Arsenal: What now?

[1] Lukas Podolski, a recent loanee departing from Arsenal FC to Inter Milan.

Welcome back to Speaking Seb. It has been since summer that I have written a blog article and really wanted to get my hands on writing something aside from academic research. With many months of studying and internships, I am now coming back with an article, one that I wanted to write to vent my frustration of the club I have supported as a boy. With the recent string of performances lately, I wanted to raise some important points right now and the future objectives that Arsenal FC could implement realistically to their set-up. In this article, I will be discussing the current crop of players, the most realistic potential transfer targets, best formations and tactics to employ and the burning question at the moment: Wenger In or Wenger Out? Hope you enjoy your read on my first ever football and match related article.

1) Current Crop 

Here we are with a string of injuries from critical players. Will Arsenal even finish 4th this season? Better question should be: will Southampton hold onto their 4th spot? Our current set of players has a lot of youngsters and not enough experience to fully challenge for the title – the league table really does not lie. In this section, I explore who is the best option in each position with the options that we do have.

1a) Goalkeeper

From goalkeeper to attack, our team lacks Our makeshift goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez is not the best backup just yet as he is still relatively unproven. Sczezsny is a great shot-stopper, but moments of stupidity is ridiculing us to progress and so Ospina should be the ideal candidate to take us onto the next few weeks. A potential goalkeeping option preferably.

Ospina, Sczescny, Martinez/new GK.

1b) Defence

As default, I wouldn’t change the wing-backs, I think the central defenders need to be assessed. Kos+Mert was a reliable combination a few seasons back, but age has caught up with the latter and would probably need to be slowly replaced. Mertesacker has scored some vital goals, but sometimes at Liverpool for example was ducking from Skrtel’s header. Koscielny is playing with a twisted Achilles heel. Surely we can target some defenders to ease the pressure. Varane? Howedes? Reid? Rudiger?

Bellerin of late has really improved as well and showed some toughness on the right – a decent replacement for Debuchy in a few years time.

Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Monreal, Bellerin.

Bellerin vs. Debuchy Stats (Chart 1 and 2) 

[3,4] 

As you may know, Debuchy picked up a shoulder injury from the Stoke game which would probably mean Chambers or Bellerin would need to step in. Before then, Debuchy picked up a few knocks here and here, having young Bellerin to deputise.  I think you would agree here that with Debuchy’s experience, the average tackles and interceptions won as a right-wing back is understandably more than Bellerin. Moreover, I think Bellerin offers something a bit different, and despite his frame, can put in the tackles. Comparatively speaking, Debuchy loves getting the crosses in – and for me, since Sagna left, we haven’t been as using the option of crossing balls into the 6 yards box. According to ESPN, in the 2013-14 season, Sagna contributed to 4 assists in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Certainly, to accommodate our new main man-of-the-moment Sanchez and key striker Giroud is difficult – who have varying style of scoring as to their height difference – as the former prefers to drive inside or outside to cut a shot into the bottom corner, whilst the latter gets on headers and crosses more. I feel if we can restart this trend on crossing into the box and making the opposition guess, that would make our offensive play more threatening. Currently, the goals have come from the middle or through the brilliant dribbles by the crafty players in our midfield and attack.

1c) Midfielders

Apart from the defence set-up, this is the area of concern that Arsenal have had. Do we play a 4-2-3-1 with one holding midfielder and one more attacking midfielder? Or a 4-3-3 with the penetration from the wings? I don’t think it’s so much of a problem of what we play to accommodate every single – because ultimately, no one will be fully satisfied, but we need to adapt to the team and play to our strengths. Far too often, we have seen a 4-1-4-1 formation at the start of the campaign with Ozil playing on the wings. There seriously needs to be sacrifice – Wenger has to think whether this is a game of loyalty or a matter of getting us to stick to our guns with some big players on the bench, with some rotation around.

Ox, Ozil, Cazorla, Flamini, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Coquelin, Rosicky.

So far in midfield, I feel like Coquelin, the Ox, Rosicky and Cazorla have been performing well of late – particularly as Sanchez has come in and spurred everyone on.

As for the defensive midfielder hunt – I think an extra experienced body is paramount to our success to the cups and even the 4th spot. Southampton have shown what a strong midfield duo of Wanyama and Schneiderlin can do to other top teams, and Koeman’s team is certainly no push-over. Below are some statistics to compare Arteta and Coquelin.

Arteta vs. Coquelin Stats (Chart 3 and 4) 

[5, 6] 

Having called Coquelin back, a lot of fans have been heaping praise on the young Frenchman. Indeed, his defensive record as shown in Chart 4 proves that. On average, Coquelin has 2.6 tackles and 2.2 interceptions – as to the 1.8 tackles and 1.1 interception per match Arteta offers. What Coquelin really offers is a larger and a bit taller frame despite his lack of experience as comapred to the Spaniard. I haven’t watched Coquelin enough to comment, but at 178cm as opposed to 176cm, plus 9 years Arteta’s junior, Coquelin has fresher legs to run after lost balls and redistribute it on the counter-attacking break.Certainly, what Arsenal truly needs is a Carvalho in Coquelin’s position against big teams, as he imposes more of a threat. Whether Wenger gets the Portuguese powerhouse is another matter.

1d) Attackers

Podolski left to Inter. Sanogo potentially to Bordeaux.

