Eastern vs Western Europe – The Equality Inequality

You might believe the entire European space is pretty much similar, and all countries are equal in rights and obligations, but this is just not true. Spending a longer period of time in both the Eastern and the Western part of Europe, the differences become more and more obvious. Even if the imaginary borders are dimmed by the existence of the EU, it’s interesting to see how distinct the two geographical areas are.

Cultural variety is always welcomed in any community, but when the differences make it all the way into every detail of the life of an individual, I can’t help but wonder why there’s such a huge gap in the quality of life, in two countries separated by only a few thousands of km.

Communism, which was strongly present in Eastern Europe pushed the development of the countries from the former communist block further back, with quite a high number of years, but the differences aren’t limited only to development, but they go much further than this.

Food Quality 

I know it’s said that Romanian dishes are absolutely amazing, tasty and people come back from all over the world, just to taste more, but what I mean by quality, is the quality of the products which make it in the supermarkets and are available to a large number of the country’s population. This aspect you don’t really notice on a short trip to the other corner of the continent, but only after you live there for a while, and you are faced with a few serious shopping and cooking sessions.

In the west, with the presence of so many food safety associations which actually do a good job at monitoring the market, every fruit and vegetable has a very beautiful smell, the colors and alive, and the taste is right as it should be. The supermarkets can’t allow bad looking or expired products to make it on the shelves, and every such product, in case it makes a person sick, can turn into a serious lawsuit, and a drop into reputation, which is not that easy to recover from. The salami is made out of actual meat, the meat in the stores looks healthy and colored, and the cheese goodies smell delicious, and look like they are made in accordance with the right procedures. Besides, the butter won’t go bad in a few days, even if kept outside, like I was used to and the chocolate with milk, does taste like milk, and no extra sugar is added on top of what’s needed, in order to distract from the real taste.

In the east, most of the time, the fruits and vegetables and not ripe enough, or are well passed their best by date, but are still kept on the shelves (after the date is illegally changed), and you can see flies having a party in the middle of the supermarket, especially during very warm summers. The color is faded, the taste is not present, and the smell is nowhere to be found. Sometimes you can’t even tell the difference between cucumbers, tomatoes and pears. Also, buying fruits and vegetable with fungi is quite common, but because the food safety associations are not present or way too corrupt, such products stay legally on the shelves.The salami is 3/4 fat and other animal remains, and only 1/4 meat, and the meat looks quite suspicious and sick. Even if you want to pay more for a good product, you can’t find any type of cheese which isn’t processed and processed again, and processed again, until you are left with a white ‘sort of cheesy’ block.

Bad quality products combined with low wages means access to a limited amount of vitamins and minerals, and a very poor, heavy diet, which leads to medical issues. And you wonder why you still get sick, even if you have a balanced diet, exercise, and you do all the right things. What you buy simply doesn’t have the right properties, in order to keep your body healthy. And when you get sick, you face an even bigger issue.

Medical Treatments – Inefficient Medication

It happened to me quite a few times so far, to get sick during my travels, and I must say this is quite a serious issue, if it happens in the wrong location. Buying medication which doesn’t work, is quite common for the east. You go to the doctor/pharmacy, they prescribe a bunch of pills, you take them for days/weeks on end, and you barely recover, slowly. Every now and then a new very powerful medicine comes on the market, which gets you well in a few days, and causes cancer, if used long term. Eh?! But, yet again, if you did this all your life, then it seems quite normal.

Getting sick in the west, means buying the medicine, taking 3-4 pills, and you feel like a new person. Wow, they actually work!? The same medication looks different in the west, than it does in the east, even if it’s the same brand, and the ones you buy in the west actually do what they are intended to do.

If you get really sick, there’s no worse place to be than in the East, as besides not getting access to the right medication, you might not get access to any treatment at all, as the hospitals don’t have pills or basic hygiene supplies (they often send the patients to go buy them themselves – quite useful when you can’t get out of the hospital bed), and the best doctors already left for the west, looking for better paid jobs.

Infrastructure 

For a traveler, this is quite an obvious deciding factor when it comes to the level of development of a country. Better roads (highways) and public transportation means better access to all locations of the country, better people flow, which leads to the workflow moving where the jobs are. The better the access, the better the development, as even the less developed areas improve gradually.

