Sapiens: A provocative book that makes you rethink about humanity

“Interesting and provocative” is the quote you get from Barrack Obama on the cover of the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I could not agree more. The book is indeed provocative and makes you think and reflect upon the history of mankind and yourself as a human being.

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Our world is shaped by our imagination

In order to cooperate in a large group, Homo sapiens creates imagined orders that everyone believes in: state, money, religion, democracy, capitalism. None of these exists in nature. All of these ideologies and concepts are taught and imbedded in our thoughts from the day we were born.

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«You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.»

Without these imagined orders, Homo sapiens would not be able to cooperate with each other and the imagined society it tries to develop and maintain would collapse. You could trace this back to civil wars that have happened throughout history. Take Yemen, a country that has been locked in a civil war since 2011. It all started with a loss of belief in the government, the existing imagined order, and a growing belief in creating a new and better imagined order by a group of people.

These imagined orders are what made us humans. They have given us both triumphs and defeats. They gave us the greatest inventions, civilizations, cultures and history but also brought us war, despair and misery.

We are never content

Following the Agricultural Revolution, human beings began to settle down permanently and abandon the hunting-nomad life. Over time, we improve and develop new tools in pursuit of an easier life. We have invented countless devices to supposedly make our life easier: washing machines, dishwashers, phones, computers and so forth. These devices are meant to free our precious time so we can spend it doing something else, such as live a meaningful life, pursue our dreams, like those mindful and inspirational quotes would tell us. But we take these luxuries for granted. Our life has never been easier. We have become so dependent on our own inventions that we cannot imagine our lives without them.

When I was young, my family did not have any washing machine or dishwasher. We gathered water in a big pot, cooked half of it and then mixed with the other half to get warm water for a bath. We had a squat toilet. We had no Internet. I didn’t complain then. I don’t recall my childhood being unhappy with this lifestyle. Most of what I remember is playtime with my cat, dog and neighbors. Still, today, I cannot imagine living like back then. Every time I enter a new building, the first thing I wonder is “Is there any free Wi-Fi here?” I despise squat toilet. Even my mom who spent half of her life using squat toilet does not want to use it unless she has no other choice. But are we happier? I am not sure. We work harder in order to afford newer and better tools. And it is not just that. We are never content with what we have. With excess money, we began to buy bigger house, stack more luxurious tools and spend our free time on expensive vacations, as if our life is meaningless without them. Just like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh spent his wealth building pyramids, modern human beings use their money to consume various products and services, yet craving for even better products and services thus working harder to get more money to afford them. Our luxuries have become necessities.

After all, I am just another sapien who tries to build her own pyramid.

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There are a few things I do not agree with the author. Harari claimed that the Agricultural Revolution was a mistake. It has left us being locked in a luxury trap, a vicious cycle in which we can never break free. He argued that our forager ancestors might have been happier and more content with their life. They owned very little possession, lived more in the moment and focused more on the current being.

Throughout the past few years, I have stopped focusing on having to purchase decorations to make my apartment more stylish, trendy clothes and accessories to make me look chic and cool. I have focused more on being in the present and felt more peaceful then. I do find that mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram on my phone makes me feel depressed because I then compare my life with the perfect life others portray on social media. Does that mean our forager ancestors were happier? We don’t know. All we know about them were bones, fossils and drawings found in cages. We don’t know how their societies were shaped and what they thought. Did they think they were happy? Were they satisfied with their life? A forage life was nevertheless hard: high child mortality, death in childbirth, and higher chances of being attacked by other animals and tribes, or stabbed to death by a fellow tribe member. The Agricultural Revolution did leave us with a longer life and our inventions have helped us combat diseases and illnesses that would have been deadly thousands of years ago. Had it not been for the Agricultural Revolution would Yuval Noah Harari not be here to write a book about Homo sapiens.

Homo sapiens is the dissatisfied and irresponsible animal that plays God

I agree with the author that we are a destructive species. We have caused extinctions of countless species and many more to come. We create gigantic farms, lock animals in tiny cage for mass food production. We build and expand cities without regard to nature and the environment. We create plastics as a solution for an easier life then mindlessly dump them into the forest and ocean after usage. We are on our way to create a new life form, artificial intelligence and can even resurrect the death: bringing back mammoth and Neanderthal. We may even find a way to combat all the deadly diseases and old age, ending up living forever. Whatever solutions we are working on, we are doing so irresponsibly. We take no accountability for our actions and disregard the impact we have on our planet.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you to do so. Unless you are a fixed believer that your religion, state and way of life is the true one and only way, you would be offended and get nothing out of this book.

