China’s MMO Video Game-Inspired Restaurants

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Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) video games are very popular in China. Combine that with the country’s culture of fakes and copycats and you get lots of unofficial merchandise and even venues  inspired by popular virtual reality universes. One such place was the World of Warcraft-themed restaurant on Chaoyang Road, in Beijing.

Opened in 2008, by a businessman who just happened to also be a huge fan of Blizzard’s fantasy universe, the unique World of Warcraft restaurant was designed entirely around the MMO and its original opening cinematic. Created as a ”comfortable gathering place for fellow gamers”, this place had Warcraft-inspired decorations, dishes named after locations in the game and plasma screens showing live footage from the MMO world. The large banner above the entrance featured the game’s logo, an Alliance mage and a Horde warrior, as well as the crests of the two playable races. This would have probably been enough to attract the millions of Chinese fans who live and breathe World of Warcraft, but the entrepreneur really went all out trying to make the restaurant itself appeal to die-hard gamers.

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The Indian Coin Divers of Yamuna River

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It sometimes amazes me how humans are able to find a source of livelihood in almost any type of environment, in accordance with their surroundings. Case-in-point, the coin divers of the Yamuna River, in Delhi, India’s capital city. This unique group of men works around the year, braving the bone-chilling cold waters even during winters, to dive into the river and retrieve coins from the bottom. The same coins that are thrown into the waters by passengers of boats crossing the river, as an offering to the River Goddess. Wondering what such an offbeat job pays? Well, sometimes as little as 100-200 rupees (US $ 2 to 3) a day, and sometimes as much as a diamond ring.

22-year-old Sartaj Ahmed has been in the profession of coin-diving for the past 6 years. The brave young man says he started diving when he was just a boy, but it was only when he turned 18 that he began hunting for coins. “Some days I get 100-200 rupees but on lucky days, I can find small trinkets. I have even found a gold ring once.” 34-year-old Sajad Ahmed has been at it for 20 long years. He says it gets harder and harder each other, but they really do not have any other choice. 21-year-old Amit Kumar, who’s been doing this for 10 years, says, “We dive into the river and collect coins, brass, copper, sometimes even silver and gold.” Diving for coins is the only source of his daily income. “What can be done, I have to do something for my living. We live here so we keep diving here.”  Vicky, another young diver, says, “I dive and normally take home money for my daily expenses.” Raju says that he prefers coin diving because he doesn’t like working for a boss.

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Giethoorn – A Rural Venice in the Netherlands

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The tiny Dutch village of Giethoorn, located right in the middle of the De Wieden nature reserve, is fondly known as the Venice of Netherlands. Quite an apt name for the place, since it has distinct features that are reminiscent of the romantic Italian city – 7.5 km of canals, about 50 little wooden bridges, boat rides, quaint houses, and more.

If there’s something that Giethoorn does not have in common with Venice, it’s history. The small village was first inhabited in the year 1230 by a group of fugitives from the Mediterranean regions. It is said that when they first arrived in the area, they noticed an unusually large number of goat horns that were left over after the big flood of St Elisabeth had ravaged the area in 1170. So they named their settlement Geytenhorn (horn of goats), but with dialect changes over the years the name gradually changed to Giethoorn. There’s a story about how all the lakes came to be as well. Early settlers took to peat mining; they dug for peat in the areas that suited them the most and left holes in the ground. These holes soon filled up and turned into lakes of varying sizes. So to carry the peat from one area to another, they would sail through navigable canals and ditches. The means of transportation that was once a necessity is now a huge tourist attraction.

Giethoorn-Venice

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Conquer Your Fears in China’s Snake Village

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Nestled in the heart of a vast farmland in East China’s Zhejiang province, the small village of Zisiqiao has a pretty common look, but it hides a scary secret. The aptly names “snake village” is home to thousands of the most feared snaked species on Earth.

Snakes are a vital ingredient in Chinese medicine, and are also widely used to make soup and wine believed to increase a person’s immunity. As the number one snake village in China, Zisiqiao breeds and sells over 3 million snakes per year, to satisfy the ever-increasing demand. The 160 snake-breeding families living here now boast an annual income of several thousands yuan, and in this Year of the Snake, a significant profit increase is expected. The once poor village of Zisiqiao is now the envy of similar rural communities, with some of the larger snake farms making tens of thousands of dollars from this lucrative business. Obviously, it’s not the easiest job in the world, and most breeders admit they have been bitten several time, even by deadly snakes, but the rewards are definitely worth the risk.

