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Imprisoned Pussy Riot band members released

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 23 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were serving a two-year jail term for their part in a performance critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been released from prison.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released about two months before their prison sentences were due to end. The release was approved last week when Russian lawmakers backed a sweeping amnesty law announced by Putin.

“Two months out of the almost two years that the girls have served is not much,” Tolokonnikova’s husband, Pyotr Verzilov, told CNN. “So the effect of this amnesty for Maria and Nadezhda is not really felt.”

The Russian government said the amnesty marked the anniversary of the adoption of Russia’s post-Communist constitution in 1993.

However, some suggested the move was related to the country’s upcoming Olympics. Verzilov said he thought it was simply an effort to burnish Putin’s image.

Russia’s record on human rights is in the spotlight as the country prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Pussy Riot’s 2012 performance of a “punk prayer” that criticized Putin, who was prime minister at the time, was held at a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The musicians were found guilty of hooliganism.

The jailed women have young children and therefore qualified for the amnesty, Russian media reported.

The new amnesty law is also expected to free some detained Greenpeace activists.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic, was released from a lengthy period in prison last week after a pardon from Putin. Khodorkovsky had been in prison since 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and fraud. He was due for release in 2014.

This world we live in is a mighty big place. There are lots of wonders that are worth seeing sometime in your life, or accomplishments someone could work towards. For instance, driving through the lower 48 states in the US is an awesome travel idea to put on your bucket list. However, there are some ideas that are a little less awesome and only the brave should attempt. The places you see below are some of the most frightening and dangerous trails in the world… they aren’t for the faint of heart. (My hands are clammy just looking at them.)

3.) The Walkways of the Tianmen Mountain (China): Tianmen Mountain is a mountain located within Tianmen Mountain National Park, Zhangjiajie, in northwestern Hunan Province, China. The Tianmenshan Guigu Cliff Path is built among cliffs and tourists can walk on these paths built onto the cliff face at the top of the mountain, including sections with glass floors. It is one of the world’s highest observation platforms.
4.) Blue Mountains Mid Cliff Walk (Australia): The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia. It borders on Sydney’s metropolitan area. The Mid Cliff Walk is a path that is carved into the sheer cliff face. There are handrails, ladders and lookouts all along the path, offering wonderful views of Jamison Valley. As long as they don’t mind heights.
5.) Vintgar Gorge Trail (Slovenia): The Bled Gorge or Vintgar Gorge is located in Slovenia in the Municipality of Gorje. It was originally carved out by the Radovna River and the canyon walls are 160 to 330 feet high, with a total slope measuring about 820 feet.

‘Please don‘t touch him. And please don’t make eye contact with him either. Also please don’t talk to him’. With those instructions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re getting ready to meet a particularly prickly Hollywood A-lister. But we’re not. We’re just being told by Tam, our guide, what not to do when we’re individually blessed by the Buddhist Monk who’s sitting cross-legged in orange robes in front of a 50ft reclining gold Buddha.

Feast your eyes: The beauty of the islands that punctuate the Andaman Sea is well documentedFeast your eyes: The beauty of the islands that punctuate the Andaman Sea is well documented

We’re in Thailand, in Wat Tham Suwannakuha, which is a temple built inside caves, north of Phuket.Tam also demonstrates the highest level of greeting we should offer, reserved for ‘royalty, monks and angels’. This means hands together, as in prayer, thumbs at the bridge of your nose, and the steeple of your fingers up to your hairline (the higher the thumbs, the more respectful the greeting). When it’s my turn, the monk douses holy water over me, and then gives me a bracelet. All in silence.

It’s a special experience and not at all what I thought I’d be doing here. I had an idea of Thailand as nirvana for backpackers – all friendship bracelets and full moon parties. But there’s so much more to it than that. And now Phuket has just got a lot closer with the first direct flights launched from the UK courtesy of Thomson. It’s just twelve hours away.

Of course, it’s wonderful for winter sun. Kate Moss regularly sets up camp here, escaping our gloomy winter weather – and Rihanna was here recently. I would happily run the risk of sharing the sand with a paparazzi-ready, sample-size supermodel.

We’re staying at the Marriott Khao Lak resort and spa, about an hour north from Phuket in the Phang Nga province on the south west coast.

We’re off the beaten track, down a bumpy road. We pass a block of flats, some tethered elephants and parked mopeds, a few market stalls.  Our hotel sits camouflaged by tropical giant palms, right on Khuk Khak beach.  The swimming pool is really unusual and immediately inviting; it’s nearly two miles long and winds around the building, rather like a tiled canal.

It’s the biggest pool in southeast Asia, I’m told. But if there is a bigger one anywhere in the world I’d be amazed. On my daily circuits, I glide past small groups of people chatting and end up knowing more about one guest’s medical history than I do my own. There are three restaurants: Italian, Japanese and Thai – and enough gluten-free offerings at breakfast to keep even Gwyneth Paltrow happy.