That realistically leaves us with Giroud after suspension, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck and Sanchez. Which isn’t too bad I guess, but not exactly the title winning combination that you’d like to see. Wenger is seriously over-playing Sanchez even though he has defended his decision. On December 5th, Wenger has publicly stated:

“I think he played his 27th game since the start of the season on Wednesday, if you consider the international games and the travelling on top of that. Unfortunately, you never know how far you can push. We are not scientific enough to predict that completely, but he has great recovery potential. He recovers very quickly, and he is always very sharp and ready to play.” [2] 

2) Transfers – striker vs. defensive midfielder/central defender

As an Arsenal fan, we were told that the club had £25 million pounds to spend, probably increasing as the funds increased into the new year. So where should we be spending it? Taking into account that Podolski has recently left the club for Inter Milan, a lot of people have said to spend it on a world-class striker – one of Edison Cavani’s calibre. For me, as much as he is a great striker (others have disagreed), the most important targets that we should be aiming for are central midfielder and defender. As it stands, the goalscoring options are always there – we are never really short of goals, we usually find a new person coming in to bang it into the net from defence, midfield to attack. And with Walcott, Welbeck and Giroud slowly returning to the team, does Wenger want to break his loyalty he has shown? This is a question we will discuss in section 4 of this article.

Everyone has been crying out for a defensive midfielder and central defender – one that could fill in the void Patrick Vieira left since he left over 10 years ago, and one that could replace the aging Mertesacker in defence. So far, we have only been talking about Legia Warsaw’s wonderkid, Loic Perrin and William Carvalho. Are they really the answer? As previous seasons have taught us, Wenger does not really enjoy spending money – and when he does, he usually does not find gems due to his knee-jerk reactions. Squillaci, Arshavin, Park, Chamakh, André Santos. What we need are world-class players, but the problem is do they realistically want to join a club sitting 5th (essentially just in Southampton and Manchester United’s shadow) in the BPL?

Preferable formation and line-up 4-2-3-1:

Ospina, Debuchy/Bellerin, Kos, New CB, Gibbs, Carvalho/Coquelin, Ramsey, Ox, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud/new striker.

4) Wenger In or Wenger Out? 

This is a perpetual question that many Arsenal fans having been asking since the bad string of form had hit us. Mind you though, this was no coincidence that we had drew or lost against Anderlecht, Swansea, Manchester City, Hull City, Southampton… Is it really only down to injuries alone? It seems like every year, come January or the Christmas break, Arsenal always seem to have an Achilles heel. And who is to blame for that – the management skills of Wenger or the board with Kroenke in charge?

Effectively, if Wenger were to leave now, Arsenal fans have to be ready to have a few years of reshuffling before we see our team challenging for the top honours – a sort of two steps forward, three steps back thing that Manchester United had to deal with following David Moyes’ spell at Old Trafford. The problem here would be that a lot of top players would not be as willing to play for the new manager (unless he was a great coach himself) and would leave us with less quality. Some people have raised the point of the management team with Kroenke in charge, and should instead allow Usmanov to implement his ideas into the Arsenal board. As much as I hate to say it, in the near future Wenger In, there needs to be a replacement to come in and gradually bring us back challenging for the top. All I can say is, we will have to wait and see. We are nearly half way through the season and hopefully Wenger brings in two defensive bodies (you know who they are). Till next time.

References 

[1] http://i2.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article833585.ece/alternates/s615b/New%20Arsenal%20signing%20Lukas%20Podolski%20poses%20in%20his%20new%20kit

[2] http://www.espnfc.com/club/arsenal/359/blog/post/2228836/arsenal-arsene-wenger-should-probably-rest-alexis-sanchez-to-prevent-injury

[3] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/125211/Show/Hctor-Bellern

[4] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/11367/Show/Mathieu-Debuchy

[5] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/1443/Show/Mikel-Arteta

[6] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/69738/Show/Francis-Coquelin

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The Expeditions of Admiral Zheng He

[1] A painting depicting the great Chinese Admiral, Zheng He.
Welcome back. It’s been a long time since I have last written an article on here, and I wanted to do something different again. This time, I wanted to explore medieval Chinese history and in particular, about the great Chinese Admiral called Zheng He (鄭和). The article is divided into five main sections – discussing about Zheng He’s profile, his expeditions, his impact during and after his voyages across the Asian, Indian and African shores. Finally, there will be some discussion of the nature of Zheng He’s voyages. I hope you enjoy this article, any constructive comments are more than welcome below!

1) Profile of Admiral Zheng He
We start this article by looking at National Geography documentary, ‘Chinese Treasure Fleet: Adventures of Zheng He Documentary’. This show stars Japanese-American photographer and Asian studies scholar, Michael Yamashita, who travels according to each of Zheng He routes to understand the true magnitude of the voyage. I highly recommend you watching it, as it is very enticing and stimulating – here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ckdn18SAldg.

I am very interested in colonial history, so I thought it would be appropriate if I continued this article with something remarkable to consider. Normally, when you ask a person who was the pioneer of navigation to discover and create ripples around the world for more, the usual response would be Christopher Columbus, King Henry the Navigator of Portugal, or perhaps, the Vikings themselves for travelling the shores of what is modern-day Canada and the US. But I want to divert the focus of the Western colonial history and move towards a more Oriental approach and look at our main protagonist, Zheng He.