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Vacation in Prague – Part 3

In this blog I will share with you my reviews about historical and cultural attractions. Read part 1 for reviews about AirBnB and restaurants and part 2 for reviews about modern museums.

Dancing House

Modern architecture in the midst of the Old Town. The two buildings resemble two people dancing, named Fred and Ginger by the locals. If you are interested in architecture, it may be worth a visit. I do not advise buying tickets to go to the top of the building for a city view. We did and thought it was a waste of money. The ticket would allow you to go to the top where there was a coffee shop and a balcony outside for you to view the river, Prague Castle and other sightseeing places. The place was overcrowded with people and did not give a worthwhile view of the city in our opinion. If you want a city view, walk up the hill towards Petrin Tower. You’d get a good walk plus fantastic view for free (except for if you want to enter the tower).

 

Beer Museum

http://beermuseum.cz/

The museum provides you with the history of beer, beer tasting and bottling your own beer experience. It is a fun trip for those interested in beer. For beer tasting, you’d get four large glasses of beer, explanation of the ingredients in each glass and information about in which order you should taste the beer. If you are not an avid beer drinker, it may be worth to buy only one ticket for beer tasting, as a ticket gives you four glasses, and share the beer among your travel companions.

Klementinum

https://www.klementinum.com/en/

This is a guided tour that lasts around one hour and comprises of the Baroque library hall, Meridian hall, a unique room previously used for determining noon and Astronomical tower, a 68-meter high tower that presents you with a wonderful view of the historical center of Prague. Klementinum is a popular place. Be prepared that you would be a part of a large guided group. It is not possible to visit this place on your own which is rather annoying. Being part of the tour means you have to move with the group and the tour guide has limited time since he/she has to be back on time for the next tour. In addition, the library is off limit. You cannot take photos or walk inside. The tour guide we had only knew things she remembered from the script but not much of anything else related to the place’s history. I can’t tell you whether I’d recommend this place or not. The library was magnificent: grand and stunning architecture with thousands of historical books – it does deserve being called one of the most beautiful libraries on Earth. The tour, though, was disappointing.

 

Strahov Library

Another beautiful library located on top of the hill. From Charles Bridge it takes around 45 minutes to walk up or 25 minutes by public transport from National Theatre. This is a self-guided visit so you are free to spend as much time here as you’d like. In order to take photo, you have to buy a photo pass in addition to entrance ticket. I don’t understand why they do this. It makes me feel like they want to make as much money out of tourists as possible. There are two libraries and they are both beautiful and impressive. You cannot enter them, however. You can stand outside and take some photos. I could imagine Lara Croft on her quest for ancient treasures, sneaking her way in the library to find clues through books from hundreds of years ago. Or maybe she doesn’t need to sneak in. Since she’s a billionaire, she could probably arrange to have a private visit to the libraries.

 

Overall Prague is a beautiful city. I wish we had more time to visit other places here. Perhaps next time.

Vacation in Prague – Part 2

In this blog I will share with you my reviews about modern museums we visited during our vacation in Prague. Read part 1 for reviews about AirBnB and restaurants.

Gallery of Steel Figures

http://www.galleryofsteelfigures.com/en/price-list-prague

We came across this place by chance when we were on our way to a restaurant for dinner. My husband is a fan of Star Wars and a welder, so this place was obviously appealing to him. All the steel figures here are made from scrap metal, many of which were meticulously made to details. We had a lot of fun there. I wish they would offer more information about the figures: how they were made, where the metal came from, who the artists were.

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Lego Museum

http://www.muzeumlega.cz/

Supposedly this has the largest in the world in terms of size and number of exhibits, with over 3000 unique models. OK place to visit. You may find it interesting if you are a Lego fan. The building has very narrowed space that makes you feel suffocated. It is not suitable for a large group to visit at the same time. For me it was not a museum, more like a place with collections of different Lego models. There was no interactive part, except for a small playroom for kids. Neither was there any history about Lego or the models in display.

Museum of Senses

https://www.muzeumsmyslu.cz/en

After visiting Gallery of Steel Figures we received a coupon for discounted tickets at the Museum of Senses, the main reason why we visited this place. It offered us a lot of fun. Here you would find many interesting interactive exhibitions to test out. Beware this place may be very crowded. The museum is very small though with limited number of exhibitions. I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping for a larger exhibition. It took no more than 30 minutes to go through.

Here is my tips – I am not sure whether this deal still applies now but it was valid when were there in February 2019: Lego Museum gives discounted ticket to Gallery of Steel Figures which then gives discounted tickets to Museum of Senses. If you plan to visit all three when in Prague, start with the order above.

