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Estonia, Leading The EU Into The E-Future

In Estonia's capital Tallinn
In Estonia's capital Tallinn

With Britain missing its turn for the European Union presidency in light of Brexit, the rotating six-month duty has fallen into Estonia's lap earlier than planned.

Until the end of the year, the northernmost Baltic country will lead the EU through a complicated period: On top of difficult divorce negotiations between Britain and the 27-nation bloc, Estonia will also oversee talks on the Russian Nordstream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany, an issue over which several diverging interests are likely to face off in Europe.

But Estonia's priorities lie elsewhere: As one of the planet's most tech-savvy countries, the ex-Soviet nation now wants "to give a strong push toward creating a digital Europe." An important part of this ambitious plan is making free movement of data the EU's fifth freedom (after persons, goods, services and capital), with an aim to boost cross-border digital commerce and services and facilitate the daily lives of Europeans.

More than 22,000 foreigners have already become e-residents.

Estonia is a pioneer in e-government. On its website e-estonia.com, the country boasts that citizens can vote without leaving their homes, file their tax returns online in five minutes, sign official documents with a digital ID-card and even register a business in just 18 minutes. Speaking to the Financial Times, Prime Minister Juri Ratas said this avoided the equivalent of an "Eiffel Tower" of paperwork every month.

The pinnacle of Estonian digitization is its e-residency initiative. With a few clicks and 100 euros ($110), anyone in the world can become an Estonian e-resident, even if they never even set foot in the country. And as it faces a quickly aging population, the government is keen to attract entrepreneurs and highly-qualified workers from abroad.

More than 22,000 foreigners have already become e-residents, including more than 1,000 Britons who are worried about the consequences of Brexit. A sign, perhaps, of the (future) times.

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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