Zheng He, or originally named Ma He, deriving from the Chinese version of Mohammed under the influence of his Persian and Muslim roots, was born in A.D. 1371 in Jinning, near the modern region of Yunnan Province. [3] When the young Ma He was only 10 years old, his dad was killed in a key battle between the Yuan and Ming clans (fighting around the East coast of China). [3] Consequently, captured by the victorious Ming clan, little Ma He was sent to Beijing and was turned into a eunuch. Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan, was the fourth son in line. Thus, many of the top eunuchs and officials refused to aid Zhu Di. This was significant, as this allowed Zheng He (as I shall call him hereafter), excelling in military studies and an imposing figure at what was believed to be 7 feet tall, came to the young emperor, Zhu Di’s aid, becoming closer and collaborate with many domestic and foreign policies. [3, 4] For example, this was shown when the both of them fought in the battle against the Mongol aggressors from the North. [3]

2) The Seven Expeditions of Zheng He

[2] A map showing all seven journeys Zheng He made during c. 1405-33.
Throughout approximately 28 years, Zheng He travelled to many countries, including those of:

China
Hainan Island
Vietnam
Siam
Malaysia – Malacca Strait
Indonesia
Burma
India
Sri Lanka
Persia
Bengal
Maldives
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
Kenya
Mozambique

There were seven main expeditions that Zheng He had travelled on. Instead of listing out and recounting the voyages and in what years did Zheng He visit the particular, I thought I would pick out Malacca, as one of the few key areas from this list and discuss the impact/foreign relations that was initiated by the Admiral himself. If you would like to find out more details expedition by expedition, then do check out link 5 and 6 in the references below.

2.1) Malacca
Malacca was one of the most important trading posts for the Chinese merchants. The Ming Emperor Yung-lo (1402-24) was initially very strict with the commercial activities externally, as he prohibited many private trading – feeling this would only augment the number of pirates across the South East Asian seas. [7] However, with the main document called the Yung-li Shih-lu (永樂實碌), was eventually convinced of the magnitude and profitability of the Malacca kingdom’s spice trade by South Indian Muslim merchants. As Chinese historian Wang Gungwu demonstrated in the Yung-li Shih-lu:

“The ancient rulers honoured mountains and rivers, determined the boundaries, conferred nobility and set up feudal states in order to show special favour to the distant peoples and demonstrate no one is left out”. [7]

Consequently, this was significant, as Malacca was one of the first areas for inscription and special recognition by the Emperor himself. He saw Malacca as a commercial hub, but a strategic one where China could expand its foreign relations within the 西洋 (literally Western Ocean) or Indian Ocean. [7] Thus, the increase of missions sent by the Emperor Yung-lo himself to various ports namely Java, Cochin (modern day Cambodia) and Siam (Thailand).

3) Impact – during his voyages
During Zheng He’s expeditions, it was a continuation of the advanced trading and shipbuilding skills that the Chinese had developed since the 8th century, way before the age of Christopher Columbus. Let us start with the ship technology first. [5] The treasure ships, as they came to be known, were a symbol of the advanced technologies in China. Many of these ships were 400 feet long, 16 feet wide, with nine masts and 12 sails, fixed with double hulls as watertight compartments. [5] Putting all these dimensions into perspective, the Chinese ship was 4 to 5 times bigger than Columbus’ starship, the Santa Maria.

The sheer size of these ships were a statement of intent by the Chinese Ming Emperor, showcasing the armada and Chinese glory to the world at large wherever they travelled to. This was one of the most effective technologies that the Chinese shipbuilders had, where they were could, using withstand leakage more readily. Consequently, less ships were lost this way and could continue efficiently navigating and trading.

Another important impact that Zheng He had during his voyages was the trading he initiated. As the Chinese were more commercial navigators rather than expansionist and colonial ones as the time of Columbus in the late 15th and 16th centuries, many luxury items were traded with many Muslim, Indian and African merchants across these travels.

4) Impact – after
Within the approximately 30 short golden years that Zheng He was commissioned to be the Chinese admiral, one main trait that remained was the Chinese diaspora and spread of Chinese culture into these lands themselves. [2] Today, there are major traces of Chinese population across Malaysia and Singapore and many festivals commemorating the Admiral himself as a god, primarily in Malaysia (Malacca), many islands scattering around Indonesia and other South Eastern countries still remain to this day.

5) Nature of Zheng He’s voyages – colonial or commercial?
Contrary to common belief that Zheng He’s expeditions were positive and commercial, one major question that can be raised when discussing Zheng He’s voyages, is to ask whether they were out of colonial or commercial reasons. Dr Geoff Wade, an Australian scholar and fellow researcher at the National University of Singapore, presented his argument that Zheng He’s expeditions. [8] For example, Wade used his “majority” thesis, arguing that Zheng He’s 300 to 400 ships were largely warships and that with around 28,000 military troops, the admiral’s incentives were in fact colonial and expansionist. [8] Conversely, other historians like Tan Ta Sen disagree with Wade’s thesis; demonstrating that Zheng He in fact had a variety of ships and that this military troops were in fact for self-defence against pirates like Chen Zuyi (later arrested and executed by the imperial Ming court), across the Indonesian shores of Palembang, guarding against valuable goods and products like jewellery, silk and porcelain. [8]

Effectively, during the time of Admiral Zheng He, the Chinese civilisation was technologically advanced with their shipbuilding skills and commercial activities with other countries. Many of these inventions like the double hull technology, greatly aided the Chinese fleet en masse to efficiently travel further. One of Zheng’s biggest remaining traits is the huge Chinese diaspora that has primarily expanded in the Malaysian Peninsula across Malaysia and Singapore. Elsewhere, his status as a great navigator and trader, has made him what has been perceived as a god-like figure in Malaysian and Indonesian festivals alike.

Furthermore, with such an overwhelming fleet, scholars like Dr Geoff Wade argued that Zheng He’s expeditions were out of colonial, expansionist and influential incentives rather than simply the commonly perceived positive, commercial ones. I will leave you to decide which one it was and you can discover more in Leo’s Suryadinata’s edited book, Admiral Zheng He and Southeast Asia in sources 7 and 8 below. Finally, I wanted to end this article by asking a few reflective and counter-factual questions (as food for thought) so that it stays more interesting when you finish reading. If the Chinese had continued with their expeditions:

1) Would Zheng He have met European travellers (the pioneers of that area – say the Portuguese and Spanish)? How would that have changed the Chinese Emperor’s incentives?
2) And if the Chinese had more colonial interests rather than commercial/peaceful ones, how much and how different would that have changed the hegemonic theatre we have today (leaving the obvious point of a perhaps Chinese dominated world)?
3) How far would globalisation be shaped in the Chinese way, in this case?

