Who were the pioneers of aviation?

[1] Da Vinci’s flying machine was a testament to birds, a species that the genius himself studied to invent something to rule the skies. 

This article I hope to answer a thesis that could help all readers learn something new. I am striving for that sort of feat, and I am reaching that moment when every article is difficult to reproduce the former’s quality. I have always been fascinated by inventions themselves, how it took the world by storm and revolutionised our way of life socially, politically or even militarily. I have divided this study into three main parts – one being the ancient, the Renaissance and the other being the early modern parts. Regarding the ancient sector and Renaissance, this analysis will incorporate the building blocks of aviation through ancient Greco-Roman experiments and designs by the Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci. I will continue with early modern inventors – the Montgolfier and Wright Brothers, known for contributing in the fabrication of the hot-air balloon and airplane inventions. Comments are appreciated.


1) Ancient Era – Chinese, Greeks and Romans 

Many of the ancient attempts to rule the skies came down to countless experiments. Most people including me would see aviation derived from birds being pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci, but the Roman engineer, Archytas of Tarentum had constructed a wooden bird on a rotating rod, propelled by steam in circa 400 B.C. [2] Around 600 years later, the Chinese used kites as a way to perform religious ceremonies and to test weather conditions. [2, 3] Moreover, under the guidance of Greek scientist, Hero of Alexandria, invented the aeolipile. A container, a circle with two L-shaped tubes at either end, is filled with water and heated. [3] From this, the steam evaporates and rotates the whole container, essentially creating the very first engine model for flight engineering.


2) The Renaissance Era – Da Vinci and his passion for flight  

During the mid-15th century, a young Da Vinci was intrigued by many ways to conquer the skies. Through much observation of birds and bats’ bone structures, coupling with human anatomy, condition during flight (wind direction, speed weather) and dissection of these animals, Da Vinci was able to create many inventions – including those of parachutes, helicopters, ornithopters (aircraft that is flown manually by flapping its wings rather than fixed wings that modern mechanic airplanes have), man-generated airplane and the human eagle, but to name a few [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. This was significant, as the Renaissance Man drew up many plans in his famous notebooks, portfolios and letters. Although it was believed that he was unsuccessful with his experiments, it can definitely be noted that Da Vinci was the pioneer of the aviation. It would take the world another 400 years to conquer the skies with Sir George Cayley and Lilienthal’s gliders in the 18th and 19th century respectively [7]. Unfortunately, however, according to Martin Kemp, a renowned art historian from Oxford University, has observed that despite Da Vinci’s appreciation for natural processes, he did not have extensive knowledge on dynamics and statics [8]. As a result, this hampered the chances for his works to succeed properly. I would highly recommend watching these modern replicas of Da Vinci’s works or design concepts on aviation machines: 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYmF7-JWCVA, 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iOcoIxlFzY and 3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj6kMZBrUq4.


3.1) Early Modern Era – Montgolfier Brothers- hot-air balloon

The Montgolfier Brothers, Joseph and Etienne observed that hot air rises, most notably as smoke carries unburned paper in the air. From this analogy, they began their first major experiment in November 1782, and filled small silk bags with rising smoke [2]. Little was known that around 80 years ago, in 1709, Bartolomeu Laurenco de Gusmao had already delighted the Portuguese royalty with his discovery. Under the guidance of Professor Charles in the Académie des Sciences in Paris, he had suggested to use hydrogen with the hot-air balloon [2]. This was significant, as hydrogen was extremely flammable particularly on silk fabrics. Consequently, with the Robert brothers – Marie-Noël and Jean-Robert, they had recommend to use silk covered with rubber to propel the hot-air balloon. This was proudly exhibited in the nobility areas around the Eiffel Tower [2]. Here is a reasonably long documentary clip about their invention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2jPDAU4l-o.

3.2) Early Modern Era – Wright Brothers – airplanes 

Wilbur and Orville Wright, two Americans of English descent from Ohio, were deeply inspired by German engineer Lilienthal, a developer in the glides. The Wright Brothers, armed with their talent, humility and passion for aeronautics, were in a quest to find adjustment of the wings to the right and left, enabling angles for the plane to fly properly. [9] Throughout their careers, like their predecessors, the Wright Brothers were very much in the case of trial and error, perfecting each of the inventions until it reached to a functioning point. For example, in 1903, they had made their own motor propeller with 12 horsepower units. This was significant, as the French historian, Charles Dolfus, observed in French, that they have changed the face of the earth. [9] Later in the year on December 17th 1903, they were recognised to have created an aircraft, the Flyer I, where it were to embark and set off by itself from the ground at 30 mph. Furthermore, in 1904, the Flyer II was fabricated and with 80 short flights, the Wright Brothers were able to practise controlling and manoeuvring the aircraft for around 45 minutes, as opposed to many their European counterparts for around 5 minutes. [9] However, unfortunately for Wilbur and Orville, their invention failed when the media wanted to showcase their invention. In the end, the Flyer II was burned, and works for a more sturdy craft in the Flyer III followed. Here is raw footage of the Wright Brothers in Le Mans, France, exhibiting their glider in public: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-CvkEUSAO4.

In summary, the ancient Romans, Chinese and Greeks were the starting blocks for aviation, recorded in history as some small-scale designs, namely the wooden bird, kite and the aeolipile, all contributed in future designs. It must be noted that the aviation process was a trial and error, a development that crossed centuries until the modern ages to perfect.


Firstly, Leonardo da Vinci, with his copious pamphlets, notebooks and extensive research, put forward many designs that were inspired by birds with the motion during flight, particularly that of the ornithopters. Unfortunately, these designs only worked in theory and on paper, it was not until around 400 years later that modern scientists, engineers and art historians began to collaborate to assess the liability of his inventions. Remaining in Europe, we have the Montgolfier Brothers, who were mistaken to be the first bunch to invent the hot-air balloon, as with the Portuguese, Bartolomeu Laurenco de Gusmao, who had already delighted the Portuguese royalty with his discovery. They must be accredited, however, to have joint efforts with Professor Charles and the Robert brothers to create a rubber-coated fabric so that the then newly-discovered gas of hydrogen could burn harmlessly and raise the aircraft into the skies. Finally, we have the Wright Brothers, whose gliders and aircrafts, called the Flyer I, II and III, inspired by the German engineer Lilienthal, enabled their machines to be the recognised as the first to go aloft for around 30 to 45 minutes. I hope you have enjoyed your read on here once again, and I shall return in the next edition soon enough, so stay tune for more! 🙂



