Egypt Independent: Living-Main news en Monkey business: As China tourists tighten belt, retailers face unhappy New Year <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Watching a lone browser in his Sydney Chinatown shop, Bing Chen is worried business is being squeezed this Lunar New Year by what&#39;s ailing the world economy at large - the weakest Chinese economy in 25 years.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In years gone by, Chen would stay open until the wee hours, selling kangaroo skins and Australian wool to crowds of Chinese tourists. But as the Year of the Monkey begins, stores like Chen&#39;s are seeing a drop in trade with newly budget-conscious Chinese either staying home or spending less.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Our customers have halved,&quot; said Chen, standing by neatly stacked shelves at his Sydney store. &quot;We had to work till 2am and there were still customers buying things but not any more.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>While record numbers of Chinese are traveling outside the mainland - 109 million last year, according to researcher GfK - Chen&#39;s fears echo data showing growth in tourist spending is dropping off quickly.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The China National Tourism Administration in December forecast 2015 outbound tourist spending at $194 billion, according to state media. That equates to per tourist spending growth of just 1.5 percent, compared with a 16.5 percent rise the previous year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>China&#39;s slowing growth is also showing up in weaker tourism spending much closer to home than Sydney.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Hong Kong, visits from the mainland were down 15.5 percent in December, compared to the year earlier, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Streets in Sheung Wan district, lined with stores selling dried seafood and various tonics, are quiet rather than bustling. Shop owner Lin Ying Jui says trade for his abalone, edible birds nests and natural medicines is the worst in decades.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I have been here for around 20 to 30 years, this year&#39;s business performance is the worst,&quot; said Lin Ying Jui</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Now picky, not spendthrift&nbsp;</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Fuelling growth in the overall number of Chinese tourists is a new breed of younger, independent travelers from the mainland. Countries like Australia are investing in targeting that market, and more than 100,000 Chinese nationals applied for visas to visit Australia in January alone, a record for a single month.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But numbers of large, elderly tour groups are dwindling in Sydney&#39;s Chinatown. How much they and others will spend over the Lunar New year remains to be seen, and traders are bracing for customers being picky where they once were spendthrift.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Price is extremely important,&quot; said Chenchao Zhuang, chief executive of Chinese travel platform Qunar Cayman Islands Ltd. &quot;Consumers will have a wish-list of places, and wherever has the deepest discounts, that&#39;s where they&#39;ll go.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Back in Sydney&#39;s Chinatown, shop owner Anna Liu said Chinese tourists - her target customers - &quot;wouldn&#39;t even haggle&quot; in the past as they bought handfuls of vitamins, honey and kangaroo and shark extract products.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;They are more reluctant to spend their money now,&quot; Liu said. &quot;They are more careful, they look up the prices online before they come to compare.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 10:05:00 +0000 Reuters 2466377 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/09/501184/sydney_chinatown_shop.jpg CNN: Hom Strom - Switzerland's 'Wicker Man' on Ice <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Scuol is one of those perfectly preserved semi-isolated communities in the Lower Engadine valley of Switzerland, separated from Italy by a series of Dolomite peaks.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Until the advent of the 19-kilometer Vereina Tunnel in 1999, the longest meter-gauge tunnel in the world, the passes to these villages were frequently unreachable in the winter.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It comes as no surprise that these isolated communities -- Europe&#39;s version of Central Asia&#39;s tribal areas -- have also kept customs that reach deep into their pagan past.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>One of the most remarkable festivals in Europe takes place here on the first Saturday in February.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It&#39;s the burning of Hom Strom, Man of Straw in the local dialect, echoing pagan sacrificial traditions that sit uncomfortably with us today.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There are echoes of &quot;The Wicker Man,&quot; the cult 1973 British horror film in which a cop searching for a missing girl stumbles into a pagan ritual that involves a giant burning wooden statue.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Only this time it&#39;s on ice.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Of course, unlike the film, no sacrifice will take place tonight.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Even the hymn sung during the ritual had to mollify the Catholic Church: &quot;The flames that rise high/ bring praise to Our Lord&quot; states the fourth stanza explicitly, just in case anyone was thinking of placating an old pagan snow god.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;But why February?&quot; I ask my friend Niculin Meyer, born and bred in Scuol, as we walk around the village. It&#39;s -12 Celsius (10 Fahrenheit) at noon under a wintry, unwarming sun. &quot;The snow won&#39;t melt for weeks.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Lost in the icy mists of time</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><img alt="The village of Scuol barely sees any sunshine in winter." src="" style="height: 301px; width: 536px;" /></div><div><em>The village of Scuol barely sees any sunshine in winter.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Meyer points at three Dolomite peaks: Piz Lischana (3105 meters), Piz San Jon (3093 meters) and Piz Pisoc (3173 meters) that rise like mischievous spirits in the east.