Thursday, May 12, 2016

Paternity Leave

Czechland has just approved a week of paternity leave to allow fathers to spend time with newborn children.  Dad won't have to take vacation days or unpaid leave.  The one-week leave is to be taken within the first six weeks of birth.  If the father has health insurance then he will receive 70% of his base salary.

This 70% of salary is based on a monthly income of 15.000 - 25.000 Kč ($588 - $980; €555 - €925).  Those with higher monthly salaries could be better off taking vacation days off instead.

Fathers already do have the option to take over maternity leave from the mothers after seven weeks.  This allows the father to take advantage of the 156-week parental leave but at a lower flat rate.

About 100,000 babies are born in Czechland each year.

The Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden and the UK all grant about two weeks of official paternity leave.  Finland allows 11 weeks and Norway gives 14 weeks in order to strengthen the ties between the parents and newborns.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Gabriela Gunčíková

Eurovision starts tonight and the Czechs are going for it again.  Gabriela Gunčíková will represent Czechland this week.



She is also known as Gabriela Gun.  2011 was a busy year for her as she came in second in Česko Slovensko SuperStar.  Then she placed seventh on Let's Dance which is the Slovak version of Dancing with the Stars.  (Strictly Come Dancing for all of my UK folks.)  She capped off 2011 by winning Best New Artist at Český slavík which are the Czech Grammys.

Last year the Czech Eurovision entry did not make it to the finals.  Let's hope for a place in the finals this year.  Her song for this year's competition is called I Stand and it is in English.  Here's the song which I found out on YouTube.

video
©Eurovision Song Contest

Update:  The Czechs finally make it to the finals!  Gabriela placed 9th in the first semi-finals with 161 points.  This Saturday she will compete in the grand final.

Update:  With 41 points, she placed 25th out of the 26 finalists.  At least Czechland finally made it to the grand final for the first time ever.  Let's see if they can make it again next year.

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Zealand Flag Referendum

There was a big move in New Zealand to change its flag.  One of the arguments is that it is too similar to the Australian flag as the two are often confused.  Both are blue with a Union Jack in the upper left corner and a Southern Cross on the right.  There are also the points that it keeps the country looking like a UK colony and there is no representation of the Māori.

Some of the rejected designs
The Prime Minister pushed for a two-stage binding referendum to change the flag.  More than 10,000 designs were submitted to a panel who then came up with an initial short list of 40 designs.

The short list of 40 flags
The Flag Consideration Panel was made up of "respected New Zealanders" representing different age, regional, gender and ethnic demographics.  Somehow though they forgot to include any flag experts.

It was narrowed down to five and voters were asked "If the New Zealand flag changes, which flag would you prefer?"
The three week referendum took place in 2015 between November and December.  A preferential voting system was used were voters ranked their preferred choices from 1 to 5.  The option receiving the lowest number of votes was discarded but for those who vote this as there first choice had there second choices added to the total.  This goes on and on until a winner is chosen.  In the first round, most people voted for option E but due to this confusing preferential system the final winner was option A.

The second three week referendum in March 2016 asked voters "What is your choice for the New Zealand flag?"
In the end voters decided to keep the current flag.  Some people didn't care for the choices or how the whole process was conducted.  Many objected to the the NZD $27 million (USD $18.9M or €17,8M) price tag because this money could have been spent on more pressing things.  Some people thought that the flag should change if and when New Zealand becomes a republic but that it didn't make sense to change it before then.
Personally, the referendum process seems like it was backwards to me.  I think the first question should have been Do you want to change the flag?  If "no", then the whole debate would have been over.  If "yes", then put the choices to the vote.  It really doesn't matter what I think as I'm not a Kiwi.
Here's a video I found out on YouTube covering the final results.
video
©One News

Sunday, May 8, 2016

New Zealand

New Zealand is a county in the southwestern Pacific Ocean (Oceania) consisting of the North Island, the South Island and a number of smaller islands.  The country is home to about 4,7 million people is about the size of Colorado.  Wellington is the country's capital while Aukland is its largest city.



New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and far away from everything.  New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga are the closest countries at they are about 1000 km (600 miles) north.  The east coast of Australia is about 1500 km (900 miles) which is a 3,5 hour flight.  It's a good 10 hour flight from Singapore or Hong Kong.  Brno is a whopping 18,076 km (11,232 miles) away!

Due to being so remote it was one of the last places to be settled by people.  The Polynesian Māori arrived in around 800 AD.  The Māori refer to New Zealand as Aotearoa.  A Dutch explorer was the first European to "discover" it in 1642.  The Treaty of Waitangi between the UK and the Māori chieftains in 1840 ceded sovereignty to the British Crown while maintaining territorial rights.  There were a number of land wars between 1843 and 1872 which resulted in Māori defeat and New Zealand became a British colony.  New Zealand became independent in 1907.