[1] http://www.leonardodavinci.net/images/gallery/flyingmachine4_l.jpg

[2] Berliner, D., Aviation: Reaching for the Sky, http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=Efr2Ll1OdqMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=aviation&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fPIlUpiABaauiQe92YG4BQ&ved=0CDEQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=aviation&f=false, Page 8-9, 13-18

[3] http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blearlyflight.htm

[4] http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=6wyF_sEAwLUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=da+vinci+inventions&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gvAlUqGXMMufiAeFuYHACQ&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=flying&f=false

[5] http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blearlyflight2.htm

[6] http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=amqdoeJLzagC&printsec=frontcover&dq=leonardo+da+vinci+flying+citations&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XK8qUvS_AubOiAe1j4DoAg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=flying&f=false, Pages 56-57

[7] http://inventors.about.com/od/fstartinventions/a/Airplane.htm

[8] Kemp, M., Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006), http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=ZuLvRD16qWMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=martin+kemp&hl=en&sa=X&ei=buIqUpbfDemhigew9oH4Ag&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=military&f=false, date of access: 7/9/2013

[9] Gibbs-Smith, H. C., The Wright Brothers: Aviation pioneers and their work 1899-1911, (NMSI Trading Ltd., London, 2002), http://www.google.com.hk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=NzVl2tA6rpUC&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=wright+brothers+aviation&ots=4gQg7M2YAo&sig=eW_CR0cwcJmP09ZLBehTPBbKmKw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=wright%20brothers%20aviation&f=false, Pages 3-14, date of access: 8/9/2013

What is the bigger picture behind beauty aesthetics across the world?

Outer Beauty

[1] Across many cultures, we see different perceptions of how men and women should look like. These aesthetics have developed throughout time, due to different cultures and etiquettes within our society.

First of all, a quick apology to these who were expecting an article in the recent weeks. I have had trouble finding an interesting enough article to present to you, especially having written quite a lot now. I propose that, in the future, if there are any articles topic you personally like to read, feel free to pop a message below. In this edition, I will be discussing the evolution of how beauty and its aesthetics are perceived across many cultures around the globe in Africa, Asia and Europe. These will be mainly concerning those of females, but also secondarily, within those of men as well. As usual, comments are welcome below.

One fundamental concept we must consider is the word beauty’s true definition. According to Oxford Dictionary, it defines as a combination of qualities – shape, colour, form, aesthetic senses – especially by sight. [2] Over time, the common notion of beauty has altered, affected by self-perception and obsession, culture and society. The quest of beauty is a statement of material wealth, social status and sexual appeal. [3] This is significant, this alters throughout time, because in the ancient times, beauty was recognised through harmony and symmetry of women. Moreover, in the contemporary ages, beauty is far more superficial, in the sense that being thinner is more attractive in the fashion world. [3] As American physicists and authors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz pointed out, many celebrities are obsessed with cosmetic beauty, meaning we are obsessed with our appearance and weight. [4] On the flip side, Roizen and Oz both stress that there are other forms of beauty – how you feel about yourself and define your own life, rather than a general public affecting your opinion. [5] To elaborate on this point, it is perhaps right to suggest that, apart from the outer beauty, there has one’s self-perception of beauty comes down to mental health to be confident enough of one’s body. [5] Moreover, beauty can be seen as a more spiritual and internal beauty that can be seen through intelligence and personality, but this has been hindered throughout history as of women’s etiquette.

1) Africa and Asia – Long necks
Likewise to the Ndebele tribe in South Africa, the Kayan people, with a population of 40,000 inhabitants within the Burmese and Thai region, use many long neck-rings as a way to expose their beauty. [6] The origin of this habit is anonymous, but it is believed that it would elongate the bearer’s neck. [6] Furthermore, this being a very particular habit is purposely designed to make the females more identifiable, marry within the same tribe, and thus maintaining a strong tribal identity. [6, 7] By doing so, it is believed that the females would keep these neck rings as a way to prevent them from being stolen, a status symbol as it looks like Mother Dragon She and compete in many beauty competitions for attraction. [6, 7]

2) European Women
Within the European culture, there are two main angles to observe women’s beauty – art history and society. On the one hand, we have the development of women in art history, a nude, symmetrical, harmonious, innocent figure that has been cast through mediums found in sculptures and paintings alike. [8] These were amplified throughout the Greco-Roman ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque and early modern paintings. However, throughout time, the notion of beauty had altered. For example, during the ancient and Renaissance times, women were presented in a purist and organic form, showing their attributes rather vividly. Conversely, with early modern paintings, we see women presented more covered up, but the idea of having a curvy and attractive body remained. [8]

If we shift our attention towards Western society, teenagers and adult women have a fetish of being slim and curvy due to popular culture. In my opinion, this is a two way street – we can either head towards a more traditionalist approach or a more superficial one. As a more traditionalist approach, during Mussolini’s time, women were in a much more fascist state, preparing for wars against African tribal and European enemies. As a result, under the inauguration of the Battle of Births policy, women were left to be seen as a more orthodox and plump figure, as they had to be fertile and motherly so that Italy could successfully build up a strong foundation for Italy’s future as an expansionist and aggressive power. [9, 10] Or we can take the more superficial approach, as women are now more aspired by many celebrities and perceptions of beauty. This is increasing the levels of plastic surgery, to achieve a big-breasted, slim and curvy appearance for attraction for the opposite sex. More importantly, people accept these customs as a type of adopted culture and succumb to their ways, rather than adopting a more internal beauty type of approach, which is a shame.

3) Men

Greco-Roman statue showcasing masculinity
[11] A Greco-Roman sculpture, one to showcase the masculinity, elegance and strength in throwing a discus scene.

As with men, they have a less prominent role in beauty, as their etiquette was always believed to be to do with intelligence, the arts, science, diplomats and military officers. However, if we take our attention back to the Greco-Roman times, many important men were deliberately enlarged and carved to be stronger, an almost Herculean figure. This was key, as this showed men able to quell threats of mythical creatures like lions and Minotaurs, as a way to show their brute strength and elegance. As of now, men are more appreciated to be tall and of a well-built stature. They do not have as much of an obsession or even necessity of participating in beauty as women, but cultures and society alters the way they look.

