Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mall Memorial Honors Victims Of Pakistani School Attack, Condemns Taliban

Waleed Tariq /
Pakistan is mourning 148 people, mostly schoolchildren, killed by Taliban gunmen at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Tuesday, Dec. 16.  At the Dolmen Mall in Clifton, Karachi, Pakistan, there is a floral memorial to remember the victims.

Waleed Tariq /
A sign explains the memorial. The dead are 
considered martyrs because they were killed 
while pursuing education.
Waleed Tariq /
A poster from the Special Olympics of Pakistan in support of the victims.

Waleed Tariq /
A poster at the memorial condemns the brutal act and vows support for the continuing military offensive, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, against the Taliban in North Waziristan.
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Bittersweet Life Lessons Of 'Aftershock'

By Van Nguyen
NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts, U.S.A. – In the summer of 1976, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 200,000 people in the city of Tangshan in northeastern China. Although it lasted only 23 seconds, the disaster caused the most casualties in the 20th century.
Aftershocks continued to bury the lives of the people trapped in the rubble 15 hours later. Reconstructing the most terrible earthquake of China in the 20th century, the 2010 movie Aftershock directed by Feng Xiaogang brings strong emotions to the viewers.
The film begins on a hot summer day in the city of Tangshan with people starting their daily lives with work and family. However, after just one night, the beautiful city has plunged into ruins. Dead bodies, crying babies and survivors are everywhere, making the situation chaotic and miserable.
The 7-year-old twins Fang Deng and Fang Dai are buried under the rubble. Due to the danger, their mother Li Yuan Ni can only save one child. Faced with the most difficult choice of her life, she chooses to save the boy.
What the mother does not know is that her daughter, Feng Deng, heard that life-changing decision. Presumed dead and left in ruins, the little girl miraculously survives. Waking up in the pouring rain next to her father’s corpse, poor Feng Deng absorbs the great shock and painful memory of her mothers decision.
She decides to hide her identity and becomes the adopted child of a military family while presumed dead by her mother and brother. Tangshans great earthquake begins the journey to reunite Feng Deng with her family after 32 years of separation.
The sight of the crumbling city and ravaged families after the earthquake is only the beginning of the turbulence. What makes it much more painful turns out to be the “aftershock" dominating the soul.
“Are you crying?”
Even though Aftershock is a disaster movie, it does not focus on showing techniques or magnificent images as others of the same genre.
The director mainly exploits the "aftershock" that remains through the life, fate and psychology of the characters. The smallest details in the film carry significance.
Right from the first minute, Aftershock shocks viewers through turbulent air and the sight of people trampling one another to escape from the earthquake. The film is said to contain 28 crying scenes.
Viewers, even men, find watching Aftershock without bursting into tears impossible.
To recreate the terrible earthquake in Tangshan, the director used a lot of special effects and hundreds of public actors. The scene lasts more than a minute, but it is enough to stun the audience and make them ache thinking about the fate of the victims.
At the end of the film, images of the ruins after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan continue to move viewers to tears. The severity of these natural disasters tore many families apart, made orphans out of children and etched spiritual wounds in the human soul.
The storylines in Aftershock generated perfect characters. It possesses neither a fairy tale-like Cinderella quality nor weak and meek people who ​​have to suffer from misery and resign themselves to fate. The characters of Aftershock are so powerful and authentic that many viewers believe they are observing real people.
Aftershock mirrors the horror of calamities as well as spiritual family love. Life is a series of encounters, separations and reunions. Just a short moment can change the fate of a human being forever. Let's treasure our lives, appreciate every opportunity to be with those we love and cherish hopes for the future. 
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

