TYR The Young Reporter Magazine

Smart Barcelona

Stroll down La Rambler in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona any day and see tourists and vendors fighting for space on the walkway alongside stalls offering souvenirs. Nearly 30 million visitors each year pack down the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter in the old part of the city, according to Euromonitor. A tour guide, Aranxia Gonzales explained that the demand for accommodation is pushing locals out of the property market. “ When you buy a property in Spain, you own it for life,” she said, “ and that means older folks who have lived here for a long time now have to put up with tourists as neighbours.” By 2017, there were 16,000 holiday rentals, as reported by Barcelona City Council. According to a 2018 study by University of Paris Sud, when Airbnb started in Barcelona, rent rocketed by 28% between 2013 and 2016. In addition, there were more than 7000 illegal hostels. The number of private flats rented out to tourists reportedly went up nine times in a year. The city government has since hired a team of inspectors to look for illegal hostels. Owners may be fined up to €60,000. Paola Santoro, an Italian expat who has been living in Barcelona for eight years, explained that the influx of tourists has bumped up the rent in even further. “The demand for accommodation by tourists meant many apartments are being converted into apartments for tourists only,” Paola said. “The average salary of a person in Barcelona is approximately € 1000-1500. The average monthly rent for a flat in Barcelona is also € 1000. A person with an average salary cannot afford to rent a flat, so many people are forced to share a flat with other people to reduce expenses.” Barcelona, Paola thought, has become a city for …

Virtual Healing

Researchers at the University of Barcelona have found virtual reality to be a useful tool in psychology   Virtual reality may be the buzzword in journalism and entertainment. But for a team of psychologists and computer scientists at the University of Barcelona, these are just new applications for tools that they have been researching on for some time. The Experimental Virtual Environments Lab (EVENT Lab) at the Department of Psychobiology of the University of Barcelona focuses on immersive and embodiment experiences. Researchers from the University of Barcelona, the University College London and the University of Derby help participants learn through compassion. They use avatars and computer science gaming technology to teach empathy. For example, a user can be embodied in a black avatar to experience racial discrimination, or an adult in the body of a child to empathise how it feels when parents are harsh. "We found that adults who experience the kind mother gain trust," Mel Slater, the director of EVENTS Lab explained, "but when they meet the harsh mother first followed by the kind one a week later, they tend not to trust her." To experience embodiment, the participant has to put on a black bodysuit. Sensor pompoms on the garment allow the computer to track the person's movement so that the programme can react accordingly. The signals are picked up by sensors mounted on the walls of the pitch black lab. A virtual reality headset then allows the user to immerse in the altered world. "Parents who go through the experience tend to become more empathetic toward their children afterwards," said Domna Banakou, a researcher at the lab. "Racial discrimination also tends to decrease after white people experience what it is like to be black," added Banakou. These virtual reality experiments have taken Mel Slater and his …

Hong Kong's zero waste community leaders addressed the importance of switching to waste-free events

Dozens of events as talks, concerts, games are held every day in Hong Kong and most of them result in tonnes of waste including plastic cups, plates, and cutleries because event organisers provide their attendees with everything from tissues to single-use pens and notebooks. Although “green events” are recently becoming popular, event hosts usually sort the waste and provide recycling bins only. It is not effective because most of the event participants don’t rinse or empty plastic containers before throwing them to waste-separation bins. Aigul Safiullina, a co-founder of Zero Waste Life, a non-governmental organisation aimed to promote and educate sustainable lifestyle by coaching and providing public with useful sources, thinks that the general public, especially event hosts should embrace a more responsible lifestyle by not only sorting the waste from events and providing recycling bins, but also taking a step further to plan the event ahead and reduce the source of waste. "There are only three types of recyclable plastics, by offering recycling bins is not enough and unreasonable," she said during the talk, "Taking small steps to achieve a zero-waste life in Hong Kong" conducted by the panel of Hong Kong’s zero-waste community leaders, last Wednesday. Paola Cortese, a certified Climate Reality Leader suggested the ways to organise a sustainable event. She said that waste reduction can be achieved through smart planning at the start which would promote a waste-free lifestyle and raise the awareness of Hong Kong’s waste problem. "Small steps could start from reusing banners and decorations. Instead of buying, it would be more environmentally friendly to borrow or to loan them," said Ms. Cortese. She also suggested using e-invitations instead of printed cards. Even though the e-invitation cards or tickets are used by the majority of event organisers, attendees are usually asked to print them …

