Learning to nap in New York, city that never sleeps

NEW YORK: New York is the city that never sleeps, but arduous commutes, hellish hours and ultra-competitive jobs mean even the most wired of party animals or dedicated employees have to recharge their batteries.

But instead of knocking back a coffee or quaffing an energy drink, a growing number of New Yorkers are opting for a quick nap during office hours.

With affluent Americans, increasingly health-conscious — indulging in fads such as green juice, hot-house yoga and matcha tea — a few pay-for-sleep businesses are now offering customers a little shut-eye on the QT.

Nap York is one. Opening three months ago in a three-story building near Penn Station, US$12, (RM47) buys patrons 30 minutes in a wooden sleep cabin, day or night.

“We wanted to accommodate all the exhausted New Yorkers,” explains Stacy Veloric, the company’s marketing director. “It’s really hard to find peace and quiet within New York City”.

The business opened with seven cabins, but demand quickly exceeded supply and they added 22 more. Soon there will also be hammocks on the roof, where half an hour’s kick-back will cost US$15.

The US sleep deficit is real. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Americans sleep less than they should.

Only 24 percent of New Yorkers get eight or more hours of sleep — nearly half get six or less, according to a state-wide survey for Siena College.

Lack of sleep causes moodiness, low productivity and poor concentration. It also costs the US economy up to US$411 billion and the equivalent of 1.23 million working days a year, according to a Rand Corporation study in 2016.

‘I’m worth it’

Laura Li, a 28-year-old copy editor for a travel company, is someone who prefers a 35-minute kip to a coffee. Each week she pops along to YeloSpa, a luxurious, spa-style Fifth Avenue fixture opposite Trump Tower.

Li steps into a hexagonal cockpit that looks straight out of a science fiction movie and lies on a bed suspended in a position of zero gravity, knees bent and feet elevated to lower the heart rate and induce sleep.

Thirty-five minutes later, she’ll be woken by “a simulated sunrise,” explains Maya Daskalova, YeloSpa manager.

The price? A dollar a minute, with a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40.

“I come here especially on days where I have a lot of work — just to get more energy for the rest of the afternoon,” says Li. “I don’t drink coffee so if I feel tired there’s nothing I can really do, other than sleeping”.

She may not have told colleagues that she naps during lunch, but has confessed to friends, who are baffled by the concept of paying to sleep.

“They might think this is a waste of time or a waste of money,” she admitted. “As long as I can afford it, then it’s worth it. I just feel better afterwards, that’s enough”.

Daskalova has seen her clientele grow gradually and believes that cultural attitudes in America are changing. “Resetting you for the rest of the day is much better than crashing in your desk in the middle of work”, she says.

Generational shift

Who escapes to take a nap? Those who work long hours or live miles away and want time out before a night out. Pregnant women who are exhausted. Parents of babies suffering sleepless nights and party-goers who need a breather.

In 2004, Christopher Lindholst created MetroNaps, a company that designs super-modern “energy pods” for quick naps.

He installed several in the Empire State Building until security requirements kicked them out, then focused sales on companies, universities, hospitals and airports. Google and Nasa are among those who have bought his pods.

“People’s attitudes changed dramatically in the last 15 years, there’s much more awareness of the importance of sleep and the benefit,” Lindholst says.

But in a city with the longest working day in the States, travel time included, he thinks it will take a full generation to erase old stigmas about laziness.

“We use the argument all the time that we are talking about a very short period of time, 10 to 20 minutes, essentially the same (as) a coffee break or in New York a smoke break,” he explained.

One MetroNaps capsule lives in the SoHo offices of Thrive Global, a wellness startup founded by Arianna Huffington, author of bestselling 2016 tome “The Sleep Revolution” and a founder of The Huffington Post.

Her book calls for an end to “the delusion that we need to burn out to succeed”.

“We’re in the middle of a cultural shift, one in which more and more of us are taking steps to reclaim sleep,” she writes. — AFP

Rare silk Koran helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

KABUL: One of the only Korans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.

Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specialising in miniatures nearly two years to finish.

Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6kg, the Koran was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.

“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, told AFP in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-panelled complex.

With the Koran considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.

“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Koran) … and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.

Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Koranic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.

They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.

The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.

A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.

“All the colours we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colours used in the Koran, told AFP.

Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305m of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.

‘Very rare’

Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.

It hopes the silk Koran will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.

“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Koran,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organisation’s Afghan director.

For now it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.

There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.

“The copying of the Koran onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe told AFP.

He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work”.

“If a Saudi prince or a book collector in London … was interested in it, we would be thinking in the US$100,000, (RM397,500) to US$200,000 (price) range,” he added. — AFP

Hovering kids go political in Hong Kong festival parade

HONG KONG: Children dressed as ancient gods, celebrities and political leaders were paraded high above crowds on the Hong Kong island of Cheung Chau Tuesday in a traditional celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

The annual “Piu Sik” or “Floating Colours” march sees young residents held up on towering metal poles and greeted by cheers and applause as they are carried through the winding streets of the outlying island, which is still predominantly a fishing community.

