Thursday, January 30, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 01: CHOGM

Flags of the members of the Commonwealth of Nations (Pic: Ravindra Dharmatilake for The Nation)

Sri Lanka held the 23rd CHOGM meeting in November 2013. Therefore, The Nation thought to kick off its new quiz with some questions about the meeting and about the Commonwealth of Nations. So, here goes:

1. What does the acronym CHOGM stand for?

2. The first CHOGM was held in 1971 in Singapore. The Singaporean Prime Minister who hosted the meeting in 1971 celebrated his 90th birthday on September 23, 2013. He was the iconic Prime Minister of Singapore from its independence in 1965 to 1990. His son is the current Prime Minister of Singapore. Who is this famous statesman?

3. Usually, former British colonies join the Commonwealth of Nations. However, in 1995, a country which had no history of British colonial occupation joined the organization. This African country was a Portuguese colony until it won independence in 1975. Two large African rivers, Zambezi and Limpopo meet the Atlantic Ocean within the territory of this country. Associated with the slave trade, this country is thought to be the origin of the Kaffir people in Sri Lanka. What is this country?

4. The last time the CHOGM was held in an Asian country was 30 years ago in 1983. It was held at Fort Aguada, a Portuguese fort. Which Indian city hosted the CHOGM in 1983?

5. The 2015 CHOGM was planned to be held in a small African island nation. (However, since its Prime Minister boycotted the event in Sri Lanka, the honor of hosting the 2015 CHOGM was awarded to Malta). With a population of nearly 1.3 million, this is one of the smallest countries in Africa. A large number of its people are of Indian decent. Several Sri Lankans who rebelled against the British rule during the Wellasse Rebellion were exiled to this island. One famous landmark in this country related to Sri Lanka is the grave of Ahalepola Adikaram who died there after being exiled. What is this country?

Answers to the quiz will be given with the Quiz 02...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Exploring Singapura 01: Polite People Create Paradise

Recently, we went on a family trip to Singapore, which turned out to be an interesting experience. As my first foreign trip, the best lesson the trip taught me was that knowing is totally different to seeing and experiencing. I used to be proud for the fact that I know so much about countries that I have never set foot on. However, the travels in Singapore taught me that it cannot be compared to the real experience.

Singapore, meaning Lion City (Singapura) in Malay, is a small state, and can be described as a city state. Before independence, it was just a fortified port city which served the interests of the British colonial masters. It was briefly a part of the Federation of Malaysia before breaking away in 1965 to become an independent republic. Its economic rise has been phenomenal and it is known as one of four Asian Tigers. Many outsiders, especially in Asia, think of Singapore as ‘paradise’ due to its material wealth.

I consider Singapore a paradise for a totally different reason; its people.

Our flight took off in early afternoon on that beautiful day in early January. Due to the time difference, we landed at Changi Airport just after 9.30pm local time. Being a first time traveler, I was initially lost in the airport, overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. Gladly, everywhere we went, there were people to help us, including security personnel, guides at information desks and people at the other counters including money exchangers.

Arriving in Terminal 1, we were instructed to catch the sky train for Terminal 2 to go to the train station so that we could get a train to the city. To my mind, Changi Airport Terminal 1 is bigger than Katunayake Airport Terminal. We did not at that moment know what a sky train was and somehow managed to find it, helped by the people and the directions. One good thing about Changi Airport and Singapore in general was the sheer number of signboards giving directions. You cannot simply get lost! Once we realized this, traveling in Singapore was nothing. But, on that first night, we were too tired and overwhelmed by the sheer size of Changi Airport that we hardly noticed.

Despite its size, its really hard to get lost at the Changi Airport

We caught the last train, just in time, and the Passenger Service personnel instructed us to pay from where we got down. Once on the train, we were approached by a middle aged man, who offered to help us, obviously noticing that we were lost. He instructed us how we should travel in the train and how we can find where to get down. We got to know that he was a Filipino, working at Changi Airport.

During our short visit in Singapore, we visited a number of places, and everywhere we went we were impressed by the politeness of the people. Anywhere we visited, the staff was all eager to help. All the officials at the Passenger Service booths in the train stations were also all helpful. Another important feature I saw was the availability of maps. Any train station has enough maps of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) grid of Singapore. When someone asks for directions, the officials would take a map and note down the directions in the map itself. I still have the map one official at the Aljuneid MRT station gave me, with directions to the Singapore Zoo.

Another gentleman at a help desk of the Gardens by the Bay pulled out a map of the Gardens and drew all necessary directions and also directed us to the Singapore Flyer from the Gardens. With his help, we managed to reach the Flyer without getting lost. That map is also with me.

One can argue that being polite is part of their job and they get paid for it. But, Singapore is not the only country where people are paid to help visitors. How much a nation tries to mould its people, the culture of politeness and kindness should be built within the people for them to serve their visitors well. As I see it, Singapore has achieved that goal.