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;In December and January the sun is low on the horizon and disappears behind those peaks in the early afternoon&quot;, he explains.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Lower parts of Scuol only see the sun for two hours a day. If you live higher up you may get four.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;After February the sun moves higher and more to the south and it doesn&#39;t hide behind the mountains any more. Hom Strom is not celebrating the end of winter, but the reappearance of the sun in February.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Maybe it&#39;s this all-too-human longing for light, after enduring near polar circle darkness, that&#39;s the principal reason for the persistence of a ritual whose roots are lost in the icy mists of time.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hom Strom is traditionally made from threshed, rye straw. It&#39;s the best straw for making rope, because of its long stalks.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It&#39;s no long found in the valley as people have switched to wheat and barley.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Only one farmer has kept a small rye plot that is paid for by the village, especially for Hom Strom.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It&#39;s 1:30 p.m. and everyone is assembled in the central square.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The work is divided among the schoolchildren. The youngest kids fetch straw to the square from a barn downhill, where a woman dispenses the bundles to the kids. The older ones serve cakes and non-alcoholic punch to the assembled guests and villagers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The oldest -- males and females aged between 18 to 21 -- twist the straw strands into a thick twine and wind it around a pole with a winch, guided by experienced elders.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>By the time they finish, three hours later, the mast will be about one meter thick and weigh around half a ton.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Molotov cocktails</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><img alt="The boys guarding the Hom Strom replace their whips with fireballs after nightfall, rendering the spectacle even more primitive and otherworldly. " src="" style="height: 301px; width: 536px;" /></div><div><em>The boys guarding the Hom Strom replace their whips with fireballs after nightfall, rendering the spectacle even more primitive and otherworldly.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Young teenage boys traditionally crack whips, keeping vigil while also showing off. No one must come near Hom Strom and light it prematurely before the designated hour of 8 p.m.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Even as late as 30-40 years ago, there were several rye farms and every district of Scuol built their own Hom Strom,&quot; says Meyer.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;There was a lot of competition as to which one is bigger or burned the longest. Children tried to sabotage the Hom Strom of their opponents.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Inadvertently touching upon the Swiss fixation with punctuality, Meyer remembers: &quot;It&#39;s a great shame to have your Hom Strom burnt before 8 p.m.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I remember in 2006 when kids with Molotov cocktails came from Sent, the next village, and set Hom Strom ablaze.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We tried to build another one quickly, but it was small and burnt almost immediately. Next year, expecting a similar mission, we built a decoy; the Sent boys burnt the fake one, but in the evening we brought the real one out and all was well.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At around 6 p.m. a horse carriage arrives to carry this year&#39;s Hom Strom to the Gurlaina meadow, where it will soon be torched. This is a barren tract outside the village proper and the comparison with the Biblical crucifixion site Calvary is hard to dismiss.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>By 7:30 p.m. the whole village has gathered around the pole.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The boys&#39; whips have been replaced by fireballs rendering the spectacle even more primitive and otherworldly.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The temperature is a glacial -25&deg;C/-13&deg;F and yet everyone is patiently rooted to their spot, waiting silently for the designated hour.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>When the clock strikes eight, the fireballs hit the straw man and the crowd comes alive.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Their future depends on the whims and fancies of the bonfire. The longer it burns, the better the summer season will be.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The wind pattern and the flame direction matter, too, and everyone is looking for subtle signs I cannot comprehend.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>As the fire rises high and the congregation hit the low notes of the Hom Strom hymn, I half-close my eyes and transport myself 1,000 years back.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The bonfire lasts for 15 minutes. There are smiles all around. The summer will be good.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><img alt="The Hom Strom burns for roughly 15 minutes. There are smiles all round. The summer will be good." src="" style="height: 301px; width: 536px;" /></div><div><em>The Hom Strom burns for roughly 15 minutes. There are smiles all round. The summer will be good.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Visiting Scuol</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The quickest way to visit Scuol is by train from Zurich changing at Landquart (2 hours, 38min; $33).</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The timing is such that the connection is almost instantaneous.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There&#39;s an extensive ski area at Scuol with 80 kilometers of runs (day pass $55).</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There are also natural spa springs, accessed via covered galleries from three hotels: Belvair (Stradun 169, Scuol; +41 81 861 25 00), Belvedere (Stradun 330, Scuol; +41 81 861 06 06) and Guardaval (Vi 383, Scuol; +41 81 861 09 09).