Monday, 20 May 2013

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Press rewind: The cassette tape returns

Press rewind: The cassette tape returns

VIDEO: The music and machinery spurred by the cassette's resurgence (Produced by the BBC's David Botti)
The humble cassette tape, a happy memory for many music fans of a certain age, has staged a comeback for one Canadian company.
The first order came in 1989: 10 cassettes. With that began Analogue Media Technologies, a company created to help bands market their music.
Musicians would bring finished master recordings and graphic design templates, and Analogue, now also called, would turn those materials into slickly produced albums, complete with labels, cover art and liner notes, ready for sale or distribution.
"We've changed products depending on what's been in style and what the demand is for," says Denise Gorman, part-owner of the Montreal-based company.

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It started with cassettes and vinyl, but then the trends shifted towards CDs, then DVDs and Blu-ray.
Now, they find themselves returning to the medium that started it all.
"We're back to cassettes as one of the main attractions," says Ms Gorman.
Analogue now says that cassette recordings make up 25% of the business. That is quite a change from five years ago, when cassette tapes seemed to be going the way of the defunct 8-track cartridge - the music format that was popular in the 1960s and 70s.
Fiscally sound Audio purists love the analogue sound that comes from the classic cassette.

How do fans listen to cassettes?

While cassettes may be popular, cassette players are still hard to come by - at least, one that doesn't threaten to chew up the tape every time it's played.
That's why many bands who sell cassette tapes also include a digital download code inside the case.
"For every 100 cassettes we sell, about 70% of the download codes are used," says Craig Proulx of record label Bruised Tongue.
"That means 30% are maybe throwing the whole thing in the garbage, or they are listening exclusively to the cassette."
Denise Gorman of Analogue Media Technologies says the value of cassettes goes beyond the ability to store music.
"As a marketing thing they are really artistic. they are cute and beautiful and you can use them as a novelty thing to promote yourself."
Indeed, says Paul Kedrosky of the Kauffman Foundation, while some fans may not listen to the cassettes themselves, they still enjoy the act of purchasing an artefact from their favourite band, rather then downloading a string of ones and zeros.
"There is an idea that I can be more supportive of bands I like if I buy physical products from them," he says. "From that perspective, cassettes make a great deal of sense."
"Digital will always be ones and zeros," says Fernando Baldeon, a sales consultant at Analogue. "Analogue is still the best sound from a recording."
Vinyl, the purist's darling, has that sound, but it also has a hefty price tag - C$14.10 ($13.80; £9.09) per record for a set of 100, compared to C$1.29 for cassettes. Although cassettes are still slightly more expensive to produce than CDs, they add value for many of what Mr Baldeon calls "lo-fi" bands: punk, hip hop, metal and experimental groups.
"Clearly MP3s exist," says Craig Proulx, one half of the Ottawa-based record label Bruised Tongue. "I get it. I have an iPhone. But where's the fun in that?"
Bruised Tongue mostly produces punk bands, and Mr Proulx says the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the music make a good fit for cassette tapes. But the decision for him isn't just artistic, it's financial.
"In the past I've pressed records myself and they're nothing but trouble," he says.
The minimum number of records needed to complete a small order was still too much for him to sell. Tapes can be made quickly and cheaply without amassing too much overhead.
"Working on a local level, releasing cassettes is what makes sense."
Global appeal Mr Proulx says he is part of an international community of local music producers and do-it-yourself fans who are all turning to cassettes to spread their music.
Denise Gorman Denise Gorman says the firm is well positioned to serve customers as trends develop
And indeed, Analogue sees business from around the world.
It has cornered the market in Canada and attracts international clients, even in places such as the US, where other companies offer cassette duplicating services. But because the business is small, Analogue is able to offer more flexibility and faster turnaround times than some competitors.
"Small businesses are in a unique position to take advantage of trends because they can move quickly," says Helena Yli-Renko, associate professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California.
They are also better placed to serve a niche market, she says. Small companies such as Analogue can see big profits from filling a niche - profits that might be negligible to a huge conglomerate working with more mainstream customers.
Box of cassettes The variety of colours and printing options makes cassettes a popular choice for bands looking to be distinctive
The trick is to find out how to capitalise on these niche trends while also being aware that they could fall out of fashion next week, replaced by kids asking for their music on USB flash drives, or via digital download codes printed on Frisbees.
"You don't want to get into the business of imagining the clock is turning backwards and this is a permanent phenomenon," says Paul Kedrosky, a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit organisation that runs programmes for would-be entrepreneurs.
Staying the course "When small businesses are looking at whether to go for an opportunity like this, the first test is, 'Is this in line with what we do as a company? Does this serve the same customer needs?'" Ms Yli-Renko asks.
In Analogue's case it does. By serving existing customers well, it is able to expand its client base.
"We get a lot of referrals," says Ms Gorman. "In Australia or Japan, we'll suddenly see a whole bunch of orders at the same time." Because the clients exist in such tight-knit communities, word spreads quickly once one band finds a reliable source of niche products it needs.
Still, it's difficult to say how long a company can count on revenues from a fad.
Man holds up a rack of cassette tapes. Craig Proulx says he has discarded scratched CDs, but still has cassette tapes from his childhood.
Mr Kedrosky says companies profiting from a new trend need to ask if it is transient or evidence of something more fundamental? "If it's just faddish, and gone in six months you don't want to invest too much effort," he says.
Since Analogue started as a company that makes cassettes, it is well positioned to capitalise on the fad without having to invest in new equipment or inventory.
Michelle Gorman says that as long as bands want to package their music, Analogue will be prepared to meet the next trend.
"I don't know what's going to take off next, but we'll be prepared for it," she says. "That's how I work. We roll with whatever the client wants, that's how we try to satisfy our clients and that's how we bring the best products. We give them what they want, and we have the tools to do that."

Aaron Levie: Not your typical multimillionaire

Aaron Levie Aaron Levie dropped out of university to work on his business
As a man who loves tinned spaghetti hoops, drives a six-year-old car, and holds meetings over a burger at McDonald's, it is fair to say that Aaron Levie is not your average multimillionaire.
He lives in a modest apartment, doesn't take holidays and, at the age of 27, says his biggest luxury is his iPhone.
Yet a multimillionaire Levie most definitely is, with an estimated worth of $100m (£64m).
The boss of fast-growing US cloud storage business Box, Levie is too focused on work to be bothered about luxuries. He doesn't leave the office until the early hours of the morning at least six days a week.
"I work so many hours because I love what I do. I'm incredibly stimulated and excited about the business," says Levie.
"But at the same time, I realise that you do have to a certain level of discipline and determination to succeed in life - you have to work hard and make lifestyle sacrifices. That applies to everyone."
Blue-chip customers Based in Los Altos, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Box provides companies and consumers with remote electronic-data storage, also known as cloud storage.