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In my next blog, I will share you reviews about historical and cultural attractions.

Vacation in Prague – Part 1

In February I took a four-day vacation in Prague, Czech Republic with my husband and parents-in-law.

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We stayed at an AirBnB apartment, which was located within walking distance from major attractions in Old Town. Our host Jan kindly showed us useful information about the city even though we did not really ask for it. His number one tip: Don’t take taxi. Use Uber! You could not trust taxis here and would probably end up being overcharged. Jan recommended two restaurants Slavia and Kantyna as well as Strahov library. You’ll find a more detailed review about these places below and in my next blog, together with other places we visited.

 

AirBnB apartment

It is a spacious two-bedroom apartment. Each bedroom has a king-size bed. The living room has a sofa that can be turned into a bed so the apartment can technically accommodate up to six people. Beware that there is only one toilet and one bad. It may not be convenient for six people though, especially in the morning when you get up and there is a long queue for the toilet! Otherwise, the apartment was great. Centrally located, walking distance to many attractions, close to trams and buses.

Here is the link to the apartment on AirBnB: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18579038

 

Restaurant

Café Slavia: https://www.cafeslavia.cz/en/menu-en/#ceska

This place supposedly offers you a nice river view if you get a table by the window. We came there for lunch at 13:00 and all of the window tables were occupied. The café is centrally located with National Theater, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle in sight so there is no surprise about its high prices. The service was good. Our waiter was friendly and helpful. The food was OK, not that impressive, to the point that I did not even remember what I ate. At the time of writing this blog, I almost forgot that we ate lunch there and had to check the website to see what I did actually order. It was beef goulash with variation of Czech dumplings. Czech dumplings are nowhere similar to Chinese dumplings (meat/veggies wrapped in flour), or even Hungarian dumplings (close to macaroni). They are kind of bread-like, made from flour, egg, yeast, sugar and salt. The dish I ordered had three different types of dumplings, each with its own taste. Overall, the food here was not something that would totally amaze you, in my opinion. I did not take any photos of the food or restaurant here, so you can tell how enthusiastic I was in documenting this experience. My mother-in-law ordered ‘Confit duck stomach on bacon and thyme’, which both of us agreed was a more interesting dish. If you ever eat here, I’d recommend you to go for that dish. We did also order a cheesecake for dessert. Our unanimous conclusion was that our homemade cheesecake was better. I would share with you our cheesecake venture in another blog – we have been testing different recipes at home as well as in restaurants and cafes to see where we can get the best cheesecake! (P.S if you know where we can get the best cheesecake, let me know).

 

Kantyna: https://www.kantyna.ambi.cz/en/

This is probably the highlight of our trip when it comes to food. It does not appear on the top recommended list of restaurants for tourists so we would most likely not find it if our AirBnB did not mention this place. We arrived there on Wednesday evening for dinner but the place was fully packed. We were told that it would take 30 minutes to wait for the next available seating or even a standing place. What I could see was there seemed to be many locals, dressed in business suits, perhaps out for dinner and drinks with friends and colleagues after work. The kind of place that I like when I travel: where the locals eat, not where the tourists eat.

We decided to come back the next day for lunch. Kantyna is a butcher place and literally a ‘canteen’. You take your tray, order food by the kitchen counter and pay for the amount of food you take. My husband and I shared a tray, as there was a lot of heavy food. For meat lovers, Kantyna is definitely a place you should visit. I’d recommend coming there for lunch since the restaurant is less busy. In the evening, you should definitely book a table.

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That’s it for now. Follow my next blog for more reviews about Prague.

What are some factors that limit your flexibility?

In Norwegian: Hva kan forhindre din fleksibilitet? Scroll ned for å lese på norsk. 

What are some factors that limit your flexibility? Injury is one of them for sure. This is me trying to get my needle scale. I’m having an injury in my left shoulder tendon. My left shoulder has lost its mobility and strength significantly. I could not extend my shoulder to reach my foot behind my back. Even a side plank on my left side is difficult to perform. So for now, most of my trainings have been rehab – building up the strength and mobility again.

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Other factors that could limit your flexibility include:

  • Joint structure
  • Muscles
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Temperature in the environment and body
  • Sickness
  • Your daily activities
  • Stress

If you are struggling with improving your flexibility, it’ll help to understand these factors above and adjust your practice. I’ve written a more detailed explanation of these factors in Pole in Style blog. Check it out: https://www.poleinstyle.com/blogs/news/factors-limit-flexibility


På norsk

Hva kan forhindre din fleksibilitet?

