Witnessing America as an American during this particular time in history can be challenging. On one hand, many disagree strongly with the President’s actions abroad. On the other hand, America is home and a large part of how many identify as people. Defining what kind of culture one can call home can mean lots of things. It can mean what music one finds comforting, what food one loves or how one defines good and bad. But it’s almost impossible to separate one’s home country from its culture.
So, when a country begins to exhibit ideals and ideas that don’t jive with personal morals – it can be difficult to cope. How can someone claim to love their country and yet be so angry with the actions its leaders take? One way to handle the dissonance is by reading about the past. Being an American isn’t just about Congressional deadlock, although disagreement and argument do seem to be at the core of our republic.
To understand American culture, whether local or not, history is tantamount. What is the Constitution? How was it formed? What were the Federalist Papers and why is everyone so up in arms about open seats on the Supreme Court? Of course, America can be understood on a surface level without these key pieces of knowledge – but it helps to clarify some things beyond the headlines. People ask why America is so divided these days. But, thinking back, America has always had division and disagreement. It’s part of what makes up the culture of the country. The founding fathers believed that argument and debate would give way to the best solutions.
The Constitution, for example, wasn’t formed simultaneously with the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it took time. The former British Colonies were ruled using the Articles of Confederation for many years after independence, because it allowed each state to maintain a veto vote in the federal government. It meant that states’ rights always superseded the federal government. It took time, 85 Federalist Papers and virulent opposition and debate to form the Constitution. The two main warring parties, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, wrote papers, screamed and argued until a compromise was formed. The Constitution was only ratified by the states because of the Bill of Rights, also known as the ten amendments to the Constitution that ensure the rights of the people. So, dissonance and debate has always been part of American history and culture.
Where does that then leave wary Americans who don’t feel at peace with their country or the actions of their leader? By reading about the past and understanding just how much debate there was, how much rowdiness there has always been in American history, can act as a sigh of relief. American history shows that political actions might not always seem right at the time, but through honest debate that gives everyone a voice and right to speak – the path has mostly kept its course. Reading about the past helps to put the present in perspective and that, while it may seem like today is a dramatic and intense age of American politics, it might just be par for the course.
Being an American living abroad makes it difficult to square American governmental actions with their moral beliefs, and many often find themselves questioning their culture. But spending time examining American history may reassure them that they not the only American who has felt confused and angry, and they certainly won’t be the last. So long as there are people who speak up, make noise, and demand equality – America will find its way back to the right path.
Let’s not waste time with what brought you to Cape Town for a mere day, if you’re down this far south you only have one responsibility: enjoy this amazing city to the fullest extent!
For the early birds...
Start your day off, outdoors. If you’re feeling up to it,, enjoy a hike or even a run up Table Mountain. For those in search of an even greater challenge, try Lion’s Head. The mornings in Cape Town offer the coolest temperatures that the city will experience all day so you’ll want to take advantage by spending these hours outside. If Table Mountain isn’t something that interests you, there are usually free yoga classes on the beach near the waterfront or you can join one of the many yoga & pilates studios around the Cape.
For those who wish to slow down...
Check out one of Cape Town’s beautiful cafes. There is the famous Insomnia coffee if you want to jolt your heart into action with the strongest coffee in the world. There is also Scheckter’s Raw for our vegan and more healthy-minded readers. After you’ve loaded up with some tasty breakfast, you can take a slow stroll around the V&A Waterfront or along Sea Point. Hopefully you haven’t stayed in bed too long, and it isn’t too warm yet.
For those who plan ahead . . .
You could be riding out to Robben Island, where you can talk to a former prisoner who will lead you around the prison. Nelson Mandela was once a resident of this famous island, so don’t miss a chance to engage with this incredible part of South African history. Want another historical tidbit? Visit Mount Nelson Hotel for High Tea, where you can follow in the footsteps of other famous historical travel writers and indulge in a South African Milk Tart.
For those seeking relaxation outside of the city. . .
Luckily, Cape Town and its surrounding areas are host to beautiful wine resorts. Throughout Stellenbosch and its beautiful gardens like Kirstenbosch National Garden , you can relax with a glass of world-renown South African wine and soak it all in. At many of these gardens and wine resorts, keep in mind that many host movie nights or concerts that you can find out about online - so do you research! Don’t forget to try local South African cuisine while you’re there! This includes Biltong, South Africa’s version of beef jerky.
For those city slickers . . .
