Lost and Found

[india]There was a palace of gold, ivory and silver with temples in the distance and ships venturing in and out of the ports. At least that’s what was written of Atlantis, the “lost” city, intriguing people far and wide for multiple centuries. The prospective ancient civilization has been disputed by many, and theories of its existence are forever being speculated. Documented by Plato in his dialogues in 360 B.C., the island of Atlantis was engulfed by the ocean in a single day. Some say the gods were angry with the people of Atlantis, and as a result, they imposed the flood, a tsunami that sunk the fabled island beneath the sea.
The tsunami in December 2004 unexpectedly produced a story with similar characteristics. As the tide receded from the shore at Mahabalipuram, prior to the deadly wave, the remains of what appeared to be a buried city, were revealed. Mahabalipuram is an old port city on the southeast coast of India dating back to the seventh century and holding the legend of the seven pagodas. Pagodas are towers often built on temples that are thought to offer protection. It is here in Mahabalipuram that fishermen and other locals tell stories of the seven pagodas that once shone over a city whose fate swept it away into the sea. The alleged story speaks of a city that was so beautiful, an immense flood was sent there by the gods out of jealousy. Six of the seven temples were submerged in the water, but the seventh can still be seen today. It has been acknowledged as a World Heritage site.
The flood that is spoken of is referenced in other ancient myths besides those of Atlantis or Mahabalipuram. Though their accuracy may be questioned, they are both consistent with reporting the “flood.” Between various myths, different reasons are given as to why it occurred. All seem to have a reference to the gods succumbing to their anger or jealousy. This may have been a way for people to justify these disasters, since their faith in the gods was so strong. It also must be taken into account that they did not understand what was occurring geologically, concerning the shifting of the plates in the earth that cause an earthquake. The earthquake then resulted in a tsunami, which overcame their coastal cities.
Within the last three years there have been investigations, such as diving expeditions, to search for evidence of human civilization in the waters off the Indian coast. Since the tsunami, exciting items have been recovered. A large statue of a granite lion was recovered that is thought to have been buried under the ocean floor and only surfaced due to the tumultuous sands that uncovered it. Two additional structures were found, one of an elephant’s head and another of a horse in flight. Both are stone structures with intricate drawings and carvings. A bronze Buddha statue has been washed up onto the shore as well. The possibility of the stone statues being remnants of the seven pagodas is currently being considered.
Ashley Patlevic, a psychology junior, doesn’t feel that the possible discovery of Mahabalipuram would change the history of the world, but it would increase peoples’ interest in Southeast Asia. “If they were to be proven, I do not think that it would change history because it doesn’t seem that they were important enough to be remembered,” Patlevic said. Katie Wilcox, an international relations and economics junior, has faith that both Atlantis and the lost city of the seven pagodas at Mahabalipuram did exist at one time. But she is intrigued by the thought of uncovering a new civilization.
So we know that stories of wonderment such as these are fantastic for children’s fables and movies, but did these places actually exist? Are the stories we consider to be myths, in fact, reality? These questions have plagued many for such great amounts of time that it may be a surprise if the truth is ever discovered. With Atlantis, for example, there are those who believe in its existence completely and those who believe Plato may have been describing an already existing place, such as Ireland. This is comparable to the belief in the seven pagodas and the city that was washed away for its beauty. Locals of Mahabalipuram have passed on from generation to generation the story of the “lost” city.
Evidence or lack thereof can lead one to consider both standpoints and an occurrence such as the tsunami, which has brought forth new information, only reinforces their belief in the legends, while provoking others to question what they can’t prove.
Where might these tales come from if there was no truth behind them? There appears to be so much detail concerning location and culture, it seems odd that these stories would be fictitious. But without proof there lies a window of uncertainty that will most likely remain open, allowing these stories to be disputed for years to come.