Hopefully, you enjoyed your read here. It’s been far too long since my last article. If you haven’t already, do check out my other articles on this site and see you soon around! 🙂

References
[1] http://southbaysail.com/uploads/3/1/5/4/3154615/2142648_orig.jpg
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ckdn18SAldg
[3] http://asianhistory.about.com/od/china/p/zheng_he_bio.htm
[4] http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/zhenhe/131897.htm
[5] http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1000ce_mingvoyages.htm#voyages
[6] http://orias.berkeley.edu/pallop/timeline.html
[7] Gungwu, W., “The Opening Relations between China and Malacca, 1403-05”, Chapter 1, in Suryadinata, L., Admiral Zheng He and Southeast Asia, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=08b6HCoCCaAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=zheng+he&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cai4U8rWJ4mCkwX254CwCg&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=zheng%20he&f=false, date of access: 06/07/2014, pages 1 to 25
[8] Tan, S. T., “Did Zheng He Set Out to Colonise Asia?”, Chapter 3, in Suryadinata, L., Admiral Zheng He and Southeast Asia, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=08b6HCoCCaAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=zheng+he&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cai4U8rWJ4mCkwX254CwCg&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=zheng%20he&f=false, date of access: 06/07/2014, pages 42 to 57

Aberdeen Fiji Museum: Discovering the treasures – from one edge of the world to another

[1] The King’s Museum at the University of Aberdeen campus.

 

Credit to my friend Dainius B. for co-writing this article. 

          Everyone has heard of Fiji. Paradise islands in the middle of the Pacific, sandy beaches and unending summer are the usual associations that come to our heads when we think of this country. However, every myth has a darker side to it. Just two centuries ago, Fiji was dominated by the warlike tribes that were fighting for domination and influence of the archipelago among themselves. Back then, European sailors were afraid of venturing into Fijian waters due to the dreadful name of Cannibal Isles that was given to Fiji. This name was earned for a reason – cannibalism was widely practiced among Fijian tribes. However, as Fiji underwent major changes during the 19th century, it chose to become a British colony. At first British declined opportunity to annex Fiji when proposal came in 1852, but political developments within the Fijian community led to another request to become a British subject in 1872 and this time it was granted.

The importance of Fiji as a British colony can be seen within the King Museum’s exhibition “Fiji, Scotland and the making of Empire”. It shows many remnants of colonialism that the Scottish, in particular, people from the North Eastern region, have contributed in the effort to control the Pacific Island. British colonialism, like other empires, exuded many notions of key trade links, this museum exhibits many artefacts that both the Western and Pacific Islanders. For example, the Europeans had brought whale skin, custom-made muskets (American as shown in the King’s Museum) and gunpowder to the Fijians, where, in return, had like the Chinese, had given key porcelain pieces. Amongst these were materials fabricated from whale ivory, cloth made out of mulberry trees, ciratabua or local Fijian armour produced from sperm-whale teeth.  

Fiji was a valuable target not just for the British Empire, but also for the Unites States and Tongan Empire, which also tried to exert regional influence before the Europeans started dominating in that area. Another form of colonialism and imperialism that the British Empire had used was spread of ideology through religion and missionary activity. Certainly, as you may know, the Europeans and Westerners brought with them a sense of chauvinism, one that believed any foreigners were inferior, in the sense that they were not as civilised or educated from European customs. Thus, by installing the Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon, the son of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, Arthur J.L. Gordon as his secretary and William MacGregor as medical officer, the Western style of administration was now in place. One of the first things that they had implemented was the eradication of any improper local customs. This was significant, as this meant that the British favoured the traditions of drinking the all-popular yaqona and the exchange of tabua or sperm-whale teeth, rather than the practise of cannibalism as aforementioned.

 

            Overall, British rule in Fiji has often been described as being very lenient and one of the best example of “indirect rule”. While British administration ended tribal warfare and cannibalism, it also tried to protect natives from being exploited and offered Indians to come from the British Raj to Fiji to work (around 40% of modern Fijians are of Hindi descent). Also during the Great War Fijians were not mobilised for the war effort, this happened only during World War II, when Fijian strategic location was of great importance to the Pacific theater.
            Today, Fiji is very different from that scenario, which was seen by the Scotsmen who visited it during the 19th century. Since Fiji regained independence in 1970, the islands suffered four coups and to this day there remain significant tensions between Hindi-Fijians and native Fijians due to the differences in culture and religion. Nevertheless, despite these things Fiji still enchants every visitor with its beauty and rich traditions of its people. If you wish to hear the Pacific waves crashing on the beaches under the setting sun and hear the laughter of people from the edge of the world – you can visit the exhibition at Kings Museum until 23rd of April.

 

[1] http://www.fotoflingscotland.co.uk/Scotland/Aberdeen/Old-Aberdeen/i-BfKGfd4/0/L/P7160991-L.jpg 

Italy Trip 2014

1) Rome/Vatican City – 30th March to 4th


It has been a fun ride in Rome. I appreciate the fact that the ancient ruins are conserved to their purest possible forms as archaeological and historical artefacts, as well as blending into the Roman city itself. Keeping in mind that this was the centre of the Roman Empire for more than a millenia, the architecture always succeeds to showcase the truest, most grandiose forms of certain emperors and priests – more often than not, in superhuman scales. For example, you had the ancient ruins and area around the Colosseum, the Forums and the Piazzas overlooking the very panorama view of Rome herself.

