Category Archives: World & Travel

The sound of bees buzzing – Keeping memories alive

It happens in less than a second… a bee flies close to my ear making its typical buzzing sound and (swoosh) I´m back to a past situation in my head. It´s a hot day in late summer, I´m in my grandparents’ garden in the east of Germany for the holidays, my granny has just made her delicious plum pie and maybe in the afternoon we will ride our bikes to the beautiful lake in the forest around the corner.

Wonderful trick of the brain

It happens just like a reflex: you smell, hear or taste something and it reminds you of a situation in the past. It´s like a moment you caught and put into an empty marmalade jar, only to open it up again and get a whiff of the feeling you had at this time. Just to name another few examples: I love the smell of gasoline. Not because it´s a fancy perfume, but because it reminds me of my childhood vacations. Going on a camping trip in Italy by car, being stuck in a traffic jam, excited for the next two weeks just enjoying life. Same goes for the sound of pigeons, which I always heard when I woke up in the tent.

The taste of milk chocolate – for me also an association with being a child. My first advent calendar, a Milka chocolate bar as a present from relatives or a piece of the typical Easter chocolate bunny. I take a bite and I feel like a little girl again. Another amazing thing: the smell of old books… or new books, as well! As for the old ones, their smell takes me back to rummaging in a library or my parents´ bookshelves. The smell of new books always brings excitement to me: like when you got a new book for your birthday and could not wait to start reading, or when the new year of school started and you were still excited about what would happen during the year (motivation was still existent back then).

Bringing childhood back to the present

I could probably go on telling you other examples for eternity… The smoke after you blew out a candle (on your birthday cake), the sound of a cow´s bell, the smell of French fries, the feeling you get when you coincidentally smell the soap your grandma uses as well, the scent of sunscreen or the taste of cotton candy…

All of these things bring some kind of joy to our minds because they remind us of happy moments that are already gone. Maybe in hard times we should remind ourselves of those smells, sounds or tastes and try to get a glimpse of them. Just to get the feeling of being a child again, when the worst thing that could happen was having to take a nap (now the most amazing thing ever!) and the best thing was eating French fries next to the pool.

author: Carolin Joos

Moving away as far as possible – My Exchange term in New Zealand

If I told you that, in 2015, I got on a plane to New Zealand, you might think that maybe I was trying to escape a bad situation, flee from my parents or get as many kilometres in between me and my old life as possible. But you’d be mistaken: What I did was start the biggest adventure of my life so far.

German schools? – 18,000km away!

In July 2015, I flew to Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. I was in year 10 at school at that time, which means I was used to our German school system with a monotonous timetable every single week. My first impression of Thames High, the school I attended in New Zealand, was that everything was less organized and school is going to be way different from what it had been like at home – well guessed, Michael!

Outdoor Education

When thinking about your average school day, would you expect to learn the theory of canoeing, repairing bike shifters or diving at school? I didn’t and I think most of you wouldn’t, either! All these things are fundamental in “Outdoor Education (OEC)”, a subject offered at high school in New Zealand.

German schools offer a broad range of knowledge to their students, but a lot of the content is not important for your future life. The opposite is set as a standard in New Zealand. The country tries to offer its students a practical education as well, which I think is great!

OEC 301          

OEC 301 was my course during my term there. At the end of each term, an Outdoor Education class goes on a trip. For my course, that trip included canoeing, caving and mountain biking.

Now imagine a lake with an average water temperature of 16°C, bloody cold wind and canoes. Our group paddled around Lake Tarawera to Hot Water Beach, a natural hot spring heated up by volcanic activity. We set up our tents and went for a swim in the lake… The water temperature was like 38 degrees in the area of volcanic activity while the rest of the lake was bloody cold. 

Day 2 and 3 lead us to a cave, but sadly, I can’t remember the name… and a mountain bike park called Red Woods. While my German friends learned about the French Subjonctif, I was able to gain lots of experience in wildlife camping and outdoor sports that I will remember my entire life!

It was great to make new friends and to get to know another school system. Absolutely recommendable!

author: Michael Kurz

“Thank you for your service, Sir!” – Living with an US-Army family for a year.

