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China’s Terracotta Warriors

Imagine the shock a group of simple Chinese farmers quietly digging a well in a field one day experienced when they stumbled upon an upright life-size terracotta figure of a warrior.

The discovery was uncovered in March 1974, and the site was soon identified as Emperor Qin’s place of burial.

Who was Qin?
Born Ying Zheng in 259 BC, he succeeded his father as king when only 13 years old. Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty, ruled as China’s first emperor from 221-207 BC. More importantly, Qin was responsible for China’s unification, initiating groundbreaking reforms during his reign.

In 230 BC he began his campaign to conquer China’s remaining six kingdoms, thus unifying the country for the first time in its existence. History indicates Zheng accomplished this feat in less than 10 years, and proclaimed himself the first emperor of a unified China.


It was then that Zheng took the title Qin Shi Huang, which means “first emperor of Qin”. Consequently, Qin Dynasty became the first imperial dynasty of China.

One of Qin’s most important reforms was abolishing the old political system and dividing his empire into 36 districts. He instituted this to avoid political chaos.

He then appointed officials based on merit rather than following hereditary lines, as had been the custom. Military officers who distinguished themselves in battle were rewarded with important military positions.

Two other reforms under his rule were the unification of the law and standardizing the Chinese units of measurement and currency.

His most significant act, however, was to unify the Chinese written language by creating a novel, and more simplified, script that became the standard.

Nevertheless, Qin was an unpopular ruler and considered inhumane through much of China’s history. Ruling with an iron hand, he had more than 450 scholars, whose views he disagreed with, killed and ordered most existing books to be burned. Because of this, Confucian scholars portrayed him as a brutal tyrant and upon his death publicly undervalued his achievements.

Qin is credited with commissioning the original version of China’s Great Wall, designed to protect against barbarian invasions. Showing little regard for human life, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of men died during the construction of the famous defensive wall. While little of this wall remains today, it was the precursor to the Great Wall of China.Great-Wall-of-the-Qin

Now, however, the massive mausoleum complex he had constructed for himself near the ancient city of Xi’an reflects his legacy despite the untold numbers who died during construction and the artisans he ordered killed in order to preserve the secrecy of the tomb’s location and the treasures buried within.

Perception of Death
“Treat death as life” was the ancient Chinese traditional perception of death. According to information in the Chinese exhibit that is on display at Doha, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, “they considered death another form of living, believing that the afterlife one enters after death is an exact copy of the present one.” That is why personal objects used during their lifetime, such as clothes, daily necessities and status symbols, can usually be found in their tombs or mausoleums.

Terrified of death, Qin was obsessed with acquiring immortality. Later in his life he ordered his court physicians and alchemists to create a tonic or medicine that would grant him eternal life. What they came up with were mercury pills, which would supposedly make him immortal. He died on September 10, 210 BC allegedly due to mercury poisoning.

The Terracotta Army Mausoleum
In early China societies, the custom of human sacrifice was followed as part of a funeral ritual. During the Zhou Dynasty that preceded the Qin Dynasty, this philosophy changed to using clay and wooden figures rather than humans. The Qin terracotta warriors exemplify this philosophical shift.

photo-of-terracotta-soldiers-pitQin ordered work to begin on the famous mausoleum soon after he became king. Historians believe it took 700,000 men and 38 years to construct the mausoleum, which was larger than any city of the world at that time. His burial chamber was to be enclosed within the structure.

The life-size warriors in military formation – more than 6,000 of them – “guarded and protected” Qin’s tomb in the afterlife from evil spirits for more than 2,200 years after his death. In addition to this large pit the farmers discovered in 1974 were three other pits. A second pit contained cavalry and infantry unit sculptures, a third consisted of high-ranking officers and chariots, and a fourth was empty, suggesting that the burial pit was left unfinished following the emperor’s death.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this discovery is that the pits were designed with a sophisticated layout, as load-bearing walls were discovered every 10 feet between where the warriors and horses stand.