Catalonia's brewing independence

Spain has a new prime minister this week. Pedro Sanchez defeated his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy in a vote of no confidence. Rajoy is embroiled in a corruption scandal. Although Basque and Catalan nationalist parties voted in favour of Sanchez, it is unclear whether they will support his government. Sanchez, like Rajoy, will likely have to contend with Catalonia’s continuing fight to split from Spain. Walk past any major street in Barcelona and you will notice row upon row of flags fluttering from balconies. In Catalonia, the Senyera estelada, is a symbol of independence. Some of these yellow and red striped ensigns with a lone white star have been there for so long that the stripes have been bleached almost pink and white by the sun. But the newer polemic symbol of Catalonia’s quest to split from Spain are the yellow ribbons. These too are all over Barcelona: spray painted on pavements, tied to railings and lampposts, some of them, giant displays outside residential building stretching several storeys high. Yellow ribbons have become more common since last October when pro-independence parties claimed that most people in Catalonia chose independence from Spain in a referendum. Liz Castro is an American writer and publisher living in Barcelona. In May 2015, she was elected national secretary of the Catalan National Assembly, a grassroot movement for Catalan independence and Ms. Castro is currently chairwoman of the Assembly’s international committee. She has been writing about Catalonia’s fight for independence for years and is also an activist in the Catalan independence movement. Following last year’s referendum, Ms. Castro wrote The Street Will Always Be Ours. Ms. Castro said that Spain is actively suppressing the Catalan economy by not funding the infrastructure that the region needs. “Catalonia represents 16% of the population but Spain only allocates ten or …

Government launches project in Sham Shui Po in support of new fashion design businesses

The textile market in the district of Sham Shui Po has a long history of being a garment and clothing outlet. It used to house many factories and now has a full spectrum of products ranging from fabric, clothing, semi-precious stones, to accessories. While the market is idiosyncratic to local fashion, the government has announced its plans for a new fashion design project to be launched in Sham Shui Po, next to the fabric and textile market. The Commerce and Development Bureau said the project will help nurture a younger generation of local designers, as well as enrich the traditional fabric and retail business with new elements. Based on a report by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, the latest figures show that Cultural and Creative Industries have shown at an average of 7.6% a year, faster than the average annual growth rate of the nominal GDP of Hong Kong. The report also shows that in between 2005 to 2018, the growth seen in local design industries has more than quadrupled, from $1 billion to 4,15 billion. “The uniqueness of having this project in Sham Shui Po carries two meanings,” said Edward Yau Tang-wah, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development. “First of all, we want to support young fashion designers. On the other hand, finding a home in Sham Shui Po is a recognition of the synergy and the very special ecology that Sham Shui Po has, (it) is itself a big icon.” Mr. Yau believed that this project is giving the new creators in the fashion industry an old home. Mr. Yau emphasised that the goal can be summed up in three words: synergy, space, and support. “Synergy is between new designers and the local ecology,” he said. “Space does not only refer to space for incubation, …