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Coober Pedy – Australia’s Underground Town

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Coober Pedy is a small town that’s one of a kind – for being down under in the Land Down Under. Yes, it’s the world’s only underground town, and it’s in Australia.

Located in South Australia, known for being the driest state on the driest continent on Earth, the town of Coober Pedy was established in 1915, when opal was first discovered in the region and miners started settling in. The temperature and weather conditions were so harsh that the miners began digging their homes into the hillsides. All they wanted was to find some respite from the scorching sun, but in the process they ended up creating a small town for themselves. To this day, the people of Coober Pedy prefer to build their houses under the ground. Summers are harsh around here, with temperatures easily rising over 40 degrees Celsius. Air conditioning is a necessity, not a luxury, if you choose to live above ground. But the scenario is completely different in the underground homes of Coober Pedy. The temperature remains at a cool, constant 24 degrees and the humidity doesn’t go beyond 20%. Winters can be rather cold, but people are willing to make that kind of compromise.

Coober-Pedy-Australia

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Het Arresthuis – A Luxury Prison Hotel You Won’t Want to Escape from

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After serving as one of the Netherlands most feared prisons for almost 150 years, Het Arresthuis, in Roermond, has been converted into a luxury hotel that no one wants to escape from anymore.

Het Arresthuis opened its doors in 1862, as a prison. Obviously, no one came here to stay by their own accord, during the 19th and 20th century, but things have changed a lot since then. The jail closed down for good in 2007, and now that the facility has been transformed into a luxurious hotel, guests actually pay big money to spend at least a night in one of the old holding cells. Although “cells” is not exactly the right word to describe the chic accommodations at Het Arresthuis. The 105 prisoner’s quarters have been converted into 40 spacious rooms,  including 24 standard rooms, 12 deluxe rooms, and four suites, all of which feature modern furnishings and chic interior design. They are all equipped with air conditioning, a flat screen TV, free WiFi, and even a personal coffee and tea machine, and the hotel’s include a sauna, a fitness center, a central patio with olive trees, and an organic herb garden. If you’re wondering about bars, this place has both kinds – the ones you can’t get past and the ones where you can get your drink on.

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Sleep as a Hobo at Sweden’s Homeless Experience Hotel

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It costs money to be homeless in Sweden. Well, only for a night though, at the Faktum Hotels. Located in Gothenburg, the hotel has no rooms but instead offers the complete homeless experience. Once you make a booking online, the hotel will lead you to a pre-determined place where the real homeless might spend their nights, one of 10 extraordinary locations they’ve handpicked for their guests.

A ‘room’ at the Faktum Hotels costs $10 a night and customers are free to choose their location from 10 options, including a spot under a bridge, in a derelict factory, a park bench, in forests, or even under seats at a football stadium. High quality images of all these places are available on the hotel website that actually make the experience look tempting. The descriptions accompanying the images are quite enticing and entertaining to read as well. Where else would you find an underpass described as: “Feel the city’s pulse from dawn to dusk at Gullbergsvass. This delightful dwelling is just a stroll from the romantic Dreamer’s Quay: a source of inspiration to musicians and artists alike. And all under the noble eye of the Skansen Lion from his centuries old fortress.”

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The Guinea Pig Festival of Huacho Has Rodents on the Menu

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It’s funny how a cute and furry pet in one part of the world can be considered a delicacy in another. But that’s exactly what guinea pigs are in the small town of Huacho in Peru. In fact, they have a whole festival dedicated to dressing up and cooking the hairy rodents – The Festival of the Guinea Pig, or as the Peruvians call it, the Cavies.

As a part of the festival that has been around since the mid-2000s, guinea pigs are dressed up as kings, miners, peasants, traditional folk singers and also in modern costume for fashion shows. There are prizes for best costume, so every effort is made to impress judges during the show. As cute as they may look in their little outfits, it’s disturbing to know that sometimes, in an effort to make the costumes stay on the guinea pigs, the people of Huacho do not hesitate to use staples. Prizes are handed out for the biggest, fastest, best-dressed and even the tastiest animal of all. Because once the parade is over, it’s time to eat the models! The guinea pigs are taken out of their costumes and cooked in various ways, like baking, frying, or roasting on an open flame. The locals love their cavies served whole on a plate – complete with the heads, guts, paws and even claws. Garnishes include tomatoes, cucumbers, Andean potatoes, and large Peruvian corn calledchoclo. And the best way to eat the animal, according to the Peruvian folk, is to pick up the entire guinea pig and simply suck the meat off the bones. A single dish of whole fried or baked guinea pig with all the garnishes costs approximately $7. According to festival visitor, Juan Rojas, “Guinea pig meat is very nourishing and contains lots of vitamins and other things.” Native to the high Andes, the meat of guinea pigs is considered to be low in fat and an important source of protein.