Chinese Sculpture vs. Western Sculpture
Within China’s art history circles, the Qin terracotta warriors rank extremely high in artistic value. Every detail of the figures was modeled on real persons from their height and proportion to their facial features resulting in a life-like sculptural style. What makes these terracotta figures so unique is that they all differ from one another not only in facial features and expressions, but also clothing, hairstyle and even their gestures. Every terracotta warrior was originally painted in bright colors, which is believed to have added immensely to their vividness.


Western sculpture places its focus on form and muscle. “It uses light and shadow to create a sense of depth, and applies the principles of human anatomy to express the human body’s muscular and dynamic beauty,” according to art historians. Chinese sculpture, however, focuses more on portraying a subject’s temperament, which is why the sculptures show a strong realistic feel with artistic exaggeration of facial detail. Rarely does Chinese sculpture indicate a subject’s muscles or detailed body form.

The Terracotta Army and Their Weapons
The soldiers, archers, horses and chariots discovered during restoration work indicate they were created using molds and an early assembly line-type construction. It is believed that only eight molds were used to shape their heads, while distinctive clay surface features were added after they were assembled indicating a high level of craftsmanship and artistry. This explains why each soldier appears to be unique in its facial features yet most of the figures’ hands are identical.

Archaeologists found more than 40,000 bronze weapons during excavation, including battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears, all of which were astonishingly well preserved given the more than 2,000 years they laid undiscovered. They credit the preservation to protective chrome plating, which reveals the sophistication of ancient Chinese metallurgy given that Germany first used this technique in 1937 and the U.S. not until 1950.

Qin’s Unexcavated Tomb
Since the tomb was discovered 40 years ago, less than one percent of it has been excavated. At first archaeologists were concerned about damaging Qin’s corpse and tomb artifacts, but that gave way to concerns about the excavation’s potential safety hazards. In 2005 a team led by Chinese archaeologist Duan Chingbo tested 4,000 samples of the burial mound earth for mercury, and all came back highly positive. Given this chemical evidence, the debate continues over whether to excavate, how to protect people working at the site, and what methods should be utilized to best protect the artifacts.

Proclaimed one of the greatest archeological discoveries in the world, the Terracotta Army Mausoleum is now unofficially hailed as the eighth Wonder of the World. Four of the unearthed terracotta structures, three warriors and a horse, are currently part of the traveling Chinese exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

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Four Historic Heritage Houses in Doha, Qatar

Msheireb was the original heart of downtown Doha, Qatar and the oldest part of the city, charting Doha’s first hotel, bank, pharmacy and cafes. Doha’s ongoing transition from a sleepy pearl-diving town to an emerging world city is now showcased in the newly opened Msheireb Museums.

The four restored heritage houses – Radwani House, Company House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and the Bin Jelmood House – all clustered around traditional courtyards uniquely capture the massive changes Qatar underwent during the past century.

The Radwani House traces domestic living displaying traditional furniture and showing how a typical Qatari family lived in the 1920s and throughout the decades. Ali Akbar radwani-house-majlisRadwani bought the courtyard house, originally constructed in the 1920s, in 1936. The family abandoned the home in 1971 and it sat vacant and derelict until 2007.original-well

Between 2012 and 13, archaeology experts excavated the ground and discovered an old well and one of the walls of the original house. The family home is situated around an open-air rectangular space. A number of interesting artifacts uncovered are on display.

original-oil-pipes.jpgThe Company House, the former headquarters of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, is devoted to the history of Qatar’s petroleum industry. It features various tools and appliances from the early days of the oil industry in 1939, firsthand accounts of the grueling labor by pioneering workers, and six white life-sized plaster statues showing the different jobs these men performed during the mid 20th century.statues-in-courtyard.jpg

The Mohammed Bin Jassim House, built by the son of the founder of modern Qatar, is a work in progress located near the new modern Msheireb mosque. It currently displays Doha’s unique architectural heritage in the old Msheireb district and shows how it evolved over time. The displays balance the sophisticated requirements of 21st century living and the responsibility to preserve local heritage and culture, and provide a good overview of how the sudden oil wealth impacted everyday life in Qatar.