Hong Kong's first solar-powered food truck wins catering award

Hong Kong's first green food truck won the Gold Prize of Catering in Traditional Cuisine of CLP's Greenplus Award Programme. The solar-power panels, which cost over $20,000, are installed on the vehicle's roof to supply electricity for fans and for customers to charge their electronic devices. "The eye-catching panels also demonstrates the eco-friendliness of the vehicle whereas other energy-saving measures are usually not obvious," said Trevor Ng, Managing Director of Pat Chun, who has been operating the $800,000 truck since March this year. The company also adopts an energy management system which can be operated with a smartphone to improve energy efficiency. "With the system, we can collect real-time energy consumption data and adjust the use of electricity," said Ng. For example, they can use the remaining heat generated by the automatic rice-fryer to cook their stewed beef brisket. To reduce interior temperature, they opted for a heat-resistant automatic rice-fryer. The solar panels on the roof also serve as a heat barrier during hotter days. A centrifugal range hood and a grease trap are also installed to collect used cooking oil that will be converted to biodiesel for the car. Ng said they save about 25% on their electricity bill after implementing these measures. Such environmental protection measures "mitigate climate change, lower business cost and create new business opportunities," said Philip Yung Wai-hung, Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development (Commerce, Industry and Tourism).  

Gaudí's Barcelona

Sagrada Família is kind of hard to miss in Barcelona, not only because of its height and size, but it is unusual to see a seemingly old building constantly surrounded by construction cranes. On the day of visit, tourists craned their necks to gawk at the spire, some with the ice-cream they just bought from one of the mant vendors dripping down their front as they gawked at the spires.  Other posed as the crucified Christ outside the main doors. Unlike most crucifixes, the Jesus figure on this one stares down at an angle, almost as if he is flying. Such unconventional and sometimes over decorated designs are iconic of the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). His work defines Catalan Modernism. Between 1984 to 2005, seven of his masterpieces were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, including Casa Batlló, Park Güell and the unfinished basilica, Sagrada Família. More than six million tourists visited Spain in April, according to the country’s government data, and Sagrada Família alone drew more than three million people. A survey by Statista indicates that other masterpieces by Gaudí, including Park Guell, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló also rank among the top destinations. In 1877, Gaudí designed his first building, Casa Vicens, under the commission of a merchant Manuel Vicens, on Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona. Further down the boulevard stands Casa Batlló with its colourful mosaic and dragon-like balconies. The line for tickets to these building may be long, but many more people pose for selfies outside. Visiting everyone of these Gaudí site in the city will set you back more than 100 euros ($923). Gaudí conceived those richly sophisticated columns, vaults and other geometric structures abstracted from “the Great Book of Nature.” He once said, “The line belongs to human beings, and the curve belongs …

Somewhere over the rainbow - How an 8-year-old boy experience China's education gulf

Every morning at 8:30, the muddy ocher-coloured cottage is blasted with young voices reading aloud textbook passages, so loud that it can be heard across the cement-levelled playground far from the school gate. There are three classrooms in the cottage with no lights but a rickety ceiling fan each. Drawings are repeatedly glued on and ripped off a section of the wall framed with red rice paper. On top, it wrote sloppily "In Celebration of the June First International Children's Day". This is where the eight-year-old Huang Wei-biao goes to school every day with his 22 young schoolmates, a village in the rural area of the East Guangxi province. The nearest town is 45 minutes of serpentine car ride away. One can tell Huang is a diligent student as he reads his textbook with his finger precisely pointing at each word when he pronounces it. One can tell Huang is an assiduous child as the veins of his neck appear every time he utters a word. One can tell Huang is an eager learner as each page of his textbook is torn and curled at the corners. Yet no matter how earnest or smart a student Huang is, he is just one the 13.8 million village primary students in China who are probably receiving education of lower quality than students who study in the urban parts of China. Village schools lack facilities and professionally trained teachers. Pupils do not have classes in other areas such as arts and physical education, let alone school outings. In comparison, the XinXing primary school in the same prefectural city has a multi-story building with a sports ground. There are more than 40 teachers and most of them have received tertiary education. Children's' parents can also find better working opportunities close by and not have …

Master of Knives

A full steel armour stands in the show window of Chan Wah Kee, a cutlery shop on Temple Street in Mong Kok.Chan Dong-wah, 85, is one of the few remaining knife sharpeners inHong Kong. He has been whetting blades for more than 70 years.Chan first learnt the art of knife sharpening in Guangzhou when he was 11 years old. Four years later, he came to Hong Kong and set up his stall on Temple Street, sharpening tailor's scissors. After 20 years of hard work, he finally owned his cutlery store."The key