'The Interview' Must Go On

By Alan Burkholder
Senior Reporter
BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Hollywood is no stranger to political satire. Poking fun at foreign leadership has been a tradition of comedy films ever since Rufus T. Firefly took over the nation of Freedonia in the Marx Brothers' 1933 comedy Duck Soup.
One of the greatest comedies ever made, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, came out in 1964 during the height of nuclear tension between the United States and the USSR.
This tradition will never die out. So why is Sony bowing to the North Korean government about a comedy film that has so far gotten mixed reviews on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes?
Because Sony doesn't understand the importance of a film like this, but North Korea does.
James Franco and Seth Rogen are the stars of the comedy film in question, a film called The Interview, which has been widely publicized all across the internet. The Interview follows Rogen and Franco, a duo of interviewers who are contacted by the CIA to covertly assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after they interview him, and run the government themselves.
The film's Facebook cover photo.
Since this is a comedy movie, hijinks are bound to ensue. The film was set to release on Christmas Day before a group of hackers released compromising documents involving the film's distributor, Sony Pictures. The studio was then threatened with "9/11-style" attacks on theaters that dared to show the film, leading to major film retailers such as Regal, AMC and Cineplex deciding not to show it.
There are now conflicting statements about whether or not the threats are from North Korean representatives, or even legitimate threats against the United States, but Sony wasn't willing to take risks. The company decided to pull the plug on the movie altogether, shelving it indefinitely.
Following the cancellation, Sony released a statement, which was posted on the website of Variety magazine: "In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers. Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."
The folks at Sony Pictures are not the only ones who are disappointed. For instance, there is me.
I am mad at Sony Pictures for cracking under so little pressure. Last time I checked, America has a strict policy of not negotiating with terrorists, which Sony has done by agreeing so hastily to not upset the glorious communist leader of North Korea.
I hate to evoke Godwin's Law, but imagine if Adolf Hitler had threatened to attack the United States if Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator. If theaters had backed out of letting Chaplin show his skewering of the Nazi leader, wouldn't that have essentially been a victory for the Nazi Party? Sony Pictures, by pulling The Interview, has essentially let North Korea win its first battle against the United States.
As I have stated before, Hollywood has a long tradition of mocking foreign governments who oppose our way of life. There is a reason that issues such as Un’s dictatorship are discussed in comedies rather than dramatic works: comedies are more effective at sending the message across.
As I write this, I am currently finishing up a semester at Boston University, where I took a writing and research course on the art of comedy. If there is any knowledge I have retained from the course at all, it is that comedy is a very powerful tool for correction. Mark Twain sums this up perfectly in his story "The Mysterious Stranger:"
"Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution – these can lift at a colossal humbug, – push it a little – crowd it a little – weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand. "
The North Korean leader may or may not be aware of what Twain said, but if North Korea is responsible for these threats, and is completely serious about them, he is certainly smart enough to realize the power that laughter has against politics and politicians.
If Sony Pictures is so easily convinced to stop the film's release by these alleged North Korean terrorists, then I am disappointed in their inability to realize how truly important the film is to a modern audience.
The Interview might not be a masterpiece, if the few reviews there are of the movie mocking the North Korean leader are any indication, but audiences deserve the chance to judge the jokes for themselves. 
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pakistan School Attack: How Should We Respond To Those Who Speak In Violence?

By Lauren Pope
BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom - Today in Pakistan the Taliban struck again, with the same merciless manner some have been forced to know all too well. While many across the world went about their daily lives, studying their different subjects and conversing with friends, others were not so lucky.
The most recent reports say 132 children and nine staff members were killed at a school in Peshawar. If my classmates and I were told this information, instantly we would ask where? We are lucky enough not to experience such horrors in the UK.
We are lucky enough to have to wonder where the attack happened, instead of, “Do I know any victims?”
Malala Yousafzai, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign work in education, has spoken out about how she is “heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror.” And that is what this is – an example of the ruthless destruction of innocent lives that goes on in the world far too often.
It is a privilege that I share with many to be able to read about such events, as opposed to experiencing them.
All those in fortunate positions must appreciate the opportunity to use their classroom facilities for learning, rather than using them as shields from a very possible death.
Benches were made for sitting, not hiding under whilst you hope and pray that you live to see another day.
Unfortunately, violence is commonplace today in the world we all share, and more often than not it is the innocent who bear the consequences. There is no doubt that actions need to be taken by the Pakistani government to combat the actions of the Taliban, but how do you communicate with those who speak in violence?
Fighting fire with fire seems to be the way of many, but what good comes from it? More lives are lost, more families end up grieving, and more problems are caused.
 I would like to think that those of us who are able should feel a sense of gratitude for our ability to walk into school and walk out again in the same piece. I hope that we are all grateful if the most traumatic event of the day is an extra piece of homework.
I wish for the day when all young people around the world can experience safety in their places of learning. 
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School Massacre: An Attack On Humanity