 

Sometimes it would have been more helpful to have a Latin translator, but it was not that hard to figure out what the columns and inscriptions meant. Normally, at the top of the inscriptions, you had the name of the emperor or priest, his significance and year it was written. For example:

 

 

1) Clementis XII PONT MAX (The main priest) 

Description

Anno MDCCLXIII (1763)

 

2) IVLIVS CAESARUS Imp Romanvs (Julius Caesar Roman Emperor)

Description

Annum … Ante Christum Natum or Anno Domini (B.C. or A.D.)

 

Apart from that, you could never escape the role of the Roman Catholic Church. The state was essentially the Church, and vice versa. We had a tour guide called Tibero, of whom explained a lot about the Palentine Hill and the Colosseum very poetically, using Latin, English and Italian interchangeably when needs be. But the main fact was that you had to visit the Vatican City as the real official representation of Catholicism, the way the Pope, the Sistine Chapel marry together in perhaps the biggest heart of the religion in the world. It was just ashame that we could not see the Pope himself that day, nor could we see any remaining evidences of the pagan religion (pre-Roman/Etruscan religions) lying around Rome. Even in museums, there was an accentuation on pottery and statues and I felt like there was a bit missing from the normally militaristic-perceived Rome. For me, as I agreed with Ho Fai, my travel buddy, this was a flaw that the Romans should pick up on – it seems like we only get one side of Roman history; the glory and the cheerful side, but the lack of the destruction and demise that came with under the Gothic tribes, the Germanic and Frankish invasions were surprising. Instead, there are more Roman military museums in across England than there are in Rome itself!

 

Conclusively, for me, my favourite historical attractions were tied between the Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain and the Palentine Hill. The way you could see statues of Neptune on one side, and then Mercury on the parallel, showing the gods of the seas and war respectively, together with some of Renaissance Rome was truly breathtaking. The Trevi Fountain’s significance makes me like it more than it being a masterpiece. You get up close and personal with three statues. One is instantly reminded of the ingenious aqueduct systems that the Romans had used, apart from their expertise in other disciplines in law, mathematics and military sectors too. Finally, for the Palentine Hill, you could see the full Roman forum – what the Romans would have used for worship before it was burned by the invading troops across Europe. 

 

2) Florence – 5th April to 8th April 

The famous statue of David by Michelangelo standing outside the Palazzo Vecchio. This is one of the many replicas of the masterpiece. 

We woke up particularly early this morning, eating breakfast before chilling until the early afternoon for Florence. Saw Ho Fai off – really wished he could have stayed longer – Florence was quite a change from ancient Rome. That day was a chilled day, the hostel was very near the famous Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – the green architectural masterpiece during the Medici era. Instead, I simply went around town and stumbled upon a pizzeria/restaurant that cooks its pizzas in a wood-oven the traditional way, rather than your metal-cast ovens you get normally in more generic restaurants across the world. 

 

Just a word on the food in general – I would recommend to go to the supermarkets and getting some Prosciutto Crudo and some cheese with some dried or fresh bread. The facaccia or the paninnis you get in Italy are usually reheated and normally lose taste. If you are really feeling it, go to the restaurants and get yourself a nicely baked pizza! 


6th April – Museo di Palazzo Vecchio 

 

 

 

The power of the Medici family – investing into the cultural and scientific blocks. Note their coat of arms with the cannon balls. 

Today, I went around the Piazza Principale to check out the main museums in Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio. There were the usual crowds of people flocking to see the Uffizi, so I decided to take my chances with Vecchio. This was the main housing of Lorenzo di Medici, oftentimes known as the Magnificent himself, a wealthy and one of the sons of a dynasty of bankers. This family built and paid great Renaissance artists like Michelangello, Raphael, da Vinci, Boticelli, Donatello… to sculpt, ornate, paint their houses. Perhaps the most significant was the David of Michelangelo that are replicated all across Florence, but there is one outside of the Museum and tower.

 

Personally, toget your money’s worth, I would pay for the museum and tower – the museum section was enjoyable but small – and already 10 euros rather than 14 euros for both. Also, another word – the restaurants around the Catedrale di Santa Maria del Fuore should be avoided – they are usually ripped off – I had one around to try and it was reheated and mediocre at best. If anything, get past the bridges across Fiume Arno to find some proper restaurants – or avoid those restaurants aforementioned.


7th April – Museo di Leonardo da Vinci and Museo Galileo

Statue of Galileo Galilei near the Uffizi Museum and Palazzo Vecchio.

 

 

 

I wanted to leave the artistic side of Florence and explore more of the scientific aspects of it as well, particularly with two of the most famous natural scientists in da Vinci and Galileo. I always wanted to see da Vinci’s inventions in real life form or at least some type of replica – the famous Tank and human eagle was for me the highlight in the museum. Alright, the museum was admittedly small for 8 euros, but it was a refreshing experience to leave the crowds lining up daily for the the Catedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and Museo Uffizi. I was always interested in da Vinci’s inventions ever since a boy, and it felt great to see ones I repeatedly saw in books. Same can be said about the Museo Galileo – the fact that you could be more isolated, but you cannot escape the fact that both artists in their own disciplines were funded by the Medicis. Personally, in the Museo Galileo, the main highlight were the maps that the Arabs, Dutch, Germans, Italians and French cartographers and navigators were showcasing. What I found most interesting was the different ways to represent the World Map – sometimes you would have proper astronomical animals, Pangea (one huge mass of land religiously) or the actual representation which was advanced for its times.