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Women-Only Sleeping Cafe Opens in Tokyo

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Power naps – those short periods of sleep during the day – have been known to boost brain activity and increase productivity at the work place. Now a sleeping cafe in Tokyo’s Akasaka business district is offering hard-working Japanese women the chance to enjoy the benefits of the power nap, for a fee.

Stress and fatigue at the office are real issues in Japan, but for the women workaholics of the Asakara business district, in Tokyo there is a place where they can go relax and restore their energy – the Quska Sleeping Cafe. This ingenious concept offers patrons the chance to get a quick shut-eye either during their lunch breaks or in between their constant hours of overtime. It charges ¥150 ($1.60) for ten minutes of sleep in their comfortable facilities, but have even more affordable rates for clients looking to buy four-hour slots (¥3,120, around $33) or more. Now, you may think 10 minutes makes no difference if you’re ready to drop to the floor from fatigue, but various studies have shown that brief naps (10 -15 minutes) improve a person’s alertness and overall performance without the negative effects of sleep inertia associated with longer sleeping periods. Japanese companies are well-known for their productivity, and one of the reasons for this may be the power nap. For years, they’ve actually been encouraging their employees to take naps during work hours, and sleeping cafes like Quska provide the perfect environment.

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Colomares Castle – An Enchanting Masterpiece Dedicated to Christopher Columbus

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Boasting a combination of Byzantine, Roman, Gothic and Mudejar architectural styles, Colomares Castle, in the Spanish town of Benalmadena is a unique monument that pays homage to explorer Christopher Columbus.

Looking at this fairy-tale castle with all its exquisite details, you could never guess it was built by a doctor with no architectural background, and two local brick layers. Esteban Martin, M.D., spent seven years working on Colombares Castle, from 1987 to 1994, trying to create a marvelous monument honoring Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America. For the good doctor building the castle was a labor of love, undertaken in his spare time. He tried to combine all these different architectural styles and at the same time include various elements relating to Christopher Columbus and his historic journey, like finely carved representations of the three ships that made the trip to America. In the end, he manged to construct the largest monument dedicated to the Genovese explorer, covering an area of 1,500 square meters. At the same time, Colomares Castle made into the Guinness Book of Records for hosting the world’s tiniest chapel, just 1.96 square meters in size.

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Japanese Restaurant Employs Masked Monkey Waiters

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Are you running a restaurant and can’t afford to hire waiters? Well, you could take a cue from this Japanese restaurant that hired monkeys for the job. And in an attempt to make them look more human, they even strapped masks on their faces. Not that they really fooled anybody.

The restaurant in question is Kayabuki, in the Miyukihoncho part of Utsunomiya, North of Tokyo. The place is a traditional ‘sake house’, which makes its choice of staff even stranger – a couple of monkeys named Yat-chan and Fuku-chan working as waiters (or waitresses, we’re not sure). 16-year-old Yat-chan is the older of the two, but he moves quickly between tables as he takes the customers’ drink orders. Fuku-chan gives diners a hot towel and helps them clean their hands before they order their drinks, as is the custom in Japan.  Believe it or not, the pair is actually certified by local authorities to work at the restaurant. The customers like them as well, so they get tipped with soya beans. One customer, Takayoshi Soeno said, “The monkeys are actually better waiters than some really bad human ones.”

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The Sacred Antogo Fishing Ritual, or How to Catch All the Fish in a Lake in 15 Minutes

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Just beneath the village of Bamba, in the Northern part of Dogon country in Mali, lies a small, yet sacred lake, where fishing is permitted only once a year – during the unique ritual called Antogo.