By Arooj Khalid
Senior Reporter
LAHORE, Pakistan – Children are the angels of heaven. They are innocent little flowers, their smiles can soften even the coldest hearts. That is what I knew and believed to be true, but today’s heinous event has turned everything upside down.
The Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar and the result is more than 130 students dead.
This is no terrorist attack. It’s an attack on humanity, it’s an attack on myself.
I would say the Taliban have crossed limits but they have done so a long time ago. I can’t imagine how a single person could be so brutal, so cruel and so barbaric that they crossed all limits and reached somewhere I cannot even say they are human.
Ever since the war on terror started, people have been saying that the Taliban are not Muslims, they follow no religion, and Islam or any other religion does not allow brutality.
But today they’ve settled it, the fact that they have no humanity left in them is beyond a shadow of doubt. I don’t know – and I am afraid to think of – what might they be thinking when they so easily killed the students.
Do they even think of what they are doing?
My eyes are as clouded as my brain as I try to type on my computer. Every time I think of a single student in the school, my eyes fill with tears, and my heart with gloom.
My heart seems to burst through my chest as I think of the parents, teachers, and students. A few weeks back, I was reading a news story about a school shooting in the U.S.A., and I thought, “God, that’s horrible. How could someone be so cruel? Pakistan is hampered by terrorism, but thank God gunmen don’t just walk into schools and start shooting.”
And here I am, my eyes glued to the television, filling up with tears and drying again, becoming wet with tears again and again. When I go to study, I can’t get my mind off of my brothers and sisters, they are my own and they are suffering losses that no one should ever have.
They are students, just like me and their parents are all the same. Their names should be on attendance registers, but their parents are searching it on lists of the dead published by the hospitals. Those who escaped alive are severely injured not only physically but having endured a horrible day at school that will torment them all their lives.
I can’t help but imagine the horror they faced, watching their schoolmates taking bullets to their chests, watching their school staff fall down one by one, and their teacher set to fire in cold blood. Just one of these is enough to shake one from the inside out and what those children and their loved ones are going through is beyond comprehension.
This is no ordinary terrorist attack, it’s far beyond that. They have ripped our souls apart and a fire is burning in me to avenge the blood of those beautiful children whose smile meant the world.
I saw something in my Facebook newsfeed in tribute to one of the victims that said, “Our smile is much stronger than your gun.”
The Taliban say it was a form of revenge toward the parents of those children …  and that is the worst thing of all. What was their fault? There were more than 100 innocent children who went to school like any other day but never to return. Maybe our wounds will heal in a few days or weeks, but what of those mothers who prepared their children for school and awaited their return?
We mourn this situation united as a nation. I hope we remain united in the efforts to eradicate this earth from the depravity of the Taliban. 
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Washington Protesters Keep Focus On Police And Racial Discrimination

Tamar Gorgadze /
Saturday street protests in Washington, D.C. about excessive use of force by police.
By Tamar Gorgadze
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As I walked around with a family friend from France in Washington D.C. on Saturday, the last thing I expected to see was an ongoing demonstration.

Tamar Gorgadze /
Two protesters in the Metro train
in Washington Saturday.