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In a Puff of Smoke

We all know the dangers of smoking. We’re bombarded with public service announcements listing the consequences of lighting up, and as a result, smoking rates are decreasing in America. But, in some developing countries, free of antismoking campaigns, it seems the unhealthy habit is catching on more rapidly than in the past. In attempts to curb this trend and decrease smoking worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) spent four years negotiating the first ever world public health treaty: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The FCTC would concentrate on things like restricting the advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco; requiring health warnings that cover 30 percent, if not more, of tobacco labels; and prohibiting the use of the words “mild” and “light” to describe cigarettes. A point will also be made to create environments that keep the public from the risk of exposure to smoke (concerning transportation, restaurants, etc.), to tackle the ongoing issue of smuggling tobacco and cigarettes and to raise the taxes on tobacco.
[smoke] All members of WHO accepted this treaty unanimously, and it was closed for signing in June 2004. The Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control reported 168 countries have signed the treaty, including the United States, and 61 of those countries have become parties, meaning they have ratified it (while the United States has not). Only 40 countries were needed to ratify the treaty in order for it to go into effect, and the magic number was reached in February. All countries that ratify a treaty for framework conventions or protocols are then legally bound to them.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? Right now, not much. Since the U.S. government has not officially committed itself to the treaty, the provisions will not affect American smokers. But for the 61 countries that have, a number of benefits will hopefully result. The guy sitting behind you at a London pub may be restricted from exhaling his smoke on your BLT, for one. But overall, this treaty will allow multiple countries to act together in creating a world full of healthier people.
Some of the provisions have more implications than others. Randy Yu, finance junior and avid smoker, said he thinks dropping the “light” or “mild” from cigarette brands will be misleading smokers like him. “There is a remarkable difference between smoking a Marlboro Red and a Marlboro Light,” he explained. “People who already smoke generally have a preference; how are we supposed to differentiate between them?”
Katie Wilcox, international relations and economics junior, doesn’t seem worried about Yu’s potential dilemma, and instead thinks raising taxes on cigarettes, as proposed by WHO, will help encourage smokers to quit. “I think if the taxes are increased, it would certainly deter people from starting to smoke, and some, to even continue.”
[heather] But Yu disagrees. “If the taxes go up, it just means that I’ll be spending more money on cigarettes,” he said. “The prospective situation would definitely annoy me, but not encourage me to stop smoking.”
Fashion merchandising junior Heather Lalonde does not think many actions would alter the habits of a smoker. “People smoke because they want to smoke. Many of them do know the consequences and just don’t care.”
These possible consequences include several types of cancer, chronic coughing, increased blood pressure and various other health concerns. Psychologically, smokers become dependent on their daily nicotine dose, causing them to experience irritability, anxiety, fatigue – the list goes on. On average, one-third of those who are only “trying” cigarettes, primarily teens, become addicted.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points out adolescents are more seriously affected by cigarettes because of the thousands of chemicals absorbed by their still-developing bodies each time they inhale. Even more alarming is that nearly 200 chemicals found in cigarettes are some type of poison. The result of this is an average five million deaths associated with tobacco and/or smoking each year.
[katie] Because we are now much more aware of the dangers that smoking entails, it might seem to make sense that people would be more adamant about quitting or never starting at all. In developed nations, this seems to be the case; smoking has been declining dramatically over recent years. This is most likely from the combination of people who decide to quit, but more so those who decide never to begin.
Wilcox agrees people will go on smoking, but she acknowledges the potential of the treaty. “This is obviously more efficient than doing nothing about these situations,” she said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
It is important for established countries to protect developing countries against health dangers, and this treaty could help keep health costs and death rates down. But, at least for now, Americans can continue to coat their lungs with carcinogens until the United States joins the movement against the worldwide epidemic.

