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Health & Environment

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 …

Last day before Tiananmen closes for maintenance

  • 2018-06-14

The red flag with yellow stars slowly descends as the sun goes down at the Tiananmen square, marking not only the end of a day in Beijing but also the last day before the 700-year-old castle wall closes for maintenance. The Tiananmen District Management Committee announced on Tuesday that the heritage would be closed from 15 June to April next year. It is the first time Tiananmen close for repairment after its major renovation in the 1970s. The maintenance would mainly improve on waterproofing the Tiananmen tower, repairing and replacing tubings and equipments which have reached its life time, and conserving the heritage. The flag raising and lowering ceremony take place everyday at sunrise and sunset. Tourists, mostly Chinese, starts to gather on the plaza shortly after six, 90 minutes before the flag lowering ceremony. Mandy Yip, a tourist from Hong Kong said she chose to come today because the tower is closing the day after. "We didn't plan to come today, but we heard from the news that it is closing, so we came to visit before it is draped," she said. Li Feng, a Tianjin tourist who came to Beijing with his girlfriend also said they came knowing today is the last day of the building. "I do not have any special feelings about the building, but I still came knowing I could not visit it in a year." On the square, there are many cameramen who win breads by taking photos of tourists in front of the Tiananmen. "The maintenance is a catastrophe to me. It would no longer be attractive for photo-taking. I may go jobless," Wang Chao, one of the photographers said. Yet not all businesses think alike, Chen Yi-lin, who runs a vending truck said she is not worried at all. "I have never …

Photo Essay

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 …

Business

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 …

Health & Environment

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 …

29 years since Tiananmen massacre: dozens went for an "alternative" vigil while 115,000 gathered at Victoria Park

  • 2018-06-05
  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Katherine Li、Ezra CheungEdited by: Holly Chik、Angie Chan
  • 2018-06-05

While 115,000 people gathered at Victoria Park for the 29th time to memorialise the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, some 150 people participated in an "alternative" vigil outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday. This June 4th Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil took place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui in front of the Freedom Fighter statue on Monday evening. It aimed to serve English-language speakers in Hong Kong, said organisers Michael Mo Kwan-tai and Danny Chan Tsz-chun. It was the first June 4th vigil in Hong Kong that was conducted entirely in English. "We want to hold this event at an international standard, to show the people of Hong Kong that we have not forgotten," said Mr. Mo, who was also an Amnesty International Hong Kong campaigner previously. This alternative vigil focused on raising international awareness and supporting "the souls who fought for freedom beyond our borders". The organisers urged the international society to investigate into the June 4th Incident. Mr. Mo read aloud poems written by Liu Xia, widow of dissident Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. He also paid tribute to Su Changlan, Chinese women's rights activist who supported the 2014 Umbrella Movement and "the hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists still facing jail terms, surveillance and harassment on a daily basis". Regarding the fact that many still question whether it is helpful or necessary for this alternative vigil to be held, Mr. Mo felt that the operational goals of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China increasingly dissuaded younger people from attending the candlelight vigil at Victoria Park, a conundrum which could be solved with an alternative vigil. "I can actually feel that there are more young faces here," Mr. Mo said. "The turnout number is also …