Cape Town’s downtown is crazy busy with activities to do. You can visit local historical landmarks while you walk down the famous Long Street. There are local bookstores to visit, cafes to try, more coffee to drink (that’s right - Insomnia Coffee is in the area) and graffiti to photograph. If you want to head out a bit, try Bootlegger Cafe, a cafe famous for their delicious food, drinks and very free and fast wifi for you millennials.
For those looking to treat themselves . . .
Head to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for a special dinner. Some of the most delicious restaurants are based here. After your meal of fresh seafood, end the night looking out over the ocean from high above in the ferris wheel, under the stars.
For those in need of a pick-me-up…
Of course it depends on what you’re looking for when you read “pick-me-up.” There are local yoga classes you can take until late in the evening to get your namaste on, or you can head out to a club in downtown Cape Town to spice things up.
Just make sure you get back to your hotel and get a good night’s sleep for your plane ride tomorrow! There’s a million other cafes and food markets to visit in this South African city, but you did as much as you could - so take comfort in that fact… and book another flight back as soon as you can.
When I first visited Cape Town in the warm summer months of December, I had no idea the city would quite literally steal my heart. After getting over the weird sensation of wearing shorts and dresses in what I consider a winter month, the city quickly became one of my favorites in the world. The beautiful views from Sea Point and challenging hikes to Lions Head are only two of the untouched parts of South Africa’s landscape that stun and astound. Whether you walk down the Victoria & Albert Waterfront with its eclectic mix of beautiful restaurants or stroll down Long Street, you won't be able to resist trying everything the local vibrant culture has to offer.
Since I visited in 2016, I've been back three times and I’ve experienced just how different the Cape can be. If you want to relax, there's Stellenbosch - where you can visit vineyard after vineyard. More in the mood to breathe in that fresh Atlantic and Indian ocean air? Go for a hike up and around Table Mountain, visit Kirstenbosch National Garden or one of the many other parks. Even the foodies amongst us (myself included) cannot choose what to eat because there's just so much! If you crave healthy salads and fresh fruit, there are markets along the seaside and more sophisticated cafes in the city. High tea? Check. Fancy dinners to scratch your urges for steak? You're covered.
More interested in assimilating? Visit Insomnia Coffee to try the strongest coffee in the world . . . yes you read that right, the strongest coffee in the world! While you're buzzing, you can visit local indie bookstore, The Book Lounge, and pick up a book by local South African author, Zakes Mda.
Cape Town is one of the world's “in” tourist destinations right now so don't be surprised if the crowds are large. Don't worry - they're all conserving water just like you are (hint: Cape Town might be the world's first city to run out of water so be conscious when using water in your hotel room).
South Africa is well known for its apartheid past so don't miss visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Endlessly fascinating, you'll find commemorative museums and statues of this national hero all around the city. For the history buffs in your friend group (aka all of us here at Sub-Stances), it's an illuminating paradise.
Once you've hiked all the trails, walked all of the streets and eaten all of the delicious Cape food, one thing will stick out: the people. Each time I visit this stunning city, I meet the kindest and most generous people who want to share their homes and lives with me. Disclaimer: I did meet my boyfriend here so I may be a bit biased. It gives weight to that old adage - “it's not the place, but the people that make any place truly home.” So whether you’re in search of a party, outdoor adventure or simply to check another city off of your list, you'll find that Cape Town has a way of sneaking into your heart. And don't worry, it's not going anywhere.
With the advent of social media and the ever-increasing stride towards digital lives - a strange thing has happened: the world has become lonelier. More people are reporting feeling sad lonely or depressed and as of yet - there hasn’t been a solution put forth. A 2017 report even said loneliness was as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Where does that leave us? In the midst of a health crisis?
The answer in Great Britain was to appoint a Minister for Loneliness. Tracey Crouch was appointed to tackle the issue. She acknowledged that lonelieness wasn’t just linked to social media - it was also specifically linked with the elderly population. Around two million people all across England who are aged above 75 live alone. This might seem unproblematic, until you realize that many of these people can go for days or weeks without any social interaction at all. Particularly in the winter, many people stock up on food and avoid leaving their homes. This isn’t even necessarily a tactic of social awkwardness. For many, it’s simply being smart. As they get older, it might be painful to move around.
One of the ways that Tracey Couch will be useful is to see if a National Strategy will help. There are many different small NGOs and organizations that fight mental health stigma and loneliness across local communities - but there aren’t countries that specify it as a main strategy in their health policies. Maybe it’s time for that to change.