One very apt example would be men from Japan and Korea, who have a habit of being more feminine. Unlike their predecessors who dedicated their lives as samurai warriors and hard-working employees, a new brand of men nicknamed ojo-men or lady-like men, prefer to be herbivore and feminine. [12] With bad faith in the Japanese economy and some men plunging in unemployment, the men resort to a more personal approach and self-achievement, in an Enlightenment sort of way. [12] This is significant, as this is seen as unattractive by the women who want a more masochist and responsible type of partner. However, indeed, with the lack of sexual attraction, this has lowered the expectations and roles for both men and women in the Japanese society. Consequently, they live in a much more comfortable environment both inside and outside of the office domain. [12]

In effect, I have presented to you a few examples of beauty across the world, namely in Africa, Asia and Europe – both in the female and male domains. Depending in which historical age we are focusing on, the level of perception concerning women’s beauty alters through art and society. This is key, as women can be presented as harmonious, elegant and curvy figures, as a purist appreciation to their bodies like men. However, in modern times, as with society, beauty is more superficial, tending towards sexual attraction with a big-breasted and slim body. Certainly, these perceptions of beauty can be changed in the circumstances where women have different etiquettes and cultures, for example as having long-necks or motherly roles.

As for men, they have always been a more dominant figure in research, military and diplomacy, men always had a secondary role in beauty compared to women. It has to be noted that men’s bodies were also presented as a nude, masculine, brute and Herculean figure. These all show the true and ideal soldier and diplomat that the great civilisations found in the Greco-Roman cultures. Indeed, as time progressed to many important battles, men were recorded to be potent and imposing figures for their own countries. Men, like women, have their superficial outlooks to attract sexual attention as well with big pectorals and abdominal muscles. Interestingly enough, these masculine roles have changed as the ojo-men or lady-men in Japan have shown what unemployment, herbivore and a more laid-back approach can do to this type of popular culture and etiquette between men and women. As an ending note, and perhaps most fundamental yet, we must be careful as what we define by the noun beauty – whether we mean 1) a more internal, meaningful or a more external, superficial approach I have been trying to emphasise throughout this aticle. I really hope you enjoyed your read again, and I will return soon enough with another edition of Speaking Seb! Till then! 🙂

[1] http://www.salongeek.com/attachments/news/32308d1365455105-aesthetic-beauty-babtac-responds-review-into-cosmetic-interventions-botox.jpg
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/beauty
[3] http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/courses/beauty/web5/mjain.html
[4] Roizen and Oz, YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner’s Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty, (2008, Free Press, New York), Page 1, http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=r4SK0njE15sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=superficial+beauty&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R1khUrXLBM2yiQec6YDYCQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=superficial%20beauty&f=false, date of access: 31/8/2013
[5] Roizen and Oz, YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner’s Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty, (2008, Free Press, New York), Pages 2-4, http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=r4SK0njE15sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=superficial+beauty&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R1khUrXLBM2yiQec6YDYCQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=superficial%20beauty&f=false, date of access: 31/8/2013
[6] http://news.softpedia.com/news/The-Giraffe-Women-of-the-Neck-Rings-37412.shtml
[7] http://www.huaypukeng.com/info_rings.htm
[8] http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/european/European-Ideal-Beauty-of-the-Human-Body-in-Art.html
[9] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/life_in_fascist_italy.htm
[10] http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=lK9fEvB7ruAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=mussolini+and+women&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zlUgUrzULoKRkwXXqoDYAg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=fertile&f=false
[11] http://www.romancoins.info/116-1633_IMG.JPG
[12] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/27/japan-grass-eaters-salaryman-macho

Why did many ancient civilisations falter?

[1] A map showing the once great and ancient civilisations of the world – amongst them the Meso-American tribes in Central and South America, modern day Egypt, India and China


It has been some time since my last post and I do wish this article is worth the wait. In this edition, I will be discussing why the once great and ancient civilisations vanish from the world’s dominance and remembrance. In a world where a lot of things are occurring, amongst them being revolutions and pain-staking political transitions in countries looking into the future, I thought I would look explore the past and answer a question that has popped up in many family discussions. I dedicate this article to my sister, who has posed a very interesting question I wanted to set out and answer. Anyway, I will use a few countries from each region so that we get an overview about the topic itself – the Mayans in Central America, the Egyptians in Africa, Greece in Europe, India in Asia. Constructive comments are appreciated below.


1) Central America – Mayans 

The Mayan civilisation dominated Central America for 1200 years, with 900 A.D. as their golden age. Their cities glimmered with 2,000 people per square mile, almost the entire size of Los Angeles County. [2] The Mayans’ demise came to a self-inflicted tragedy that came from the aftermath of deforestation. It was believed that the Mayans used an equivalent of 20 trees so that they could accumulate enough fuel to heat up limestone, an essential component to build many structures like temples and monuments. However, 20 trees only equated to 1 square metre of lime plaster. [2] This was significant, as deforestation was detrimental to the over atmosphere, despite its agricultural (forests were cleared to plant maize) and construction properties. This was signfiicant, as according to PhD student Robert Griffin, this increased temperatures to 3 to 5 degrees higher than normal, and 20 to 30 per cent less chance of rainfall. This was also key, as this dramatically increased droughts and therefore famines. As you will see in other civilisations, many of their falterings were down to self-inflicted, man-made reasons. [2]


2) Africa 

2.1) Egyptians

One of the main reasons why Egypt is believed to have faltered is due to the demise and result of Pharaoh Pepy II’s long reign. After his 90 years of reign as a monarch, the whole Egyptian administration or Old Kingdom had altered drastically. [3] This was significant, as the administration became increasingly more decentralised, and thus more inclined to overthrow the monarchy. This was because the government had forbid the general public to practise key social and religious rights – namely, practise Islam and Christianity simultaneously. [3]


Another major reason why the Old Kingdom had vanished was down to the destruction that the River Nile brought with its flooding, due to climate changes. [3] It must be remembered that the Nile was and still is a source of income, commerce and trade for the Egyptians. Without it, this was significant, as this caused radical famine problems and brought key political institutions at a standstill. Consequently, there were many cases of cannibalism within the community and a less efficient way to control the people. [3]


3) Europe – Greece 

Like the Roman Empire, the height of the Greek civilisation eventually took its toll as a superpower. Greece had many city-states that participated in many activities that favoured their own self-existence. Despite having united as one collective force to defeat the common enemy in Persia, greed, corruption and conflict was tragic and saw Greece falter as a civilisation. [4] This can be highlighted through the Peloponnesian War. This was significant, as it has to be noted that with the riches of the empire, Greece was able to accommodate great philosophers, artists, mathematicians to the world. [4] However, with such high achievements, Greece became too arrogant for their own good. This was important, as this meant that a lot of soldiers became mercenaries rather than being protectors of their land as part of their civic duties. Ultimately, they fought against each other, rather than for each other. [4] 