The arrival of cars, air conditioning and the first cement shipment – all in the early 1950s – transformed the old commercial area into an important business hub. In 1951 Doha had just 20,000 residents, quadrupling in size to 80,000 in 1975. This house also features firsthand interviews and stories with residents of the time who lived in the Msheireb district.

legal-abolition-1952The most interesting house, in my opinion, is the Bin Jelmood House, named for a renowned Qatari slave owner, which features the history of slavery in Qatar, an overview of historical slavery stemming from the Indian Ocean region, and contemporary slavery – human trafficking – around the world. The historical accounts and firsthand testimonials of Qatar slaves are powerful and relevant. Despite a shameful legacy, it was refreshing to see that Qatar did not sugarcoat slavery in this country. It was a very detailed and informative museum house that encourages discussion of historical slavery in the country, as well as modern day slavery worldwide.

slave-pricesAs stated at the renovated house entrance: “Bin Jelmood House exists to promote reflection and conversation on important truths about historical slavery in Qatar and the critical issue of contemporary slavery around the world.”

Detailed slavery history culminates with the Middle East ban on child camel racing jockeys in 2005. Twenty-first century slavery discussed human trafficking worldwide.


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Kakopetria Village: Beauty, Serenity and Tragedy

Kakopetria (Greek for place of stones) is one of those villages brimming with history and begging to be explored.


Nestled into the side of the Troodos Mountain some 2200 feet high and surrounded by thick forest, Kakopetria is the highest village in the Solea Valley. The Troodos Mountain was formed from an explosion of a volcano in the area. When the lava stopped, it became solid.looking-toward-sea-from-Kakopetria

The higher our tour bus crept hugging the heavily vegetated roadside, the more I felt I was shifting further into the center of the earth. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and serenity – and, of course, photos never do justice – but try to imagine the lush green vegetation popping in and out of a forest of pine trees, majestic oaks and even wild olive trees. Hillside terracing spotlights various fruit-bearing trees, such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and fig that the villagers grow and cultivate.

waterfall-in-KakopetriaA gentle waterfall spilling into the basin within the old village offers melodic serenity and natural beauty. The village was built on the banks of two rivers, which join in the center of the 1500-inhabitant 14th Century village. A hike to the top of the village provides the most beautiful vista of the surrounding landscape as far as one can see. In fact, on a clear day the sea is visible off in the distance.

The entire village is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities requiring special permission if homeowners want to change the exterior appearance of their home. The village’s uniqueness are the narrow crooked lanes mostly impassable by car, and the distinct home construction. The lower portions are constructed with stones while the upper part with clay, mud and bricks. The houses all have tiled roofs and wooden balconies. I found the architecture very

Almost half way up the steep main street, we came upon the nondescript Church of the Transfiguration. We spent a few minutes inside the small church lighting a candle and snapping a few photos of the interior. I was surprised that even in this tiny remote village, the Greek Orthodox Church also boasted an impressive interior of iconostases. The elderly nun inside knew no English making it impossible to learn anything about the

Back out on the slippery and uneven stone-cobbled road, we walked past numerous winding side lanes the width of a bicycle path and not much more. I can imagine how easily it would be to get turned around if you were trying to find someone’s home. Fortunately for one enterprising homeowner, visitors searching for Irene’s house have a sign indicating the way. Lush green foliage and multi-hued flowers dotted the lanes and flower boxes adding color to the mostly shaded homes. Homeowners lucky enough to have room for a carport utilized the space to grow their own grapes.Irene's-house

There is another reason why this charming village has gained notoriety. Anchored at the start of the climb upward to the residential area is the famous Stone of the Couple. Following an ancient pagan custom of honoring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, newlyweds performed a ceremony by walking around the stone and making a wish. One couple was crushed to death when they lost their footing and tumbled down the rocky incline. From then on, the rock became known as the Stone of the Couple, although locals often refer to it as the Bad Stone. Even today a few couples honor the custom. Eleni, our tour guide, explained that many Cypriots continued to practice pagan customs after the advent of Christianity as many of these practices were deeply rooted in Greek mythology.stone-of-the-couple

Kakopetria is a popular summer and winter resort since its location offers visitors a respite from the sun-scorched temperatures of the large cities, most notably Nicosia, Cyprus’ largest city, an hour or so drive down the mountain. In the wintertime, the mountains are snow-laden offering outdoor activities popular with Cypriots. On weekends, people flock to the village and its handful of hotels are fully booked.