Driving around Europe, I must say, you can travel everywhere from everywhere in about 1 day, up to the border with the east, where only one country, from one end to the other, takes you just as much as the rest of the continent took you.

Poor road quality and the absence of highways dictates the access of the population to a better paid job, or to a job at all. As in Romania, even a 30 km distance from the towns around the capital, is too much to do, by public transportation (which sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t, because of personal reasons of the company’s owner, or legal issues, when they get caught by the police, operating the cars without licences) development outside the big cities is slow, if present at all.

Poor roads means less tourists, and less investments from abroad. Less contact with the outside, means the mentality stays the same, the education level doesn’t improve, the financial situation doesn’t get any better. And this reflects into everything, especially traffic. Compared to the west, in the east the traffic changes dramatically, and frustration, selfishness and carelessness takes over, turning the roads into a constant circus performance. For a driver, going from west to east, it can become very confusing, and your civilized driving style changes, when you’re constantly bombarded with stressful and absurd situations on the road.

Financial Situation – The Deciding Factor?

And, it all comes down to money. Again. You are poor, you can’t compete with the west, so you can’t expect better from the food you eat or the treatment you take. So you get the remainders from the richest countries in the EU.

Worse part is that living in the same location for too long, you begin to feel that’s normal, and you can’t understand that there’s actually something very wrong with the picture described above. Even if local smaller producers sell better quality products, not everyone has access or the financial power to actually buy those products. So they settle for what’s available in the supermarkets… In the end, if you can’t afford better, you can’t sue them either, right?

Companies, legally, are under no obligation to market an identical product under the same brand, in the European space, which means that the newcomers into the EU, receive the lower quality products.

You might believe this is all, but no. Bad financial situation means less access to education and medical care, less education and treatment means no chance at improving the current condition. Not improving the condition, means the mentality of the people won’t change, the stress level won’t reduce, and the society won’t evolve. And it only gets worse, for countries which are already behind in terms of medical care, education, infrastructure.

Being poor is a state of mind, and is constantly fed by the environment and the society. Not fighting for better, not making the right investments, not caring for own health, not being united as a community, brings down the quality of life, and the hope of it ever improving.


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The Special Photograph

Cleaning a hard drive is an interesting and also exhausting experience. Besides finding all sort of files you have no clue about where did you got them from and what’s their use, you also come across hundreds of GB of data you definitely want to keep, organize and never lose. The closest files to our hearts, are definitely the personal pictures. Losing part of our photos is enough to make any grown man cry. Been there, done that, have the sad t-shirt.

Going through my picture archive made me realize that after the digital camera boom, we all have way too many tens of GB of pictures, from the past few years alone! Every trip, special or less special moment and event, are documented and are a priceless reminder of our past. We definitely don’t want to lose those.

Digital cameras and the evolution of storage options made holding on to beautiful memories so much easier for us. Pretty much every gadget you buy nowadays, which can be connected to the internet, is equipped with a camera. This gives us an insane mobility and the opportunity to turn every moment of the day in a photo / video diary, if that’s what we really want.

But, things weren’t always this way. Actually, the digital cameras weren’t around until the 1990s! Yes, we survived that far without them. And nowadays, we simply can’t imagine our lives without such a precious gadget.

Short history of cameras

Who remembers the film cameras? Oh yes, the good old film cameras, which only allowed you to click 36 pictures? Yep, only that … You don’t know that feeling? Try buying a single use camera, in case you’re looking for that unique experience, without spending too much money on buying an old film camera 🙂

The man we should thank for giving us the opportunity to immortalize a few moments from our before the 90s lives, is called George Eastman, the person who created a company called Kodak, in the 1880s, which started selling the first flexible roll film cameras. The buyer, after clicking the pictures would send the camera back to the factory for the film to be developed, much like the disposable cameras nowadays.

Oh and you think that’s bad? Let’s look even deeper into the history of the cameras.

Photography, in the form we know it today, started in the late 1830, in France, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a camera obscura to expose to light a pewter plate coated with bitumen which led to the creation of the Daguerreotype, the ancestor of modern film.

Emulsion plates replaced the Daguerreotype in the 1850s, using an emulsion process called(Collodion process), which involved a glass plate, much more sensitive to light.