In the past, Bamba is said to have been covered in lush green forests. The lake, which is considered to be sacred and populated with good spirits, used to offer tons of fish that contributed to local food requirements. But with changes in climate, desertification, and the passage of time, the region gradually became dry, infertile and inhospitable. The locals now face huge problems such as unavailability of water, but the lake still represents a precious resource to the local Dogons, but one which they exhaust every year during Antogo. The event is held on the 6th month of the dry season, generally in May, but the exact date is fixed each year by the council of wise men. Saturdays are market days in Bamba, and for the first three market days of the month wooden sticks are placed in the middle of the lake, acting as a signal, a warning that the ritual is getting closer. On the day that is finally designated as the day of Antogo, hundreds gather from all parts of Mali around Bamba’s lake. The 3 biggest groups are formed by the most respected and ancient families of various Dogon villages. The group from Bamba itself is usually the largest. These groups of people maintain a collective mystical silence, except for the wise who recite incantations and praise deities. When they are done speaking, the ritual itself – and all the magic associated with it – begins.

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The Floating Man-Made Islands of Lake Titicaca

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The people of Uros, a small South American tribe in Peru, have made living arrangements for themselves that are so unique, they’re not found anywhere else in the world. These people live most of their lives on man-made floating islands? The islands were created on Lake Titicaca in Peru, for the protection against other stronger tribes. The lake is the largest by volume in South America, and provides ample protection by itself since it is completely isolated and located about 3000 m above sea level.

But the Uros people were apparently not satisfied with the protection of the lake alone. They went one step further to ensure their safety, making good use of the reeds that grow in abundance along the banks of the lake. The reeds proved to be a malleable material, so they were dried out, bundled and shaped into boats that float very well. This natural material also made it possible for the ancient Uros to create a system of floating domiciles that could be quickly moved away from the mainland in case of any emergency, called the tortora islands. Today, about half the population of the Uros about 500 individuals), still prefer to live in this age-old manner. Of course, they’ve renovated their floating islands to include some modern amenities as well.

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World’s First Official Barbie Cafe Is as Pink as You’d Expect

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As if Asians didn’t have enough pink in their lives, from all those crazy Hello-Kitty-themed venues, now there’s an official Barbie Cafe in Taipei, Taiwan. And yes, it has dolls, themed foods and more pink than most men can bare.

January 30th witnessed the inauguration of the world’s first official Barbie Cafe, in one of the busiest shopping districts in Taipei. The iconic doll’s maker, Mattel, licensed Taiwanese restaurant chain Sinlaku to open the themed cafe in hopes that it will promote Barbie as a fashion brand. Iggy Yip, senior manager of Mattel’s Greater China division, commented: ”We picked Taiwan because theme restaurants are very popular and successful here. We are very confident that the Barbie Cafe can promote our brand image.” Indeed, the island is home to a number of unique restaurants and cafes, including one modeled after an A380 airplane, a cardboard restaurant, and even a popular toilet restaurant. But there is a special relationship between Taiwan and Barbie, as this was where the popular doll was originally manufactured, before production lines were moved to mainland China and other parts, to lower costs. In 2009, another Barbie restaurant was opened in Shanghai, China, but it closed down two years later, after it proved unsuccessful.

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The Maeklong Railway Food Market – A Strange Wonder of Thailand

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Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory loves trains, but I’m not too sure if he’d like this particular one. The Maeklong market railway passes right through the middle of a tightly packed market – so tight, that passengers can probably grab a few vegetables as they pass through. The market’s stalls are actually set up on the train rails, but shopkeepers know the train’s schedule, so just before it passes through, they quickly drag their goods into the shops and pull the roofs down. After the train has passed through, it’s back to business as usual. This happens no less than 8 times a day.

The Maeklong market has become so popular with tourists that there might actually be more people visiting to see it rather than buy anything. Located 72 km or an hour’s drive south-west of Bangkok, Maeklong is the capital of the Samut Songkhram province. Most people compare the market to something like a movie set; it’s that surreal. It’s amazing how every inch of space available has been utilized. The small stalls on either side of the railway track are made from tarpaulins and sometimes just a bedspread. They consist of plastic trays filled with vegetables and vibrant Thai fruit like mangosteens and rambutans. You can also find fresh-cut flowers, fragrant spices, cuts of meat, fresh seafood and poultry. And it doesn’t just stop with food; there are other goods to be purchased as well, like clothes, lingerie, toys, and pirated DVDs. Sometimes there aren’t even stalls, just people sitting on the ground with trays of fruit at their feet.

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