“Thank you for your service, Sir!” – That’s a sentence I’ve heard probably about almost 100 times, when I was out with my host dad and him wearing his US Army uniform. What seemed incredibly weird for me at first, was very normal for people living in the Unites States of America. Being in the Army or any other military unit in the USA is something highly respected among its citizens, which I started to realize quickly after moving in as the au pair of an Army family.

Advantages

Before I started my year as an au pair in 2016, I of course knew that most of US citizens are pretty patriotic and that they love their country and everything what it stands for. But when I actually started living there, I realized that there is much more to it than loving your country. It’s a way of living, which especially shows in how they treat people working in the military.

So, my host dad who has been working in the Army for about 30 years, brings my host family a lot of advantages. Especially when we were going out together for dinner or visiting an amusement park, they always got a huge military discount. When we did go on a trip, we always were able to board the plane priority, because of my host dad being in the military. I also found out that there actually are certain camping grounds and hotels, that you can only go to if you are in the Army. Besides all this, I also noticed the second they realized my host dad is part of the US military, we always got special treatment and regardless their age people showed so much respect towards him. That’s something that I got fascinated about, since I’ve never experienced such behavior towards people in the German Bundeswehr.

Disadvantages

Of course, besides the discounts and all the respect, there are some things that are far away from being perfect, when you are a military family. The hardest thing my host family probably has to face are the ongoing goodbyes.  I don’t even know how many times my host dad had to say goodbye to his loved ones to go on another military mission. He was not able to be there when my host mum gave birth to their first child and he missed a lot of special occasions. And I guess it’s even harder, when you don’t know if you’re going to see each other again or not. When I first got there my host dad was only able to stay for two weeks until he had to go back to the Middle East.

Respect for the military

Regardless of all the advantages and disadvantages working in the US military, I found the lifestyle and how much respect the US military gets fascinating. It’s part of the country and history and people realize how hard it must be to have a job like that. Of course, you can discuss whether the military is really needed, but at the moment it exists, so why not treat the people working for it with the right amount of respect. Something we in Germany probably could learn from.

author: Janina Trinkl

Popcorn flavors around the world – Thoughts of a popcorn addict who only goes to the movies to get fresh popcorn.

Who doesn´t love popcorn? It´s crunchy, chewy and puffy, it can be salty or sweet all in all, it´s just incredibly tasty. Popcorn is one of the most popular snacks and has been enjoyed across the globe for centuries. But have you ever wondered how popcorn became such a popular snack?

A historical recap

Popcorn actually is a truly ancient dish! The oldest popcorn known to date was found in South America approximately 5,000 years ago. Native Americans not only ate it but also used it do decorate ceremonial embellishments, clothes and necklaces. As colonists arrived in the New World, they became fond of Native American food. Not only was popcorn enjoyed as a snack, but it was also eaten with milk and sugar like a breakfast cereal. The story of popcorn´s rise to prominence continued with vendors selling the snack near crowds, especially outside theaters, circuses and fairs in the 18th century. This gave birth to popcorn being sold as a classic movie snack later. During the Great Depression, the corn kernels gained even more popularity since it was the only snack many people were still able to afford.

Salty or sweet? – it is not that easy

Enjoying a bag of popcorn isn´t limited to just a few countries anymore. I´m a popcorn addict who got the chance to travel the world during the past few years. On my journey I experienced that each country enjoys its popcorn in very different ways, which honestly surprised me.

Let´s have a look at three places that stand out when it comes to the enjoyment of my beloved snack.

USA

Apparently, the Americans have really weird popcorn-eating habits. They mainly like to eat it salty, which is fine by me. But why do they drizzle butter on top making it all soggy? It is also very common to add cheddar cheese which makes them even more greasy. Mostly Americans either enjoy their popcorn at the movies or as a late-night snack at home cooked in the microwave. However, popcorn has been reinvented over the past few years in the US. If it´s dry popped in hot air without oils, fats, salt or sugar it´s actually low in calories, high in fiber and contains many nutritious antioxidants.

Singapore

This country´s love for the fluffy snack is exceptional – you can get any type anywhere at any time. Popcorn usually is part of the standard Singaporean diet and a common snack at work or served before dinner. The Malaysian brand Eureka is the most popular popcorn brand in South East Asia and sells common flavors like sea salt and caramel as well as fancy flavors like seaweed, curry or white coffee.