In the 1970’s, the dry plates gave photographers much more freedom in taking photographs, as the plates could be stored and the cameras became much smaller. The last big step for this fascinating device, before the first film camera became part of our lives.

Evolution at its best, or what?

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Old baby photograph – Yep, that’s me 🙂

In the past, a photograph was a piece of art, a rare precious possession to cherish and pass from generation to generation. A camera was a very unusual object to be found in a house, and would be used only on special occasions. Every picture we clicked was so special to us, and even more, the preparations, surroundings, people and occasion made it rise to the level of worthy for immortality. Today, not so much.

We don’t have a lot of pictures from before the digital cameras era, but the ones we posses are definitely a small treasure. Something about the black and white pictures gives us a warm cozy feeling inside. Oh yes, the nostalgia for the good old days…

Nowadays, with the easy access to cameras, the value of pictures dropped down. We basically turned a form of art, into a common everyday action, we perform mechanically.

There’s nothing special anymore about the process of clicking photographs with our phones, tablets or digital cameras. I don’t know about you, but seeing a picture being clicked with a tablet, gives me the feeling of someone pointing a door at someone else. Not very attractive, in the least and definitely not a form of art.

It seems like the access to cameras mean access to more and more pictures, which have little to no value.This considered, how many pictures, are really special, and how many are just filling? Also, how many pictures can be considered pure art, and how many are useless in value?

How many true photographers are still out there? How many really appreciate and understand the evolution of this amazing piece of technology we carry along everywhere. And how many take photographs in that spirit of mind, giving the camera the respect it demands? I believe way too little…

The word goes around that all you need in order to become a photographer nowadays is a Facebook page with ‘Your Name‘ + the word ‘Photography’. Unfortunately, this is very true, as in many cases, every person with a fancy digital camera wants to believe in the: ‘I’m a photographer‘, which isn’t always true. The amount of work and dedication going into capturing that special photograph, is enormous, and not all of us are willing to invest that much time and energy into obtaining it.

Don’t you miss the film cameras? Not even a little bit? I sure miss the feeling an old camera gave me, in terms of appreciating the value of every frame immortalized. Film cameras made us so much more conscious about our surroundings and the true meaning of value. Even if digital cameras gave us the wings to fly, I wonder if they will ever rise to the level of the previous generation of cameras. Or, even better, if WE have what it takes to make the beautiful device get there.

The Thank You Letter

Some of us are used with taking it all for granted. The house we live in, the water that comes out of the faucet, the car we start in the morning, the food we have on the table, the electricity which powers every device in our home, and the list goes on and on.

But, have you ever looked around you and realized the work others put into building everything and keeping it all going on a daily basis? Have you ever considered the very fragile balance of the nature which allows us to live the life we live today?

The world around us moves because all of us make it that way, on a daily basis. It’s like a huge machine, and every little turning wheel must work in sync with the others. And you are also part of this, a very important piece of the entire system, and you contribute every day, to make it all grow. You, are another turning wheel, and without you, the closest wheels will slow down.

Take a few minutes and become aware about your surroundings and the actions you perform on a daily basis. How many people contribute in order to get you going, and maintain the balance in your life? And please consider not only the people, but also the cosmic balance. Do you realize how lucky we are to live on a planet situated so perfectly on a orbit around the sun, that actually allowed life to evolve? If this balance is lost, the Earth can become the next Mars or Mercury.

Civilization as we know is possible thanks to the research, effort and dedication of some brilliant people in our history, and to the people who took those inventions and brought them closer to our home. Life as we know it today, started when some key inventions were put into practice.

The sewage system is probably one of the largest steps in reduction of disease and improving the quality of life. Removing human waste from the city is what took Roman Empire to the next level, by stopping disease spreading, and is what keeps your city nice and clean as well. Whenever you flush or open the tab, remember the system requires constant maintenance work, so someone is cleaning the pipes for you.

Life expectancy went up thanks to the evolution of medicine. So many researchers dedicated their entire life to finding cure for diseases, or inventing devices which will increase your recovery chances, in case it’s ever needed. Doctors spend their entire life continuously studying and are ready to attend your health state at any given moment of the day or night.