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Drilling For Dollars

A faint smile crosses Gabi Stepan’s face as she reminisces about home, a place marked by the picturesque mountain peaks surrounding Anchorage, Alaska. The speech pathology and audiology sophomore now wakes up to a view of the Red Cedar River from her dorm room instead of the Cook Inlet in her scenic hometown. For students like Stepan and other Alaskan residents, the wilderness of their northern home state faces devastation in upcoming years by the prospect of oil drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The consumption of oil in the United States, unsurprisingly, ranks the highest in the world. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) found the United States not only consumes the most oil, but also uses over three times as much as China, slated second for oil usage. China’s population exceeds one billion people, while the United States remains under 300 million. What are we using all this oil for?
[alaska] Oil is something we might take for granted and it is used for everything from operating cars to manufacturing perfume. We need oil in today’s world until we can shift to only sustainable energy sources. Until then, where do we get all the oil? According to the EIA, the United States produces over eight million barrels of oil per day, while consuming 20 million barrels. This means we are importing over 11 million barrels of oil every day, 365 days per year.
In recent years, the United States has been searching for its own oil reserves to decrease dependency on foreign fuel sources; avoid subsequent conflicts and, of course, reduce cost. The search was quickly directed to the northernmost state of Alaska. Already the oil industry in that region is booming, acting as one of the most prominent contributions to the Alaskan economy. Most of this oil comes from drilling near Prudhoe Bay, on the northern shore of the Arctic Ocean. It is predicted there is a great deal of oil in this remote expanse, unfortunately located within the ANWR.
The section of the ANWR being sought for drilling is commonly referred to as the 1002 area, and it is only a fraction of the landscape – 1.5 million of the 19 million acres of the wildlife refuge. Because of the advanced technology now available, it has been predicted, along the coastal plains where plans for drilling are feasible, the EIA reported a 95 percent probability that 5.7 billion barrels of oil could be recovered. If this proves true, it would greatly reduce import costs and foreign dependency.
In order to drill in the untouched 1002 area, it will be necessary to develop an infrastructure on the land; roads and heavy construction are inevitable, as is disruption of the environment. These small modifications could eventually lead to a huge change in the area’s ecosystem. If roads are built within the refuge, it not only allows access to the area for drilling companies, but also for people who may not respect the surroundings. Although red flags are not currently waving above the trees and caution lights are not flashing from moose antlers, the drilling could devastate the local inhabitants, unique wildlife and pristine landscape.
Those most affected by the possibility of drilling in this habitat are the ones most often overlooked by oil tycoons. The Gwich’in people are native to the area within the ANWR and rely on resident caribou for food, clothing and tools. They interact with the “Porcupine” caribou herd, which consists of over 100,000 caribou that cover a range even larger than the ANWR. The animals are a key element in the ecosystem and a necessary part of the Gwich’in lifestyle. Changes in the land could affect the habitat of the caribou, possibly forcing them in directions that would make them more accessible to predators and vulnerable to aspects of the environment they are not accustomed to, and would likely cause complications for the people relying on them for survival.
Despite the Gwich’in objection, the majority of Alaskans are responding positively to the possibility of drilling because oil is such a major player in the Alaskan economy. Drilling the 1002 would create more jobs and ultimately bring more money to Alaska. Many businesses would benefit from a rise in population and the likely increase in tourism to follow.
[gabi] After moving to Michigan, Stepan was amazed at the extravagant size and number of cars on the roads and in the garages of Michiganders. “I don’t understand why people need to drive their Hummers to the grocery store,” she said. Because so many people work for car manufacturers in the “Motor City,” they are given discounts on vehicles, which in turn allows them to spend the money they saved purchasing a larger SUV for themselves and their children, consistently increasing the number of vehicles per household. Stepan’s family has had a hybrid car since 2001. “At first it was strange to think I had a battery-operated car,” she said, “but they are really great and so much gentler on the environment.”
Ironically enough, the oil industry in the Alaskan culture seems to be what the automotive industry is to Detroit. But opinions about whether or not companies should dig in to the supply of “black gold” in Alaska vary, even among Michigan residents thousands of miles away. Spanish junior Heather Thomas supports the push for drilling. “If this is something that will decrease our dependency on foreign oil imports then, yes, I do think this is something that would be good for our economy, especially if it will lower our costs on top of it.” Communication senior Cat Yeh disagrees. “I feel like the environment should come first,” she said. “Yes, it would be beneficial to our country to import less oil than we are as of now, but part of the reason it has come to this is because people don’t realize their excessive use of luxuries like oversized cars that add to this problem.”
The long-term effects of drilling in ANWR are a major concern for Stepan and her family. Although she agrees we need the oil that could be recovered, the environmental risks leave her with mixed feelings about the situation. “I would like to see the oil reserves located exactly [where they are now] and kept just as that…reserves.” She has seen the aftermath of oil spills, where the environment has never completely recovered, and the possibility of it occurring in the ANWR is a potential disaster. Also, the oil reserves will eventually run out. Then not only will we have tapped our natural oil reserves, but we will be without one of the last unspoiled natural regions of the world. Decreased foreign dependency, decreased costs and increased revenue for the United States would help our current economy tremendously, but can we put a price on our environment?