  • Leddtyper: Skulder-og-hofteleddene har den høyeste mobiliteten i kroppen mens albue-og-kneleddene er ikke like fleksible. Noen har hypermobile ledd som gjør at flere eller mange ledd kan bøyes/strekkes mer enn det som anses å være normalt, mens andre har hypomobile ledd, en tilstand som er motsatt av hypermobilitet. 
  • Muskler: Større muskelvolum fører til mindre mobilitet. F.eks. det er vanskeligere å gjøre en forward bend med store hamstrings. Stivhet og svakhet i muskler kan føre til mindre fleksibilitet. 
  • Alder: Med økende alder øker også stivheten i kroppens bløtdeler. Dette skyldes blant annet at antall krysskoblinger i bindevevet øker, noe som medfører at bindevevet ikke kan tøyes ut like lett. En annen grunn er at vi blir mindre aktive når vi blir eldre.
  • Kjønn: Kvinner er ofte mer bevegelige enn menn. En grunn til dette er anatomiske forskjeller, slik som skjelettets utseende og muskelvolumet.
  • Skader eller sykdommer i bevegelsesapparatet: Skadet ledd og muskler vil ha mindre fleksibilitet.
  • Temperaturen i omgivelsene og kroppstemperaturen: Bindevevet blir mindre elastisk ved lave temperaturer, og skades da også lettere når det strekkes. Derfor er oppvarming viktig. Leddene og musklene er mer elastisk når kroppens temperatur er 1 til 2 grader høyere enn normalt.
  • Personens bevegelsmønster og aktivitetsgrad: Kroppen tilpasser seg de kravene som stilles, og hvis en person er helt inaktiv, vil kroppen tilpasse bevegelseomfanget etter dette. Det betyr at bindevevets evne til å strekkes blir redusert.
  • Stress: Ved stress øker mengde stresshormoner i kroppen. Dette fører til økt muskelspenning.

Det hjelper å forstå hva kan forhindre din fleksibilitet slik at du kan tilpasse din trening. Har du noen spørsmål? Ønsker du tips med fleksibilitetstrening? Ta kontakt da vel :).

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To be a woman means I’ll never be good enough

On Monday evening while we were watching TV, a commercial about facial hair remover lipstick came up. It claimed that the product worked immediately, caused no pain and would leave your skin flawless and shining. It showed many women who had tested the product as examples and their skin before and after the test. I have never used such product so I cannot tell you whether it works or not, but one can know for sure it has no permanent effect. The facial hair will eventually grow back and you will have to continue using it, perhaps buy additional accessories, upgrade with a more advanced technology and spend even more money in order to maintain your flawless skin, as your natural skin isn’t GOOD enough. Thousands of women would probably throw their money at these beauty products every year to achieve that flawless beauty they have longed for.

There is no such product advertised towards men.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe it exists somewhere and I have not seen it yet. If you have seen one, let me know.

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Women are told to apply moisturizer and lotion to keep their skin soft and radiant, foundation, concealer, powder, blushes and highlighters (you name it!) to cover their blemishes, acnes, wrinkles, those dark circles around their eyes. Not just that, there are different products for different occasions: work, party, vacation, birthday, wedding, whatever occasion you can come up with. You are welcome to apply as much makeup as possible, to the point that you don’t recognize yourself anymore. That is fine because who wants to see you as your natural self anyways! Take those celebrities whom you would not recognize and consider UGLY without makeup. It is not just our face that is full of flaws. It is also the skin on our body, which needs to be soft and cellulite-free. Our hair needs to be smooth as silk. Even our nails need to be polished. As a woman, I have been told since my birth that I am full of flaws. Society will never fully accept us. Did you also notice many of these beauty products come with the word ‘flawless’ in their description? Google ‘flawless’ and see what comes up in your search results (check the images as well)! Perhaps this is the reason why girls have less confident than boys, a trait that is visible already from a young age1.

You don’t see commercials on TV telling men they should polish their nails or use facial hair remover lipstick to make their skin shinning and flawless.

The global cosmetics market is growing every year, with a compounded annual growth rate between 4-5%, reaching $432 in value by 20222. In a consumer research in 2017, 71% answered that cosmetics played an important part of their daily lives. 80% considered cosmetics important in building up self-esteem3. So is it a demand-driven industry? I think it goes both ways. Consumers are driving up demand by forever living up to the beauty standard. Corporations push supply by providing consumers with solutions to help them meet the standard and more. It is a vicious cycle we are stuck in. We’d pay to apply chemicals on our body. Don’t forget that the industry is contributing to environmental damages: think about those nice plastics wraps and packaging these products come with, not to mention animal testing.