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Spaghetti hoops
To begin with I'd pay myself just $500 a month salary and live off instant noodles and Spaghettios”
In simple terms, instead of buying a hard drive or server, customers rent space on one of Box's, which they access via their computer or smartphone.
The company is used by 460 businesses on the Fortune 500 list of the largest US firms by revenues - everyone from consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble to advertising company Clear Channel.
Box's revenues last year totalled $70m, up 160% from 2011. And it is worth an estimated $1bn after securing hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital investment.
This is not too shabby for a company that was founded only in 2005 after Levie, a Seattle native, dropped out of university in Los Angeles to set up the business with his childhood friend Dylan Smith.
"When we started Box in college, it was all about discovering a much better way for people to store data. It was a very exciting time," says Levie, who got into computer programming as a teenager.
The 'thinking hammocks' at Box's headquarters Box's headquarters are very much in the fashionable style you would expect from a Silicon Valley start-up
But as in most start-ups, funds were tight to begin with. Levie says he was initially as cash-strapped as he had been as a student.
"We were making very little money to begin with. I'd pay myself just $500 a month salary [£330] and live off instant noodles and Spaghettios.
"And for the first two-and-a-half years I slept on a mattress in the office. It was like living on a submarine - I'd roll out of bed and start work.
"I'd go more than two days without ever leaving the building."
Fancy restaurant Fast forward eight years, and both Box and Levie's finances have obviously been transformed.

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I think I'm the kind of person who would be very difficult to employ - I'm pretty annoying but driven”
Yet while most people in their 20s would probably consider spending extravagantly if they found themselves a multimillionaire, Levie says that doesn't interest him.
"I'm certainly not into money and prestige. For me there is simply nothing more exciting than people involved in the creation of great products. That is what drives me.
"I don't live on the office floor any more - now I have an apartment six minutes' drive away - but there is certainly no mansion up in the hills.
"And I still really like Spaghettios - I'd be happy to eat them all the time. My taste buds really haven't developed much from there.
"The only time I'm in a fancy restaurant is if a client wants that, but we recently concluded a deal while eating at McDonald's."
Many rejections Back when Box launched back in 2005, there weren't many people who had heard of cloud storage, so securing financial backing for the company was initially a challenge, despite all Levie's hard work.
Box's headquarters Aaron Levie has no plans to sell up
"You have to remember that the computer industry was a very different place back in 2005. This was [five years] before the iPad for example.
"So we certainly had many, many rejections from potential backers. We knew the potential we had, but it certainly wasn't that obvious for potential backers.
"But we were confident, so we just wrote to potential investors. Because we were so confident in Box we had a high tolerance to people saying 'no'. It really didn't dampen our spirits."
One of Box's biggest breaks was sending an unsolicited letter to Mark Cuban, the Texan technology investor who sold internet radio company to Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7bn.
Mr Cuban's involvement meant other investors were keen to follow and Box began to grow very quickly.
'Excited' Levie has turned down a number of offers to buy Box.
  Box is continuing to expand overseas
"There are such fundamental changes continuing to take place in the landscape [of the computer industry] that Box has tremendous opportunities going forward. [To sell up] would really compromise on our opportunity," he says.
Now leading Box's international expansion, Levie also says he doesn't think he could ever work for someone else.
"I think I'm the kind of person who would be very difficult to employ - I'm pretty annoying, but driven."

Will we ever... be able to heal damaged hearts?

Will we ever... be able to heal damaged hearts?

Will we ever... be able to heal damaged hearts?
(Copyright: Thinkstock)
Scientists hope they can repair the harm caused by a heart attack without having to replace the organ. But it’s proving to be a frustrating task.
The problem with broken hearts is that they just keep breaking. While organs like your liver or skin excel at regenerating themselves after injuries, the heart is the class dunce. If its muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, die during a heart attack, they are replaced by scar tissue rather than fresh muscle. This temporarily supports the damaged tissue but in the long term, it weakens the heart and increases the risk of more heart attacks. It’s no wonder that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. By 2030, it’s estimated that failing hearts will kill more than 23 million people every year.
For now, the only way to stop the downward spiral of a damaged heart is to replace it. But donor hearts are so rare that only a few thousand transplants are carried out every year, and the lucky recipients still face a reduced life expectancy full of toxic drugs that suppress their immune systems.
Since the early 2000s, scientists have been trying to use stem cells from a person’s own body to persuade their hearts to grow new muscle. Stem cells can produce all of the various types of cell in the body, and the hope was that they’d generate new cardiomyocytes if injected into an ailing heart.
That optimism was fuelled by a study published in Nature in 2001, which showed that stem cells from the bone marrow of mice could efficiently produce new muscle when injected into the rodents’ damaged hearts. Those results were refuted three years later but, by then, many clinical trials were already underway. Dozens have since been done, using stem cells taken mostly from bone marrow, but also skeletal muscles and other sources.
In 2012, the Cochrane Collaboration – an organisation that specialises in assessing medical evidence – analysed the outcomes of 33 of these trials that, between them, included 1,765 patients. Their results were underwhelming. On average, injected stem cells improved the heart’s pumping ability by just 3-4%, and they didn’t prevent further heart attacks, produce new blood vessels, or actually save lives.
That said, it’s a big ask for these cells to do what we expect. Once inside a patient, they have to survive, home in to the right parts of the heart, and produce new muscle that beats in time with existing cells. There’s little evidence that they do any of that. Even if you inject millions of cells, the vast majority of them die and disappear within a few weeks. If they have any beneficial effect, it’s probably because they send signals to existing cells that encourage them to carry out their own repairs.
These treatments might improve if, say, the cells are injected as soon as possible after a heart attack. But Paul Riley from Oxford University says “We probably parked the cart before the horse.” Driven by the dire need for better treatments for heart disease, “the field ended up pushing clinical trials more rapidly than it ought to have done,” he says.
Stem cells from bone marrow may not work, but there are more promising sources. Unexpectedly, the heart itself is one of them. Recent studies have overturned the popular idea that the adult heart doesn’t make new cells. Instead, it has its own population of stem cells that replace between 0.5-1% of cardiomyocytes every year. Perhaps the heart contains the secrets to its own salvation after all.
In the ongoing SCIPIO trial, Roberto Bolli from the University of Louisville tried using cardiac stem cells to treat 20 patients with advanced heart problems. It’s a small study, but the early results are hitting the right notes: dramatic and long-lasting improvement in pumping ability, and better quality of life.

Are the French really as arrogant as the surveys say?

