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In The News

Le Weekend: Islamic Arts Biennale Encore, Coral Listening, BTS Forest

Le Weekend: Islamic Arts Biennale Encore, Coral Listening, BTS Forest

Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Arts Biennale, held at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, has been extended by another month until May 23.


April 29-30

  • Putin’s public piety
  • German cartoon uproar
  • Inclusive Barbie
  • … and much more.


What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two world leaders spoke for the first time this week since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

2. Joe Biden officially announced that he is running again for U.S. president in 2024. If reelected, how old would he be at the end of his second term? 82 / 84 / 86 / 88

3. Which country has just launched GigaChat, its answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT?

4. Singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte has died at age 96. He was the “King of..” which music style?

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]


A cartoon in German weekly Der Spiegel poking fun at India as it becomes more populous than Chinahas been castigated as “racist” by Indian ministers. Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, tweeted: “Hi Germany, this is outrageously racist. Der Spiegel caricaturing India in this manner has no resemblance to reality. Purpose is to show India down and suck up to China.” The cartoon shows an old Indian train carrying swarms of passengers overtaking on a parallel track a sleek Chinese bullet train.


• Iranian filmmaker goes abroad for first time in 14 years: Acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi is reported to have left Iran for the first time in 14 years, following the lifting of a travel ban imposed on him in 2009. His wife posted a picture of them arriving at an undisclosed airport, amid rumors that Panahi could be one of the jurors at next month’s Cannes Film Festival. The dissident filmmaker was temporarily released from the Evin prison in February after going on a hunger strike to protest the “inhuman behavior” of Iran’s judiciary.

• Book bans at record high in U.S.: The American Library Association has released a list of the 13 books that were the biggest targets of banning efforts in schools and public libraries in 2022, with Maia Kobabe's autobiographical graphic novel Gender Queer occupying the top spot. A report from the organization also shows that attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries reached a record high last year, with more than 1,200 challenges compiled by the association — nearly double the then-record total from 2021.

• 1,000-year-old adolescent mummy unearthed in Peru: Archeologists in Peru have found a perfectly preserved mummy wrapped in a funerary bundle on the outskirts of the capital city Lima. The mummy is believed to be that of an adolescent male and is estimated to be between 800 and 1,200 years old, dating back to pre-Inca times. The discovery could provide valuable insights into the lifestyle and cultural practices of the people who lived on the Peruvian coast centuries ago.

• Seoul park now has a “BTS Forest”: South Korean music streaming service Melon announced it has created a forest in western Seoul’s Nanji Han River Park named after K-pop boy band BTS. The initiative is part of an eco-friendly project funded by donations from subscribers, which, once they reach 20 million won ($16,762), are sent to the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement to create a forest after a chosen artist in Seoul.

• Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale gets extension: Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Arts Biennale, held at the Hajj Terminal of the King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, has been extended by another month until May 23. The inaugural event aims to take visitors to an “immersive, multi-sensory journey through the past, present and future of the Islamic Arts,” by displaying about 280 artifacts from the Islamic cultural tradition alongside with about 50 contemporary artworks.

🇷🇺 ☦️ What lurks behind Putin’s constant show of piety

Geopolitical analysts who view Russia as an unpredictable force tend to understand Moscow’s actions in purely worldly, political terms. For German daily Die Welt, Professor of Theology Hubertus Lutterbach uncovers a different message hidden in Putin’s religiosity — an implicit threat to his neighbors and the world.

Read the full story: Why Putin’s Public Acts Of Religious Piety Make Him Even More Dangerous

🇨🇴 💃 Latin American music still glorifies machismo

Male dominance and violence is often encouraged in popular Latin American music, and particularly in genres like salsa or bachata. The more memorable the songs, the bigger the harm they will have done to generations of women.

Read the full story: Toxic Salsa: When Latin Romance Music Glorifies Sexist Violence

🔮 💻 AI dreams & real nightmares

We've always expressed our nightmares through images. So one Italian writer decided to feed her dreams to the AI-powered Midjourney image-generating platform, and create images of her own consciousness. Here are the eerie results.

Read the full story: My AI Image Experiment In Dream Analysis


Coral Reef Soundscape AI, an Indonesian startup, has won the Netexplo 2023 Grand Prix for its AI-powered tech capable of assessing the health of coral reefs by analyzing the sounds of underwater fauna and flora. Using this method, researchers were able to identify which reefs were still healthy with a high level of accuracy in the coral reef barrier of the Sulawesi (Celebes) islands. Today, coral reefs are considered one of the planet's most threatened habitats.


California-based toymaker Mattel has unveiled its new Barbie doll with Down’s syndrome, in a partnership with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). This new model incorporates some of the physical features associated with Down Syndrome, in an effort to provide more children with a toy that represents them.


Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. heads to Washington on Monday, in an effort to reinforce security ties between the two countries.

• In an audio message posted on the Telegram messaging app, the head of Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group Yevgeny Prigozhin said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive could begin next week.

• On May 4th (informally known as “Star Wars Day” because of the pun "May the Fourth be with you"), late Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

News quiz answers:

1. On Wednesday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky had a conversation over the phone, their first documented exchange since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky, who has long expressed interest in speaking with Xi, said he had “a long and meaningful phone call” with the Chinese President.

2. United States President Joe Biden, who formally announced his bid for reelection on Tuesday, will be 86 years old at the end of his second term if he wins the 2024 election and serves out his entire term. Former President Donald Trump previously held the record for the country's oldest chief executive, but Biden has since replaced him.

3. Russia’s largest financial institution Starbank has launched GigaChat, a new AI-powered tool aimed at competing with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. For now, GigaChat is only available for testing via invitation, and Sberbank has highlighted that its technology is distinct from ChatGPT and other similar platforms in its capability to communicate more intelligently in the Russian language.

4. Harry Belafonte, who died on April 25 at age 96, was nicknamed “the King of Calypso,” a genre of music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century, characterized by lively rhythms, upbeat melodies, and lyrics that often address social and political issues. Belafonte popularized this Caribbean-style music on an international scale, although he was also prolific in other music genres, as well as an actor and prominent political activist.

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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