But there are also really charming small cafes (cheap as chips) and massage huts, all on stilts and right on the beach. The massages cost around £15, easily as good as any you might have in a swanky spa but with live background music of the waves rather than canned clanging of mating whales.

The biggest pool in Asia? The Marriott Khao Lak resort and spa lays claim to itThe biggest pool in Asia? The Marriott Khao Lak resort and spa lays claim to it

It’s so tempting to never leave the resort and limit daily decisions to sunbathing locations; pool? Or beach? There are plenty of British families and several young Scandinavian couples who seem to slip easily into perfect unaccented English at the drop of a panama hat.

We take a speedboat to Ko Phi Phi, island hopping and stopping off at Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the small island made famous by the movie ‘The Beach’.  It’s a glamorous way to arrive. These days it’s about as deserted as London’s Oxford Street on Christmas Eve and our captain tells us that by 10.30 in the morning, there’ll be 1,000 people on Leo’s beach.

Though it’s busy, the island’s natural beauty shines through and it easily accommodates the throngs of tourists.  In fact, the Thai’s are very proud of their showbiz connections.  They’ve even renamed Khao Phing Kan island (actually two islands, covered in dense forest with a tall limestone rock, like a 65ft high nail) James Bond island, in honour of ‘The man with the golden gun’ which was partially filmed there.

02 Apr 2013, Bangkok, Thailand --- A monk prays in front of a golden Buddha, Wat Suthat, Bangkok, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Asia --- Image by Andrew Taylor/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis Thai coastline --- Image by Corbis

Spiritual in every way: A Buddhist monk kneels before a Buddha statue and right, the stunning cliff faces that were captured in the film The Beach

As we queue up to take photos next to the island’s sign and younger people upload their ‘selfies’, I notice that the Russians among us take an impressively creative approach to holiday snaps. The women are in full make-up, with long, glossy hair expertly curled over one, bare shoulder as they pose with arched backs in their skimpy bikinis.

Our captain stays out of the sun altogether, his face completely covered and Tam does’t tan either. He says paler skin is more highly regarded here.

My favourite day trip is also by speedboat, and also island hopping, but to the beautiful Similan Islands.The Similans are nine islands of giant granite boulders and white sand in a protected marine national park, right in the middle of the Andaman Sea.  While they’re not undiscovered, they remain completely unspoilt. The sea is bright turquoise and so clear you could read your kindle underwater. It’s warm enough that I leap in (without spending the usual 40 minutes inching in) and cool enough to be refreshing. The snorkelling is mesmerising; we see huge schools of clown and angel fish, striped, translucent, iridescent, and beautiful every one, and sea turtles, coral and sponges. All things bright and beautiful.

All that’s missing is the enlightenment that I was desperately hoping for from the monk’s blessing.  But that’s a good thing; I may have to return for a refresher blessing.

Sriracha: How a sauce won over the US

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

California health regulators have put a temporary hold on shipments of Sriracha, a spicy sauce that has gained a devoted following in the US, says Aidan Lewis.

It’s been a testing few weeks for fans of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. First, residents in the Los Angeles suburb where it’s made complained about stinging factory fumes, and a judge ordered a curb on production. Then authorities blocked shipments out of California until mid-January.

That led to reports of stockpiling in Chicago, New York and San Diego, while social media buzzed with discussions on how to cope with #srirachapocalypse.

Sriracha is a generic name for the sauce, taken from the eponymous port city in Thailand. The famous version found on the shelves at Walmart, and at food trucks, noodle bars and high-end restaurants across the country, is made by Huy Fong Foods.

An unofficial fan page on Facebook has more than 76,000 likes. The distinctive red bottle with its green top has inspired fancy dress costumes, bumper stickers and even tattoos. Some 20 million bottles of the sauce were reportedly sold last year.

Taste, of course, is central to its appeal. “You get this kind of rollercoaster of heat coming and going and then this wonderful balanced flavour,” says Randy Clemens, author of the Sriracha Cookbook.

Admirers praise its versatility. Sriracha is used in recipes but also sploshed on soup, eggs and burgers. Sriracha jam, lollipops, salt, and cocktails have all been made.

Sriracha (pronounced see-rah-chah) is also seen as a classic American success story – one that has inspired a half-hour documentary. Huy Fong Foods is owned by David Tran, who built the business from nothing after arriving in the US from Vietnam in 1980. He started supplying sauces to local Asian restaurants from his base in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Mainstream sales of Sriracha, widely known as rooster sauce after its cockerel logo, took off over the last few years.

Dave De Witt, founder of the national fiery foods and barbeque show, says the bottle is larger and better value than other hot sauces. As Huy Fong does not advertise, Srirarcha’s popularity has largely spread by word of mouth. “It’s remarkable in hot sauce history.”

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