The parade is part of Cheung Chau’s famous five-day “bun festival” which culminates Tuesday night in a precipitous scramble up a tower made from imitation steamed buns, a favourite snack on the island.

Statues of deities were originally carried through the streets as part of the festival parade. But 70 years ago they were replaced by children, inspired by similar celebrations in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

In the past two decades, the march has also evolved into a form of political satire.

Children from a parade group headed by local resident Wong Sing-chau dressed as the city’s finance secretary and Democratic lawmakers to reflect current controversies.

A four-year-old girl from Wong’s group posed as the landlady from popular Hong Kong movie “Kung Fu Hustle”, complete with pink pyjamas and hair rollers, in what he said was a nod to the city’s sprawling housing costs.

“I want to speak for the people through satire,” Wong told AFP. “Everyone suffers from high rent and unaffordable housing now”.

A mini-version of city leader Carrie Lam in pink cheongsam and pearls also joined the parade, alongside children dressed as local sports stars including bespectacled Hong Kong snooker player Ng On-yee and champion cyclist Sarah Lee.

The ability to withstand the blazing sun for hours during the parade was one of the requirements for being selected, said Wong.

Temperatures reached 34°C on Tuesday, the hottest parade day in 71 years, with children trying to keep cool using fans and umbrellas.

For five-year-old Hayden Kwok, it was a taste of fame.

“Many people will say hello to me. I can see myself on TV,” he told AFP before the event, during which he was dressed as pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui.

Hayden’s father Kwok Yu-tin said he wanted his children to inherit tradition through participation.

“Participation gives them a better understanding of what the tradition is and they can feel the atmosphere for themselves,” he said. — AFP

Third of girls in South Asia miss school during periods

KATHMANDU: More than a third of girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, a report said Tuesday, with a lack of toilets and cultural taboos about menstruation among the factors impeding their education.

The study by WaterAid and Unicef also found many girls across the region — up to two-thirds in Sri Lanka — did not know about menstruation before starting their periods

Many schools in the region of more than 1.7 billion did not provide enough toilets for girls. This, coupled with a lack of access to proper sanitary pads, meaning students were choosing to stay at home during their periods.

“Girls have an irrevocable right to education, which is lost if they feel unable to attend lessons because of a lack of sanitary products or clean, private toilets at school,” said Tim Wainwright, WaterAid chief executive, in a statement.

“Governments simply need to ensure that every school has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.”

In one district of eastern Nepal there was just one toilet for every 170 girls, the report found.

That was far below the World Health Organization standard recommending a toilet for every 25 girls. Other South Asian countries also failed to meet the global standard.

The report — published ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 — said two-thirds of girls in Sri Lanka were unaware of menstruation before hitting puberty.

“Girls often turn to their mothers and teachers for support, but if they lack the confidence and information themselves, they may instead perpetuate taboos,” said WaterAid regional programme manager for South Asia, Therese Mahon.

Menstruation is considered impure in many parts of South Asia and restrictions are imposed on women’s movement, behaviour and eating habits during their periods.

In Afghanistan a majority of girls do not bathe during menstruation for fear of infertility.

In western Nepal, women are forced to sleep in a hut away from home during their periods in a custom known as “chhaupadi” that has been criminalised.

Mahon said there were some positive signs, with more schools incorporating information about menstruation into their curriculum.

“A more positive environment combined with better facilities that are clean and maintained can go a long way to remove the barriers that restrict opportunities for girls,” she said. — AFP

Russia’s ‘circus for delinquents’ comes of age

SAINT PETERSBURG: The big tent in a Saint Petersburg park is not just a circus but a space for disabled and disadvantaged children, often shunned by Russian society, to express themselves.

The Upsala Circus “for delinquents” has also just won a top theatre prize, despite hostility from some state authorities.

“All children and especially children at risk need something interesting, something ‘cool’ to give them energy and a desire to change their life,” said Larisa Afanasyeva, the founder and artistic director of Upsala.

She started the circus almost two decades ago to offer vulnerable young people a chance to develop their talents, in a country with only basic provision for orphans or the disabled.

Around 70 children who are from poor families, orphans or disabled currently come to the circus company’s tent in north Saint Petersburg to prepare shows of mostly acrobatics, some 45 each year.

A performance by children with Down Syndrome last month won a prize at the ‘Golden Mask’ awards which usually acknowledge the glitzy high-end of Moscow theatre.

The company has come a long way since Afanasyeva set it up in 2000 along with a German student, Astrid Shorn.

Back then the two young women had nothing but their drive to help some of the most vulnerable in Russian society.

