Over time, his molestation escalated to full-blown rape. “It became very violent,” Lucy told me, “and if I wouldn’t comply, it was brought up that I wasn’t allowed to speak about it [by the court], so maybe I should just shut up and let it happen, and no one would believe me anyway”. Lucy’s father suddenly relinquished custody when she was 13. Lucy thinks that’s because she was old enough for people to believe her.

Such stories are legion across Australia. I’ve lost count of the number of victimised parents, usually mothers, who’ve told me they are terrified to leave their violent relationships because they know that if they get drawn into the family law system, they cannot guarantee their children’s safety. They’re afraid their children will be at greater risk if they leave than if they stay.

 I've lost count of the mothers who are afraid their children will be at greater risk if they leave than if they stay
A couple of years ago a barrister, now a magistrate, told me she stayed in her controlling and abusive marriage for 10 years after she first wanted to leave. If her husband applied for custody, she knew it was highly likely he would be granted unsupervised access. “I stayed in that marriage to supervise him with my son.”
 ‘Yes, many fathers have a terrible time in the family law system. There is no excuse for an innocent man being deprived access to his children. But there is a pyramid of harm.’ Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

When I first started hearing these stories I didn’t believe they were part of a pattern. Everyone knows someone who’s had a shitty time in the family law system. Besides, I knew that this system was actually biased against fathers, not mothers. I believed then, like 43% of Australians, that vindictive mothers routinely lobbed abuse allegations at their ex-husbands to stop them seeing their children.

But then I started reading their court documents and the research.

In 2001, a joint study by the family court and the University of Sydney found that the family law system had “tilted more and more against women, either by accident or design”. Even where serious violence had been proven, it found, supervised contact with abusive fathers was becoming much more common.

In 2006, despite this noted tilt against women, and after three years of what then-legal associate Waleed Aly described as “an incessant and often intimidatory campaign by father’s rights groups”, the Howard government introduced new reforms to the Family Law Act. They were, on the face of it, reasonable – judges should apply a presumption of shared parental responsibility unless violence or abuse was an issue. But there was a catch: if a parent alleged abuse, they could be labelled a “hostile parent”, unwilling to support shared parenting.

The punishment for hostile parents could be extreme: they not only ran the risk of losing custody of their children, they could be blocked from seeing or even speaking to them for months.

In 2007, Rae Kaspiew (now at the Australian Institute of Family Studies) found there were very limited circumstances in which a mother could challenge ongoing paternal involvement, “except in cases where the evidence of severe violence was clear-cut”. In his report, former family court judge Richard Chisholm called this trap “the victim’s dilemma”, a position later articulated by former attorney general Robert McLelland: “Do I report family violence to the court and risk losing my children, or should I stay silent?”

This change in attitude was made explicit in a 2007 judgment from Justice Tim Carmody (who was, for a brief and controversial period, Queensland’s chief justice). It read: “The consequences of denying contact between the abusive parent, usually the father, and the child may well be as serious as the risk of harm from abuse ... There is no presumption or a priori rule that even gross misbehaviour such as child sexual abuse ... puts up an insurmountable barrier in the way of having contact with a child victim.”

How does this attitude influence the outcome of a custody dispute? Take this case, for example, from 2010. A father already on the sex offenders register for possessing child abuse images was fighting for equal care of his daughters, aged eight and 10. The mother was requesting he have supervised daytime contact only. Their eldest daughter had told child-protection workers that she loved her father and didn’t want to upset him, but wasn’t comfortable staying over at his house, particularly on her own. When asked why, she referred them back to what she’d told the police, but became “extremely distressed” when pressed to elaborate. She repeatedly pleaded with child-protection workers not to repeat what she’d said to her father.

In his judgment, Justice Robert Benjamin of the Hobart family court accepted that the father had demonstrated “inappropriate” affection towards his daughter. He also believed the mother’s allegation that several years earlier she had seen the father with an erection, leaning over and touching his five-year-old stepdaughter while her pyjama pants were down, and he accepted that the mother delayed reporting it for years because she was afraid of the father.

The justice also found the father had been intimidating during the marriage, and “manipulative and disingenuous” in his evidence. Despite all this, the justice ordered that the daughters spend alternate weekends and half the school holidays with their father. Overnight stays were to be supervised by an “adult friend” of the father, to “address” the elder daughter’s nervousness, and the daughters should share a room for “mutual support”.