Furthermore, since the death of Alexander the Great as a conqueror, the Greek Empire went down in decline. After the general’s death, the conquered regions were divided amongst Alexander’s generals. This was key, as this meant a lot of background conflict amongst themselves, disputing area for area. [4] Consequently, this ended as a civil war. On the one hand, the Ptolemy dynasty ruled in Alexandria in Egpyt, and on the other hand, the Seleucid dynasty ruled Persia, Mesopotamia and parts of Eurasia. However, with so many incentives to emigrate to these new lands, this prevented Greece from increasing in population and protecting herself properly. [4] 


4) Asia – India 

Let us move eastwards to India as an ancient civilisation. Certainly, you, as the reader, may disagree and contest my decision to have selected India especially when it is currently one of the more successful countries due to their potent textile industry found primarily in the Bengal region, that is still very much flourishing to this date. In the same light, one may also argue that China at one point, did disintegrate as a great civilisation and why it has not been included, having excelled in many arts, including literature, astronomy, inventions and mathematics.


However, I do think India gives a fine example of resurrecting a civilisation, despite struggling through various internal and external hiccups throughout the course of history. Personally, I feel it is more complex, and thus more interesting to discuss. For example, under Ashoka and the Mauryan dynasty, India was economically weak as they were conquered by a Greek faction state called Bactria. [5] Despite having been replaced by the Mauryan as the dominant dynasty, the Gupta’s were not as politically apt – in the sense that it was not a centralised governmental administration. This was significant, as this meant local politicians locked horns for their self-interests. [5] This was key, as this meant socially speaking, Hinduism and the caste system were favoured as a religion and form of social policy, favouring the elites particularly in the nobility or Nawabs.


This continued to the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese East India Companies, all competing to achieve alliances with the Nawabs, Confederacies and factions in exchange of trade and military training by these foreign powers. [6] This was significant, as this was an example of colonisation and imperialism by many countries – particularly through Orientalism and Anglicisation – which transformed the very social, political and economic climate of India, like a pendulum swinging to and fro in favour of traditional and Oriental, or modern and British methods.


Effectively, many of the ancient civilisations faltered due to many natural disasters and man-related reasons. In the case of the Mayans, the monumental effort to use as much wood taken from deforestation for construction building, meant that there were not enough trees to prevent any flood and in turn, increased the overall climate of the region and famines. Similarly, we have the Egyptians and the Old Kingdom, who collapsed mainly due to a decentralised government and the aftermath due to floodings from the River Nile, an important financial source for the country.


With natural disasters aside, Greece poses a man-related demise to the civilisation. After their golden years as an imperial power under Alexander the Great and their numerous artists, including Plato and Aristotle to name but a few, the generals became greedy amongst themselves for status and prestige, forcing the Peloponnesian War and factions within their ever-diminishing empire. Finally, we have the Indians, who faltered down to their bankruptcy and internal problems due to alteration and colonisation, brought up by the imperial powers and more importantly, through Orientalism and Anglicisation. Perhaps more importantly, these factors can definitely be considered by future leaders in their diplomacy-making, and hopefully be fundamental reminders on how to avoid further wars, conflicts and possible demise of the world. Right, I hope you enjoyed your read, and I shall join you next time on Speaking Seb – till then! Bye for now! 🙂



[1] http://anthro.palomar.edu/political/images/map_of_ancient_civilizations.gif

[2] http://phys.org/news174152911.html

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/apocalypse_egypt_01.shtml

[4] http://www.squidoo.com/fall_ancient_greece

[5] http://www.historyhaven.com/APWH/Decline_of_%20classical_civilizations.htm

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/east_india_01.shtml

Why do we have accents?

[1] In every country, we can distinguish people from where they originate judging from their accents. Question is, how do we?

When you enter a country and traverse each of its four corners, you will discover a variation in terms of accents amongst the townspeople. Indeed, this can be through the simple explanation of diversity in geographical location or region, through history as of immigration, integration or assimilation or the modification of the language itself phonetically to suit the local tongue. In order to depict these points, I will use: 1) Old, Medieval and Colonial French, 2) Afrikaans and Dutch. I would like to highlight I am not linguist expert, I will use a historical angle to analyse, so if I make any faults – comments are more than welcomed below.


But firstly, it is important to grasp the notion of what is a dialect and language. According to Oxford Dictionary, the word dialect where one focuses the language on a specific area or social group. [2] Expanding on that, we have the word language, which despite slight complexities because of its vagueness, can be defined as a system of a communication used by a particular country or community. [3] These definitions are fundamental, because they help us understand the grandeur of the language starts as a nucleus within the word dialect. To explain this further, it is important consider why exactly do we have these accents, as these definitions all conjure each other. Frankly speaking, an accent is defined as pronouncing a language, through various influences. How, where and when we learnt these languages greatly affected the way we say words. This is a ceaseless process that depends on our life experiences: with whom we live with as we constantly migrate throughout history, and the social groups either from a particular community or geographical location. [4] Now that we have comprehended these ideas and definitions, I will continue the analysis through the observation of French and Dutch languages.


1) Variations of French

[5] France divided into two main languages – Langue d’Oïl and Langue d’Oc. 

1.1) Old French/Medieval French 

Since the Romans conquered Gaul, France separated itself into two principal languages – Langue d’Oc and Langue d’Oïl. This separates France into two sections – drawing a line from Bordeaux to Grenoble. With its neighbouring countries, these Romantic languages were sub-divided into three umbrella groups. The Oc as Provençal, Oïl as in Northern French and Si with Italian. [6]


In fact, all these were different ways of saying the word yes. Perhaps because it was one of the quickest ways to differentiate the three apart, no one really knows. With Provençal, Oc refers oui or yes in French as o. [6, 7] We would say this person from Provence speaks the language of yes or lengua d’o from the country of yes or pais d’o. As for Oïl, this is a word that has evolved through time. The word was initially o-il, the same way as oui, c’est cela or yes, it is. Later, the people from Northern France would pronounce the word as Ou-il, until there became a silent l making it as oui in contemporary French. [6, 7, 8] Now you know when you buy the famous wines, eh!