Loneliness can affect anyone - and it’s easy for people to hide. In our society of being on phones and choosing to text rather than meet up in person, it’s not surprising to see this issue come to the forefront. Being active can be hard and if you’re an introvert like me, it can be even harder to get out there and work to be social. It can be downright challenging. But people who aren’t lonely live longer, tend to be happier and live fuller lives more presently with the people they love. And if you happen to be an introvert, just remember that enjoying spending time alone and being lonely are two separate things.
Here are some ways you can reach out to lonely people in your community:
When the Netherlands comes up in conversation, the topics often turn to windmills, canals, and the famous Dutch city of Amsterdam. What doesn’t come up as often is suicide, and that, in of itself, is surprising. Last year 1,894 people committed suicide in the Netherlands - a rate of around 11 per 100,000 people. In 2015, the country reported its highest rate in suicide ever - leaving many to wonder, why?
The easy answer is that euthanasia is legal, or at least it has been since 2002. In other words, patients can ask their doctors for assistance committing suicide in a safe and effective matter. Patients that are terminally ill or suffering can request euthanasia, although being terminally ill is not a prerequisite. In the Netherlands, euthanasia accounts for 4.5 percent of all deaths. Euthanasia is also legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and six US states.
Some claim that the ease and normalcy of euthanasia in society means that more people will ask for it. When it becomes okay to ask to end your life, the stigma might fade. This does not however, change the high rate of suicide in the country. So, why the Netherlands? The country does not have any particular problem with its healthcare system nor is it under an autocratic regime where many people’s rights are withheld.
The answer might be depression. Researchers have calculated that in the Netherlands, depression makes up for a high share of “years lived with disability” (YLDs) - nearly 16 percent. This is somewhat surprisingly high for the country who rates as the “fourth happiest country in the world” on the Global Happiness scale.
Suicide doesn’t necessarily have a clear-cut answer. One of the hardest things left over when loved ones are faced with a friend or a family member who has committed suicide is the question: why? The only person that can answer that is no longer with you. We can’t make any clear assumptions about why the suicide rate in the Netherlands is so high. Superficial assumptions like the weather and the grey weather might have merit. But in the end - high suicide rates might mean that there is something culturally unique about the Netherlands - or that nothing is unique at all and that suicide rates vary on an uncountable number of factors.
But don’t let that stop you from appreciating Dutch history, beautiful art and incredible strides towards a greener economy. The country may be small and contain a large percentage of suicides, but it still hosts a wide section of world culture and history that cannot be matched.
With our daily lives focusing around work and school, it’s easy to ignore your mental health. Most of us can function perfectly fine without taking a moment to breath and to consider what’s going on “up there.” But that shouldn’t be the case! Though it may be the “norm” to pull all-nighters and to push yourself to the breaking point - that might not be the healthiest way to handle things. Drinking ten cups of coffee and then passing out on the couch is a somewhat glamorized image and perhaps even an aspiration of students. But... but, maybe it’s not the best way to handle things.
Here are five easy ways you can keep on top of your mental health - whether you’re working 9-5 or are a student going through a demanding exam period.
Get a Move on
One of the easiest ways you can give your brain a second to take a break is through movement. Dance in your apartment or go to the gym, walk outside or bike - it doesn’t matter as long as you move. Each of us enjoy engaging in different kinds of activities, but physical activity especially allows for your brain to take a breather while you also get your sweat on.
Drink Lots of Water
Your brain is just like any other part of your body - it needs water to survive. So whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re doing it while drinking some water. It only takes five minutes to fill up a glass of water so that you unconsciously drink it later. Bonus points: it isn’t just good for your mental health - it will also make you feel better almost immediately if you’re dehydrated.
Take a Break
Yes, you read that right. Taking a pause can sometimes be really difficult for some to manage, especially when you are pressed for time, but for your mental health’s sake - it’s necessary. Studies even show that students who study with more breaks tend to retain their information for longer periods of time. If your body is screaming for a break after working for five hours non-stop, walk to the coffee machine and take a second away from your computer screen. Your eyes are likely tired and will thank you for the break from the strain.
Chances are if you’re stressing out to the point where you’re concerned about your mental health - you’ve been working too hard. It’s easy to forget that your body is also on overdrive when you’re studying or putting in long hours at work to meet a deadline. One of the best ways to counteract this is to take time to thank yourself with a treat - something just for you. Maybe you love chocolate or there’s a new movie you want to see? Take yourself out and reward yourself for doing such hard work.