Upsala Circus had no proper rehearsal space so the troupe got together in the parks and squares of Russia’s second city.

Finally having a big top was a “dream come true”, making a huge difference for the young performers, said Afanasyeva.

Upsala had managed to buy the tent, which incorporates a main arena and a rehearsal space, five years ago thanks to private sponsors. The circus receives no state funds.

The walls are decorated with humorous graffiti, with one slogan reading: “If you don’t behave yourself, we’ll send you to join the circus”.

‘Freedom is scary’

“I met Larisa and Astrid when they were monocycling around the embankment” in Saint Petersburg, recalled Nikolai Grudino, now aged 25, of his first encounter with the circus founders as a 10-year-old.

“It was a very hard time for my family and I preferred to spend my time out of the house.

“But after I met Larisa, I realised it was more interesting to be in the circus than to hang about in the street,” he said, adding that the circus had turned him from a “delinquent” into an artist.

But despite its success, Afanasyeva has the impression the project is “not moving forward”, largely because of hostility from some who run state services such as orphanages.

“It was easier when we were starting out in the early 2000s. Back then everything was more open. Now there are too many rules, too many things you can’t do,” she told AFP.

Orphanages are keen for their charges to take part in more wholesome or “patriotic” activities, she said.

“We teach the children to be free and that’s a scary prospect.

“(The authorities) just want the children to stay out of trouble, but we are talking about freedom and art.” — AFP

‘Mad’ king’s lost gift to Wagner gets rare show

BRUSSELS: Kept safe in a silk-lined box by its Belgian “custodian” lies a piece of the historic legacy of German composer Richard Wagner that was nearly lost forever.

The Lohengrin vase, made of porcelain, was given to Wagner more than 150 years ago by Ludwig II, the “mad king” of Bavaria, whose passion for building fairy-tale castles was matched only by his love of Wagner’s operas.

It was believed lost after Allied bombing in World War II destroyed much of Bayreuth, the town where Wagner built the legendary theatre that now hosts an annual music festival.

But one fragment emerged after the war and was taken to the Belgian capital, Brussels, in 1949, where it has largely remained out of sight in the intervening years.

A group of Wagner devotees recently received a special viewing during a production in Brussels of the opera “Lohengrin” — the work that first bewitched Ludwig — and an AFP reporter was given a rare glimpse.

Patrick Collon, the renowned organ maker and art expert who now owns the fragment, said that “Ludwig was barely 18 years old when he started thinking about this vase, and he obsessed about it for six months. His diaries are full of it”.

“After Ludwig became king he sought out Wagner, who was hiding from his creditors, all over central Europe. He found him a year later and gave him this vase in May 1865 for his 52nd birthday,” added Collon, 75.

‘First creation’

Saved from the ruins of the defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, the fragment at first looks insignificant, consisting of just the blue and gold base of the urn-like vase, and part of one rounded side.

But it sheds an intriguing light on the extraordinary friendship between the young Ludwig and the older Wagner.

The eccentric Ludwig is best known for designing the fantastical Neuschwanstein near Munich which served as the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

A minor king under whom Bavaria lost its independence to Prussia, Ludwig has nevertheless gone down in history as a patron of the arts, especially of the equally erratic Wagner.

Ludwig was just 15 and infused by the old German legends when he first saw Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, based on the traditional story of the Swan Knight, and which later became the inspiration for Neuschwanstein Castle.

Two years later, Ludwig became obsessed by creating a porcelain vase featuring scenes from Lohengrin.

“It was Ludwig’s first creation. He didn’t make it himself but he imagined it, he dreamed up the scenes that were painted on it by his drawing teacher,” the German landscape painter Leopold Rottmann, said Collon.

Rottmann’s watercolours of the receptacle — the only surviving evidence of what it looked like in full — show four scenes from the opera and have a lid and handles in the shape of a swan.

The fragment in Brussels shows a gilded swan, the tragic heroine, Elsa, on a balcony, and the two villains Telramund and Ortrud.

It is the only piece that survived the Allied bombing of Bayreuth on April 5, 1945. Two other similar vases — a Tannhaeuser Cup and a Flying Dutchman Cup — were destroyed on that day.

‘Horrors of war’

“It was said that it had disappeared and that nothing was left of it. But in 1949 the Wagner brothers (Wagner’s grandsons Wolfgang and Wieland Wagner) were able to get a piece in a pretty box to a Belgian benefactor,” said Collon.

“At the end of her life, she gave it to a musician friend. When the friend died it was passed to me.”

The benefactor — identified by Collon only as Juliette, contributed to the post-war reopening of the Bayreuth festival in 1951 and was nicknamed “Joan of Arc” by the Wagner brothers.

The Brussels fragment is an object of fascination for music lovers.

“A smart friend once said to me: ‘in the end, it’s moving because it’s broken'”, said Collon.

“This fragment has survived all the horrors of war.” — AFP