6 Reasons to Visit the World’s Happiest Country: Denmark

Denmark has recently emerged as the world’s happiest country, beating out Bhutan, the long-time favorite of anthropologists everywhere.

Nyhavn, Boat tour, Copenhagen

The birthplace of LEGO"”a contraction of leg godt or "play well""”offers even the first time visitor an incredible sense of hygglige: amiable cosiness.

"I remember you mentioned in your book," my Danish editor said over lunch in Copenhagen two weeks ago, "that you had a big head." I do have a huge head. I took a bite of delicious Esrom cheese and nodded for her to continue, keeping one eye on the wienerbrød.

"But you don’t have a huge head. You just have a healthy, normal-sized Danish head." I smiled"”home at last.

Even if you don’t have a Danish bloodline like I do, there are some good reasons to visit Copenhagen, the capital of the world’s happiest country

Here are just 6 of them:

1. More than 80% of the Danes speak English.

English movies are almost never dubbed in Denmark. Combined with excellent free education, this results in a high % of Danes speaking more pleasant English than the average Brit or American.

"OK, I’ll see you for dinner at 6pm then," I said to one friend named Christopher over the phone. "You shall. Have a nice evening and see you soon," he responded. Did I just get out-Englished by a non-native speaker? I felt like a TOEFL student.

You’re more likely to have communication problems in the bayou of Louisiana or in a pub in Manchester than you are in Copenhagen.

2. Christiania"”the anarchist state of Scandinavia.

In 1971, a 101-acre site formerly used for army barracks was effectively seized and converted by hippies into "The Free State of Christiania." They hotwired themselves into the power grid, created their own form of goverment, as well as a rich community of shops, schools, recycling programs, and most things you would associate with a normal township"”but they claimed sovereignty and paid no taxes. It became a haven for artists, alternatives, and soft drug dealing, among other things, and the Danish government"”though allowing Christiania to exist as a proclaimed "social experiment""”has been trying to shut them down for more than 35 years. In 1991, the appointed powers within the anarchist state agreed to pay rent and cover the costs of water and electricity.

I spent a late night wandering through the beautifully painted historical buildings of Christiania, ultimately ending up with two friends at The Woodstock Cafe, where we drank organic beer and met interesting vagabonds from all over the world. Dogs played outside among the metal barrels, which glowed like jack-o-lanterns from the flames inside them, producing surreal shadows on the graffiti all around us. It was incredible.

Most Danes agree that Christiania’s days are numbered. It’s an anachronism that has somehow survived every attempt to demolish it, but it’s nine lives will soon be up. Get there before it’s gone.

3. Danes pair food and wine better than most Italians or French.

That’s a strong statement, but I was amazed at how precisely, and insistently, most decent restaurants paired courses with wine. Restaurant Saa Hvidt, featuring young culinary superstar Frederik Hvidt, offers a prix fixe 5-course meal with five separate wines for each tapas-like dish. Incredible and unlike anything I’ve had in more than 30 other countries. Danish cheese is also the best I’ve ever had.

For a taste of real home-cooked Danish food, eat with a local family for about 400 DKK through the Dine with the Danes program.

4. The people are beautiful but seem unaware of the fact.

As Bill Bryson once observed: you could cast a Pepsi commercial here in 15 seconds.

Right up there with Argentina, Denmark has a jaw-dropping number of gorgeous people. The truly beautiful part, and unusual differentiator, is that appear blissfully unaware of the fact. There is little LA-style pretension unless you go to a social climber magnet like Club NASA, which helps to pull the mirror gazers off the streets. Go in the spring or summer and there is no need for catwalks"”the sidewalks at Nyhavn are good enough. For those feeling the club or lounge itch, Vega and JazzHouse are hard to beat.

5. Danish design is incredible to experience, even for non-designers.

"It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture." This quote from Poul Henningsen, encapsulates the beauty of Danish design minimalism. Much like in Japanese design, form follows function, and half of the time I found myself in a great mood in Copenhagen, I realized it was due to the planned passage of sunlight in Danish architecture, as well as their understanding of interior lighting intensity and placement.

Bigger is not better, as is so often the case in the US, and the tallest building in Copenhagen is a modest 358 feet.

From the sleek silverware of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the most famous chairs in the design world, the Danes have a functional and pleasant feast for the eyes almost anywhere you go, whether the renowned Louisiana museum or your hotel lobby.

6. Bite-sized goodness: public transportation is as good as Japan, and you can cover the entire city in a weekend.

I looked at where I wanted to go. It was on the other side of the map from my hotel. "How long does it take to get there by taxi? 20 minutes?" The receptionist looked at me and laughed: "10 minutes by bicycle." Copenhagen is probably the most hassle-free capital I’ve ever visited.

Rent a bike for 100 DKK and you can cover 1/2 of the "Barcelona of the North," as design god Sir Terence Conran calls it, in an afternoon. 1-3-hour bike tours from Central Station are a perfect first-day orientation. The numerous S-line and Metro stations, in addition to HUR buses, will get you where you want to go if self-propelled locomotion isn’t your gig, but the average Dane bicycles 375 miles per year. Get off your ass and join them for the real Danish experience.