1.2) Colonial French 

Other major derivative of French are African French and Québecois. Within African French, the most significant of them being in countries like Morocco or Congo, there are borrowed words from the Maghreb and African languages and phonetic sounds, where you would hear accentuated words with the heavier r sounds and adopted African words. For example, you would say merci mingi – a melange of merci or thanks and mingi – very much in Lingala, an Congolese tribal language. [9] Conversely, with Québecois French – whenever a native French person tries to impersonate a Québecois, the first thing they would tend to say is tabernacle. This type of French originates from the north and north-western areas of France, of which speak Norman and Patois. [9] As of heavy British rule, there are also some borrowings from the English language. Judging from certain words, I feel Québecois French is a lot more old-fashioned. For example, the word abrier means to cover, rather than metropolitan French couvrir. Here we have a general term of abri or shelter, so to cover something is to be sheltered. Or indeed, un char in Québecois French means car, whereas contemporary French means a chariot. Beautiful that. [10, 11]


2) Variations of Dutch

2.1) Dutch 

During the mid 5th to 12th centuries, Dutch had developed from many influences across its neighbours. For example, concerning Old Dutch, it branched off from Old Frankish, Old East Low Franconian and Germanic roots – therefore close to German, Flemish and English. [12] As the language developed, it started to use some phonetic sounds like “k”, “v”, “w” and “j” and tended to use compounded words rather than separating them. Dutch then developed with a Wallonian or a French-influenced Brussels Dutch through the medieval and modern times, as of the economic prowess the Brussels immigrants brought with them. [12]


2.2) Afrikaans 

Since discovering and settling in the Cape during 1652 primarily by Jan van Riebeeck, the modern Afrikaaner was invented from a blend of many influences. There were three main derivatives of the Afrikaans, the Cape, Orange River and Eastern Border. As you can tell from these names, they were divided in terms of geographical region in South Africa. As the Cape was a colony ideally midway between Europe and the East Indies, there were many influences from other colonial powers like the Portuguese and British languages. [13] In Cape, there were many Malay slaves, thus some Portuguese influences in colloquial language. As for Orange River, there were many native African tribal influences from Griquakwal and Namakwaland. Thirdly, there was the Eastern Border, where many colonists migrated from the Cape towards Natal. Moreover, the retired Dutch and German officers who settled in South Africa became known as the Free Burghers or independent farmers – had the biggest influences in the Afrikaans language. [13] There were the French Protestants or Huguenots who also successfully immigrated to South Africa, as a consequence of the religious friction back in France, under the legalisation of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). They helped to alter the pronunciations and spellings of certain words. This was significant, as the authors J. A. Heese and C. Pama in their book Afrikaners, analysed that these nationalities constituted the Afrikaans language in terms of percentage: Dutch (34, 8%), Germans (33, 7%), French (13, 2%), People of colour (7%), British (5, 2%), Unknown origin (3, 5%) and Other Europeans (2, 6%). [14] 

I am not an expert in Dutch nor Afrikaans, but I thought I could use these examples to illustrate how many social groups throughout history can affect a language. Those of you who are Dutch, you can compare Dutch and Afrikaans with these sites. For an outsider, I feel Dutch is a lighter version of German, with a lot of correlation as a whole with English. Anyway, here are the links for Dutch and Afrikaans tutorial – tell me what you think: 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRmkEn7f54U and 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij6uz8ag3jA.


Effectively, we cannot have a stagnate accent – they frequently change as we immigrate, as we try to add our own more familiar phonetic sounds and spellings to words to help accommodate the adopted mother tongue. These also depend on the neighbouring countries or geographical location in general – as in the case of French, as there are variations that are similar to Belgium, Italy, Spanish and German, as they are all neighbouring countries. These older versions of the languages do change throughout history, as forms of colonisation and assimilation occur – for example in the case of Dutch and Afrikaans. There were Dutch, German and French independent farmers and religious groups who all left their mark in the language. Moreover, accents change according to social classes as well, where with middle and modern Dutch, you had a lot more Belgians from the Wallonia area, giving the language a French twist phonetically and in vocabulary. Right, that is a wrap from me, and I hope you enjoyed my article. Take care! 🙂



[1] http://peterlevitan.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/People-Talking-Profile-Image.jpg

[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/dialect

[3] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/language

[4] http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/accent.cfm

[5] http://villageampus83.blog.lemonde.fr/files/2007/10/oc-oil.1192104173.gif

[6] http://www.lexilogos.com/etymologie_oil_oc.htm

[7] http://www.medieval-spell.com/Langue-d-Oc.html

[8] http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/French/French.html

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_French

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_French

[11] http://french.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=french&cdn=education&tm=3&f=22&tt=14&bt=3&bts=34&zu=http%3A//www.republiquelibre.org/cousture/EXPRES.HTM

[12] http://www.foreigntranslations.com/languages/dutch-translation/dutch-language-history/

[13] http://www.essortment.com/history-afrikaans-language-south-africa-33507.html

[14] http://www.sahistory.org.za/people-south-africa/afrikaans

What is the bigger picture behind using paper currency?

[1] There has been a huge evolution of the type of commodities or objects we use through time. But is it worth anything?

As I promised on my previous blog, I am writing a politico-historical article to solve a puzzle I have had for a long time – the significance of paper currency. I will discuss the development of currency throughout the ages, from the ancient times to the contemporary ages. Furthermore, I will analyse the valour and usage behind the paper currency, and its relevance in the future as a form of concluding point. Constructive criticism are all but welcome, a token of your help would be greatly appreciated.


1) Development of currency 

Throughout history, people exchanged goods or services amongst each other for what they wanted in forms of commodities. For example, the traders used salt, tea, tobacco, spices, cattles and shells. However, a lot of these were not the most feasible ways to trade, as these ingredients or commodities were naturally perishable. [2]


1.1) Coins and paper 

Another example of currencies were the coins and paper currency. In circa 1000 BC China, as the Chinese were inspired from their earlier usage of shells, which in Chinese radical terms, correlates to shells or monetary problems. They all had a small square in the middle so that it can be looped together by a string. [3] China was technologically advanced at this time, and is known to have progressed to be the first official country to use paper money as currency, as they used it since circa 960 AD onwards. [2] Moving on the other side of the world, coins were introduced in ancient European civilisations like the Greco-Roman ones, as various kinds of metals were easily available in abundance, because of its re-usability and malleability. [2, 3]


3) Is it worth anything? The usage behind it all 

With some currency, we often find a recurring phrase, “Promise to pay the bearer on demand.” I have been taught that in essence, a 10, 20 or 50 dollar note is not worth anything. Ever since, I have been intrigued to discover why and how.