While universal stereotypes might often point toward France as being Europe’s “most arrogant” country, a new survey from the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project takes the above Fast Track report one step further. According to the most recent data, Germany is actually seen as the haughtiest, with France coming in second.
Taking into account the opinions of 7,600 people in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, here are the other titles Europeans have given to themselves and to each other:
Least arrogant: Spain
There was no runaway winner in this category, but Spain won, ironically, because its people voted for themselves. In fact, every country voted for itself with the exception of Italy, which selected Spain and cemented its spot as the winner, and the Czech Republic, which chose Slovakia.
Most trustworthy: Germany
Almost across the entire continent, Germans are considered to be the most trustworthy, a title many likely can understand given how the country has been working to lead the EU out of its long-running economic slump. Greece was the only country that saved that accolade for themselves, despite – or in spite – of its national economic crisis.
Least trustworthy: Italy and Greece
Perhaps it is the universal stereotype of Italians being smooth talkers – or former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s well-publicised exploits – that earned Italy a tie as “least trustworthy.” Regardless, it seems it is something they accept, because they also chose themselves for the title. Germans were split on whether Italy or Greece was less trustworthy, and in the end both tied for the top spot. There seems to be mutual suspicion between the countries, though, because Greece selected Germany as “least trustworthy”.
Most compassionate: Depends who you ask
Every country deemed themselves as the “most compassionate” in the EU: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic all voted for themselves.  
Least compassionate: Germany
While Germans might be perceived as the most trustworthy, Europeans think a sob story is best told to another nationality. Six out of the eight countries surveyed chose Germany as the least compassionate, while two others (Germany and France) gave that distinction to Britain.
Most positive about their economy: Germany
Germany was the only country surveyed that thinks its national economy is faring well. In 2012 the Germany economy grew by 0.7%, “modest”, as the survey described. It was comparatively strong, however, given that the EU average was moving in the opposite direction at -0.3%.
Who dislikes Germany the most: Greece
Greeks voted Germans as their pick in every negative category: least trustworthy, most arrogant and least compassionate. Given Germany’s role in the current economic crisis, at times having to play bad cop to Greece, it is unsurprising.
Most dissatisfied with the direction of their country: Greece
The most financially plagued countries in the EU were also the most dissatisfied with the direction of their countries, with Greeks being the most displeased, almost unanimously so at 97%. Italy followed closely in dissatisfaction with 96%, while Germany was the only country surveyed with majority satisfaction -57%.

Keeping alive Gaza's culinary traditions

Chef Asad Abu Haseera prepares a sea bream
Despite food shortages and irregular power supplies, people in Gaza are finding ways to keep their culinary traditions alive - and eat their own distinctive spicy dishes.
Amid the loud whir of fans and clatter of plates in his kitchen, Asad Abu Haseera ladles a rich, tomato and chilli sauce over the fresh prawns sizzling in a pan.
When the mixture is simmering, he pours it into a traditional clay bowl - or zibdiya - and slides it under the flames lapping around an open grill.
A few minutes later, as the top of the stew bubbles like molten lava, the young chef removes it from the heat and sprinkles on some crushed pistachio nuts. This is zibdiyit gambari, a cherished Gazan dish.
"People in Gaza love to eat fish and seafood of all kinds. It's good for the health and full of vitamins," says Abu Haseera, who trained under his father at the family restaurant from the age of 13. "We say it's the best tonic and can even give you sexual energy."
Chef Asad Abu Haseera ready to serve prawns with sea bream Chef Asad Abu Haseera
The Gaza Strip is a small, coastal sliver of land that is home to over 1.6 million Palestinians. Most people's primary associations with it probably involve its Islamist Hamas government, militants fighting Israel and the Israeli border blockade.
However, a new cookbook - The Gaza Kitchen - that went on sale in the UK this month, tries to give an alternative perspective by focusing on the distinctive, and piquant, local cuisine.
"We had an intuition that this would be a really remarkable way of telling the story of Gaza - the connection between the people, the land and the history," says co-author Laila el-Haddad, who is Gazan but lives in the US.
"An overhead view of a bombed-out building, something exploding, people wailing or a masked gunman, those are kind of the images that are conjured up when one sees Gaza in the news," she says.
"We wanted to challenge that and say what you would see if you zoomed into the kitchens and had a conversation or cooked with the women, men and children."
Two sea bream on a flame grill Sea bream, known as Denis fish, is another Gazan favourite
In her kitchen in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Um Mohammed shows me how to make a typical Gazan salad called dagga using a pestle and mortar to pound garlic, dill, fresh chillis and tomato.
"My recipes are all from central Gaza. I learnt them from my mum, my uncle and aunt, and my sister-in-law," she tells me.
While she adds a tahina sesame seed paste sauce and chopped chillis to thin slices of fried aubergine, other members of her extended family gather round to join the discussion on the best dishes for special occasions.
They describe recipes for maftool, Palestinian couscous, and sumagiyya, a spicy meat stew flavoured with lemony-tasting sumac and served with chard and chickpeas.
Meanwhile, little Mohammed listens in and helps himself to fiery green chilli peppers from a pickle jar.

Recipe: Prawns in a clay bowl

Prawns in a clay bowl, or zibdiyit gambari
Lightly fry up to 2lbs of fresh prawns over high flame, pour off any excess liquid and set aside.
Finely chop two or more green chillis, four or five cloves fresh garlic and 3tbsp dill, and mix by hand with large pinch of salt. In separate pan, fry one large chopped onion in olive oil, add six peeled and diced tomatoes and 3tbsp tomato puree. Add 1tsp cumin, 1tsp cardamom and black pepper to taste.
Add the chilli, garlic and dill mixture to the onion and tomatoes with a cup of water. Stir well, allow to simmer and then add the prawns. Warm through and then transfer to a clay bowl or zibdiya. Place under an open grill for 10 minutes.
Roughly chop a quarter of a cup of pistachio nuts (pine nuts or almonds are alternatives), toast lightly and add to the top of the zibdiya. Place zibdiya on a plate and serve immediately with rice or bread.
The style of food in the Gaza Strip owes much to its port, which was on the ancient spice route linking south Arabia and the Mediterranean.
Chillis of all kinds are popular and cooks make greater use of fresh green herbs and sour tastes than elsewhere in the region.
There is also diversity in dishes because the majority of Gazans are descendants of refugees from a wide area of historic Palestine, where there were different tastes and ingredients. They were displaced in the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.
In recent years, it has often been hard to keep culinary traditions alive in the Gaza Strip because of food shortages and power cuts.
Israel tightened its ground and naval blockade of Gaza in 2007 after the takeover by Hamas, which it views as a terrorist organisation. Restrictions were partly lifted three years later.
However, fishermen are still restricted to a zone just three nautical miles off the coastline, which dramatically reduces their catches.
Gazans also continue to use a network of smuggling tunnels dug under the border with Egypt to bring in goods.
In the Zawiya market in Gaza City, where stallholders shout out their wares, most basic products can now be found easily.
A lot of fruits and vegetables are locally grown and there are home-reared rabbits and scraggly Egyptian chickens for sale.
It is mainly the prices that limit what shoppers can buy.
Unemployment and poverty remain high in Gaza. Israel continues to ban most exports and local industry has been hit hard.
"Two-thirds of the Gazan people are considered poor. Those need assistance from (the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees) UNRWA or other international humanitarian organisations. Unemployment is officially 45% but in reality it is much higher," says economist, Omar Shaban.
Rabbits for sale in a Gazan market
"There are many studies that show families in Gaza consume meat less than before, consume fruits less than before. We find food but we could not eat the same quality of food that we used to have."
Burning wood crackles in a wood-fired oven, or taboun, behind the house of Nabila Qishta in the southern border town of Rafah.
She has returned to this traditional way of baking white, round loaves of bread - a staple of the Middle Eastern diet - because of the constant shortages of gas in Gaza.
"It is good we kept this knowledge alive," observes the housewife, an accomplished cook whose recipes are featured in The Gaza Kitchen.
Qishta and her son, Khaled, an unemployed engineer who used to work overseas, built the oven with clay that had been thrown away by smugglers digging a tunnel.
"Life's difficulties make us more creative and resourceful," Qishta says. "We have a saying: 'Poverty makes miracles happen.'"
The taboun provides a means of cooking without gas. But what do people do when there is no wood? "We use paper or cardboard boxes," explains Khaled.
"When we were desperate, some people in Gaza even used discarded car oil to cook with but I don't recommend that. The smell is very bad," he adds.
I ask Qishta how she feels about Western readers of the cookbook trying to recreate her favourite food.
"It's a strange thought," she laughs. "But I think they will like it. We enjoy good food in Gaza and in Palestine."