 

8th April -Museo Bargello and Basilica di Santa Croce 



Today was the last proper day in Florence or in Italy – the one tomorrow in Rome is more of a chill day and one to get ready for University again. I was slow to be up mentally and physically, particularly with the Catedrale di Santi Maria del Fuore’s bells ringing early on. he plan was simply to visit the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, and then check out some other cathedrals around. Everyone was usual had the Medicean legacy with its coats of arms or on the little explanation cards next to the statues or paintings you saw from the Quattrocento or Cinquecento – I would imagine them representing the short forms of saying the years throughout the 1400’s and 1500’s, two centuries within the Renaissance eras. After that, it was a simple pizza and beer stop at a tourist spot near the Bargello. I really do not want to leave the city of Florence and so I decided to take a walk around town – around the five bridges that criss-crossed the Fiume Arno. Passing by medieval castles, small boulevards where grandmas were taking care of the boys and girls, I felt Florence was much more local or communal in that sense, if you compared it to Rome.

 

Personally and overall, Rome and the Vatican City were more historical with its ancient architecture. You really cannot beat the overall history experience with the Italian and Roman Catholic capitals. Whereas, with Florence, adorned with its Renaissance architecture primarily funded by the incredibly wealthy Medici family, it was not as jaw-dropping or awe-inspiring, but for me, had more variety in its museums. After all, I came here for the history – it boasts museums consisting of elements like the arts, archaeology, astronomy, chemistry… In my opinion, I prefer Florence solely because I could relate more to the history itself – I was always fond of da Vinci and Galileo’s discoveries, rather than any antiquarian art or history that you would readily find in Rome.

 

9th April – Rome, chill and ready for university again 

Nothing much today – took the train back to the capital from Florence, getting ready for university once again. It was a great trip for someone who loves history and something different, but adventurous at the same time. Another night of Champions League, after seeing Chelsea knock out Paris? So I went back to Florian’s, a nearby restaurant to watch the quarter-finals. I highly recommend this restaurant to those who live by the Termini train station in Rome – the staff are friendly enough and the food is decent. Last time I had pizza and something indulgent and to top it off, Atletico won. Just about. But a win is a win. 

 

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this diary-style article and see you soon! 🙂 

To what extent are schools beneficial to our society?

[1] For many years, having an education presumably enhances our chances to have a ‘future’ of some sort. But is that really true and absolute?  

Ever since being a little boy, I have always wished for a magical injection of knowledge. It was one of those days I really did not feel like studying. I longed for one injection that once it infuses into your body, your brain instantaneously knows pretty much everything there is to the essay or maths question, to life even. One day, I had my dad saying that there would be no point of man surviving if knowledge as a phenomenon vanished. We will not be able to achieve and have the achievements. It, therefore, occurred to me, to finally try and dissect this question and let myself and hopefully yourself realise whether schools are really beneficial to our society or not. I will be discussing the advantages and disadvantages of providing students with schools, and how might we try and improve this situation with Finland and South Africa as both ends of the spectrum.

 

1) Advantage – importance of school in general 

The most fundamental advantage of having a school is the concept to learn and to make friends. Everyone who applies to a school will readily feel that this will be a stepping stone to achieve a better future, as they are better qualified with some foundation skills of their favourite subject. By the word ‘learn’, this could also mean many different things. Certainly, the first type of learning would be the regular definition of grasping the knowledge and skills of the subject. The difference between someone who does and does not attend school, is the benefit of making connections – meeting new people and becoming more sociable. This is important, as learning facts and figures alone at home is definitely feasible, but oftentimes lonely and one-dimensional.

 

2) How knowledge is tested 

This sense of learning leads us to our next point in the fact that we learn various skills. As aforementioned, learning facts and figures are definitely a possibility, but reciting knowledge independently can be frustrating. By going to school and having different skills tested, we can be more qualified. For example, we have humanities subjects like history, English literature, philosophy… and languages like French, Spanish, German… This is key, as these particular subjects can help us familiarise with foreign languages to become multi-linguistic or to have an analytical brain to digest copious amount of facts.

 

Moreover, there are calculations and experiments in the natural sciences of maths, chemistry, biology and physics to understand and test empirical data. By being assessed, we have more sense of organisational and presentation skills, essential for jobs to think quickly on our feet and to have better time-manangement skills to complete certain tasks. By now, I think you understand the direction I am coming from – school can lead us to become a better trained employee, or at least in theory. However, by testing us through the most common way of tests, are they really the most effective way to show our comprehension of a certain subject? Is memory enough to lead us through in life with a one-off occasion of saying 1+1=2 or that Hitler wanted to conquer Eastern Europe for more Lebensraum? Shouldn’t the most compulsory subjects of Maths and English (or the mother tongue) be assessed in a different way, so that students can understand the importance of them per se?

 

3) Disadvantages – school can only teach us so much 

We have established the fact that school can lead us to become more skillful and learn more knowledge, ultimately to become a more reliable candidate in our dream job. However, to put it into perspective, there is only so much school can teach students of any age. I am trying to emphasise the practicality and pragmatic use of skills that will prepare us for life. The school curriculum most often allows students to learn from a course guide, but it rarely discusses concrete life survival skills. For example, how to manage our own bank account, how to get a proper job with compulsory interview classes (which is the ultimate goal of school – or at least should be) or even self-defence classes for the worst situations in those scary nights back home alone.

 

Furthermore, not everyone knows exactly what they want to achieve – whether they could already find a job placement or can really learn from books alone. In my own opinion, I believe in creating more opportunities for those who are not as suitable for books and find other ways to reach employment. It does not mean that one is smarter or less capable in anyway, it simply means to find job placements in possible firms to get a grasp of a general subject or to find another proper college for someone to become a chef or mason because they prefer something more hands-on.