In 16th century England, gold-smith bankers started to use receipts for cash, promising to pay the bearer or depositor a certain amount of money. Throughout many wars, namely those of the Seven Years’ War and the First World War, England had to tweak its monetary system. For example, in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, there were many gold shortages. This was key, as the English bank continued to introduce notes of smaller amounts – £10 pounds to £5 pounds, then to £2 and £1 pounds, ultimately causing the devaluation of the reserve. [4]


Eventually, the link with gold was broken, and Britain left the gold standard in 1931. There was a huge problem of hyperinflation and an uncertainty of returning to the gold standard in the two strongest economic powers during that time – the US and UK. At first, the Sterling to gold exchange was a lucrative enterprise. However, after many affected countries felt the full force of the Great Depression of 1929, the problem of convertibility for the British world currency was left to disappear. This was significant, as this marked the period where the authorities legalised the utilisation of paper currency instead. Furthermore, this was fundamental, as this was further emphasised when these countries had high unemployment rates, thereby having inflating their prices. Thus, the devaluation of currency and more competitive edge in the global market. [5] Thus, in summary, the paper currency we use now is not of that much use. Makes more sense now. There you go, learnt something new myself too.


4) Is paper currency the most feasible way of spending money?

According to the documentary Zeitgest: Money Segment, paper currency is used in society due to two main reasons – debt and interest. The government and federal reserve have money requests through loan demands and reserves. In exchanging this supply and demand amongst them, they draw up values and deposit the large sum of money into a bank account, becoming legal tender or legalised money. This sum of money can vary positively or negatively as a result of inflation, debt and interest. [6] Amplifying this in our society is down to the debt used for the cost of living, where the banks which distribute the money never had the money anyway, it was from the creation of the debt between the federal reserve and government. This is key, because it resembles almost as a black market, as we would not need paper currency if we did not owe debt to one another. [6] Moreover, this is like a running circus, where the elites prevail at the expense of the poor, with loans for employment and trapped in a deeper deadlock of perpetual and financial slavery. In truth, this is a complex, eye-opening and almost frightening expression of what occurs realistically, and I would highly recommend to watch the sixth link down in the references below.


In conclusion, throughout history, people found different commodities and ways to trade and pay one another, which developed to coins and paper currency. In its heyday, the paper currency is made out of the gold link and standard, being a suitable way to pay a bearer on demand. Since the after-war years of the First World War, the UK, one of the two most powerful economic powers in the world apart from the US, changed its methods of payment due to the low rate of convertibility.


Worse still, as the Zeitgeist documentary suggested, the money we use to buy and loan amongst each other to create employment boils down to a running circus of balancing debt and interest. So then, this triggers the question, should we continue to use paper currency in the future? Many of our liquidation and expenditure has now been globalised and through digitalised format, using credit cards and mobile payments. With an ever-evolving currency strength or weakness in stock markets, isn’t it important to understand how do you draw a line between which currency is more worthy than others? Or perhaps, how do you determine the value of a currency? How is the Euro crumbling, whilst the RMB is a staggering currency on possible brink of world domination? Do we find a dominating currency as the American dollar and Sterling Area once imposed, and replace it with the RMB, or do we abandon this completely and find better ways to solve economic crises we, as a world population, are getting accustomed to seeing? In summary, this is an open-ended thesis, and countless more questions can be asked. But I hope, with the signpost questions I have used as directions, this clarifies something for you to learn, and hopefully, able to judge for yourself. Till next time, and goodbye for now! 🙂



[1] http://www.mypapermoneyworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Paper-Money-World-3.jpg

[2] http://inventors.about.com/od/mstartinventions/a/money.htm

[3] https://www.hostmerchantservices.com/articles/the-history-of-currency-from-bartering-to-the-credit-card/

[4] http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/pages/about/history.aspx

[5] http://www.gold.org/government_affairs/gold_as_a_monetary_asset/role_in_international_monetary_system/why_did_the_gold_standard_break_down/

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67OmYvzr9tY

Food Profile: The Spice World – Chinese Five Spice

[1] The breakdown of the Chinese five spice – an alternative for marinating many meats. 

In this edition of Speaking Seb, I return with a Food Profile, regarding the Chinese five spice. I did say I wanted to categorise things so that it would make life easier for you, the reader. This article is another Oriental-based – I will try to revert between different regions across the world, so we get an overall view with ingredients. Traditionally, I will discuss the spice using its origin, nutritional facts and recipes as guidelines. Unlike other Food Profile posts, I decided to add a new sub-section about how we distinguish a herb from a spice. Please do comment below if you think anything can be improved! Cheers.


1) Origin

Michael McIntyre, the British comedian, did notoriously use a sketch called Spices, talked about condiments and when mentioning of five spice, jokingly said – I am not one spice, I am five spice! I am five times as good as you! I will leave the link to his sketch in the references section below – everyone needs a laugh once in a while anyway. [2]


With such an array of ingredients, let us find out the relevance of this description. It is not certain of the origin of the five spice as a whole, but it is believed that the Chinese wanted a blend of different flavours – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. [3] Interestingly enough, the orthodox name is five spice, but in fact, there are some companies who use other ingredients and should really name it according to the number of spices utilised. This is because they use cassia (a variant of the cinnamon stick), ginger or nutmeg. [3]


I will, however, discuss three ingredients that I have not previously discussed in my other Food Profile articles – Sichuan pepper corns, fennel seeds and Star anise. You should be able to find cinnamon and garlic articles on my left tab.


1.1) Sichuan pepper corns 

Rather blatant where Sichuan pepper corns comes from, so I will leave that as it is. For those who do not know, Sichuan is a region in the middle of China. Moreover, unlike the black peppercorns which originate from India, these peppercorns were once used extensively in the 15th century to spice dishes up. [4]


1.2) Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are categorised as a herb and spice. I will add a little section below to help differentiate these two types of food. In Latin, the word foeniculum describes the fennel seed as little hay. It is oral shaped, in a shade of greenish yellow. Although it does originate from Europe, there are many cultivation across Asia and America. It acts as the pungent agent in the Chinese five spice. [5]


1.3) Star anise

Star anise is the English name for the Latin form illiciaceae family, where the Chinese star anise or illicere varum defines as: illicere means to attract since it has a tempting aroma, and verum means authentic. The star anise has been used as a spice and medicine for over 3000 years. Despite much confusion by English privateer Thomas Cavendish, who supposed that the star anise originated from Philippines as he discovered them there. However, they have always existed in Southern China and Indochina. [6]


1.4) Cloves

I initially thought I was writing about garlic cloves – but cloves are in fact a type of flower that originate from the Molucca Islands in Indonesia. It was perceived that the clove was first used by the Chinese to help freshen the Chinese Emperor’s breathe. Not surprising when China literally translates as the centre country. As clove was such a profitable enterprise, you had your traditional imperial competition, particularly from the Dutch imperialists against other powers. [7]


2) Nutritional facts

Evidently, as there are five spices and salt to make up the Chinese five spice – I will need to dissect each and every single one of them to explain their nutritional facts.