Australia

Unlike in Germany where flavor options are usually limited to sweet or salty, Australia has a huge selection of popcorn in movie theatres. The abundant flavor choices include French Vanilla, salty caramel or white raspberry. I found my first and foremost, all-time favorite flavor called Rocky Road Popcorn in Melbourne. The Popped kernels were mixed with salted cashews and melted Hershey´s chocolate. In the end they put mini marshmallows on top, which made them the unhealthiest but best popcorn I have ever had in my life.

To all the popcorn addicts: Popcorn is a delicious snack that came from America but is enjoyed all over the world in different ways. Whichever way you like it most, if you´re a real popcorn lover, you should open your heart to new adventures and tastes and just keep popping along.

author: Hannah Reichle

Greta, where art thou? The ongoing importance of climate action

When watching the news these days, it seems to be all about the newly spreading Covid-19 virus. While approximately a year ago, it was all about Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future, now the daily input we get just revolves around the newly taken measures or the increasing numbers of newly infected people. Even though the ongoing lockdown has had some positive side effects on our nature – like the improvement of global air quality due to the reduction of travel on the ground, just as in the air – protecting the climate remains very important and should not be neglected.

What happened to Greta

In view of the present situation, climate protection and Greta Thunberg seem to be rather overshadowed by the health crisis. And as if that weren’t enough, Fridays for Future demonstrations won’t be possible any time soon, considering the restraining orders in many countries. That means no more young people skipping school all over the world to strike against the lack of climate protection measures. But while our day-to-day lives have been involuntarily slowed down a bit, the world hasn’t stopped turning, and catastrophes still occur all around our environment. There are still fish, turtles, birds and other creatures that die every day in consequence of sea and air pollution. Australia is still struggling with the high (financial and environmental) cost of combating forest fires. Biodiversity is in danger because of species extinction and so forth. The list of natural catastrophes seems endless. Greenpeace Executive Director Jennifer Morgan states that climate change is still taking place. One crisis does not stop another.

New Stimulus Programme

Early successes concerning the decrease of CO2 emissions are of course highly gratifying, however the downward trend won’t be of a lasting nature. Finally, economic slumps never replace climate protection strategies. Instead, these two factors – protecting the climate and protecting prosperity – should be connected. In the end, the measures we take to overcome this financial crisis will decide about the future of our planet and show to what extent we’ve learned something from Covid-19. Experts from the environmental organisation Agora are currently working on a thesis paper that includes a climate and economic stimulus programme. This programme should boost the economy and simultaneously reduce emissions on a sustained basis: the reduction of electricity prices and financial support for the purchase of climate-neutral systems in the steel industry. The investment in climate-friendly technologies would be a chance, but success is not yet guaranteed. Even though environmental pollution is still going on, this crisis might be a chance to open the everyone’s eyes. We need to realize how positive everything could turn out, if we just were be a bit more careful. Maybe the returning dolphins, the crystal clear water in Venice’s harbours, the refreshing air or the deep blue sky will make us once more aware how beautiful our nature is and why it is so important to protect it.

author: Laura Henkes

White Saviourism – When trying isn’t enough

The phenomenon you actually came across

White saviourism. Now, you’ll probably ask yourself, what the f*ck is that? But let me tell you, you’ve definitely come across it on social media. Let’s divide the term into its two parts: first, there’s the ‘White’ part. This part’s definitely about skin colour, more precisely: the power of the privileged. Saviourism, on the other hand, comes from the word ‘to save’, so let’s put 1+1 together: we are talking about White, privileged people going into developing countries, thinking their intervention is helping people, while actually causing damage and showing off. There are a number of aspects that can be wrong about travelling to a foreign country trying to “help” people. The complexity and depth of the phenomenon is huge, consequently I’ll only tip the surface of this matter

The helping trend that causes damage

To me, it feels like there’s kind of a trend that’s been around in recent years, a trend to travel around the globe, trying to do something good for three weeks. But have you thought about the fact that, very often, the ‘work’ foreign people try to fulfil is either a very temporary thing, which doesn’t help anybody long-term, or an opportunity to improve their CV at home? Dear Reader, go back and re-read the last sentence: did you stumble across the verb ‘to try’? Exactly. White saviours try to do something good, but trying to help in the necessary areas without any education or skills is, sadly, incredibly useless.