Wandering the narrow lanes and catching glimpses of older Kakopetrians in their windows and doorways smiling as we passed was an enjoyable reconnection with simplicity.

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Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships

Most of us can relate to relationships gone bad as an innocent child, during our tumultuous teens, or as adults. Perhaps a close loss, an imploded marriage or first love giving way to eventual maturity; whatever the situation, the loss, grief and emotional collapse are real.

Societies worldwide recognize and publicly celebrate births, marriages, graduations, celebrations of life (death) as per cultural traditions.

Have you ever heard of any formal recognition of failed relationships? Regardless of the circumstances or ethnicity, all produced some type of emotional effect.

Enter the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

Conceptualized in Croatia in 2006, “the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum’s collection,” explains the Museum literature.

It’s unique insofar as it was conceived around the concept of failed relationships. It’s intriguing given the personal stories shared, accompanied by a related memento. It’s not your ordinary museum; it’s sad and sometimes funny with healthy doses of irony and obvious bitterness.

According to its brochure explaining the concept, “whatever the motivation for donating personal belongs – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their emotional legacy as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony. The ever-evolving, community-built collection created challenges our ideas about heritage.”

Here are stories of wartime love, coming of age, rejection, loss of life, family separation, failed marriages, betrayal and much more. Mostly anonymous contributors hail from Brazil, the UK and US, Armenia, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia, with contributors constantly added.

the-postcardOne exhibit, simply entitled A Postcard, reads:

“I am a 70-year-old woman from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I visited Zagreb back in 1967 and the city is very close to my heart… This is a postcard that was inserted through the slit of my door a long time ago by our neighbors’ son. He had been in love with me for three years.

“Following the old Armenia tradition, his parents came to our home to ask for my hand. My parents refused, saying that their son did not deserve me. They left angry and very disappointed.

“The same evening their son drove his car off a cliff.”

An unadorned brown wood box containing various personal items is displayed under the heading Granny’s Box of Memories with the one-line sentence: “A memento of my grandmother’s great love, Karlo, who drowned in a river in 1920”.granny-box-of-memories

Someone from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina provided a stuffed toy caterpillar along with this story:

“I had this big, truly big love, a long-distance relationship, Sarajevo to Zagreb. It lasted for 20 months. Of course, we dreamt of a life together and with that in mind, I bought this huge caterpillar. Every time we would see each other we would tear off one leg. When we ran out of legs to tear, that would be the time to start a life together. But, naturally, as is often the case with great loves, the relationship broke and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”

a-catepillarA Child’s Wartime Love Letter, written in May 1992, recounts three days during the war.

“Escaping from Sarajevo under fire in a big convoy, we were held hostage for three days when leaving the city. A few days before, I turned 13.

“In a car next to ours there was Elma, with her mother and some other people… I only remember she was blonde and incredibly cute. I fell in love, with childlike honesty, and confessed it to her with the same honesty in this letter. I had given her some tapes since she forgot to bring her own music along before leaving in a hurry.wartime-love-letter

“Just as I didn’t get the time to give her the letter, because after three days they suddenly freed us and we lost sight of Elma’s car, she never got to return my tapes. Naturally, I never saw her again, and now I just hope that the music reminded her of something nice and cute in that whole terrible situation.”

An anonymous contributor from the UK donated a ceramic rolling pin with the caption From Birth to Six years (1981). This is what he or she wrote:

“Maternal separation is a broken relationship and is different to some of the current exhibits in terms of partner relationships ending. However, the feelings of loss, separation, grief, rejection and hurt are similar in many aspects.