2.1) Sichuan pepper corns

The Sichuan pepper corn is very popular amongst Asian cuisines, and provides many different types of nutrients – as it is rich in essential oils, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It has a distinct citric flavour, which comes from terpenes like citronellal; and dipentene, which adds to the spiciness found on its outer shell. Like the fennel seeds, the peppercorn hepls with digestion as it releases intestinal juice in the gut. [8]


2.2) Cinnamon

Please do check out my full article on cinnamon – another edition of the Food Profile: The Spice World.


2.3) Fennel seeds

The fennel seed is used as a diuretic, or one that forces excess urine from the body. Throughout history, the fennel seed is known to improve vision, be an antioxidant and anti-flatulent, essentially removing stomach cramps and interestingly enough, prevents muscle spasms. [9] It is known to provide dietary fibre and helping the absorption of water. Furthermore, fennel seeds consist of many minerals like copper, iron and zinc. Copper helps with the production of red blood cells, iron aids red blood cell formation, and finally, zinc regulates growth, development and digestion. You get the idea. [9]


2.4) Star anise

Similar to the fennel seeds, the star anise helps to provide a stimulating effect in the digestive system, preventing stomach discomfort, indigestion. Furthermore, star anise, surprisingly, helps with respitory problems – particularly bronchitis and coughing. [6]


2.5) Cloves

Like other spices here, the clove is a source to aid the body with many different properties. For example, it helps with anti-inflammatory and anti-constipation. Moreover, as it has some relative amount of vitamin A, the clove is known to have antioxidant properties, and also crucial membranes for night vision in general. Furthermore, it is known to be rich in vitamin C and the essential oil eugenol, which in turn, help with the immune system and antiseptic properties, ultimately helping to improve the overall dental and skin health of one’s body. [10]


3) Recipes

With salt and Sichuan pepper corns as main components of five spice, it is very difficult to find the right balance to create a sweet dish. It is more common to make savoury plates of food consisting mainly of meats and vegetables. Below, I have provided you with two simple recipe ideas – one for meats, and the other for your greens. However, individually, you could use cinammon or star anise individually as main ingredients for desserts.


3.1) Meat recipe

There are two main ways to use the Chinese five spice – either the Chinese or the Vietnamese method. Below I have provided two meat marinades:


3.1.1) Chinese marinade – [11] 

Depending on how many people there are, I would suggest you devise the right quantity of meat.


250g beef cut – mince, brisket, loin, shoulder

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

1 small section of ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch


3.1.2) Vietnamese marinade – [12]

400g of chicken leg or breast

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

1 small section of ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch

2 shallots

A third of a stalk of coriander leaves

2 tablespoons of fish sauce


The main difference between the Chinese and Vietnamese marinades are that one includes more fish sauce – it is an alternative of incorporating more protein and flavour into the dish itself. You can switch between different types of meats and to add more five spice powder if you want more heat. Do make sure you marinate your meat for at least 30 minutes so all the flavours soak into the flesh itself. 


3.2) Vegetarian recipe – [13] 

Chinese stir-fried shrimp and broccoli noodle – a very simple recipe that only needs your traditional ingredients in a stir-fry. I would highly recommend using a wok in this procedure.



Drizzle of sunflower/vegetable oil

500g cellophane noodles/vemicelli noodles/egg noodles

1 garlic clove

2 shallots

1 whole stalk of broccoli

Half a carrot

Half a cabbage

A third of a stalk of coriander leaves

1 medium red chili pepper

Light soy sauce

Salt and pepper



200g of shrimps

3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons of sesame oil

1 small section of ginger

1 tablespoon of garlic paste

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons of sugar

2 teapoons of Chinese five spice powder

2 teaspoons of corn starch

2 tablespoons of fish sauce


So you must marinate your shrimp as you saw above and let marinade for 30 minutes. Then wash your vegetables and cut it length-wise. In a wok, heat up on a medium high heat, some oil. After around 3 minutes, add your chopped garlic and onion. When they become sautéed, add in the shrimps and the noodles. Note that you can vary with the type of noodles you use. Add in some light soy sauce for colour and let fry for a bit. Place the vegetables into the wok and cook until a bit soft – make sure it still has a crunch, you want a mixture of textures in this dish. Finally, finish off by adding your garnish of chilies and coriander.


4) How to differentiate a herb from a spice? 

Many people use these two words interchangeably, so we must be aware of these uses specifically even though this has been an umbrella term. Herbs and spice can be different parts of the plant – which can be leaves, seeds, bark, fruits, flowers…It really depends on which plant that are considered fresh or dried. [14] Herbs are generally considered as leafy plants like basil, oregano, thyme found in temperate countries, whereas, spices are cinnamon, fennel seeds, cumin which are commonly cultivated in tropical countries. [15]


In effect, the Chinese five spice is a mixture of ancient spices, from your more traditional cinnamon, to your more exotic cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise. All these individual spices all have anti-inflammatory and relieving properties, and a great way to bring some variety to your best Sunday meat roast. Moreover, I thought it would be a decent idea to remember how to distinguish the interchangeable terms herb and spices, despite the close similarity in definition – do note it really depends on which type of ingredient we are observing. Finally, I have implemented some simple Oriental recipes that you could use to bring in some variety and inspiration – they are all pretty similar in terms of marinade. Thus, for my next few posts, I will try to find a more Western or foreign ingredient to analyse and dissect. Hope you enjoyed your read here, and stay tuned, because I am hoping to publish a politico-historical piece soon enough! See you next time on Speaking Seb! 🙂



[1] http://weirdcombinations.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Chinese-five-spice-powder.jpg?2d30aa

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvi0ZLEHj3A

[3] http://chinesefood.about.com/od/foodingredients/a/fivespicepowder.htm

[4] http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/sichuan-peppercorns

[5] http://www.naturalwellbeing.com/learning-center/Fennel_Seed

[6] http://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Star-Anise-100.html

[7] http://www.spiceadvice.com/encyclopedia/Cloves.html

[8] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/sichuan-peppercorns.html

[9] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/fennel-seed.html

[10] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/cloves.html

[11] http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/05/dinner-tonight-five-spice-beef-stir-fry-recipe.html

[12] http://www.foodwoolf.com/2009/03/chicken-banh-mi-recipe.html

[13] http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/06/dinner-tonight-five-spice-noodles-with-broccoli-recipe.html

[14] http://www.motherearthliving.com/gardening/difference-between-herbs-and-spices-zm0z11djzsie.aspx#axzz2aFS7cNf3

[15] http://www.infoplease.com/askeds/difference-herb-spice.html

Are performance-enhancing supplements indispensable in sports nowadays?

