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At the venue of the first modern Olympics Games…

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By Dr. Mayuri Napagoda

The Olympic spirit is once again in the air. Games of the XXXII Olympiad has opened in Tokyo on July 23, 2021. The Panathenaic Stadium (also known as Kallimarmaro) in Athens Greece, was the venue of the first modern Olympic Games. I was a visitor to this historic place a few years ago and the memories are still afresh.

Located at the heart of Athens in the vicinity of the Greek Parliament building, the National Gardens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, this marble built stadium is among the most attractive sites of the city. Having climbed to the upper tier of the stadium, one can get a terrific view of the Acropolis and Parthenon, another famous destination for travelers to Athens.

The stadium has a long history that dates back to the sixth century BC. Initially, the venue was a racecourse that hosted the religious and athletic festival in honor of the goddess Athena. Name of the festival was “Panathenaic Games” and was held once in every four years. As formal seating arrangements were not available at that time, the spectators had to sit and watch from the hillside. Two hundred years on, formal seating was built by Lykourgos by arranging tiers of stone benches around the 204 m- long and 34 m- wide track.

In the second century AD, Herodes Atticus reconstructed the stadium completely out of white Pentelic marble obtained from Mt Penteli; the same type of marbles used to build the Acropolis and Parthenon. He transformed the stadium to a horseshoe shape from its original rectangular form, while increasing the seating capacity to 50,000. In addition to the athletic competitions, the stadium was believed to be a venue for gladiator fights. However, over the centuries; particularly upon the fall of the Roman Empire, the stadium was abandoned and fell into ruin. The derelict marbles were incorporated into local constructions and the site was reduced to a wheat field.

Several centuries later in the 19th century, the archaeological excavations dawned a new life to this historical site. The stadium was refurbished and it hosted a series of athletic events called “Zappas Olympics” (an early attempt to revive the ancient Olympic Games) under the sponsorship of Evangelis Zappas in 1870 and 1875. In 1894, Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and presented the idea of organizing internationally rotating Olympic Games that would occur in every four years. Demetrios Vikelas, the first president of the IOC suggested that the first modern Olympics Games should be held in the Greek Capital in 1896. Thus the stadium underwent the second refurbishment, once again with white Pentelic marble in preparation to host the first modern Olympic Games. Refurbishment work was sponsored by George Averoff. As a tribute to his generosity, a marble portrait was erected near the entrance to the stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium was the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1896 Olympics. In addition, athletics, gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling events of the Olympics were also held at this location. The stadium then hosted diverse cultural, ceremonial and sporting events throughout the 20th century. Once again the stadium was used as a venue for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. It hosted the archery events and the finishing line for the men’s and women’s marathon. Every November it holds the finishing line for the annual Authentic Athens Marathon race, runs from the city of Marathon to Athens.

It’s a tradition that the Olympic flame is ignited at the Temple of Hera in Olympia several months before the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games. This flame travels through Greece over the course of several weeks. At its final stop, the Panathenaic Stadium, the flame is officially handed over to the host country.

The Panathenaic Stadium is the only stadium in the world that is entirely made of marble. At present, the stadium can provide seating capacity for about 60 000 spectators. It has 47 rows of seats that are divided into two zones (lower tier: 24 rows and upper tier: 23 rows) through a corridor. The track with a length of 191 m and a width of 34 m features a comfortable black rubber surface. The Panathenaic Stadium was depicted on the Olympic medals awarded in Athens in 2004, in Beijing in 2008, in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Spending five euros for the entrance ticket to this glamorous stadium was certainly a well spent for me. An audio guide device was provided at the entrance and the audio tour narrated the history of the stadium evoking the grandeur of ancient Athens that was surrounding me. I grabbed the opportunity to run on the historical running track in the pleasant late Autumn breeze. I felt honored to stand on the Olympic winners’ podium, although I had never won a race! The museum located on the underground features the posters and the Olympic torches of every Olympic Game held from 1896 to this date. The museum tour was a truly enjoyable and educational experience.

The legendary Panathenaic Stadium is an icon of Athenian history and its culture that no traveler should miss out during a trip to Athens.



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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Features

Hair care mask

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.

Ingredients…

Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons

Method…

In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.

Ingredients…

Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons

Method…

Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly

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I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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