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, led by the Prime Minister, under a constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II as the Queen and head of state.  A governor-general represents the Crown.  The Realm of New Zealand includes the dependent territory of Tokelau, and the self-governing states in free association Niue and the Cook Islands.  The Ross Dependency is the country's territorial claim in Antarctica.

New Zealanders are called "Kiwis" and there's a Kiwi on the New Zealand Dollar.

There was recent referendum on changing the flag but in the end it the current flag was retained.

Māori alphabet
The country sits in the so-called Ring of Fire and there are about 14,000 earthquakes per year but only 150 to 200 are big enough to be felt.



The country has three official languages with English predominant.  Māori became official in 1987 and is spoken by about 3,5% of the people.  New Zealand Sign Language became official in 2006 and is used by about 20,000 people.



The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement allows for Australians and Kiwis to freely live and work in the other country.  Even though Australians tend to make fun of the Kiwi accent which is funny because most people have a very difficult time distinguishing between the two.

The country is quite progressive.  It was the first self-governing country in the world to let women vote.  Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013.

I'm looking forward to my first visit to New Zealand in November.  It will be great to get some time with my favourite Kiwi.  Claudia wanted me to take Nat some medovník but there's no way to take Czech honey cake.  New Zealand is very protective of its environment and it's illegal to bring in any honey products.  Apparently if your hiking boots are dirty when you get to immigration, the airport will clean them for you before allowing them in to the country.  The country has maintained a nuclear-free zone since 1987.

I need to remember to pick up some electrical adapters because they use different plugs in Australia and New Zealand.  The plugs look like American plugs but tilted at an angle.  It seems that Kiwi outlets have those same on/off toggles like in the UK.

Here are a couple of videos I found out on YouTube about New Zealand and the Māori.
video
©Seeker Daily
video
©Seeker Daily

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Oceania

Oceania is the geopolitical area covering Australia and the Pacific Island areas of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.

Micronesia is made of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the U.S. territories of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Wake Island (also claimed by the Marshall Islands).

Melanesia consists of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia (which is a special collectivity of France).

Polynesia consists of more than 1,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean.  It includes Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and New Zealand.  There's Tokelau, an overseas dependency of New Zealand.  Cook Islands and Niue are both self-governing states in free association with New Zealand.  Norfolk Island is an Australian External Territory.  France has the collectivities of Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia.  There's Easter Island which is a special territory of Chile.  The UK has the British Overseas Territory of the Pitcairn Islands.  The USA has Hawaii and the territory of American Samoa.

All of these are considered to part of the continent of Australia.  Which is not the same as being a part of Australia - the country.

When I went to school, oh so many years ago, I learned that there are seven continents.  North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antartica, and Australia.  Australia is the smallest continent and largest island, but I don't remember ever learning that Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia were part of the Australian continent.

I've heard from some that Australia is a country, not a continent, and that Australia is part of the continent Oceania.  But still, there are seven continents.

Though some countries teach that there are six continents.  In Russia and some parts of Eastern Europe there are only six because Europe and Asia are considered "Eurasia".  In France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece there are only six continents because they group North America and South America as just "America".

The Olympic Charter says that there are five continents because Antartica isn't populated and North America and South America are grouped as "America".  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Macau

Macau澳門, is an autonomous territory but part of China.  It is officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, 中華人民共和國澳門特別行政區.  It borders the Chinese province of Guangdong and is 60 km (37 miles) from Hong Kong.

It is less than one-sixth the size of Washington, DC.  With about 648,000 people living in 30,5 km² (11,8 miles²)  it is the world's most densely populated region.

Portugal colonised Macau in the 16th century making it the first European settlement in the Far East.

When Macau was given back to China on 20 December 1999 it was Asia's last European colony.  It is now a Special Administrative Region.  As part of China's "one country, two systems" policy, Macau is to continue having a high level of autonomy for 50 years which will end in 2049.

Macau has its own government, legal system, police force, immigration policy, postal system, languages, national sports teams and money.  While able to be a part of other international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, it is not part of the United Nations.  China is responsible for all diplomatic relations and defence.  The People's Liberation Army is stationed in Macau but it is not allowed to interfere in local affairs.


The official currency is the Macanese Pataca.  Although the Hong Kong Dollar is widely accepted.



The official languages are Cantonese Chinese and Portuguese.  Signs are all in both languages even though less than 1% of the people speak Portuguese.

Macau is one of the world'ß largest gaming centres.  It is very popular with tourists from Mainland China who go to gamble.  Gaming revenue makes up more than 75% of the governments total revenue.

Over the past couple of years the government's take from gambling has decreased due to the slowing of the Chinese economy and the China's crackdown on money laundering and tax evasion.  Here's an interesting video I found out on YouTube that is about the effect of the slowdown.
video
©Al Jazeera

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hong Kong

Hong Kong香港,  is an autonomous territory but part of China.  It is officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the Peoples's Republic of China, 中華人民共和國香港特別行政區.  It borders the Chinese province of Guangdong and is 60 km (37 miles) from Macau.