[1] The Olympics – an ancient competition that shows the true colours of top athletes – do or can we still retain that? 

Once upon a time, there was a moment when the best male athletes of each ancient Greek city-state would compete for glory, and worship the Gods. You earned respect through your talent and hard-work. You stepped out on the podium bare naked, nothing but your body to steer or force your way to victory depending on your sport. Keeping in mind that the feminist role in sports has come a long way, is it all but different nowadays with the availability of sports-enhancing drugs and technology? Are these elements indispensable in the modern game to improve oneself? I hope to direct my article in discussing and investigating the evolution of sport – from the Olympic times to the contemporary age, the importance of technology and sports-enhancing drugs and the type of sports that impose severe regulations on those testing positive. Constructive comments are more than welcome below!


Background and evolution of the Olympic Games 

It is generally believed that the Olympic Games has started as early as 776 B.C., but eventually banned by Emperor Theodosius under harsh Roman rule. [2] Within these sport competitions, this was to showcase the physical qualities of the Greek citizen – in your typical survival of the fittest style. Moreover, by bringing many young contingents from around the Greek ‘nation’, this was to improve and encourage agreeable relations amongst city-states. The Hellanditus or referee, would be the judge of each sport, awarding each of the winners a palm branch in their hands and an olive branch crown to mark a hardly earned victory. Many red ribbons and flowers were thrown to the winners by the spectators, in order to show their appreciation of these ancient athletes. [2]


Importance of sports-enhancing drugs

Since the ancient times, many stimulants and special ingredients like wine and mushrooms, have been used so that each athlete had an advantage over others in their respective competition. According to the Olympic guidelines, it is advisory that all competitors take part, rather than winning. Many athletes nowadays are fully professional, moulding their art day in, day out, being role-models to the children watching at home. [3] Take nothing away from any athletes, they have battled throughout their lives to reach the very top of the mountain, but the doping sagas are merely a game of ‘catch me if you can‘, between the athletes and the anti-doping agencies across the whole spectrum of sports. Obviously, it begs to be asked whether it is relevant that the Olympic board keep making smaller limits to how much athletes can intake, or do we let it go because we want to watch the event for its enticing factor, as a spectator sport? Surely we need to meditate what is our priority – the art of participation or spectating in general, because this would turn out to be an endless and painful cycle.


Let us take the sprinting and cycling as the main examples. On the athletics track, you are bound to see many runners, but which one can we distinguish amongst all of them of whom are clean or not? Recently, from modern times to now, Canada’s Ben Johnson, Britain’s Dwain Chambers, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, America’s Tyson Gay and many more have broken countless records. [3] The idea of sprinting approximately 100 metres in less than 10 seconds is one that has been a dream amongst the world’s population. That is approximately 10 steps every tenth of a second. Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong are the reputed men to have won the Tour de France the most times – and getting their titles stripped because of the strict regulations imposed by the Olympic executive body and International Cycling Union (ICU). Hold on a minute. How does a person, let alone a cyclist manage to climb mountains and maintain speed for 150 to 200 kilometres? How about the high and low altitudes that riders need to get accustomed to, don’t their blood levels need to be tweaked in such a way to pass these gruelling episodes? In the US alone, it is researched that $1.4 billion US dollars has been injected to create more and more compounds and solutions are on our shelves. [3] The problem of sports-enhancement has grown from professional athletes to health clubs, with people using it to improve their aesthetics one way or another. True, the media does promote the idea of a slim and cut beauty look to males and females in our society, but is it truly necessary? Moreover and personally, it is superhuman to be able to break these records and trials, without the use of some sort of enhancement product. And until this is understood, sports-enhancement is truly indispensable nowadays.


Importance of technology 

Video technology is definitely one that comes under this heading. According to Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup winning coach of England in 2003 and the current British Olympics Association (BOA) administrator, highlights the importance of how athletes must think about what to do with the information they compile. [4] Take for example, football and boxing as examples, where national teams and clubs or boxers themselves, study their counterparts’ styles and take an upper-hand, ultimately outfoxing their opponents before even entering the ring. This is key, as this is an example of how sports-enhancing supplements are not completely indispensable nowadays, but is it sufficient enough to conclude here?


Apart from observing your opponents, it can certainly improve one’s personal performance as well. Take swimming as an example, where the shark’s skin was used by the celebrity swimmers Michael Phelps and Alain Bernard. As time in the 21st century progresses, many scientists have found ways to improve our performance. However, with all these limitations and regulations that purists and fundamentalists are trying to impose – we are going back to the basics. How far can we allow these things to happen? Equally, when can we make these exceptions?


What next for sports in general?

I am using this section as more of a conclusion or area for deep thinking for you, the reader. In my own perspective, I believe that sports-enhancing supplements are definitely indispensable. Certainly, purists and fundamentalists would tell me that even with a lot of sports-enhancing drugs, athletes must work as hard. Indeed, the use of video technology is definitely an option to take an advantage, but to what extent does this lead top athletes to? Should we not embrace the development of technology to improve the main component in our sport?


After all, it is the performance that matters as well, and with increasing demand for great fitness, this hangs in the balance. It isn’t like Popeye just took some spinach and instantly puffed up to save Olivia again. I also wanted to emphasise that a lot of people watch sports, where athletes take the supplements – football, cricket, cycling…regardless of the strict regulations. We need to understand and consider this point profoundly: do we, as a general public continue to watch these sports for our love for them per se and their excitement factor, or sway away from it because of its corrupted athletes? Quite paradoxical, right? Especially when people are inspired to become another great, when a lot of merchandise is generated from these athletes. So, until then, we will never be able to cement our desires and let this burning question bubble loom ever so grey and large… Cheers and till next time! Hope you enjoyed this edition of Speaking Seb! 🙂



[1] http://www.olympic-grill.com/resources/ancient_olympic_games.jpg

[2] http://www.olympic.org/ancient-olympic-games

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2219897/

[4] http://tech.uk.msn.com/features/how-technology-is-transforming-sport

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