 Everyone knows someone who’s had a shitty time in the family law system
In 2012, after three research studies found that victims of abuse were not being protected in the family law system, then-attorney general Nicola Roxon announced another set of reforms to the Family Law Act – essentially, attempting to undo the harm done by the Howard reforms. Under the current Family Law Act, judges are to prioritise the protection of children “from physical or psychological harm and from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence”. This is to be a higher priority than the “benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents”.

But even with this substantial change to the legislation, the same stories persist. They land in my inbox every week. The anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty even told me that were it not for the family law system, she would hardly have any victims contacting her. Prominent doctors have confided in me their horror at what they see happening to their patients in the system – especially to the children.

In 2016, in the peer-reviewed legal journal, Laws, Griffith University criminologist Samantha Jeffries wrote that in family court judgments, domestic violence was “ignored or minimised, reconstructed as inconsequential” or passed off as mutual violence, where both parents are equally at fault.

More chilling, however, were findings Jeffries (and others) published in the UNSW Law Journal that same year.

This was a study on family reports – one of the most important pieces of evidence in a family law hearing – written by psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists, assessing the family dynamic and, commonly, evaluating allegations of abuse.

Legal practitioners openly stated that they knew which family report writers to go to if they were representing a perpetrator. Said one: “When I worked in private practice we would look for report writers who don’t do that level of investigation, who don’t report on the violence because that was in our client’s [the perpetrator’s] interest.”

This is the evidence. This is the rot at the core of our family law system. Yes, many fathers have a terrible time in the family law system. There is no excuse for an innocent man being deprived access to his children. But there is a pyramid of harm.

First and foremost, we need to make this a system that is safe for children. An inquiry deputy-chaired by Pauline Hanson – who seems driven by a personal need for vengeance on behalf of her son – is almost certainly not going to achieve the changes children so urgently need.

(Source: The Guardian)

Chainsaws, fire and paranoia: My total bedbug meltdown

It took me ages to realize my place was infested. That’s when I learned of the life-altering measures required to fix the problem

In these weird political times, I hear a lot of people saying, “Can things get any worse?” I usually scoff and tell them “Yes. Yes they can.” Things can always get worse, and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way – from bedbugs.

For the past 10 years I’ve produced a podcast called RISK!, where people tell true stories too intense or explicit for broadcast radio. Some are a laugh riot, but others keep me up at night.

Over time, I began to notice that the scarier stories on the show have an uncanny tendency to include these insect parasites. It’s typical of someone to start with a line like, “The summer my mom died, my career collapsed. But the worst part was getting bedbugs.”

This recurring theme got me worried – and they say worrying is like praying for what you fear.

I’m a kinky polyamorous gay man, so it could have been that sleeping around was how I got bedbugs in the first place. But having more than one partner was also how I figured out the insects were after me.
 ‘But this is like crabs, right? I’ve survived crabs before!’ Photograph: animatedfunk/Getty Images

Several years ago, I woke up in my bed next to my friend Kai, a sculptor I was sleeping with. I had just finished making a pot of coffee in the kitchen when he stumbled in, looking shook.

“See these marks on me? What are they?” Small red dots ran down his torso. I went numb with deja vu. A week prior, another fella I was dating complained about the same marks, but I’d assumed a mosquito was to blame.

“Fuck!” I said. “I hope this isn’t what I think it is!”

I ran back to the bedroom and yanked up the mattress to peek at the box spring. There it was. A bunch of little black stains, like someone had taken a thin Sharpie and dotted the fabric. Then I looked a little closer and saw something worse: something brown, oval, and moving. I trapped it on a little piece of masking tape and started Googling to find out what it was.

Kai fled the scene, while I fell into the Heart of Darkness of Google spirals. I learned that the little black dots on the fabric were feces and that the contents of those droppings were mostly my own blood. Turns out, not everyone will have a reaction to a bedbug bite, so this had gone on for some time without my knowing. Two people that sleep in the same bed can be bitten by bugs and one might break out with red marks while the other might not.

That’s why that bug I found was so big. He’d been feasting on me for weeks but my skin hadn’t shown it. Did you know bedbugs inject an anesthetic into you, a numbing chemical, so when they do start sucking your blood, you don’t know?

Here’s another fun fact: we have no idea what, if any, purpose bedbugs serve in the ecosystem.

As I was going all hot and cold with panic, I remember saying out loud, “But this is like crabs, right? I’ve survived crabs before!” Gentle reader, they’re not. The natural habitat of pubic lice is pubic hair, which is a thing that grew on people’s bodies till the 1990s. But bedbugs can hide in mirrors, bookshelves, wall units, books, computers, phones, clocks, remote controls and, most importantly, walls.