My friend Aravinda Karunaratne, who currently resides in Singapore, shared his thoughts on this. “Many people, including many Sri Lankans, think that it’s a nuisance if someone comes and asks for directions. They should remember that they have a paid job because there are people who need their help. At least they should remember that and be grateful to the people who approach them.”

Also, many Singaporeans helped us on trains and at other places, not because it was their job or they were paid. They got only our gratitude in return. But in doing so, they did themselves and their small country proud.

Singapore’s iconic Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew once said that his country’s greatest asset is “the ability of its people.” The ability to work hard and the ability to impress foreigners have won Singapore many friends. It will continue to do so.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tintin, 85 years young

The popular cartoon hero Tintin turned 85 on January 10, 2014. The first Tintin cartoon appeared on January 10, 1929. Created by a Belgian cartoonist named Georges Remi (1907-1983), who was well known by his pen name Hergé, Tintin’s adventures entertain millions of readers even now. There are enough adults who still say that they love Tintin comics. Tintin stories were known for their beautiful drawings and exciting, well researched stories.

Hergé created the character for the Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s section of the Le XXe Siècle (20th century) magazine. The first stories usually followed political themes. His first two stories, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” (1929-1930) and “Tintin in the Congo (1930-31) were not well researched. The story on the Soviet Union was meant to be a scathing criticism of the Soviet government. Hergé, who was in his early 20s, gathered information on Congo from the missionaries who were there. Recently, some African countries criticized the book on Congo for looking down on the African people.

TinTin-Stockel Metro Station, Brussels. William Murphy, The Fotopedia

However, with time, Tintin stories became much better researched and nicely drawn. His first nine stories first appeared in black and white. Hergé later published them in color. However, he never published the first story on the Soviet Union in color, perhaps he knew that the story was not up to the standards of his later work.

In 1940, Germany occupied Belgium. The newspaper for which Hergé worked was closed by the Germans. He moved to a new newspaper, Le Soire (The Evening) and avoided dealing with political topics. Even after the war ended, he remained there, until resigning in 1949. In 1950, he established a company Studio Hergé. This increased his independence and simultaneously, the popularity of the stories (which were already quite popular) went up considerably. Just after he formed this company, he sent Tintin to moon, nearly 20 years before Neil Armstrong actually landed on Moon.

Hergé used many current topics in his stories. Chinese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Gran Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay in the 1930s and early days of petroleum discoveries in Arabia are some topics he tackled, directly or indirectly. He also criticizes dictatorships which were ruling much of Europe during the 1930s.

Hergé finished 23 Tintin adventures in his life time. He abandoned one story and had written another story halfway when he died on March 3, 1983. This last story, Tintin and Alph-Art was published in the uncompleted version posthumously. Later, several other artists published finished versions as they saw it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Yakov Perelman made science fun to learn

Russia is known for its encouragement in scientific education. Especially during the Soviet era, children were taught of the value of learning science from a young age. Popular science books became a part of Russian, especially Soviet literature during the 20th century. Yakov Perelman was a pioneering author of popular science books. He became a famous name in Russia as well as overseas. His works have been published in many foreign languages.

Yakov Isidorovich Perelman was born on December 4, 1882, in the town of Bialystok (Byelostok) of the Russian Empire. (Today, this town belongs to Poland). In 1909, Perelman obtained a diploma from the St. Petersburg Forestry Institute. This was his highest educational qualification in paper. But, through his work, Perelman created several thousands of scholars around the world.

In 1913, a new book appeared in Russian book stores. Titled “Physics for Entertainment”, it was written in a style which justified its name. Entertaining and informative, it had many stories, anecdotes, diagrams and scientific explanations. It became an instant hit among the science students in the country. Perelman continued to update it in every subsequent edition until his death.

According to Perelman’s preface of the 11 th edition of the book which was published in 1936, “The main objective of Physics for Entertainment is to arouse the activity of scientific imagination.” All his books were written with that in mind.

Perelman wrote a number of popular science books, Arithmetics for Entertainment, Mechanics for Entertainment, Geometry for Entertainment, Astronomy for Entertainment, Figures for Fun and Mathematics can be Fun being a few. He wrote several books on interplanetary travel as well, when it was just a scientific prediction.

Furthermore, Perelman authored many Soviet text books and scientific magazines. He served as the editor of two magazines as well, namely, ‘Nature and People’ and ‘In the Workshop of Nature.’

With his work, Perelman set an example to popular science writers. Popular science became an integral part of scientific education in Soviet Union. Even though he dealt with serious scientific subjects, he wrote in a simple style. Therefore, his books had something for the beginners as well as the scholars.

Perelman inspired many beginners to study science and math. The famous mathematician Grigori Perelman is no relation of Yakov Perelman, but by coincidence, his father was also named Yakov Perelman. Grigori’s father once gifted him a copy of “Physics for Entertainment” which inspired him to study mathematics.

When German armies surrounded the city of Leningrad in late 1941, Yakov Perelman was among those who were trapped inside. He died in the city on March 16, 1942, becoming one of the thousands who died during the siege. If not for the war, Perelman might have lived a few years more and the world would have seen even more of his work.