America's Latino future

Dancing class in Arkansas

The floor of the community centre in Springdale, Arkansas, shakes to a staccato rhythm as the young Latino dancers practise their steps.
The young girls slip long dresses of fuchsia and aquamarine over T-shirts and shorts, swishing and swirling them in time to the beat. The teenage boys, solemn in concentration, join in, stepping and stamping, hands clasped behind their backs.
They are clearly having fun, but they and their parents are clear this is not just about keeping them amused. It is about nourishing their Mexican roots, making sure their culture doesn't shrivel and die in this corner of the Deep South.
I have come to Springdale because it is a harbinger of America's future. Ten years ago there were hardly any Latinos here - now they make up more than 30% of the population. Predictions suggest that by 2030, this is what the US will look like.
Changing attitudes? Right now, one in four Americans under 18 is Hispanic - that is, Spanish speakers with roots in Latin America. A lot has been written about the political impact of the growing Latino population, but I am interested in how it could change the culture, indeed the very nature, of the United States itself.
"The richness of our culture is not just music and dance, but who we are," Margarita Solorcano, the director of the dance project, tells me.

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People ask when my relatives came across the border. I tell them, the border came across my ancestors”
"Living here, we have a lot to learn, but we also have a lot to teach, like the family unit, the sense of community, the loyalty to our traditions."
She says they have already altered attitudes in this very traditional and very white part of the world
"I feel it is changing - we are here, and everybody is learning from each other," she says.
"In the Deep South there are people who haven't had the experience of being around other types of people, so when they start mingling with different cultures, their attitudes change."
Of course, some parts of the US have always felt very Hispanic. Large swathes of the South-west were still part of Mexico until the 1860s - just a heartbeat ago in historical terms.
As one young woman in Texas told me recently: "People ask when my relatives came across the border.
"I tell them, the border came across my ancestors."
What is different now is the huge growth in the Latino population far away from the border, sometimes in areas without a tradition of immigration from anywhere but Europe.
One of the dancers, Myra Rivas, suggests the growing Latino population defines one vision of what America should be.
"It will make a huge change," she says. "America is more than just America."
Girl scouts with Mexican and American flags rest after walking in a Cinco de Mayo parade on 4 May 2013 in Denver, Colorado. Cinco de Mayo celebrations are held across the US
"Without Hispanics, without all these other cultures, it isn't really America. The US provides opportunities to every single culture there is and that's what makes America different."
When I ask what Latinos specifically bring to the US, she giggles and says: "The food! And our good looks!" The other dancers agree the food is pretty important.
While some Hispanics are wary of this stereotype, it is what many Americans think.
According to one survey around 80% think Latino culture has had a large influence on the US, and most say the biggest impact is on food and music.
It's true that tacos are as American as curry is British.
But perhaps Latinos add more than just a little spice to American life.
Growing a diocese I go to Springdale's St Raphael's Catholic Church in search of a more profound answers. The airy church is framed by two large modern stained-glass windows. Father John Connell is saying Mass in Spanish.
It is one of three mid-week Masses in the language, which he learnt five years ago. After the service he tells me the increase in the Latino population has made a big difference, especially in his diocese, which covers the whole state.

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The country is changing, it is becoming what it is, because of who they are”
Jana McVay English teacher
"It has meant a huge change," Father Connell says. "We are pushing close to 200,000 Catholics in a diocese that used to have around 60,000.
"In the United States our Latino brothers and sisters are a blessing to the church. Without them the church would have been stagnant in numbers."
And he's sure it will grow still more.
"Almost every Latino woman in my parish is pregnant, so they are still in that mode of mother, family, father, three, four, five, six kids. So what's the impact? A huge explosion of Latino babies in the years ahead."
I ask him if a growth in Catholics means America will become more socially conservative. He's wary of that conclusion.
"I agree it may have some type of impact," he says. "Latinos come from predominantly Catholic countries, and their culture and religion are all wrapped up in one.
"We in the United States individualise everything - politics, religion, culture - it is all separate. Will it change? I don't know.
"The second generation will speak English, the third generation, they may not even speak Spanish and they may forget a lot of traditions and culture of their parents. That's the history of any immigrants to this country."
New immigrant waves That's true. But this might be different for Latinos, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Spanish language is already ubiquitous in the United States, and there are areas of the country where you need speak no English.
There are the big TV networks for a Spanish-speaking audience, Telemundo and Univision, as well as many newspapers and radio stations.
Many public notices, for instance on the buses I take in Washington DC, are all in English and Spanish.
Some schools are bilingual and those irritating automatic telephone options nearly always ask you to press one for English, two for Spanish.
All of this is constantly reinforced by new waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants who may have little English.
At Springdale Har-Ber High School, I sit in on a class for teenagers who are new to America. They are learning English through American history.
"What was the New Deal? Is it a he or a she? No it's an 'it'!"
Hispanic residents walk by a bilingual sign for a CVS pharmacy on 28 March  2011 in Union City, New Jersey Businesses and government are taking into account a growing Spanish-speaking population
The animated teacher, Jana McVay, engages the kids, putting her finger to her lips, acting out puzzlement, asking the kids questions.
She says it is important her pupils learn English.
"It's essential if they want to be successful," Ms McVay says. "I want my students to have the American Dream. I don't want my students to think they have to work in a factory.
"If they want to get a management job, go to university, they need to speak English."
But she doesn't think that means they have to lose Spanish, or their culture.
Perhaps becoming American no longer requires subscribing to a narrow vision of what that means.
"I have a friend who is a Latina and she can't speak a lick of Spanish - her parents subscribed to the idea that you come here and you become a Wasp," Ms McVay says.
"But that is changing and I think it will change the country. We talk to the kids here and they have an identity and they need not try to become someone else.
"They are aware that there is no box to fit into. The country is changing, it is becoming what it is, because of who they are."
Brenda and Carlos, two 16-year-old students from Mexico, can't imagine ever feeling American, but understand the lure.
Rick Schaeffer, communications director of Springdale public schools, says this corner of Arkansas is definitely a taste of what is around the corner for the country. And while some around here wouldn't agree, he thinks it is positive.
"America has always been a nation of immigrants, ever since the 1700s," Mr Schaeffer says.
"If you look at the Hispanic culture, they might be more like Americans used to be than Americans are today.
"They are family orientated. You don't see divorce. You sure don't see abortion. They are hard workers. They are industrious.
"In a way, they are a lot like the immigrants who came here in the 1700s, who built our great country into what it is today."
All those I spoke to were positive about what the increase in the Latino population would mean - although I didn't specifically seek out critics.
But I came away with a strong sense of one vision of America - that it is a project still in motion, and that the more it mirrors the world, rather than reflects a European identity that others have to squeeze into, the stronger it is.