“All the physical memories of my mother were burnt, discarded and buried. The most difficult part was that no one ever talked about her so I had nothing.

“I had a ceramic rolling pin which surprisingly missed the anger and emotional cleansing at that time. I kept it and it was wrapped carefully in each house move I had over the years.

rolling pin“This was mine to hold on to, to remember the happy moments of being in the kitchen with mum as a small child making Gingerbread Men cookies. A powerful memory evoking the actual feelings and memories of the day, the smells in the kitchen, the smell of my mum, being included, and feeling happy.”

“In October 2010, I was reunited with my mum. I now feel able to move forward in my life and donating the rolling pin means I do not have to cling to it any more. Let the good times roll.”

Finally, a brief but concise tale next to a book entitled Tarantula, Bob Dylan, states:

“Given to me by an American “boyfriend” when I was 17 and inscribed “for _________ who charmed the savage wolf.” I didn’t know that he would hound my parents for years, and would eventually have a sex change and steal their name for his new persona.”Bob-Dylan-book

An information board posted near the front of the museum states, “although colored by personal experience, local culture and history, the exhibits presented here form universal pattern that bring comfort to all those who uncover them. Hopefully they can inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random suffering.”

The permanent exhibition of the Museum of Broken Relationships is the winner of the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe. The traveling exhibition has since toured internationally.

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The Berber Women of Morocco: Pillars of Their Culture

dress displays
Women have been the guardians of traditions and language throughout history. The Berber women of Morocco are no exception. Despite a cultural mixing over the centuries – mostly due to conquests – the tribe’s cultural preservation survived.

Hallmarks of the Berber craftsmanship are native symbols found in their weavings, jewelry, pottery, tattoos, and even henna body painting.

The Berber identity developed thousands of years ago in a vast territory that stretches from Morocco’s Atlantic Ocean coast into borders of the eastern Maghreb bordering and inside neighboring Algeria.morocco_ethno_1973

The Bahrain National Museum in Manama, Bahrain is currently featuring a traveling exhibit entitled Berber Women of Morocco. “It is a tribute to the women who have never ceased transmitting the Berber culture’s singular identity,” states an exhibit storyboard.

The Berber people are recognized for their high moral virtues, including respect for the elderly, protection of neighbors and guests, renouncement of vengeance, and a hatred of oppression, among others.

Exhibit items featured, along with stunning archival photos, include woven carpets and rugs, capes and outerwear, woven belts, silver, amber and glass necklaces, toiletry items, cooking utensils, and weaving combs and distaffs. Accompanied by informational storyboards, the well-rounded exhibit lends itself well in providing an introduction into this interesting culture, its women, and the famous Berber rugs. A video shot in 1965 depicting young Berber women weaving rugs was particularly compelling in depicting the handiwork that has been handed down from mother to daughter for generations.

The Berber Rug and HanbelBerber-rugs

We’ve probably all heard of Berber rugs, but I for one, knew little to nothing about them, including how they got their name. Women have woven Berber rugs since the Neolithic Age. However, the techniques and traditional symbols incorporated are specific to each region of Morocco, as well as the uses. The colors were usually bright and designs simplistic, but over time they became even more vibrant and complex. These rugs are recognized by their distinctive knot texture and high durability, and the hand-spun cloth of natural sheep’s wool fibers was named for the tribe.

Thick heavy-piled rugs were ideal for cold weather dwellers in the high Atlas Mountains, while the lightweight flat woven mats and hanbels were suitable for the Sahara Desert’s scorching climate. Hanbels, on the other hand, were usually of simplistic design and less colorful than the heavier rugs.rugs-&-baskets

Modern Berber carpets, of course, are manufactured around the world today using nylon, olefin and wool, but the authentic Berber carpets from Morocco are still handmade. Modern carpets and wall hangings are often of bright colors or deep rusts and orange hues and not to be confused with the traditional hand woven Berber products.

