Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Norway – from Explorers and Raiders to Peace Prize Givers

Norway is a peace loving country. In both World War I and World War II, Norway chose to be neutral. Norway, since the 1990s, has played a significant role in the world stage as a facilitator in various peace and reconciliation efforts. This small country invests its time and effort in resolving conflicts to bring about peace. It is a country that stands for peace. Each year, the Nobel Peace Prize Awarding Ceremony is held in its capital city of Oslo.

However, there was a time in Norway’s history when peace was not their main concern. Several hundreds of years ago, the men from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) boarded long ships as traders, explorers, and settlers and often feared raiders. From 800 AD to 1066 AD, the Vikings ruled the seas and conquered the lands of Europe and beyond.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Egypt – Hieroglyphs Was Not the Only Language of the Pharaohs

Modern day Egypt’s official language is Egyptian Arabic. But there was a time when pictures or drawings were used as a means of written communication. Many are familiar with Hieroglyphics, which is essentially Egypt’s ancient language of drawings seen to this day on pyramids and Ancient Egyptian artifacts. But what many do not know is that Hieroglyphics is just one of the ancient languages of Egypt. Egyptian language has undergone a number of forms much like English and other languages.


The word Hieroglyphics comes from hieroglyphika, the Greek word for “sacred writings.” It was believed to have been used as far back as 3300 B.C. Hieroglyphics was an easy method of communicating ideas. With no written language to speak of at that time, the Egyptians used drawings to convey their thoughts and ideas to one another.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Romania, Where Count Dracula Still Lives

In Romania, Count Dracula, the Master of the Dark, is alive and well. Part of Romanian tourism thrives on this popular vampire. Although not an original character of Romanian folklore, Bram Stoker’s character has been forever linked to Romania. And, by the looks of it, the link between Romania and Dracula may never be broken.

The Count Dracula-Vlad III Connection

In 1897, Bram Stoker wrote a novel about Count Dracula, a resident of Transylvania. Many believe that Stoker based his blood sucking, nocturnal character on Vlad III who ruled Wallachia and fought the Ottoman Turks sometime in the middle of the 15th century. Vlad III was also known as Vlad Tepes, Prince Vlad, Vlad Dracula and more notoriously, Vlad the Impaler. Tepes actually means “impaler.” This adjective was used to describe Vlad’s propensity to display his victims while impaled on stakes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Want to Learn Italian? Have Some Pasta, Gelato and Caffe

Italian is a language that is not within the top most studied languages in the world. In fact, people mostly study Italian for specific reasons. One would be because of family, another would be long term travel to the country usually for work or education, and third because one just wants to learn Italian, period. English, French and Spanish are more popularly studied across the globe.

If you are into the arts and a lover of food, Italian is a must learn language. It is the language of gastronomy. If you want some exposure to Italian, learn it through food. Italian food is so readily available and accessible. Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen. Italian cooking shows, cookbooks and recipes are at your finger tips.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Colombia, The Land of Beautiful Women, Coffee and Bullet Proof Underwear

A negative cloud hovers over Colombia even to this day. There was a time when Pablo Escobar ‘ruled’ the country with his drugs, guns and goons. Even today, Colombia is still in a state of conflict. The drug lords are still around and the guerillas are still trying to gain control of the country. The government continues its unrelenting drive to keep peace and order in Colombia. But apart from the violence, as a country, Colombia has so much more to offer.

Beautiful Women
Colombia is the land of beautiful, Spanish speaking women. Here are some facts related to the Ms. Universe Pageant which proves this point. In 1958, Ms. Colombia Luz Marina Zuluaga was crowned Ms. Universe. Between 1992 to 1994 Colombia’s beauties placed first runner-up in the annual beauty pageant. Best National Costume Award was given to Colombia six times. In the evening gown competition, the highest score ever given to this day was to Carolina Gomez, Ms. Colombia 1994. Her score was 9.897. Colombia, together with Brazil and Sweden, share the third most successful nations in the history of Ms. Universe in terms of placements of its candidates in the semi-finals. They each have 26 candidates. In 2006, Ms. Germany’s entry Natalie Ackermann was in fact born in Colombia. Today, one of the most beautiful faces to grace the television screen belongs to Sofia Vergara who stars in the hit comedy series Modern Family. Sofia, like many women in Colombia, is not only beautiful and talented, she is strong and feisty, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Dominican Republic, the Land of Dominicanese and Fast Talkers

The Dominican Republic, one of two countries on the island of Hispaniola located in the Caribbean, was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. The country was under Spanish rule for three centuries. Although the official language is Spanish, the form of Spanish spoken in Dominican Republic is not exactly the same Spanish spoken in Spain.

Dominican Spanish is a language influenced by other cultures. When the Spanish arrived in the Dominican Republic, it was populated by the Tainos. During the Spanish rule, the Taino language was used less and less. However, the Tainos language still left its mark on both the language and culture of the country. The African language also influenced Dominican Spanish. African slaves that were transported to the Caribbean islands provided another layer to the language of the country.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Japan, What is Unspoken is Often More Meaningful

If you think that merely knowing how to speak Japanese means you are turning Japanese then you are sadly mistaken. In Japan, facial expressions, body language and unspoken words often hold more meaning than actual Japanese words themselves. It is said that oral language is only a small part of communication. Nonverbal communication is what delivers the message.

Kinesics is body language. It is about wordless messages. Sending and receiving is done through gestures, postures, facial expressions and other forms of body language. In the movie Rising Sun, Sean Connery plays an ex policeman and an expert on Japanese culture and affairs while his co-star Wesley Snipes plays a detective. They investigate a murder wherein a son of a wealthy businessman from Japan is implicated in the crime. At one point in the investigation, Connery’s character explains to the character of Snipes that it is not what the Japanese say but what they do not say that’s important.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bahrain, An Excellent Introduction to the Persian Gulf

If you want to visit one of the countries in the Persian Gulf, start with Bahrain. It is a kingdom known for its oil as well as its pearls. Its neighbors are Saudi Arabia in the west and Qatar in the southeast. Many tourists visit Bahrain each year. Although Arabic is its official language, English is widely spoken within the kingdom. This makes it easy for tourists to communicate with locals.

Bahrain is the center of Dilmum, one of the ancient civilizations that dominated trade in the region. Tourists will find archeological sites and castles in the island. One popular fort is the Bahrain Fort, also called the Portuguese Fort. This fort is among the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The Arad Fort is also a popular tourist destination. Built by Arabs, it was captured in 1559 by the Portuguese. The Omanis eventually laid claim to the Arad Fort in 1635.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The King and I: Meet the Real Anna and the King

The King & I is one of my most beloved musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It is a popular musical that has been staged by different theater companies across the globe. This Tony Award winning musical ran for many years on Broadway and in London. It spawned a feature film that up to now people remember with fondness.

The movie adaptation of the play starred none other than Yul Brynner as King Mongkut, ruler of Siam in the 1860s. Opposite Brynner was Deborah Kerr in the role of Anna Leonowens. The story is based on the novel written by Margaret Landon entitled Anna and the King of Siam (published in 1944). It is about a British schoolteacher hired by the King of Siam to teach his children and his wives the English language, among other subjects.