People were out protesting the unfair and mind-boggling Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decision following the shooting in August of unarmed black teen Mike Brown.
I stopped people along the way to ask where they were headed. Most people seemed to have no specific destination, so I gave them my support. I was glad to see the cause was not easily forgotten, like many other issues today.
I moved on to speak to more people and got a general sense of the thoughts and attitudes of the protesters.
I even ran into a man from South Carolina wearing an "I Can't Breathe” shirt – a reference to the death of Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island, New York who died in July after being put in a forbidden chokehold by a police officer.
Tamar Gordaze / youth
At the Washington, D.C. protest
A video of Garner, who was allegedly breaking the law by selling cigarettes on the street, shows him repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” while on the ground in the chokehold and surrounded by police.
A grand jury in Staten Island decided not to bring charges against that police officer, spurring more protests.
I was very happy to see people still putting in the effort to stop the discrimination once and for all.
Tamar Gorgadze / y
A man from South Carolina who took part in the Washington, D.C. protests wears an "I can't breathe" shirt.
Tamar Gorgadze /
Some protesters in Washington had "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" on their coats.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Wondering What Happened To Decency As The 'Inappropriate Selfie' Surfaces In Sydney

By Myah Guild
Senior Reporter
DUNSTABLE, Bedfordshire, England – The hostage situation in Sydney had to be one of the most shocking stories in recent times. Not only because of how quickly it has unfolded – the rapid twists and turns it took – but also due to a twist so sickening, I had to do a triple-take when I read the headline.
People were taking 'selfies' outside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, in the Australian city's central business district, where innocent people were being threatened with guns and bombs and held against their will.
These hostages were held for 16 hours by an extremist gunman and made to stand in the window of the cafe, holding up a fundamentalist flag and rotating every two hours, with an ever-increasing crowd of police, people and the media gathering outside. Now, after police stormed the cafe, two of them are dead and four others are seriously injured. The gunman has also been killed.
Now, crowds tend to gather at the scene of something like this. Out of genuine concern, or curiosity, human nature means we will always feel inclined to stop and look. Sometimes, people even help – it’s instinct – and sometimes, it's life-saving.
But to actually stand outside a place where people are actively experiencing immense pain, as are their families and friends, and to take a photo of yourself, smiling as if you've achieved something…
Don't you have to have something wrong with you, to think there's something entertaining about that?
Don't you have to have a complete lack of empathy with the rest of humankind to delight in other people's suffering?
And they're not the only ones. I'm still in awe at how the rise of the 'inappropriate selfie' has come about. To resort to a camera in a situation like that, to most people, is a completely foreign idea. 
Whilst turning to social media can be useful for news purposes and police evidence, the idea that people will head for it before aiding the people in trouble, or simply putting the phone down and having a bit of respect for their suffering is dumbfounding.
I've seen pictures of people posing in front of unconscious people, others posing in front of crying people and – the worst – people taking selfies inside Auschwitz.
That last one made me turn my computer off and stare into space for about 10 minutes.
To be honest, the fact that these people don't see the 'inappropriate selfie' as wrong is probably an indication that the world is too far-gone down the social media route.
A decent sense of right and wrong has been distorted by the different rules of the virtual world, so when people enter the physical one, they think the same rules apply.
Maybe these people should think about the hostages inside the café – people who were just going about their lives when they found themselves passing last messages to their loved ones, not knowing if help was coming, or if they'd get out alive, and how they would feel knowing their ordeal was used for entertainment.
Perhaps the only thing that will make these 'inappropriate-selfie-takers' pause to think are the images now dominating the social networks they love so much – those of the surviving, grief-stricken victims being freed from their ordeal.
I only hope these selfie-obsessed people will never know the intense grief the victims and their loved ones have had to endure.
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

When No One Has Heard Of Your Country, Hometown Memories Are Hard To Share

Olga Gutan /
In Moldova there is a tendency to mix the old and the new, like these old bricks and plastic windows on a building in Upper Ryshkanovka.
By Olga Gutan
Junior Reporter
CHISINAU, Moldova – "Where are you from?"
"Uh ... where is that?"
I come from a small country in Eastern Europe. Whenever I meet someone outside of Moldova, I have this hope burning inside me just like a candle, that at least someone will know exactly where this country is, without me having to explain that it borders Ukraine and Romania.
With each time I have to explain where exactly it is geographically, the desire to talk about my home city dies a little more, as I know nobody will know about it and I will just waste my words describing it.