 

4) How should schools around the world improve? Look at the best examples of the world 

For this section, I thought I would use two countries at both ends of the spectrum for comparison – Finland and South Africa. Firstly, I picked out some important points that Scandinavian schools were commended for: 1) children should not attend school until they are seven years old, 2) there should be few exams/no homework, 3) all teachers must be fully qualified with a minimum of master’s degrees and 4) teachers are allowed to teach what they desire. [2] The main problem here is that a lot of schools around the world start at around age four or five. According to many reports, this sense of ‘the sooner, the better’ tends to equate to a denture in natural development of children, as this logically means that, as they are very energetic and playful, would not concentrate as well. Consequently, there will not be as positive results when it comes to simple tasks like reading or arithmetic skills early on. [3, 4]

 

Concerning South Africa, this is a country which lacks the amount of choices available among the students. They only have 4 main subjects – 2 languages, life orientation and maths. Moreover, under the guidance of not fully educated teachers, who are usually ill-equipped to teach properly to a certain level, means frequent failing of important exams. To put this into perspective, the majority of the students attending schools in South Africa failed their exams and to acquire the minimum 30 per cent passing benchmark. [5] To rectify this, the students should be able to choose their own subjects carefully and realise what they are stronger or weaker at. Obviously, we also have to consider the problem of level of (un)employment, corruption, international conflicts, post-colonial past and diseases that affect these country so gravely – particularly in the case of the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Afghanistan and Burkina Faso in that order. [6] As AIDS has been an ongoing problem in the African continent, many apt teachers deceased and were unable to continue. Should economic aid continue to be the most common way to try help ‘solve’ this issue? Little wonder that a lot of the brightest children leave for better futures elsewhere, leaving the area of expertise and intellectuals completely wide open.

 

Effectively, schools are beneficial to our society – but it is not necessarily the pathway to what we want to do in life. Personally, I think there should be an emphasis on the social aspect of it, rather than simply the academia. Sure, you could self-educate yourself, but it would probably be more pragmatic to attend schooling and have an equal opportunity. Moreover, many people accentuate too much on a proper education for future employment – when the problem of globalisation is already affecting the world to have increasingly more skills to accommodate to employers’ needs. Simply because we have a diploma demonstrating decent grades, do they grade reflect true knowledge? Or are we starting to regurgitate past facts? And then, why aren’t there more classes on survival skills – how to manage your bank account or self-defence in real-life situations?

 

Finally, I chose Finland and South Africa as the two main examples for comparison. Needless to say, the Western world already has the riches to provide its population with education for both sexes and to a minimum age. From Finland, other fellow Western countries can learn more about the age children should best start primary school so that they get the best possible quality teaching. However, South Africa, together with the rest of the African continent, have a harder task to alter – it is not simply a structural problem internally, but externally – with forces from the government and socio-political climate themselves. Hopefully, when I have the time – I will be back soon! 🙂

 

References 

[1] http://news.liv.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/knowledgeHOMEb.jpg

[2] http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/12/why-is-the-finnish-school-system-so-good/

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10302249/Start-schooling-later-than-age-five-say-experts.html 

[4] http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vashthi-nepaul/country-ranked-second-worst_b_4295201.html

[6] http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/campus/best-and-worst-educational-systems-infographic/

FIFA: The new policies that should be implemented

[1] A simple, but powerful message that scars football. Will the internal and external problems ever be solved?

For the past 4 months, I have been really preoccupied with assignments and could not update my blog as frequently as I would have liked to. Hopefully, this short post would ease me back into a string of articles.

 

I wanted to use this article as a medium to voice my opinion about the current situation in world football. We all call football as the ‘beautiful game’ in one way or another, with the legends of Pele, Ronaldinho, Eusebio, Platini, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Charlton…still in our memory with their strong goalscoring pedigrees or silky skills. But when we look at the modern game, we can still pinpoint many issues at stake that need more attention. There are, in my opinion, four main problems that need to be resolved and this article will take this exact same structure: racism/political messages, refereeing, signings of players, the FIFA cadre team per se and the debate over the Brazil and Qatar World Cups.

 

1) Racism/political messages

My first article when I started blogging was on the racism in football during the Euro’s 2012. If you like, you could check it out here: http://sebr835.blogspot.hk/2012/07/how-euros-2012-in-poland-and-ukraine-is.html?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=11

 

In many countries, say Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Spain, the fans do not simply view football as a sport, but as a group identity. With this comes extremist ideals, one that sadly express many connotations of racism and fascism.For example, fans sometimes call out monkey chants at players with African origin like Balotelli, Eto’o, Constant and Boateng. [2] [3] [4] [5] There are some real-life footage of them deliberating leaving their respective matches to raise awareness in the references section below. This is detrimental to the modern game and disruptive to the whole notion of respect and equality that football tries to implement nowadays. It is not appropriate that any set of people or a group of players are fined a particular amount of money or a string of bans, able to be ‘excused’ easily and lightly. Effectively, some type of respectful policy should be undertaken so that fans and players alike need to show more respect, as the whole world – young and old are watching their every action.

 

Then, you have fascist or extreme-right political messages that players have exposed as a goal celebration. Di Canio, during his spell at Italian club Lazio, shot out his arm in a neo-Nazist salute. Di Canio has latched out and stated confidently that the gesture “was a Roman salute from a comrade to his comrades.” [6] Certainly, this does cause a stain on the ‘beautiful game’, but we should be careful with the limit and sensibility of our perspectives towards these players and their intentions as well. This is important, as recently Nicolas Anelka of West Bromwich Albion was heavily critcised on his ‘quenelle’ gesture. Many journalists and politicians have disgraced the veteran French international, branding his behaviour and actions as outrageous and unnecessary. [7] Shirt sponsors of the local team have even threatened to quit the contract over the incident. Morally, it is a powerful gesture, though, in Anelka’s defence, he did try to give a dedicating salute to his comedian friend, Dieudonné, and I really do not think it is as malicious as the press or the French sport minister, Foureynon, makes it out to be. [8] There has to be a limit of some sort, as these occasions could easily be misinterpreted. Let us see how the court case pans out in the coming weeks of February.