China's ambitious plans for its huge reserves

Yuan notes and 100 dollar bill  
What plans does China have for its huge currency reserves

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
I ask, because while so many Western governments spend sleepless nights worrying about the size of their trade deficits, China has the opposite problem.
Thanks to its export success, China is the world's largest holder of foreign exchange reserves. Those reserves are growing all the time and currently stand at a record $3.44 trillion.
That's $3,440,000,000,000 if you want all the zeros, or basically the size of the entire German economy.
What's in the reserves is a state secret, but a report in the China Securities Journal a few years ago revealed that 65% was held in dollars, 26% in euros, 5% in pounds and 3% in yen.
The Chinese are the largest holder of US government debt after the US central bank, the Federal Reserve. They also own European government debt, but perhaps not as many bonds from those troubled countries on the periphery as the eurozone governments would like to see.
During the height of the euro crisis the single currency would rise with every indication, sign, hint or vague rumour that China was planning to buy euro area bonds.
You might think that a trade surplus the size of China's would be good news. But according to People's Bank of China officials such as Deputy Governor Yi Gang, it's actually posing problems because of the fixed exchange rate.
Challenges Holding reserves is a way to protect a country's currency from attack, as selling reserves can help sustain the value of a currency. It's a lesson that central banks learned after the Asian financial crisis.
Real estate fair in Beijing, file photo  
Large reserves lead to price rises, including housing
For China, the yuan floats within a narrow band of 1% on either side of a peg, so reserves are helpful. But it's unclear how much a country really needs.
It's not just a worry that the US dollar or euro will depreciate. The concern is also due to reserves contributing too much cash in the economy. That's leading to price rises, including in housing.
When a central bank accumulates reserves, it prints cash (yuan) to buy the dollars, euros, pounds and yen that it adds to its reserves. To prevent that cash from generating inflation (imagine if China added $3.4tn of cash to its $8tn economy), the central bank "sterilises" its actions by withdrawing the equivalent amount of cash from the economy.
It does this by paying interest on money that commercial banks deposit back at the central bank, so encouraging them to leave their cash there.
Sterilisation tends to be incomplete, as banks may want to earn a better return elsewhere instead of parking money at the central bank.
China does it better than most since it has a largely state-owned banking system which tends to do what it's told. Nevertheless, the reserves are still a source of excess money or liquidity.
What China wants
Samsung stand at a recent trade fair China wants to build global companies like South Korea's Samsung
Compounding the problem is the worry that the central bank may not be earning a great return on those reserves, as the yields (or interest rates) on US and European government bonds are low.
So, instead, China is using its reserves to finance overseas investment. China wants to buy real assets - like ports, utilities, natural resources, technology and financial companies.
This has two benefits for the Chinese.
As well as the hope that real companies will earn better returns than financial instruments, it also helps them to achieve a larger economic goal - to build Chinese multinational companies.
China's 'going out' policy Globally competitive firms could help China raise its technological capacity and productivity. That is key to sustaining economic growth. China would like to follow the example of other countries that have become rich - like South Korea or Taiwan - and develop successful global brands like Samsung and HTC.
This was China's aim when it launched the "going global" or "going out" policy in 2000. The first ever commercial overseas investment was in 2003-04 in Europe when the Chinese firm TCL bought France's Thomson brand. Since then, outward foreign direct investment has grown exponentially and reached record levels.
China FDI Chinese direct investment abroad 1982-2010 (US$bn) Source: IMF
Last December was also the first time in which monthly data showed the amount invested overseas exceeded inward investment. That switch is typically an indicator of a country reaching a level of economic development.
State-owned enterprises have invested overseas for more than three decades and will continue to do so. China's state-owned firm, State Grid, the world's largest utility company, has just announced a second foray into Australia's energy market.
But the outward investment is diverse. It isn't just resources and energy. The largest regions for investment are other parts of Asia, followed by Latin America and then Europe.

China's overseas investment

Region Total Largest recipient of investment
Source: IMF Stock of overseas direct investment (end 2011)
Hong Kong ($262bn)
Latin America
Cayman Islands ($21.7bn)
Russia ($3.8bn)
South Africa ($4.1bn)
North America
US ($9bn)
Australia ($11bn)
Chinese firms have to receive permission to invest overseas, as the country still controls capital movements. Thus, Chinese investments are driven by what can almost be described as "competitive disadvantage". That is, they invest where the Chinese economy needs bolstering.
So, it's not just resources but also technology and higher valued services - which is why the countries receiving the most investment (excepting places like Hong Kong or the Cayman Islands) are Australia, Singapore and the United States.
However, Chinese investment is not always popular in the countries receiving it. State-financed investment can generate a political backlash, as has been seen in Australia and the United States.
Plus, private Chinese firms can find it challenging to operate due to a lack of transparency as to what is state and what is private. This suggests an important area of reform for China, which is to make it clearer the sources of financing for its overseas deals and the ownership of Chinese companies.
Problem solves itself Chances are, China won't be running the large trade surpluses of the past.
Last year, the surplus fell to less than 3% of GDP from the over 10% reached before the 2008 global financial crisis. They won't sell as much to overseas markets as those economies slowly recover, so China is unlikely to accumulate reserves to the same extent as before.
It also means that it will be more important for Chinese overseas investment to be accepted since China will rely more on having productive and competitive multinational firms to grow. And those firms may increasingly need to raise financing on a more competitive basis.
What is clear that we will see Chinese companies increasingly on the global stage. Their success will matter not only for the companies, but also for the country's continuing growth.

Tumblr and Yahoo: Why sex, jokes and gifs are worth $1.1bn

David Karp, founder of Tumblr Users on David Karp's Tumblr platform have posted more than 50 billion entries since the site's inception
Yahoo is desperate to be cool again.
And, like that kid at school who always got the newest gadgets and video games to impress his "friends", there's seemingly no shortage of money available to get what it wants.
Now, just two months after splashing out millions on a UK teenager's app Summly, Yahoo is set to buy one of the hottest properties in social media: Tumblr.
It will reportedly cost $1.1bn (£723m), a smidgen more than Facebook paid for photo-sharing service Instagram last year.
Yet with users already threatening to leave Tumblr en masse, will simply owning something trendy actually boost Yahoo's internet cred?