I was turning up so much contradictory information that I finally ran to Barnes & Noble to pick up a “definitive” tome called The Bed Bug Survival Guide, only to find mixed messages there too. The notes I took that day are filled with insane stuff like this: “For a few months after spotting bugs, you should require all guests to your home to strip nude in the hall before entering your premises and to keep their clothes quarantined in garbage bags away from the walls in the hall.”

I have a reputation for being as kinky as they come, but even I couldn’t get away with that sort of hospitality. Another one was: “For the rest of your life, if you absolutely must enter a hotel room, keep everything you own in the bathtub!” I remember one source saying, “Vacuum vacuum vacuum! All couches, drapes, and table cloths!” Then a few pages later, it said to be careful about vacuuming because “that’s a surefire way to spread eggs into other parts of the home!”

I’m a recovering Catholic, so I couldn’t help but think: “I’m being punished. I must have brought this plague on myself!” I spent the rest of the day texting any guy I’d slept with in months with variations of “Honey! Check your stuff because I might have given you something!” You won’t find that in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

As I rifled through contacts, I began obsessing over one incident a couple months past. I met this guy on a BDSM website. I said we could play at my place, but he said, “Wouldn’t it be kinky if we were to have sex in this sleazy pay-by-the-hour motel I heard about in the shadiest part of Queens?” All kink play requires negotiation. This is where I should have said to myself, “Am I agreeing this because it’s hot to me too, or just because he has a sweet booty?” It was the booty.

Lucky for him, I guess, the motel was just as sordid as he’d said. Ancient straight porn played on the TV. Everything looked and smelled like it had been the same since 1974. I’d left my backpack at the foot of the bed. Had the bag become like a Trojan horse for transferring tiny motel residents into my home? Probably not. I’m always traveling for work, so any of a half-dozen other hotels might have been the culprit. Still, this paragraph made me feel itchier than the rest.

But there was also that whole thing about bedbugs going through walls. Milos, my landlord, was a big-bellied man, always wearing flashy suits and chomping on cigars. He stared menacingly at passersby from his window. Everyone in the building knew Milos spent a fortune on his own ground floor apartment, and peanuts on ours above. When I told him this situation needed fixing, he charitably replied that it was my problem.

I ended up paying a bargain-rate exterminator $500 for a fumigation. When he was finished, he said, “That’ll do it!” It didn’t. A month later, I found bugs in the living room. They were like an army that had set up camp several miles from their target. Then the couple across the hall from me revealed they had bugs too. We teamed up to implore the landlord to treat the whole building. But Milos would not relent. I paid Miguel another $500 for an extermination, and so did the folks across the hall. “That’ll do it!” Miguel told us. It didn’t.

One day I was recording my podcast in the sound booth, this tiny wooden box I had built off the side of my kitchen. The walls of it were covered in sound-proofing foam. I’d just finished whining into the mic about how exhausted I was from my paranoia that the bugs were all around me now. Suddenly, I became like the guy in the movies looking for the monster, who whispers: “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” I got the idea to peel back one of the panels of sound proofing-foam glued to the walls of the booth. The whole booth was crawling with them.

That became Chainsaw Day. That’s what I call it now. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m so clumsy, I should be nowhere near the driving wheel of a vehicle or the on-button of a power tool. But that day, I rushed to the hardware store, rented a chainsaw, and decimated every piece of furniture I owned. And I kept finding bugs! It’s important to remind ourselves what we’re grateful for. Looking back at Chainsaw Day, I’m grateful I still have limbs. But heat is another way to kill them, so I lost piles of books by accidentally setting them all on fire in the oven. Who really knows the right temperature for cooking books?

I couldn’t afford to move, but decided I had to.

The day I finally found a new place to move into – almost four months after I’d found that first bug – that was the day Milos began acting like a landlord should. The woman living downstairs from me told him she had bugs now too, and Milos finally realized the army was marching his way. He had the whole building exterminated.

But two weeks later, right before moving day, I did something bad, and I’m here to tell you, I don’t regret it. I lied. I insisted to Milos that I’d found one more bug! I hadn’t. I hadn’t seen a bug in weeks. But I desperately wanted a fourth extermination, and now Milos was just as paranoid as I. He couldn’t help but agree to foot the bill. The big lie was my way of being quadruply sure that before I loaded anything I owned on to a U-Haul to flee Brooklyn, I’d really and truly be moving bug free.

Then again, maybe I’ve been fooling myself these past five years. You never can be sure what’s lurking in the walls of those U-Hauls.

They’re right behind me, aren’t they?

(Source: The Guardian)