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Looking for other happy travels?

Here are the combined top 10 according to separate studies from the University of Leicester in the UK and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the latter of which had 953 indicators (!):

* 1 Denmark
* 2 Switzerland
* 3 Austria
* 4 Iceland
* 5 Bahamas
* 6 Finland
* 7 Sweden
* 8 Bhutan
* 9 Brunei
* 10 Canada

Source: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog

Protests by Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Burma

As some of you may know, I originally came to Thailand (2 years ago) to volunteer with a Human Rights group based on the Thailand/Burma border in Mae Sot. During my time there, I developed a much better understanding of the situation in Burma (also known as Myanmar), as well as becoming good friends with many people displaced by, and affected in one way or another by the ongoing situation there.Buddhist Monks Protesting in Burma

To hugely simplify a very complicated situation, since about 1960, Burma has been under the control of a one-party military government that uses fear and violence to subdue and oppress its population. It has also, arguably, been attempting genocide against some of the many ethnic minority groups there. (There are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognised by the Burmese government).

In 1988 thousands of people were killed across Burma in anti-goverment riots, and in 1989 opposition group National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest.

In 1990, the NLD won a huge victory in a general election, but the result was ignored by the military.

Since the early 90s there have been a number of protests put down violently by the military, but none on the scale of the protests currently happening inside Burma by the monks. Yesterday 1,500 monks took to the streets of the capital Rangoon in their biggest protest yet.

The BBC site reports this today as follows:

In a strongly-worded statement, seen by the BBC, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks described the military government as “the enemy of the people”.

It said the monks would keep up their protests until they had “wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma”.

The group has asked people across the country to pray in their doorways at 2000 hours on Sunday for 15 minutes.

This is the first time the monks have explicitly challenged the government in this way. The decision to take to the streets has given fresh momentum to protests that began in mid-August over the government’s sudden decision to double the price of fuel…. The movement has turned into the largest public show of opposition to the Burmese authorities since the uprising of 1988.

If their past behaviour is any guide, it cannot be long before the military uses force to stop such opposition.

Having been very interested in the situation in Burma for a couple of years, I feel a sense of nervous excitement to read such strong words issued by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks against the government. It must take great courage. I also fear for the outcome over the next few weeks.

Further reading: If you are interested, there are many groups that document the on-going human rights abuses inside Burma, and one of the longest running and most respected is Karen Human Rights Group.

GMO vs. hunger…Greenpeace fight against GM papaya in Thailand

On Tuesday, August 28, 2007 Greenpeace dumped eleven tones of papayas outside the Thai Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry in protest at the agency’s move to lift a ban on open-field trials of genetically-modified crops.

GMO Papaya, Bangkok, Thailand

Although Greenpeace is a common sight in Bangkok, I really doubt that most Thai people in general have any idea of what they are talking about, especially in regard to genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs refer to plants and animals that have received small amounts of genetic material from another organism, usually to give them resistance to disease or insects or to give them another desirable trait, such as the ability to live in areas with little water.

The problem about GMOs is that they are new and not fully tested, so bad things could happen that we can’t foresee. GMOs can be harmful to environment, killing off necessary insects, contaminating plants and animals, or even accidentally creating whole new and dangerous species. Partly because of such potential dangers, many countries have banned the import of products containing transgenic components. Since Thailand exports large amounts of agricultural products, GMOS could be a significant threat to its economy. In addition, GMO seeds are typically patented by large foreign multi-national companies, giving them a huge incentive to try to have them introduced around the world. (All these contentions, incidentally, are hotly disputed by GMO proponents.)

Nevertheless, GM foods, including GM papaya, have been approved by governments in countries like the United States and Canada.

However, arranging a protest in Thailand is not simple when people don’t understand the issue at stake and are hungry at the same time. The Greenpeace demonstration was met with an unexpected reaction from a crowd of onlookers. Passers-by took matters, and tones of papayas dumped by Greenpeace, into their own hands, and ran off. Many passers-by, who mostly knew nothing about transgenic fruit, said they did not care about any health risks. They were just thinking about how hungry they were. Bangkok Post reports about a man who was waiting in traffic for the lights to go green near the ministry and then leapt out of his car and joined the feast. ”I’m not scared of GM papayas. Rather, I’m scared I won’t have any to eat,” said Ubon Ratchathani villager Ampon Tantima, 31, before rushing back to his car with the free fruit.

Naturally I support Greenpeace’ protest against GMO, but I think that a campaign should be aimed at a bottom-up approach. First you provide the general population with knowledge and then you try to influence politicians. Without the knowledge of the common people the support will only come from a small intellectual minority and this may not be enough to change the decisions made at the governmental level.

Thailand sets date for election

Thailand has set a date for the first general election following last year’s coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power. The electoral commission said the election would be held on 23 December, just in time for people going on holiday at Christmas – be warned!

Thailand’s military-installed government had promised elections by the end of the year after it won approval for a new constitution.

Nearly 58% voted for the changes in a referendum earlier this month, though many pro-Thaksin areas rejected them.