Start Quote

It feels like someone is plunging a white hot poker into the woodwork, and setting it slowly on fire.”
Tumblr user
"It's very hard to just buy something cool from somebody else and for it to remain cool," says Robin Klein, a partner at technology investors Index Ventures.
"It's important that the leadership at Tumblr comes into Yahoo, stays in Yahoo, and is a key participant there."
Chief executive Marissa Mayer has confirmed that founder David Karp is to stay with the company. Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, says this is an important component if the site is to remain a success.
"For a long time Yahoo was viewed in the industry as a very marketing-led company such that any respectable technologist would cringe if they had to work there," he told the BBC.
"Marissa is herself a respected technologist, full-on, and a great business person. And I think she is making all the right moves."
Global in-jokes But what exactly has she bought?
Wikpedia's Jimmy Wales gives his reaction to Yahoo's deal with Tumblr
Tumblr describes itself as a way to "effortlessly share anything" using a mixture of text, pictures, videos and various other formats.
In plain English, Tumblr can be best described as something that exists between Twitter and a traditional blog, for people who have more than 140 characters to say - but not much time in which to say it.
This formula has seen the site notch up more than 100 million registered blogs, which between them have published more than 50 billion posts.
The site was set up in 2006, when Mr Karp put together the first bit of Tumblr's code in a two-week period between jobs. Within a year, Mr Karp was - according to his business partner at the time - now the reluctant chief executive of a rapidly expanding start-up.
But the huge levels of traffic came with predictable teething problems. Tumblr soon started to suffer from a lack of stability, with its equivalent of Twitter's "fail whale" - the screen presented when the service was over capacity - becoming a common and frustrating sight for users.
Several rounds of investment later, and with an employee base that has expanded from two back then to 175 today, the ship has been well and truly steadied.

'We promise not to screw it up'

Yahoo's chief executive took to Tumblr in an attempt to ease the worries of users. This is what she said:
"We promise not to screw it up. Tumblr is incredibly special and has a great thing going.
"We will operate Tumblr independently. David Karp will remain CEO.
"The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve.
"Yahoo! will help Tumblr get even better, faster."
And now, Tumblr thrives. Famed for its lightning-quick set-up speeds allowing people to have a great-looking, full-featured blog in seconds, Tumblr is centre stage in the internet community.
Tumblr's forte lies in viral hits or memes, global in-jokes which capture the mood of sometimes niche but passionate readers.
One recent example, White Men Wearing Google Glass, pokes fun at the ever-so-dorky appearance of those keen to show off Google's latest invention.
Last year's stand-out hit was Texts From Hillary Clinton - a collection of images captioned with humorous examples of what the then US Secretary of State may have been writing.
Clinton herself was a fan - the last image is one of her with the blog's creators.
Tumblr is even credited with bringing about the resurgence of the animated gif - an image format that until recently had been seen as tacky and outdated, but is now a key component of discourse and comedy online.
Not safe for work All that sounds very appealing to Yahoo and its investors - but there is one elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged. Or rather, naked people in the room.
Tumblr is bursting with amateur pornography. The company does not give a breakdown of how many of its sites are adult-orientated, but it's clear it has no issue in accommodating them.
The site's terms of service say sharing of explicit pictures is fine - as long as it is clearly labelled as NSFW, meaning not safe for work.
As for explicit video, it's a no-no to use Tumblr's own video feature to upload adult clips, but embedded videos uploaded elsewhere is not a problem - indeed, Tumblr even recommends a specific pornographic site to do just that.
It's an approach that could create problems for Yahoo, predicts Index Venture's Robin Klein.
Marissa Mayer Yahoo's Marissa Mayer is working to revive the company's fortunes
"This is where segmentation becomes so important," he tells the BBC. "Advertising must go to where it wants to be.
"There's no way advertisers will be happy to end up on porn sites."
US technology news site AllThingsD has reported a "source close to the situation" as saying Yahoo would have a hands-off approach to running the site - porn and all - once it is under their control.
Abandon ship! But that hasn't stopped some users getting nervous.
"They're going to lose a number of bloggers," predicts Mr Klein.
"I'm sure they've factored that into their thinking. They're going to have to manage this."
Wordpress - a rival blogging platform - reported that more than 72,000 people imported their Tumblr blogs to Wordpress in just one hour on Sunday evening.
Within moments of the news of the probable buyout becoming public, bloggers flocked to Tumblr to express their dismay.
One user wrote: "Tumblr has been my safe place for three years now, and it feels like someone is plunging a white hot poker into the woodwork, and setting it slowly on fire. Thanks Yahoo."
A search for the term Yahoo on the site brings many more examples - some with colourful language.
Yahoo and Tumblr logos on screen Much of Tumblr's development team will join Yahoo
Yahoo will be hoping that, like so many internet storms, this anger will drift away - leaving behind a highly active, highly profitable bounty.
"Tumblr so far has not made a huge amount of money," says Luke Lewis, UK editor of news site Buzzfeed.
"But the potential is there. The people who use Tumblr are really young, they are really engaged and spend hours a day on Tumblr."
And while seemingly unpopular, Yahoo does at least have one thing going for it, according to one user.
"At least it wasn't bought by Facebook."

Oscar Pistorius will not compete for the rest of the year

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius will not compete for the rest of the year

Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius will not compete again this year as he awaits trial for murder.
Pistorius, 26, is on bail after being charged with the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but can compete before his court case is heard.
His agent, Peet van Zyl, said the six-time Paralympic champion was not mentally ready to return to the track.
"There was never any pressure from me or his coach (Ampie Louw) to return, it's his decision," said Van Zyl.

Oscar Pistorius - the athlete

Oscar Pistorius
• Pistorius had his lower legs amputated at the age of 11 months, having been born without a fibula in either leg
• His parents, Henke and Sheila, were advised that having the amputation done before he had learned to walk would be less traumatic
• By the age of two, Pistorius had his first pair of prosthetic legs
• He played water polo and rugby in secondary school. He also played cricket, tennis, took part in triathlons and Olympic club wrestling and was an enthusiastic boxer
• In June 2003, he shattered his knee playing rugby and on the advice of doctors took up track running to aid his rehabilitation
• Pistorius has won six Paralympic gold medals
It means the South African will not compete in the IPC World Championships in Lyon in July.
Pistorius was arrested after shooting Steenkamp dead on 14 February.
The athlete, known as Blade Runner, claimed he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar and has denied murder.
On 22 February Pistorius was granted bail and had certain conditions lifted which meant he could compete in events outside his homeland.
Pistorious's coach was quoted by Eye Witness News in South Africa as saying his athlete was "nowhere close" to being in a position to train.
The double amputee had not been invited to compete in July's London Anniversary Games, with UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner saying he did not want the meeting to turn into a "media circus".
However, his agent said meeting organisers had been in touch with the view of inviting Pistorius to compete in their events.
"[There] were a good number, enough to keep him busy through the year," added Zyl.
The Paralympian is next due in court on 4 June and a trial is expected to take place before the end of this year.