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From Bangkok to the Killing Fields in a Tuk-Tuk

Let’s take a moment to reminisce. What were you doing late last summer? Probably waiting tables or watching re-runs of The Real World. I can safely recall that while I was contemplating whether to use Hawaiian Tropic or Banana Boat for a day of fun in the sun, marketing junior Sarah Viges was waving a sweet farewell to her hometown of Rochester, Mich. as she set off for Thailand where she would be contemplating a few questions of her own.
“Should I go for a three or four day jungle trek? Which weekend should I schedule to bungee jump?” Not bad, considering these arrangements were most likely made between classes. But that’s just the norm for students such as Sarah, one of five MSU students involved in the Thai exchange program that allowed them to study abroad for the fall 2004 semester. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. “The culture and the people were wonderful. I already want to go back!” Sarah, along with 40 other exchange students, resided mainly in Bangkok. While there, they attended Chulalongkhorn University, studying within the business program.
[seasia] When the books were set aside, Sarah accomplished a great amount of traveling. One of the most surreal experiences Sarah had was a two-day trip climbing Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Three-quarters of the climb was done the first day, after which they set up camp for the evening. “While we were hiking, your face was wet from the mist, which was strange when you considered that it was from walking through clouds.” The last stretch of the climb took place in the early morning, timed perfectly so that they reached the summit at sunrise.
Getting used to the way of life halfway around the world meant adapting to the local culture. The most common form of transportation throughout the city, after walking, was on a tuk-tuk, a cart pulled by a bicycle or a motorized cart. Countless meals were eaten from street vendors within the cities. “I tried a variety of different foods,” Sarah said. “Pad Thai was probably something I ate most often.” Vendors also provided her the chance to eat rare fruits she had never heard of before, such as rambutan—a “hairy” fruit known for the crisp, sweet flesh inside. One of the unique staples found in Thai bars is a drink referred to as snake wine. It is a rice wine with a twist, or more appropriately a coil, given that one will find a deceased Cobra as they raise their glass to have a taste. “It was strange to drink something with a snake in it,” she confessed. “It’s said to have medicinal purposes.”
Evenings out were nothing short of extraordinary and were often free of any expectations. A night pre-determined to be low-key at a local bar ended with an invite to a party from the MTV VJ for Malaysia. Little did Sarah and her friend know that they would soon be dancing in circles around royalty and saying cheers to the Prince of Malaysia. Sarah also attended a Full Moon party, a wild event that takes place once every full moon on the island of Ko Phanghan. Overwhelmed with techno music and fire dancers, this party may shed some light on the term lunacy!
[jungle] When she wasn’t doused in body paint for a once-in-a-lifetime festivity, Sarah continued to explore regions of the world that most of us would struggle to pronounce. The Thai province of Kanchanaburi proved to be a natural wonder with an abundance of waterfalls that flowed into pools lined by limestone sediment, which imposed an exquisite aquamarine tint on the crystal clear water. “I couldn’t take my eyes off the color of the water,” she claimed, “it was absolutely beautiful.” If this spectacle’s beauty does not take attention away from the wrinkly fingers acquired while bathing in these pools, the waterfall that doubles as a waterslide certainly will!
Sarah also visited the famed Tiger Temple, also located in Kanchanaburi. The temple, run by monks, is a refuge for animals, where they can roam free of the confines of cages that they might encounter in makeshift homes. While there, Sarah had the opportunity to pet a tiger and see several other animals, unrestrained. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” she admits.
One of Sarah’s favorite places in Thailand was Chiang Mai where she completed a three-day jungle trek, staying in the villages of their guides, where most people did not speak any English. Of course, the adventure didn’t end there; she still had elephants to ride and a bamboo raft to build for an afternoon on the rapids! “We didn’t expect the raft to go below the water as deep as it did, but were assured it was perfectly normal,” she remembers.
Cambodia and Vietnam were among the other countries Sarah made a point to visit while she was abroad. In Cambodia she saw the temples at Angkor Wat and took another hike, this time through the Cambodian jungle, the same location where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. In both countries, Sarah had some very intense encounters, seeing first-hand the remains of the Cambodian killing fields and the Kuchi tunnels from the Vietnam War.
Riding through various cities in a tuk-tuk, it was as common for Sarah to pass by the Mai Cong River’s floating villages as it was to pass by a street vendor selling North Face back packs or a five dollar bungalow on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Snake wine and rambutan fruit aside, Sarah most definitely had an unforgettable Thai advernture and a taste of the exotic culture.

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