Speaking about skills: what are the skills that are needed in a developing country? The first thing that comes to my mind is medicine. People who have a medical education might achieve a little bit more than an 18-year-old high school graduate – no offence intended. And there are organisations with trained doctors who actually do that work, like Doctors Without Borders. What these organisations need is money and equipment, not another tourist who’ll fly back home after a few weeks. Add that to the fact that many poorer countries are struggling with unemployment: when there are enough locals looking for work, who could easily be occupied long-term in the job a traveller does for two weeks, you’re not helping. Your work is not just unsustainable, you’re actively stealing a job from a local.

Missions can backfire

An incident from the year 2009 shows how wrong those missions can go. Renee Bach, a would-be aid worker, practised medicine without any medical education. As a consequence, several children died. Two mothers have sued her and the case will be discussed in court in January 2020. Even the Guardian published an article about the White saviourism phenomenon, referring to Bach. One important factor in White saviourism seems to be social media and people’s wish to represent themselves as caring, thoughtful people. However, the issue that comes along with being in public is that you should be very careful about what lies in your abilities and what’s the real reasons for the work you’re doing. Nevertheless, you can find the White saviour on several social media platforms, holding hands with little, unprivileged kids. Below the pictures, they are referring to all the ‘good’ work, they’re doing. Sadly, they actually don’t see what the real issues are and don’t realize what the people’s needs are. Still, they post a picture without knowing one thing about the individuals and their history.

The issue isn’t only discussed on social media, but also in movies like Green Book (2018) or Hidden Figures (2016), which are telling stories about White Saviours. Don’t get me wrong, I think organisations like UNICEF are great and they’re actually doing something good. It’s just that, maybe, instead of flying there, polluting the world, people in need might be in better hands, if we just donate to these organisations. Even if that means we don’t get any nice pictures for our timeline.

author: Carolin Bruckert

Activision Blizzard® –

The lovechild of communism and capitalism?

Yes, it’s been a while and yes, I said I wanted to work on more reviews over the summer break. As per usual my plans came to a hold due to some family stuff. And just as I came back and started working on one of said reviews, I stumbled upon this gem of a disaster…

Part of the following topic would usually be something I don’t report on or write about: the ‘Revolution of our Times’ in Hong Kong – a movement started by students in protest to the supposedly non-democratic elections held in Hong Kong even though the people were promised fair elections. There is a reason as to why I would avoid a topic as this because I am usually not too interested in politics which has more to do with my disgust towards lobbyism more so than anything else. But this movement has crept into a topic I very much enjoy covering, which is gaming. So how does all of this connect? 

Back when I decided to write about gaming – long before my time at eMAG – I figured it would be mostly limited to a few reviews here and there about some indie games. But the more you get invested in a topic, the deeper you dig and not long before the whole cesspool of drama within the industry and scene would unfold – topics for articles for another time when I’m bored. But I have never quite lost my interest in the gaming scene, as you can probably tell from one of my last articles. I mentioned that one of my favourite companies there is Activision Blizzard. Years ago, when it was still only known as ‘Blizzard’, their major contributions to the gaming world consisted of the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series. The company was known to have high standards in regards to development; trying out new things but always keeping the consumer their first priority. A goal that was highly regarded by the community and has always been at the heart of the company so much so that outside the Blizzard headquarters you can see a statue and three plaques that read:

Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; Every Voice Matters.

Back in 2012, with the release of ‘Diablo 3’ the company probably hit the biggest controversy with the introduction of what they called the “Auction House“. A virtual place in-game where you could spend money to buy gear off of other players to help your own character – with a cut of the money going directly into the company’s pockets. In theory sounds like a really cool idea, right? It all depends on the implementation and that’s when Activision Blizzard first poked the bee hive that is their own community and comments on their greediness arose. The whole idea of directly buying power in-game with your hard earned cash seemed ridiculous because why would you even want to spend money to basically avoid playing the game as the whole point of Diablo was to find gear for your character. And that’s where the dilemma of being consumer or community-friendly and being a corporation at the same time first started to peek for Activision Blizzard. The chances of getting any sort of loot where so abysmal that if you wanted to complete the game many people felt like they were forced to buy gear.

