China: 'Space out' competition held in Beijing

  • 6 July 2015
Winner Xin Shiyu spacing out during the competition
Xin Shiyu claimed victory after two hours of successfully ignoring the world around him

A competition where the participants are required to "space out" has been held in one of the busiest parts of Beijing.

Eighty people gathered on a major shopping street in the city's business district to take part in the International Space Out Competition, the Xinhua news agency reports. Their challenge was to sit still, oblivious to the distractions of their surroundings, for two hours. Music and smartphones were forbidden, of course, as were any large or sudden movements, Xinhua says. Contestants' composure wasn't just observed externally, though - they also had to keep a steady heart rate, which was checked by a group of volunteers. First held in the South Korean capital, Seoul, in 2014, the competition is now an annual affair.

This year's champion of staring into space was recent university graduate Xin Shiyu, who told Xinhua he liked to maintain a slow pace of life. But other contestants used it as a chance to escape a more hectic existence. "Grabbing two hours to let myself space out, letting myself quietly sit and think - I think this is a really important thing," one woman tells Beijing TV.

One of the event's organisers, Wang Chenbo, tells the channel that staring into space is "a luxury" in today's world. "The everyday rhythm of people's lives is so fast, they work extremely hard," he says. "So I think that, from a modern person's perspective, finding an opportunity to space out is not easy."

Spot the teddy bear: Eighty people, including one in fancy dress, took part in the two-hour competition

Next story: Finns get refunds for disappointing concerts

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Finland: Refunds for disappointing concerts

  • 6 July 2015
Chuck Berry on stage
Some ticket-holders were left disappointed by a Chuck Berry show in Helsinki in 2013

Finnish music fans who are left disappointed by a sub-par live performance can now get a refund, it's reported.

A landmark decision by the country's Consumer Disputes Board means music fans can ask for their money back if an artist's performance is well below what they reasonably expected, the national broadcaster Yle reports. It follows a complaint by a Chuck Berry fan, who saw the rock and roll pioneer perform in Helsinki in 2013. Berry, who is now 88 years old, seemed unwell during the concert, and apologised to fans while on stage. The consumer body decided that the event's organiser should refund 50% of the ticket price.

Read full article Finland: Refunds for disappointing concerts

Russia: Free sheep for large families in Siberia

  • 3 July 2015
A ewe looking through the bars of an enclosure
Pairs of sheep will be given to families with three or more children

A regional government in Russia is giving away 1,000 sheep to large, low-income families, it's reported.

The authorities in the Siberian region of Kemerovo say that 500 families will be given a ewe and a ram each under the scheme, the local website reports. Its aim is to ensure food security, according to the region's long-serving governor, Aman Tyleyev. Kemerovo defines large families as those with three or more children. Sheep were chosen for the scheme because as well as providing meat and milk, their wool can be used to make clothing, the report says. But before being selected to receive the woolly duo, local people will have to prove that they have the facilities to look after them - namely somewhere for the sheep to live.

Read full article Russia: Free sheep for large families in Siberia

Germany: WW2 Panther tank seized from pensioner's cellar

  • 3 July 2015
A crowd of people photographing the Panther tank after it was removed
Slow progress: It took hours for the army to remove the tank from the basement

Police in northern Germany have seized a World War Two tank which was being kept in a pensioner's cellar.

The Panther tank was removed from the 78-year-old's house in the town of Heikendorf, along with a variety of other military equipment, including a torpedo and an anti-aircraft gun, Der Tagesspiegel website reports. It wasn't an easy job to get it all out - the army had to be called in with modern-day tanks to haul the Panther from its cellar. It took about 20 soldiers almost nine hours to extract the tank - which was without its tracks - and push it onto a low-loader, the report says. As the surreal scene unfolded, local residents gathered at the end of the driveway to watch.

Read full article Germany: WW2 Panther tank seized from pensioner's cellar

Russia: New parliament designs all rejected

  • 2 July 2015
A view of one design for the new parliament, which looks like the US capitol building
All three of the finalists have had their designs rejected and the competition will be restarted

A competition to design Russia's brand new parliament building will be re-run after none of the initial designs were deemed suitable, it's reported.