It is about six times bigger than Washington, DC, and is home to well over 7,3 million people making it the 4th most densely populated territory in the world.

Hong Kong was occupied by the United Kingdom in 1841 after the First Opium War and later became a British colony.  The British were given a 99 year lease which China did not renew.  It was officially handed back over to China on 1 July 1997.  This is when it became a Special Administrative Region.  As part of China's "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong is to continue having  a high level of autonomy for 50 years which will end in 2047.

Hong Kong has its own government, legal system, police force, immigration policy, postal system, languages, national sports teams and money.  While able to be a part of other international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, it is not part of the United Nations.  China is responsible for all diplomatic relations and defence.  The People's Liberation Army is stationed in Hong Kong but it is not allowed to interfere in local affairs.

Hong Kong competes under its own flag in the Olympics.  It even competed under its own flag in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

HK$ 100 printed by HSBC
Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centres.  The money used is the Hong Kong Dollar which is the world's 13th most traded currency.  Like Scotland, clearing banks issue their own banknotes so they can differ depending on which bank printed them.

On the mainland, Mandarin Chinese is the official language while the official languages in Hong Kong are English and Cantonese.  China uses the simplified script and Hong Kong (and Macau) use the traditional script.  Mandarin and Cantonese can pretty much understand each other in writing but not when speaking.    


Which such a densely populated area the building all need to be quite tall.  Hong Kong is the world leader in skyscrapers.

Flag of British Hong Kong from 1959 - 1997
I always wanted to visit Hong Kong before the British gave it back in 1997 but that never happened.  Well better late than never.  I'm finally going to back it in 2016.  Just a four day visit in November on  the way back from visiting Natalie in New Zealand.

Here's a short video about Hong Kong that I found out on YouTube.

video
©NBC News

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Special Administrative Regions

Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China, 中華人民共和國的特別行政區.   This is China's "one country, two systems" policy that provides former colonies a certain amount of independence.  


Macau and Hong Kong

Special administrative regions (SAR) are independent from Beijing in that they have their own governments, legal systems, police forces, immigration policies, postal systems, official languages, national sports teams, and money that is separate from the People's Republic of China.  However, they are dependent on China for diplomatic relations and national defence.  A People's Liberation Army force is deployed in each but they are not allowed to interfere with local affairs.

This high level of autonomy is guaranteed for 50 years.  However China has not said what happens when the time is up for Hong Kong in 2047 or for Macau in 2049.  Here's an interesting video I found out on YouTube that talks about these two SARs.


video
                                          ©CGP Grey

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Republic of Singapore

The Republic of Singapore is a sovereign city-state in Southeast Asia.  Singapore is made up of a main island and 62 other islands, located between Malaysia and Indonesia. As both a city and a country it is small, about  3,5 times bigger than Washington, DC.  It is home to almost 5,8 million people.  That's a lot of people in a small area.


Singapore started out as a British trading colony in 1819.  In 1963 it became part of Malaysia but was kicked out two years later and became an independent country.

As one of the Asian Tiger economies, the county is a global economic power.  It is a financial and transportation hub for all of Asia.  It ranks 11th in the world on the UN Human Development Index so it receives high marks in education, healthcare, life expectancy, safety and quality of life.

Singapore is a multiparty parliamentary republic.  The country is known to be impeccably clean and enjoys a low crime rate.  Since caning is legal it goes without saying that it is tough on crime.
The Singapore Dollar



Plus there are the fines.  Chewing gum is banned and throwing a cigarette butt on the street is a $300 fine.



Singapore is a diverse country with four official languages - English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.  Most people are bilingual with English and another national language.

Here's a short video on Singapore that I found on YouTube.
video

©Seeker Daily

Monday, May 2, 2016

Liz & James' Wedding

On Saturday was Liz and James' wedding in South West England.  They got married at the Church of the Annunciation at Woodchester Priory in Stroud.  It was a Roman Catholic church that opened in 1849.

It was a lovely ceremony and afterwards we all proceeded to Westonbirt where the reception was held.

James was in charge of organising the reception and boy did he deliver.  The reception was at the Westonbirt School which is an all-girls boarding school on over 200 acres.  The place was fantastic!  It looked like something right out of Harry Potter.  

It was great to join in on their special day and to catch up with several people from the Bratislava days.  Marcus even flew in from Atlanta.

Eiko and I got caught up now because there won't be time when the next time we see each other at her wedding in July.

It's tough on the bride and groom at the reception because they feel like they have to balance their time with all of the guests.

I told Liz not to worry about it.  It's her day and we'll have time to catch up at Eiko and Tommi's celebration in Helsinki.  It was such a beautiful day and we were so honoured to be included.  #jamesandlillywedding