A few years later a new hit struck the market: Hearthstone. And the trend continued. With Hearthstone being what it is, a digital card game, a lot of players voiced their unhappiness after a while as to why it was necessary to have so many unnecessarily bad cards in their – just inflating the pool of potential cards to draw from with each booster pack and in turn making it less likely to get the cards you want and need to play competitively. I’m not going into detail here about the monetisation system behind the games and how the booster packs are basically just loot boxes because that will be an entire article in and of itself. It shall serve simply as a showcase of how the consumers have directly been affected by the changes over the last 2 decades even by one of the companies known to be the most consumer friendly.

There have been more subtle changes as well over the years, though. Some of these changes more obvious than others to the players, the consumers and the critics. The most important little detail here is most likely that a Chinese gaming company called Tencent bought up 5% of Blizzard’s stock in 2007. Combine that with the ever growing business potential that is growing in China and you see why a largescale company would have a vested interest in keeping their Asian shareholders happy. And that is exactly what Activision Blizzard tried last week when during an interview with the professional gamer ‘Blitzchung’ who won in a tournament – ‘The Grandmasters Asia-Pacific’ of aforementioned Hearthstone. The games as well as the interview were streamed live over the internet. Blitzchung went on in his interview to ask if he could say some lines of his own. The interviewers very reluctantly agreed and Blitzchung went on to speak out for the Hong Kong movement:

Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Times.

Something that I would assume strikes most of the Western audience as something totally relatable. And I get that there are cultural differences which is why the casters and interviewers probably saw it coming and were not too happy to be associated with said statement. The response by Activision Blizzard followed within minutes. The livestream went down and later on it was announced that the official winner Blitzchung would be stripped of his well-earned title, the prize money and the right to now on compete in the tournaments to come. The casters were struck with a similar fate in that their contracts were terminated immediately followed by a very clear statement to the public (taken from rockpapershotgun.com)

Hearthstone’s official Weibo wrote that they “express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events” and “will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honour].”

While the Western audiences got the bare minimum excuse of a legal statement within the rules of conduct for the tournament in which Blizzard hinted at a paragraph that explains they kept the right to remove any player that damages the company’s image (taken from blizzard.com)

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.

There is no doubt what image could potentially have been damaged here. The image in the eyes of the Communist Party of China. I guess it is important to know here that the Communist Party is known to censor content they might dislike on a whim. Don’t believe me? They banned Winnie the Pooh because of comparisons made to their president Xi. Banning an entire video is the least of their problems. There is an entire procedure for gaming companies that they have to undergo before their product will be listed for the Chinese market as far as I know. So a company as Blizzard that tries to make as much cash as humanly possible with Asian shareholders on their board has no other interest here than trying to please the Chinese market that is just such a lucrative opportunity for any company nowadays.

So I definitely have to give Activision Blizzard credit where credit is due. They certainly still uphold their value of „Thinking globally“ albeit maybe oriented a bit too far to the east currently. But they seemed to have censored their own ideas of Leading Responsibly or making Every Voice Matter anymore.

This article should really only serve as a quick introduction to what is happening here with the American corporations and the Chinese censorship that is creeping into all sorts of media. If I somehow managed to get you interested in what’s going on here, have a look at some of the professionals’ works like
– Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition on this topic on YouTube

– RockPaperShotgun
– IGN

for more news on the gaming related side of things and basically all big news outlets for the Hong Kong protests directly or Amnesty International. The organisation focusing solely on Human Rights worldwide.

Addendum: After I had been done writing this piece and had everything set up to post it, there had been more news on the whole topic which I thought would be worthwhile including. In particular, the US congress agreed on writing a letter to the CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick, in which it stated:
“We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Way Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.”
Seeing how the US congress or any government have never really showed any concern for what happened in the gaming industry (with a slight movement in the right direction towards loot boxes, to be fair) it came quite surprising to see quite a few members of the congress speak out and sign this letter; namely: Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski.

Text by Tobias Lorenz
Picture by Kevin Muto from Pixabay