Car bomb attacks kill dozens in Iraqi cities

An eyewitness in Basra described a tea seller "disappearing" in the blast
At least 54 people have been killed and many others injured in a series of car bomb attacks in central and southern Iraq, officials say.
Baghdad was worst hit, with nine explosions at bus stations and markets in the mainly Shia Muslim districts.
Two bombs went off earlier in the day in the southern city of Basra, and a blast in Samarra killed three people.
The attacks are part of the recent rise in violence in Iraq linked to growing political and sectarian tension.
Police said nearly 200 people were injured in Monday's violence in Iraq. Eight Iranian pilgrims are reported to be among the dead.
One of the bloodiest attacks in Baghdad happened in the northern Shia neighbourhood of Shaab, when a car bomb exploded near a crowded market place killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 20.
The bombs in Basra, a mainly Shia Muslim city, killed at least 14 outside a restaurant and the main bus station.
"We were sitting here waiting for work and as usual we gathered near a street food cart and the place was very crowded," Basra resident Mohammed Ali, who was near one of the blasts, told Reuters news agency.
"I crossed the street to the other side when all of a sudden it turned dark, dust filled the area. I was showered with metal wreckage and wounded in my legs."
A further three people were killed and 15 wounded in a car bomb attack in Samarra, a city some 113km (70 miles) north of Baghdad. The blast reportedly happened near a gathering of members of the pro-government Sunni militia, the Awakening Council.
In a separate incident, 10 policemen kidnapped on Saturday in western Anbar province have been found dead.
No group has said it carried out Monday's bomb attacks, but tension between the Shia Muslim majority, which leads the government, and minority Sunnis has been growing since last year.
Sunni demonstrators have accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of discriminating against them - something the government denies.
Syrian impact Iraqis have not witnessed violence on the scale of the last few weeks for nearly five years, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Baghdad.
The Shia-Sunni fault line, with Syria currently at its epicentre, is certainly contributing, he notes.

Iraq's Shia and Sunnis

  • Shia Muslims make up roughly 60% of population. Were persecuted during presidency of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. Have since dominated politically
  • Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda targeted Shias during worst of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.
  • Many Sunnis were driven out of mixed areas and government security forces were accused of widespread abuses against Sunnis
  • Sunni Iraqis say they are discriminated against politically and economically. Sectarian conflict has fuelled massive internal displacement and emigration
  • Religions: 97% Muslim (Shia 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%
  • Ethnicity: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%
But Iraqis do not see their own politicians doing enough to unite people on both sides of the sectarian divide, and they do not see the international community showing the urgency they think it should in averting further chaos, our correspondent adds.
Violence has increased since more than 50 people died in clashes between security forces and Sunni Arabs in April, when an anti-government protest camp was raided in Nawija near Kirkuk.
At least 60 people died in three bombings in Sunni Muslim areas in and around Baghdad on Friday. Those bombings followed deadly attacks on Shia targets across Iraq.
On Sunday, at least 10 policemen were reported killed in north-western Iraq in attacks blamed by the authorities on Sunni militants.
Basra had been seen as relatively peaceful, but there too, violence has risen in recent months.
In March, a car bomb in the city killed 10 and wounded many others. On Saturday gunmen there shot and killed a Sunni Muslim cleric.
The increasing number of incidents has raised fears that Iraq could return to the worst of the sectarian conflict seen in 2006 and 2007.

Ferguson era ends with 10-goal thriller; Arsenal pip Spurs for fourth

Ferguson era ends with 10-goal thriller; Arsenal pip Spurs for fourth

Alex Ferguson receives a guard of honor from his Manchester United players to mark his 1500th and final game in charge of the new EPL champions. Alex Ferguson receives a guard of honor from his Manchester United players to mark his 1500th and final game in charge of the new EPL champions.
Alex Ferguson's 1500th and final game in charge of Manchester United ended with a freak 5-5 draw at West Bromwich Albion Sunday while Arsenal claimed the final Champions League place on the last day of the English Premier League season.
Ferguson's farewell looked to end in customary winning fashion as the new champions led 3-0 and 5-2 at the Hawthorns until the home side hit back with three late goals in five minutes, Romelu Lukaku equalizing to complete his hat-trick.
It is the first time in the history of the EPL that two sides had shared 10 goals in a match.
It also marks the end of an era with the 71-year-old Ferguson ending his 26 year reign at Old Trafford with 38 trophies, including 13 EPL titles.
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Paul Scholes, so influential for United in their prolonged triumphs under the Scot, joined him in retirement. The 38-year-old midfielder came on as a substitute in the 69th minute, shortly before WBA's extraordinary comeback.
It was a day marked by other farewells as Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher and his former club and England teammate Michael Owen, now with Stoke, ended their playing careers.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez also took charge of the Blues for the final time, seeing Fernando Torres score the crucial goal in a 2-1 win over Everton which finally sealed third spot ahead of Arsenal.
It was also David Moyes' last game in charge of Everton before he takes over from Ferguson at United.
With relegation matters settled by Arsenal's 4-1 defeat to condemn Wigan to the drop in midweek, Arsene Wenger's team needed to win at Newcastle to deny North London rivals the coveted fourth spot.
A goal from French defender Laurent Koscielny just after halftime proved enough despite some nervy late moments.
The anxiety increased as news came from White Hart Lane that another Gareth Bale wonder strike had given Tottenham a late 1-0 lead against 10-man Sunderland, who had David Vaughan sent off.
But Arsenal, who mounted an impressive late season charge, were left to celebrate a 17th straight year in Europe's premier club competition.
"The players are special. I've told them many times but they've shown it in the last two months they've been absolutely exceptional," Wenger told Sky Sports.
Tottenham must contemplate the Europa League again after finishing one point adrift.
It was cruel for manager Andre Villas-Boas, his side achieving the highest points tally with 72 of a side not qualifying for the Champions League.
"It is difficult to take, in the end we did what we had to but Arsenal did their job well and go through. It is difficult at this moment," he told Sky Sports.
Manchester City, without a manager after dispensing with Roberto Mancini, slumped to a 3-2 home defeat to Norwich, but had already clinched second spot.
Stoke, with Owen coming on for 16 minutes, drew 1-1 with Southampton while FA Cup winners Wigan drew 2-2 with Aston Villa.
Reading, relegated with Wigan and QPR, lost 4-2 at West Ham and Fulham won 3-0 at League Cup winners Swansea.
Carragher hit the post but Liverpool saw off QPR 1-0 at Anfield with Philippe Coutinho scoring the only goal.