</div> Sun, 07 Feb 2016 15:33:00 +0000 CNN 2466302 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/07/501184/hom_strom_switzerlands_wicker_man_on_ice.jpg Marcel Kittel crowned Dubai Tour winner <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Germany&#39;s Marcel Kittel won the Tour of Dubai on Saturday after he outsprinted his rivals, claiming victory in the final fourth stage of the race.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He replaced Italy&#39;s Giacomo Nizzolo, who had seized the overall leader&#39;s blue jersey on Friday but had to settle for sixth place in Saturday&#39;s race.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The German who rides for Etixx-QuickStep and had aready won the first stage of the Dubai Tour, outpaced Italy&#39;s Elia Viviani, who came second, in Saturday&#39;s 132 km city-based course that ended under the world&#39;s tallest building -- Burj Khalifa.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Last year&#39;s winner, Britain&#39;s Mark Cavendish came third in the final stage but is way behind in the overall standings.</div> Sun, 07 Feb 2016 14:12:00 +0000 AFP 2466293 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/07/501184/marcel_kittel_crowned_dubai_tour_winner.jpg CNN:200 million women and girls live with female genital mutilation, says U.N. <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>They covered her face and laid her down.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>What happened next, Agnes wishes no girl would ever experience.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;They grabbed my legs and arms,&quot; she said. &quot;They excised me. Blood was coming out.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Her genitals had been mutilated.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Agnes, now 14, underwent the procedure in Cote D&#39;Ivoire. But the practice is by no means limited to that one country, or even to just a few.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries now live with female genital mutilation, according to a new UNICEF report published in time for Saturday&#39;s International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, as the practice is often abbreviated.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The report says 70 million more victims than previously thought have undergone the &quot;violent practice.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The exact number remains unknown.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;In every case FGM violates the rights of girls and women,&quot; said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. &quot;We must all accelerate efforts -- governments, health professionals, community leaders, parents and families -- to eliminate the practice.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Under 5 years old</strong></div><div>Although female genital mutilation is carried out in many countries, the report says that more than half of those who have undergone it live in just three countries -- Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Data shows the highest rates of genital mutilation among women between the ages of 15 to 49 are in Somalia, Guinea, and Djibouti.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In most countries, the majority of girls subjected to the practice are younger than 5. About one fourth of all cases worldwide were girls under the age of 14.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We start at three months,&quot; said Josephine Akissi Coulibaly, a former excisionist in Cote D&#39;Ivoire. &quot;They are small and we do it. Sometimes they&#39;re 18 years old. Sometimes they are mothers even. Often they bleed.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>While female genital mutilation is illegal in many countries, numerous communities consider the practice part of their cultural traditions and continue performing it.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;When you try to convince an excisionist, she won&#39;t listen because it&#39;s her livelihood,&quot; said Molao Bomisso, National Director of OIS Afrique, a UNICEF partner. &quot;But we keep insisting and insisting.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>FMG is often performed in conditions that lack proper hygiene, supplies and medications. As a result, the girls and women suffer infections, painful scarring, long-term disabilities and in some cases death.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&#39;Fear still lives inside me&#39;</strong></div><div>The psychological trauma is immense.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;This fear, I still have it inside me, because of this I was afraid of men, of boys. I didn&#39;t know if everything you did down there was painful. Up until today, that&#39;s still in my head,&quot; said Kiouala Kone, 51, who became a community activist after being subjected to genital mutilation.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="ar"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">Female Genital Mutilation can hve devastating physical, psycholgical &amp; social consequences for women &amp; girls <a href="">#EndFGM</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; WHO (@WHO) <a href="">فبراير 6, 2016</a></blockquote><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In recent years there has been a decline in the rates in various countries. But UNICEF said the practice remains a &quot;global concern.&quot; It warned that the progress is not enough to keep up with population growth, and the number of cases could increase even more over the next 15 years.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Determining the magnitude of female genital mutilation is essential to eliminating the practice,&quot; said Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;When governments collect and publish national statistics on FGM they are better placed to understand the extent of the issue and accelerate efforts to protect the rights of millions of girls and women.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>UNICEF hopes that with the support of governments, communities and religious leaders, the practice will be widely abandoned by 2030.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We are fighting, and the women who are going through this, they must come and fight with us. In the West, the North, the East, everywhere in the world,&quot; Bomisso said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>To find out more about how you can help stop female genital mutilation, visit CNN&#39;s Impact Your World.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Click <a href="">here </a>for original story</div> Sat, 06 Feb 2016 12:34:00 +0000 CNN 2466256 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/11/04/501184/genital_mutilation.jpg