Real Madrid soccer training school – A dream for young talents

  • 2018-06-04

Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in last Saturday's UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine. The Spanish division A team has won the crown 13 times in 63 years, and Liverpool only five times. This was the second time the two teams met in the European Cup Final in 37 years. Might Real Madrid's change in its strategy on team building explain its success in recent years? Before 2007, Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid, used Galácticos to boost the league's performance. That is, they built the teams with superstar players hired from all over the world. Critics said the commercial approach drew attention but failed to prepare players, leading to unsatisfactory league results. The departure of David Beckham marked the end of the Galácticos era. Since 2007, Real Madrid has put its focus on nurturing young talents. That's reflected in its multi-million investment in Ciudad de Real Madrid, the world's largest soccer training school. Located in Valdebebas Park in Madrid, the school covers an area of 1,200,000 square metres, including dressing rooms, gymnasiums, classrooms, conference rooms, a hydrotherapy pool and medical centres. There are 10 grass football pitches with a capacity for more than 11,000 spectators. According to a spokesman for the school, more than 3,000 boys from across the European Union vie for a position at Ciudad de Real Madrid every year. The youngest is only six years old. Most of them are from across Spain since parents from outside the country are unlikely to be able to accompany their children in the Spanish capital during their training. It is many boy's dreams to get into Real Madrid but not everyone has the chance to make their dreams come true. "Of the 3,000 boys who apply to the school, only 44 are selected every year," he said. The …

Death in the afternoon in Madrid

  • 2018-05-24
  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Nadia Lam、Erin ChanEdited by: Holly Chik、Angie Chan、Michelle Ng
  • 2018-05-24

There are many styles of bullfighting around the world, but in Spain, death is inevitable for the beast. At around 6:30 p.m on a Sunday evening, about 20,000 people packed into Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, a bullfighting ring in Madrid. Music started blaring from speakers around the circular spectator stands. A lone bull entered the arena. It stood quietly at the centre, seemingly at a loss. Several men then joined the beast in the ring, waving pieces of red cape known as muleta. The waving enraged the animal and soon it charged and rushed at the moving fabric. In came the matador, mounted on the back of a white horse. With a lance in his right hand, the matador started to irritate the bull by chasing it around the arena. The horse galloped to avoid being jabbed by the bull's fierce horns and after minutes of this teasing and dancing, the matador then stabbed the bull with the spear. This was just the start of the bull's suffering. The process continued until five of six lances had pierced the back of the bull's neck. It continued to charge as blood oozed from its wounds. The agony came with one sharp jab of a sword vertically into the top of its spine. The bull fell. The audience cheered and waved pieces of white cloth to show their appreciation towards the bullfighter. That was round one. The next bull, equally confused as the first then came into the ring. Its only defence against the matador's provocation was its horns. During one of the rounds, the bull simply would not be provoked. It escaped and ran into the aisle between the spectators' area and the arena, which raised a clamour among the audience. The matadors didn't give up and after the …

The United Nations headquarters of pickpocketing victims

  • 2018-05-23

It is a place where you can meet friends from around the world, who share a truly memorable experience on your journey – it is a place you definitely do NOT want to visit in Spain. At the National Police, district Madrid-Centro, a red sign reads "SATE" near the entrance. "SATE" means "Foreign Tourist Assistance Service". Follow it and you enter a  room full of people sitting in front of a blank wall. They are all victims of pickpocketing in Spain. I found myself a seat. There were 20 people this particular afternoon in May. The tourist season in Madrid has only just started. Everybody in the room looked blank and empty, just like their wallets. Five minutes later, an officer invited me to another room. He handed me a phone. There was a police officer on the line. "Tell me what happened," he said. "This afternoon I was going around Plaza Mayor with my friends. My wallet got stolen," I explained. The wallet was in a zipped up bag by my side. I had no idea how it got stolen. Perhaps just one lapsed moment was enough for a skilful thief to open my bag, spot the wallet, and snap it way – just a matter of seconds. It was day one of our trip. I had 250 Euros ($2,300) in my wallet, along with my bank card, credit card, and the key for my hotel room. Fortunately, there was no suspicious spending record on my credit card before I called to cut the service. After my account of what happened, I was told to return to the room of victims to wait for the official statement report. I asked how long would it take. "Hmm... usually a while," the officer muttered. Everyone in the room had a ticket …

Culture & Leisure

The journey of enlightenment

In almost 25 years, the Tian Tan Buddha, the biggest outdoor seated bronze statue of Gautama Buddha on Lantau Island, has become one of the most visited places in Hong Kong.