U.S. State Department map

Chisinau is a rather mediocre city. Even though it's the capital, it doesn't have any astonishing places to be in, but I love it because I spent the past eight years there, growing up and seeing it grow up with me.
In Chisinau, I share stories with the stars. The sky is really beautiful at night, due to the lack of tall buildings and light pollution. There is where I had my friendships developed and destroyed.
I shared everything I did with Chisinau. It simply became a part of me and it became too painful to even try to remove it.
For almost five years I lived in the part of Chisinau called called Nijneaya Ryshkanovka, which translates from the Russian to The Lower Ryshkanovka. I ended up being so attached to that area that I could almost feel it smell like home, even though it actually didn't smell like anything.
Compared to the other five districts in Chisinau – Buiucani, Ciocana, Botanica, Centru and Rascani, or "Ryshkanovka" in the local slang – Nijneaya Ryshkanovka is pretty green and it isn't as polluted as, let's say Centru, which does mean "the center" and it actually is the center of the city.

Olga Gutan /
Nijneaya Ryshkanovka is a very green area, making it a desirable place to live.
Next to the flat I used to live in, there was a nice stream of water until people started throwing their trash in there and it became a mixture of branches fallen from the trees, bags and other waste. I've heard interesting stories about how people used to catch frogs from that river and blow them up with a straw. I guess this was a rather interesting hobby when people didn't have computers and hundreds of TV channels.
There isn't much you can find to do there, except for some really shady taverns, internet cafes and a few parks. 
Olga Gutan /
A old car in Nijneaya Ryshkanovka
People managed to destroy most of the nature that existed there. In one of the parks, you can find beer cans right next to the benches, because there are no trash cans, or used syringes right on the grass. (Moldova, generally, isn't the best place to walk barefoot.)
On the other hand, there is a really beautiful amusement park. All of the carousels are slightly rusty and it's kind of dangerous to be on them, even though people who sell tickets for them are assuring the parents and kids that they are completely safe.
Olga Gutan /
A syringe found on the ground in a park in
Nijneaya Ryshkanovka. The park is nice,
but syringes are dangerous. Regardless
of the way people use them, they are not
something to be disposed of in parks and
some people have yet to learn this.
The atmosphere of almost-broken carousels, of trees around and generally of colors, is really nice. I haven't been to any city that resembles Chisinau yet. I'm not sure if that's because it's a poor Eastern-European country or because it actually has this unique air. I'd like to believe it's the second hypothesis.
A few years ago, I moved to the "upper" side of Ryshkanovka. My house was in a pretty green area and everything was really beautiful. But as I finally grew up to the age when I wanted to stay out late, I learned that Moldova's street lighting was, and still is, really poor and that Moldovan streets are really dangerous especially when it's dark outside.
It was a five-minute walk from the public transport stop to my house and, when I didn't have anyone to walk me home, I learned to walk really fast. Some people still wonder why am I usually walking so fast.
"Well, if you live in Moldova, you have to learn to survive," I tell them. You either learn to walk fast, or risk getting mugged or worse – and the danger doubles or triples at night.
The upper part of this district was generally more "developed" than the previous one, with a few supermarkets and more public transport. Moldova doesn't have much in the way of internationally recognized places, but I'm going to tell you about a park next to my house.
Olga Gutan /
A block of flats in Upper Ryshkanovka
The park is actually a small forest that is on the border of the Ryshkani and Ciocana districts. It's really beautiful, because it's diverse. There are certain parts of it designed for people having barbecues or just walking or jogging. Other parts of the park are more like a forest and people usually don’t go there, making those areas kind of "untouched" by humans. Those places are really beautiful.
I used to go there for sleighing or to make snowmen with a few of my friends or cousins in the winter. Closer to where I live, there is another park with a statue to commemorate the victims of the war in Afghanistan.
Most of the time people who come there, forget about the main purpose of the park, but the monuments are a permanent reminder of the atrocities that may come any day.