Remember to Breathe and Smile
A simple smile can improve your mood. So remember to take a moment to smile and to remind yourself to breathe slowly and calmly throughout the day. Working isn’t generally a cardio exercise, so take advantage of this time to manage your stress by focusing on your breath and by utilizing the muscles on your face.
Once the gold medals are passed out and the tourists go home, the cities that host the Olympics face a problem. What do they do with the stadiums and massive investment in infrastructure? What happens to the pavillions made for millions of tourists once their trip has ended? As is with most complex problems, the answer is: it depends.
In cities like Rio de Janeiro, stadiums are already falling into disrepair. Although it has only been two years since the 2016 Games, the main sites of the games have been looted or completely abandoned. In the renown Olympic Park that was constructed for the Games, no operators have come forward seeking to take up the venues. That means four arenas built for sports, including two separate arenas, the tennis center and the velodrome, will remain empty and closed off for anyone to enter.
What this says about the legacy of the Olympics is not good. Cities that host with the intention of gaining some kind of economic gain from hosting the worldwide sports competition are faced with rising rental costs, failing infrastructure, and discontent from local residents that were evicted from their homes. For Rio’s games, around 80,000 citizens were removed for their homes in expectation of the mass amount of construction. Now, they live in worse situations.
Rio de Janeiro, however, is not the only city to have hosted the games. London used its opportunity to host the games to bring a part of their city back to life. Places like Hackney Wick, which never were developed before, now operate as the new ‘hip’ places to live and work. What makes a winning strategy? How can cities ensure that they end with London’s positive feedback loop rather than Brazil and Athen’s deserted masses of space? The United Kingdom will tell you that the answer lies in repurposing buildings and recycling locations rather than building new ones all-together. Instead of building drastically large stadiums, the answer lies in using warehouses and previously existing arenas.
When hosting, Barcelona used similar tactics to London, using the Games to rebuild its industrial sector. Placing investment in public transport and reusable spaces is where the key lies for effective post-Olympic growth. Will Tokyo do the same? What do we have to look forward to Seoul?
Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit are two photographers that attend the locations of the Games years after they finish to see what happens, and what the consequences of hosting these games are. Their project is called The Olympic City Project. Listen to their interview with NPR.
As we celebrate the Olympics and competitive sports in all of its formats, let’s not forget that sports include more than the aspect of games. “To do sport” is faire du sport in French or “Fitness machen” in German encompass any kind of physical activity. In many countries, that has extended to how sports become ingrained their national consciousness. In this article, we take a look at bike sharing and how Vélib’ took over France.
It started in Paris - where Vélib’ launched in 2005 with 8,000 bikes across Paris. In its first year alone, the company made more than 16 million USD. Today, the company makes around 21 million USD on an annual basis with the funds going back to Paris. With 102 million USD in startup costs, how did Vélib’ cope?
As with most things sports, things go hand-in-hand with advertising. JCDecaux, a multinational firm, won an advertising contract to maintain Vélib’s cycles and set up the infrastructure necessary in a sort of “barter” system exchange for 50 percent of Parisian billboard space for ten years. With this deal, Vélib’ and in turn, JCDecaux, have become average symbols to associate with Paris and France. Although Vélib’ was not the first bike share (that award goes to Velo’v bike rental service in Lyon), it has become world renown and copied throughout the world’s other capital cities. Washington D.C. for example launched SmartBike DC in 2008 with 10 stations and 120 bikes. It is the first bike-sharing program in the USA.
Across the world, other cities have done the same with great results. Cities with large tourist influxes like Montreal, Barcelona and Hangzhou, China all use similar bike sharing systems with modular docking systems so that tourists can operate the bike system without interacting with other humans. Can you guess which city has the largest amount of bicycles? That would be Hangzhou, China with more than 78,000 bicycles.
Today more than a few American cities like Denver and San Francisco also utilize bike sharing programs. With a world focused on healthy living, particularly on beating the epidemic of obesity, bike sharing is the perfect way to ease pressure on public transit systems while providing a healthy alternative for both locals and tourists to get around. Another bonus? Less pollution.
Vélib’ reports that on an annual basis, they support 27.5 million trips. And due to the success, Paris has launched Autolib’ - a car sharing program similarly modeled to Vélib’. Is it thanks to Vélib’ that there are more than 900 bike sharing systems worldwide? Probably not. But the impact that Vélib’ had in making bike sharing “cool again,” shouldn’t be understated.
If you’re interested in reading more about bike sharing, check out Atlantic’s Citylab feature on the Bike Sharing Boom.