Beijing travel: 72 hours in the Chinese capital

Beijing travel: 72 hours in the Chinese capital

You can now visit the city visa-free for up to 72 hours. Here's how to cram the best of Beijing into three days
For delicious, handmade noodles, Beijing's Noodle Bar is a solid choice.
Travelers looking to visit Beijing without the hassle of obtaining a visa are in luck: at the beginning of 2013, the Chinese government lifted visa requirements for tourists laying over in Beijing or Shanghai for up to 72 hours.
Are three days enough to take in the best of Beijing? It's a tight squeeze, but here’s how to make the most of a 72-hour trip to one of the world’s most vibrant cities.
More on CNN: Visas waived for Beijing transit travelers 

Day 1

 Lama templeLama Temple was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng before he was enthroned in Forbidden City during the Qing Dynasty. Occupying more than 66,000 square meters, it's the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in the city.
3 p.m.: The best way to settle into Beijing after checking into a hotel is with a long walk from the city's Lama Temple to Houhai Lake.
Most choose to begin the trip with a quick temple visit, then a walk west through Wudaoying Hutong, a street that captures the spirit of the city’s hipster scene.
You’ll find quirky shops selling everything from fixed-gear bicycles to succulent plants, and even a cat cafe.
If you turn south until you hit Gulou East Street, and continue west through the hustle and bustle of endless vendors and cafes, you'll reach the Drum and Bell Towers. There's a 4:30 p.m. drum performance, worth checking out before heading to Houhai for a lakeside stroll.
We suggest skipping Houhai’s bars and restaurants, which tend to be underwhelming tourist traps. And have fun trying not to get coerced into a rickshaw ride by the notoriously pushy drivers.
Lama Temple, 12 Yonghegong Dajie; Bell and Drum Towers, north end of Dianmen Dajie
7 p.m.: No need to leave this happening neighborhood for dinner. Dali Courtyard offers some of the city’s best Yunnan cuisine, a region of China that takes culinary cues from neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
Flavorful dishes such as crispy shrimp with lime leaves pair well with a mug of Dali beer and the intimate traditional courtyard setting.
For a restaurant that hits closer to Beijing, Mr. Shi’s Dumplings offers homey and typical but tasty Chinese dishes such as kung pao chicken and delicious pork and chive fried dumplings.
Dali Courtyard, 67 Xiaojingchang Hutong; +86 (10) 8404 1430
Mr. Shi’s Dumplings, 74 Baochao Hutong; +86 (10) 8405 0399
9:30 p.m.:  For a few drinks, there's nearby Modernista, where you may be able to catch live music or dance performances. The bar has a Parisian jazz age feel, a lively crowd and reasonably priced drinks.
Modernista Old Cafe & Tapas Bar, 4 Baochao Hutong; +86 (0)13 6712 74747
More on CNN: For Beijing's best food, hit the hutongs

Day 2

For a less crowded Great Wall experience there's "wild" Jinshanling, about 125 kilometers outside of Beijing.
8 a.m.: If you're only in China for a brief visit and a trip to the Great Wall is on your gotta-do list, the best way to get there is to hire a driver or join a group tour.
The trip should take two to three hours, depending on which section you visit. Sections in the “wilder” parts of the Wall, such as Jinshanling or Jiankou, are unrestored and have fewer crowds.
Athletic types may want to join expat hikers for the day; Beijing Hikers frequently offers all-inclusive trips to the Wall at competitive prices.
Beijing Hikers; +86 (10) 6432 2876
4 p.m.:  The best way to relieve achy muscles after climbing the Wall is a Chinese massage. Dragonfly and Hummingbird spas are dependable and clean with Western facilities and English-speaking staff.
Dragonfly Retreat, 60 Donghuamen Dajie; +86 (10) 6527-9368 
Hummingbird Retreat, Tower 26, Central Park, Chaoyangmen Wai; +86 (10) 6533 6922

6 p.m. One of the top places to pick up traditional Chinese knickknacks and other fun souvenirs is the Silk Street Market. This is the place for handbags and inexpensive pearl jewelry, Chinese costumes and iPhone cases. Be prepared to bargain hard.
Silk Street Market, 8 Xiushui Dongjie; +86 (10) 5169 9003
8 p.m. Tonight's the night to feast on Beijing’s most celebrated dish, Peking duck.
Tourists and locals alike flock to Da Dong for some of the city’s best crispy-skinned, juicy duck accompanied by delicate pancakes. Other top dishes here include a delectable pork belly and hearty chestnut and chicken soup.
Da Dong, 5/F, Jinbao Place Shopping Mall, 88 Jinbao Jie; +86 (10) 8522-1111
More on CNN: The old road: How to cycle around Beijing

Day 3

Who says the best views have to be sky high? Even on smoggy days -- there are many -- Capital M doesn't disappoint.
9 a.m. For a Chinese-style breakfast off the street, widely available favorites include steamed buns and jian bing, a tasty crepe with fried egg and sauce. Next stop: the Forbidden City.
You can spend all day at this Beijing icon without coming close to seeing it all. If viewing imperial art from the Ming and Qing dynasties is a priority, spare a bit of time for the Palace Museum.
Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Qian Jie
Noon: One of the best places in Beijing to sit back and people watch is Tiananmen Square, where throngs of Chinese tourists visit from all over the country and vendors bustle around.
For lunch, at the south end of the square there are many cheap and cheery restaurants in the hutongs.
Karaiya Spice House, a Beijing hotspot. 2 p.m.: Contrary to popular belief, there are green spaces in Beijing. Jingshan Park has lush scenery and traditional architecture.
It's also quotidian China at its best: retirees dancing and singing, doing water calligraphy and exercising their caged birds. A climb up the park’s hill to Wanchun Pavilion offers sweeping views of the Forbidden City.
Jingshan Park, 44 Jingshan Xi Jie
More on CNN: Insider guide: What to do in Beijing
5 p.m.: Time for a drink. The terrace at Capital M in Qianmen offers some of Beijing's best views and the beautifully decorated restaurant is a great place for an evening aperitif  -- even on a smoggy day.
Capital M, 3/F, 2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street; +86 (10) 6702-2727
7 p.m.: The best place to experience Beijing’s modern, flashy side is Sanlitun, a highly developed area popular for its bars and restaurants such as Karaiya Spice House. This trendy, super spicy, Hunanese restaurant serves up incredible chili-crusted ribs.
Carb lovers can hit up the Noodle Bar for delicious, handmade noodles.
Karaiya Spice House, 3/F, Bldg. 8, Taikoo Li South, 19 Sanlitun Road; +86 (10) 6415-3535
Noodle Bar, 1949- The Hidden City. Courtyard 4, Gong Ti Bei Lu; +86 (10) 6501-1949
9 p.m.: When the weather is nice Beijing's fine young things head for the rooftop of Migas, a trendy lounge and restaurant. The rooftop patio has space-age touches, like egg-shaped cabanas.
Another popular place is Apothecary. Offering homemade infusions and bitters, it's arguably the best cocktail bar in Beijing.
Migas, 6/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun North Road; +86 (10) 5208 6061
Apothecary, 3/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun North St.; +86 (10) 5208 6040
More on CNN: Beijing's 'big 4' sites

Day 4

The Tower of Buddhist Incense, at Beijing's Summer Palace. 9 a.m.: Last day in Beijing. You didn't think we'd leave out Beijing's Summer Palace, did you?
It's a great place to spend a few hours exploring the massive gardens and pavilions. It's also home to Kunming Lake and Empress Cixi’s infamous marble boat.
If you're looking to splurge on a final luxurious lunch before you leave the city, the Aman Hotel’s Cantonese restaurant is the place to relax over dim sum before you head to the airport to catch your flight.