 

2) Refereeing

A second and next most important problem in football is the refereeing itself. There has been copious decisions that has turned tables, altering the course of play, in favour of the wrong team to win, draw or lose the match. If football is to improve as a sport overall, there should be more than simply replay decisions and goal-line technology – not simply the ones on the television or the ones that the FIFA board suggest in replica of rugby or tennis. [9] In my opinion, there should be more – the international football association should effectively inaugurate a first-person camera from the referee, as they are usually the one with the best view, yet often turn a blind or late eye to the situation at play. Never mind about the beauty of the debate over critical decisions – there should be more policies regarding pre-pressuring the refereeing in derby matches – say in Manchester City against Manchester United, Barcelona against Real Madrid, Arsenal against Tottenham, Juventus against AC Milan… Thus, by doing so, ultimately the level of correct decision-making and corruption could be minimsed more ably and fairly.

 

3) Signings of players 

Thirdly, it is more about the way in which signings of players across different domestic leagues are conducted. Sure, there are increasingly more foreign investors across leagues able to flex their financial muscles in the transfer market periods. However, this is not about the economic aspect I wanted to discuss – if any league is going to benefit from competition and bringing the best out of each other, then they undoubtedly more teams have to be in contention to win the league. It is highly unfortunate that in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, there are only two to four main title contenders, whereas the rest of the league is struggling to hold on to their stellar players and are often named as ‘selling clubs’. This has been where FIFA have intervened, forcing clubs with a “6+5” home-grown players policy in a club in 2010. [10] Nevertheless, after the idea was rejected by the board, whether the home-grown players are actually used really is debatable. Again, there could be a limit to the amount of international players that a club can bring in at one go – perhaps 10 players maximum (depending on the emergency situation), and a certain budget spent. After all, it is rather worrying that football players’ prices are inflated to extremely high prices despite their worth not always proven – or perhaps there should be a criteria of what constitutes to make a player in the 50 million dollars/pounds/euros bracket.

 

4) Brazil/Qatar World Cup

Most recently, there have been issues regarding the World Cup in Brazil and Qatar respectively. On the one hand, the economic problems regarding Brazil is affecting the domestic satisfaction with a recent violent riot in Sao Paolo. [11] Understandably, the Brazilians have voiced out their opinions that the government were more concerned about the World Cup than the poverty and inequality occurring within the country itself. Conversely, Qatar is another problem in world football. Normally, a World Cup in any sport represents a international gathering – celebrating a vast number of cultures side by side. However, with a conservative society in this case, taking place in Qatar, only means a limitation to how liberal the local society views other sets of people in terms of how they behave or dress – especially when others should accept different racial, sexual and gender conditions of their counterparts. In my opinion, if these situations are to improve, then there must be more realistic venues of where the World Cups will be at. It is only fair that every country comes under the world’s spotlight, but it should be achievable as well. The Qatar World Cup of 2022 after Russia in 2018, only means that the fixtures calendar in domestic leagues have to be completely altered to suit the players’ performance during this period. Playing in winter for the better part of 2 to 3 months only equates to another 6 months of available time to play, leaving the players heavily drained from their international campaigns in the World Cup. [12]

 

Effectively, all the aforesaid problems that are to be improved by the FIFA are a matter of respect and justice – racially, arbitrarily and team-wise. If football is to improve as a sport per se, it must be able to accommodate every type of race and sexual orientation, inside and outside of the football pitch. Moreover, as a sport, there should be as many policies to eradicate any chances of corruption at the cadre, refereeing and player levels. Personally, I think that, refereeing as the most important phenomenon discussed, should be tackled immediately – it is only partially implemented as a problem and critical decisions are still wrongly judged. This is not a case of if and when, but a matter of pragmatically doing so that the sport benefits more, and retains its appellation and appreciation of being the ‘beautiful game’. This could change if the FIFA cadre team took another form, so that the seemingly conservative and often inefficient approach towards many situations became more modern, more realistic and liberal towards discussing problems. After all, like any sport, there should be more transparency over international board’s policies – rather than a black and white view that is always painted across the canvas nowadays. Right, I hope you enjoyed this post – I certainly needed it to get me back into the groove once again. Ta! 🙂

 

References 

[1] http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/images/i/int@fifa09.gif

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaDmOZkJ6s0 

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go_z3GTmUQI

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG0RIpkEuDY

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrKbz9FuV34

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4544008.stm 

[7] http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/nicolas-anelka-quenelle-row-west-3033044 

[8] http://news.sky.com/story/1188259/anelkas-quenelle-gesture-praised-by-comic

[9] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/7857729/England-v-Germany-Fifa-want-better-refereeing-not-goal-line-technology.html

[10] http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/8733164.stm 

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-25900526 

[12] http://news.sky.com/story/1191990/qatar-world-cup-will-not-be-held-in-summer 

Further blogs

Right. Well, I guess that has to be my lot of blogs for the time being, I really appreciate the time and support from you, the reader. As it is nearly time to return to university for me, I will try my best to update whenever I can (whether I can cram in one more before then, I really do not know…) and write more interesting articles I can think of in the near future. Thank you for everything and all the best! 🙂

Signed and from your respective blogger,

-Seb

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