I went to Gaudeamus High School for a year before I left to study in Hong Kong. My one year of high school in Moldova, though, was crucial in forming myself as a human being. I believe that people are the ones who change a place, so the building of the school didn't have much to do with my change, nor did the classes have much to do with my education. I appreciated the people, both the students and the teachers, very much, because each of them taught me important lessons.
Olga Gutan /
Kids playing in Upper Ryshkanovka
I would advise a foreigner who comes to Moldova to visit the school, because even though people do not speak 100 percent perfect English there, they would be more than happy to welcome visitors and even take them out and show off the nice places to see in Chisinau.
Apart from the places where I used to spend most of my time because I had to, I also used to go to a few other places to meet my friends or just go for a walk when I wanted to escape the noise of the city.
One of the places I liked to visit by myself is a school called Gheorghe Asachi in the Centre of Chisinau. It has a few benches right in front of it. It's a huge socializing place. When you’re there, you can see young and naive 12-year-olds all the way to 30-year-old bikers or people who simply sit there and read books. The diversity is simply astonishing, considering the fact that Chisinau itself isn't one of the most diverse cities in the world.
Olga Gutan /
In Upper Ryshkanovka, a view of the sunset from my fourth floor apartment window.
I also loved to visit the museums on my own. I enjoyed trying to absorb and then process the information offered there.
I got a lot out of going to the National Art Museum and to the National Museum of History and Archaeology. I just love how they teleport someone to a completely different space and how when you walk out of them, you actually feel slightly out of synch and have, for a few seconds, difficulty adapting to the reality and to the 21st century.
In terms of culture, I would strongly advise anyone who visits Chisinau to take in some theater. Even though not many Moldovans choose to invest time and money to go to watch a play, our actors are really nice and they have this "middle part" that makes them look alive. They act with their souls and the plays themselves are usually really well-chosen.
Olga Gutan /
A parking lot in the center of Chisinau, as seen from
the trolleybus.
As for more unusual places to visit, I'd like to mention a few: the field next to Buiucani district, trolleybusses and cemetries. 
At the very end of the Buiucani district, where it's the last stop of the trolleys 21 and 23, there is a field that separates the city from the rest of the urban life that hides behind it. If you are patient and hardy enough to walk, you will soon enough find a cabin built by someone my age, and then you will find a small and remote village.
I honestly believe that place is magical. It's so well-positioned that I just can't describe it. From that field, you can hear the noise of the city, but at the same time you are completely able to realize that you have a shelter from all that noise, that the field somehow protects you from the hectic life. And the sunsets and sunrises on that field are really beautiful and worth seeing.
Olga Gutan /
Inside a trolleybus, looking out at the street in the
center of Chisinau.
With the trolleybuses, you just get on one, pay for your ticket and see where it will take you. You may end up in a really sketchy neighborhood or in a place that seems strange to you, but at the same time, there's a really good chance that you might find something you‘ll like and a place where you’ll enjoy spending time.
Last but not least are the cemetries. Even though they are supposed to be the places for eternal rest and the people alive who visit cemetries are considered a disturbance to the dead ones, I believe that the silence in a cemetry is simply amazing.
I haven't been to one for a few years, but I remember when I was a rebellious teenager who just wanted to get a little silence and a little break from the outer world, I visited the cemetry called Doina. It's open to anyone, and you can get there by public transport. When you pass through its gate, you basically enter a different world.
Overall, Chisinau is not the most beautiful city to live in, but if you are able to spend a certain amount of time in it, you will soon enough find the spots that are beautiful and worth seeing. You don't have to look too much for them, you only have to open your eyes and realize that what is in front of you is different from what you may want to see, but that doesn't make it less beautiful.
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