The hanbel, which means ‘weaving’ in Berber language, is a woven piece that is lighter and thinner than the rug. It can replace the heavier rug, but it might also be used as a blanket, sleeping mat, or cushion. During celebrations, hanbels are often used as wall decorations similar to a tapestry.

Loom wire strainers (used to hold the fabric at a steady width), iron and wood weaving combs (used to weave thick rugs and compress the rows of tied knots) and distaffs (wood sticks) are all necessary components in weaving.

In addition to the rugs and throws on display, a woman’s cape, hat, belt, leg warmers, and shoes were also featured. Most of the fabrics used are wood and cotton, although silk can be found in belts. Interestingly, in Morocco, knitting and crochet work are exclusively done by men stated a sign next to the women’s leg warmers.woven-leggings

Figures shown on screens illustrated the variety of Berber female dresses, along with jewels, that display the tribal identity of those wearing them every day, as well as during festive celebrations. A white wedding gown was one of the featured archival

The Berber only dressed themselves with their sheep’s wool until cotton was introduced in Morocco in the early 20th century.

Many ornate head ornaments intermixed with silver, glass, seashells and leather were on display. An indigenous stone from the predominantly Jewish Souss region of Morocco used in necklaces was amber, complemented with silver, glass beads, and enamel objects. Pendants were mainly made of silver, enamel and glass coins. The necklaces appeared very heavy, particularly those with the large amber stones.Berber-silver-necklaces

Women’s Toiletries
Wooden combs, cosmetic bowls, basketwork and wood containers used for storing henna-based preparations were displayed. Mortar pestles used for mixing plants and dyes for cosmetics, as well as wooden, copper and molded skin boxes for storing cosmetics and jewelry were common items in the Berber woman’s

Household Wares
Most of the cooking utensils and jars were made of earthenware with colored pigments.

Although the exhibit was small and compact, it offered an interesting glimpse into a culture, which has endured despite today’s modern technology.clay-pottery


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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Similar but Different: A Nostalgic Morning Reflection

As I relax in my second floor, freshly-decorated-for-fall sitting room with an outdated home magazine and cooled off cup of coffee, my eyes are drawn across the small room to the screened patio and balcony; perfect size for my two tired lawn chairs and small side table that have sat vacant all summer and fall.

The late morning sun is sectioning off the space. Drifting in are the unmistakable smells of garlic and unknown spices that a resourceful cook somewhere in the area is adding, I suspect, to a pot of soup for someone’s lunch.

The weather is gorgeous. It’s still warm – 85 degrees in mid November – with dirty sand and fine particles of dust clogging my nostrils, but then, this is the Middle East, and this Midwesterner from the U.S. has had three years to adapt to the climate. After all, just three weeks ago it hovered around 100 degrees – and back home it is snowing today – so I consider myself lucky. It is what it is. I won’t complain.

An occasional bird’s song breaks the outside silence punctuated by a rumbling vehicle off in the distance.

Without warning, the many mosques in the neighborhood break out into sound – one of six daily calls to prayer. The male voices collide with one another via loudspeakers mounted high on minarets as they summon faithful Muslims to Zuhr, the noon prayer. Within three to four minutes, all is silent once again.

It’s peaceful and calming. Comfy within my nondescript beige-walled compound, my mind wanders while my senses explode. My sense of smell is updating the garlic scent to suggest chicken soup with this distinct spice liberally added.

In moments such as this, I wonder about – and miss – my comfortable house back home; an old Victorian in a small rural town. It, too, welcoming the late morning aromas from the restaurant on the corner preparing for its lunchtime patrons, the many chirping birds, cars across the river slowly winding their way into town as they cross the bridge, and the daily noon whistle – once alerting the farmers in the fields of lunch time – now a time-honored tradition sounding twice a day from the fire station two streets away.

The distance between here and there may be enormous, but in many respects, the daily routines are similar. Yes, there are differences – cultural, political, religious and social – but then ‘different’ is a good thing in my book.

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