Three finalists had presented architectural models of their plans, but the judging committee rejected them all, in part because they have too many windows, the RBK website reports. "All finalists' projects feature a lot of glass," says Yelena Panina, the committee's deputy head. "This will create problems in the upkeep of the building and it will be cold in the winter."

Read full article Russia: New parliament designs all rejected

China: Animal centres used to help predict earthquakes

  • 2 July 2015
Children looking at a chicken and a pheasant at a zoo in China
Several recent studies observed changes in animal behaviour prior to major quakes

Chinese scientists are using animals to try to predict when an earthquake may strike, it's reported.

Seismologists in Nanjing, the capital of eastern Jiangsu province, have set up seven observation centres at zoos and animal parks in the region, the Modern Express website reports. They'll be watching for changes in behaviour among thousands of animals, which might be a sign of an imminent tremor. An ecological park in the city's Yuhuatai district has become one of the seismic monitoring sites, with 2,000 chickens, 200 pigs and 2 sq km (0.8 sq miles) of fish ponds, the report says. Cameras have been installed around the park, and staff will report back to the seismological bureau on the animals' behaviour twice a day.

Read full article China: Animal centres used to help predict earthquakes

Denmark: Snack companies do battle over square crisps

  • 1 July 2015
A picture of the two crisp packets
The two companies are at loggerheads over whether a square can be patented

A Danish company has gone to court to try to stop a rival from making square-shaped crisps, it's reported.

Snack manufacturer Kims has been selling the square, ridged Snack Chips for almost three decades in Denmark. But this year saw the arrival of a competitor crisp - Taffel's Super Snacks, which are a similar shape and size. Kims now wants a judge to rule that it has the exclusive right to sell square crisps in Denmark, the Ekstra Bladet website reports. In the meantime, Taffel has agreed to change the shape of its Super Snacks from square to oval - a more expensive shape to produce.

Read full article Denmark: Snack companies do battle over square crisps

South Korea: Mass wedding for North Korean defectors

  • 1 July 2015
A view of the couples sitting in their wedding outfits at the venue
Tying the knot: The event took place inside an arena at Seoul's Olympic Park

A mass wedding has been held in Seoul for defectors from North Korea.

One hundred couples were selected to take part in the event at the Olympic Park in South Korea's capital on Tuesday, Channel News Asia reports. Sixty of the newlyweds married fellow North Koreans, 10 married South Koreans and the rest tied the knot with other nationalities, the report says. Ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, the couples were joined by South Korea's Unification Minister, Hong Yong-pyo, who said they were laying the foundation for Korean unification.

Read full article South Korea: Mass wedding for North Korean defectors

Hungary: Government seeks to lure young expats back home

  • 30 June 2015
A teenage boy walking in front the Hungarian parliament
Thousands of young Hungarians have left their homes to work abroad, but the government wants to entice them back

The Hungarian government is running a campaign to try to encourage young people living abroad to return home.

While the authorities have been engaged in high profile attempts to block immigrants, including plans to build a fence along the border with Serbia, they are eager to entice Hungarians back to the country through the "Come home, young person!" scheme. The government is providing a variety of incentives, including a free flight and a monthly allowance of 100,000 forints ($356; £230) to help with accommodation costs for a year, the pro-government Hungary Today website reports.

Read full article Hungary: Government seeks to lure young expats back home

Serbia: Historic oak tree stalls motorway construction

  • 30 June 2015
A view of the oak tree with the road in the background
Construction has been halted about 300m (1,000ft) from the oak tree

A major motorway construction project in Serbia has stalled because of a dispute over a centuries-old oak tree, it's reported.

The tree is said to be 600 years old, and stands in the western village of Savinac, right in path of the new Corridor 11 motorway, the Balkan Insight website reports. Once completed, the road will connect Serbia's capital, Belgrade, with the Montenegrin coast. But local people are unhappy about plans to chop the tree down. Some consider it sacred, and believe that anyone who tries to remove it will be cursed. "By God, I wouldn't dare get a digger anywhere near it," local resident Milan Petrovic tells the Blic website.

Read full article Serbia: Historic oak tree stalls motorway construction