Living in a civilized world means you open your fridge door and food is there waiting for your, after you finished your weekly shopping session at the local supermarket. Or maybe you don’t bother with cooking, and you eat at your favorite restaurant. Take a moment and think about how much work is put into getting the food there, for us. Bringing water where is needed, and removing the waste, made agriculture possible. We all have easy access to food thanks to the farmers who dedicate their life to caring for the crops, and the truck drivers who deliver the food, cross country or continent, where is required. This wouldn’t be possible without oil, and mechanization. Have you ever wondered how dependent our society is on oil? It keeps us going, day by day!

All these efforts would be in wane if we wouldn’t have power lines. It’s impressive how much constant work is put into an electricity plant. Think about it, just to power it, we need either coal, gas, oil or nuclear power. Without a constant supply of these resources, making electricity simply wouldn’t happen. What would you do with an unplugged fridge and a disconnected stove. Not much, right? We pushed ourselves, as a society, to the limit of what we can do without electricity. If we don’t have power, there is no working sewage, food, medical aid. Basically, our world stops. When you switch on the lights next time, remember how many people maintain the power lines, so your home is powered and heated.

We love our freedom and we can’t wait to travel more, but would we be able to see the world without roads and means of transportation? The invention of the wheel and later, of the engine, made our world go round. We can transport our food, visit places, relocate,  thanks to all the researchers who invest so much energy into making us mobile and safe.

We went places, but would we have a home to come back to, if not for all the construction workers, and the dedicated people who work on quarries, to extract the building materials needed for our hoses and buildings? What about the metal and wood workers? Without them, we wouldn’t have any tools, and without tools, construction and invention would be slowed down, or even impossible. Our buildings wouldn’t look at all the way the look today, if not for all their work, right?

At the base of any civilized society are rules and safety. People like policemen and firefighters, have more than a job, what they do is a lifestyle. They keeps us safe. Most of the job they do, is done behind the scenes. You don’t even know they are there, but they keep society in order.

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The ones above are only a small example. Just think about it. Everything you use was made by someone and it still runs because someone puts a constant effort into keeping it going. Every device and appliance was made after years of research and trials and needs electricity / gas / water to run. Without a constant background effort from others, life as you know it, wouldn’t be possible.

Considering this, take a few moments and be thankful for the lifestyle made possible, thanks to the effort of so many.The question is: how do you contribute to other people’s lives? If more people would ask themselves this question, life would become so much better for everyone.

Remember, you are also a small turning wheel. Your actions do matter. Choose wisely!

Back to the Past – Journey Through Time

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the pictures below, I can see the past and the present blending right in front of my eyes.

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Even if after the first glance you might believe there’s no place for such a device, in the present, think again. Evolving from a generous size box, to a brick, to a mobile brain, you are looking at the ancestor of your smartphone. Hard to believe, especially for the younger generations, as we are used with our phone doing a whole lot more than just phone calls. Besides this, we can’t imagine not having our own, personal one. Does any of you remember the times when you had to call your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s house, and one of the parents would answer the phone? You were facing the hardest decision of your life: hang up or blabber your way through the conversation 🙂 Sure our current day phones tend to be a bit more ‘supportive’ and flexible in this sense.

DSC_1552Seeing this typewriter projected me into the moment of the first document I’ve ever typed. Even if I was only 5 years old, I still remember using it. Putting the few words I knew how to write back then, on a piece of paper, was an extraordinary experience!

Typewriters have come a long way over the past couple of centuries. At one point, the keyboard got separated from the printer, so the typewriter was split into two completely different devices. Nowadays we are used to a smaller size keyboard (no offence to the typewriter) which makes less noise, and a separate printer. Yes, the typewriter is the modern day printer and keyboard, combined. Hard to tell when we are used to keyboards which can now be folding, water-proof, thumb-sized (for mobile devices) and virtual (touch-screen). Now that’s what I call evolution!

DSC_1548Before the manufacturing of the first sewing machine, clothes were expensive to make because of the amount of time invested into sewing all the pieces of fabric together. During the Victorian era, sewing machines became a very common device into every household, and slowly spread in every corner of the world. Since then, electric machines appeared, with a motor strapped on the side, and later on, computer controlled machines, which made easier the mass production of clothes, all around the world.

Such beautiful pieces of technology, taken on a crazy journey through time, changed to adapt to our needs. Don’t believe even for one second that there’s no place for them in the present, because they are everywhere around us. You are looking at a few pillars of the society we live in today!