Chances are - if you watch the news, you’ve heard of doping. In the past few years, Russian athletes in particular have been tarred with this particular brush and banned from competing in the games. But what is doping?
According to UNESCO:
'Doping' refers to an athlete's use of prohibited drugs or methods to improve training and sporting results. Steroids are the drugs that often come to mind when we talk about doping, but doping also includes an athlete's use of other forbidden drugs (such as stimulants, hormones, diuretics, narcotics and marijuana), use of forbidden methods(such as blood transfusions or gene doping), and even the refusal to take a drug test or an attempt to tamper with doping controls.
As you continue to participate in sport, doping is an issue that you will increasingly face: you could be tested for drugs; some of your competitors will be cheating by using drugs; you may even be tempted to do so yourself. (Source)
When athletes agree to compete in the Olympic or any kind of international-level games, they are subjecting themselves to the rules that the World Anti-Doping Agency stipulates. In this case, anabolic substances, peptide hormones, beta-2 agonists, metabolic modulators, and diuretics are prohibited. Usually at the beginning of and throughout the games, athletes are screened for these substances - and if detected, they are not allowed to compete.
The kind of reports that discuss doping have been rampant in the media as of late. In January 2018, Russia was again banned from the Paralympics in 2018 due to an “insufficient recovery from the doping scandal.” Not only does the International Paralympic Committee state that Russia does not cooperate with any kind of regulation, but that they also have also engaged in state-sponsored doping. In other words, the government of Russia supported cheating in the games. Systemic cheating has become the norm.
In the Olympic Games upcoming in Seoul, 169 Russian athletes have been given special dispensation to compete in the games. As for the Paralympics, Russian athletes that are cleared for participation may compete, but will so do as “Neutral Paralympics Athletes.” That means they will compete, but outside of their country and without the mention of ‘Russia’ in their title. The scandal takes on a drastic tone particularly in Russia, and amongst other countries who were furious at Russia for the country’s lack of morals.
But why does doping matter?
In international politics, as well as a variety of other interactions between countries, there is cheating. There’s no question that amongst diplomats - there is subterfuge and under the table deals. What makes sports different is that it exists as something apart from politics. It represents an opportunity for countries to put aside their political differences and come together. Doping is an attack upon the integrity that sports, for many countries, is a matter of national pride.
National athletes that compete in the Olympics are the cream of the crop that countries have to send. They represent the strength and endurance of each competitor, regardless of the level of interest any particular citizen has in sports. In other words, doping is more than simply cheating, it’s pulling the rug out from under the rightful winner - and doing so in the most immoral of tactics.
One of the most striking characteristics of the last American presidential election was the amount of fact-baseless claims politicians have made. Candidates simply made statements about climate change, whether or not it was true -without deeming to source their information at all. The man who perpetrated this most of all? America’s newest President: Donald Trump. Since taking office, he has instituted a number of policies that seem to bring America closer towards an industrialisation-era style of deregulation and lack of any thought given towards the environment.
Whether or not you voted for him, it brings about an interesting question. Why would the public vote for a man who routinely claimed that scientists had political bias? What does this say about how much the public trusts science?And, what does that have to do with climate change policy?
The Pew Research Centre asked both scientists and other respondents last year about their opinions on different topics. For example, while 88 percent of scientists say that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are safe to eat, 37 percent of American adults agree with them. That’s a huge 51 point gap between the two. Even worse is that once the respondents are broken down between Republican and Democrats, in 2014, Pew found that 42 percent of Republican voters view scientists as liberal - not independent.
That is a problem - because climate change policy is rooted in how scientists view what is happening on the planet today and where it will go in the future. Listening to scientists brought President Obama and the majority of other world countries to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, something that President Trump has already withdrawn from. He withdrew from this agreement because politically - it was the right choice to stand with his constituents, even if scientists in both his administration and outside stress the urgent need for global change.
Much of public distrust can be rooted in the fact that scientists are grouped with the “elite,” where Republicans often place much of their disagreements and problems. Further, in the past years, there have been many instances where false positives have gained national or international traction before being retracted. For every one study telling one result, there is another that boldly claims the opposite. What is published online does not include research methodology or the statistical significance of their findings.
Climate change policy, in the simplest form, is political solutions for climate related problems. It can also be called environmental policy and it should rely on facts rather than short-term political gain. How we can fix this has to do with regaining the public trust in science. That means better research, higher standards of statistical significance, more transparency, and learning how to talk about science in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Public trust in science might be at a low right now - but creating good climate change policy relies on it being much higher. Where will scientists take the first step?
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