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Ironically, the biggest beauty & cosmetics corporations are led by men:

  • L’Oreal: Jean Paul Agon
  • Estee Lauder: Fabrizio Freda
  • Coty: Pierre Laubies
  • Shiseido: Masahiko Uotani
  • LVMH: Bernald Arnault

These companies come messages telling women that we need to buy their products to be flawless. Can we say it is actually men running these companies and dictating how women should perceive themselves? I don’t know. If you look at commercials and ads, it is actually women sending messages to other women: female celebrities and models giving tips on makeup and beauty so you can be as pretty as them. We’d call it women empowering women, helping each other become more confident. If there were an ad with a man telling women how to hide their flaws, it would probably spark a controversy. Many would get offended, labeling that ad anti-feminist and subsequently advising people to ignore that ad and believe in themselves. The world is full of contradictions. Perhaps we are hypocrites after all.

I have keloid scars, a condition that I inherit from my dad. As of today, there has not been any clinically proven treatment to heal them. Many in my immediate family, females, tell me to cover them because they make me look ugly. At one point, they bombarded me with tips on treatments and urged me to try those treatments. Nobody ever told my dad to hide those scars or treat them. I have also not received such ‘beauty tips’ from men. Perhaps it is because men are taught not to care about such flaws. Or perhaps it is deemed as inappropriate for men to offer women such advices. Over the years, I have lived with shame of my scars. I hate them and even hate myself and my own DNA for inheriting such things. I cannot look at them in the mirror. I don’t know if I can ever get over it. If women are offering beauty tips to help other women become more confident, why does it make me feel worse about myself?

Back to the fact that the largest cosmetics companies are led by men: It is understandable. For so long men have dominated leadership positions4. Women are only beginning to fight back for a seat at the board table. Perhaps the industry will change in the future and be led by women. Would it then be better? Or would men be dragged into this never-ending beauty contest eventually? Makeup for men is a growing trend5. Would they be introduced to the concept ‘flawless’, a concept that is mentioned so often that it would embed deeply in their sub-consciousness?

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’d like to point out: How can we ever have self-confidence, raise our own voice and stand up for ourselves if deep down we cannot even accept ourselves?

 

Sources: 

1 Teen Girls Are Less Confident than Boys & It’s Affecting Their Futures. https://www.ypulse.com/post/view/teen-girls-are-less-confident-than-boys-its-affecting-their-futures

2 Cosmetics Market by Category. Allied Market Research. https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/cosmetics-market

3 Consumer Insights 2017. Cosmetics Europe. https://www.cosmeticseurope.eu/files/6114/9738/2777/CE_Consumer_Insights_2017.pdf

4 Key findings from the Women in the Workplace 2018 report. Lean In. https://leanin.org/women-in-the-workplace

5 Makeup is changing the meaning of masculinity. Vivian Jones, 2018.

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/14/health/makeup-skincare-male-masculinity-intl/index.html

A trip to Bergen

In January 2019, we travelled to Bergen, a city located on the West coast of Norway. We started the trip with a 6-hour train ride from Oslo. If you really want to see Norway’s beautiful nature and landscape, you must include the train ride in your list.

At Bryggeloftet & Stuene restaurant

The first part can be boring as the train only passes through Oslo’s suburbs but once you exit Drammen, a city located two hours away from Oslo, everything gets more exciting.

 

Train ride to Bergen

Once you pass Geilo, Norway’s skiing town, things become more spectacular: the vast mountain range buried deep in never ending snow, lakes covering in ice.

My tip for the train: bring food and snack with you (food on the train is expensive!), also a good book to read, music to listen to or movie to watch. The train has free Wifi but it doesn’t always work. I would not recommend a four-seat place with table in the middle, unless you travel in a group of four. Otherwise, you are stuck with strangers sitting in front of you for many hours, unless if you don’t mind socializing and mingling, assuming your neighbors are also interested in conversations.

Train ride to Bergen

In Bergen, we stayed at an AirBnB that was ten-minute walk away from the train station. At the Fish Market and Bryggen, you will find charming streets and narrow alleyways filled with small old wooden houses, some of which dated back to the 18th century.

Bryggen, Bergen

We ate dinner at Bryggeloftet & Stuene, a family-owned restaurant serving local food since 1910.

 

We also took the Fløibanen train up the mountain which offered you a view of the entire city. You can then hike further into the mountain. There is a ski track up there for those who enjoy this winter sport.

Mountains on top of Bergen

Bergen is a charming city full of history and beautiful nature. No wonder why people there are so proud of their city. In Norway we have a joke about this: If you meet a Bergenese outside of Norway and ask where he comes from, he wouldn’t say he is from Norway. He’d say he’s from Bergen.