An Amazing Look at China’s New Glass Cliffside Walkway 0 907

Zhangjiajie glass suspension bridge (2)

VIA QUARTZ

A succession of glass-bottom bridges and walkways have opened in Chinese parks in recent years, designed to offer nature lovers a little extra frisson.

The latest is a glass skywalk complex in Hunan province’s scenic Zhangjiajie grand canyons. The Coiling Dragon Cliff, a platform hugging the Tianmen mountain with a dizzying 4,600-foot (1402-meter) drop, opened to the public this week and the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, heralded as the world’s longest and highest glass bridge, is going through its last rounds of safety checks before its grand opening.

(Reuters/Jimmy Guan)
(Reuters/Jimmy Guan)

The top layer of glass did crack. But the bridge itself withstood the onslaught and even the weight of a Volvo SUV with 11 passengers. In another successful safety test, officials asked 25 people to jump on a single glass panel.

Designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan, the Zhangjiajie suspension bridge is made of 99 panels, and is designed to support the weight of 800 people. A bungee jump attraction is planned for the most daring visitors.

(Reuters/Jimmy Guan)
(Reuters/Jimmy Guan)
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10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Person With Down’s Syndrome 0 163

By Johannes Musial

VIA VICE

By Johannes Musial

Jonas Sippel is one of over 50,000 people that have Down’s syndrome in Germany (60,000 in the UK). According to the NHS website, “Down’s syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 in a baby’s cells. In the vast majority of cases, this isn’t inherited and is simply the result of a one-off genetic mistake in the sperm or egg.”Because chromosomal disorders often result in problems with the heart, Jonas had to have open-heart surgery before he had reached the age of one. He still has a long scar across his chest today.

Jonas is 22 now and lives with his parents in the town of Rangsdorf, just outside Berlin. He used to want to be James Bond or a palaeontologist but after doing an internship at Berlin’s RambaZamba theatre, he grew passionate about acting. Since then, he’s appeared in six plays and one film. We met in the theatre’s auditorium for a chat.

VICE: What’s shitty about having Down syndrome?
Jonas Sippel: It’s pretty annoying. For example, I often deviate from a subject, when I don’t find it interesting. But people with Down’s syndrome can’t do anything about having an extra chromosome. Some say we have a mental handicap. That isn’t exactly true.

I am indeed a little limited when it comes to certain abilities, which to others come easy, but I know quite a lot about history and I have a very good memory too. I know the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’ almost by heart – and Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen too.


Is there anything you’d like to be able to do, that people who don’t have Down’s syndrome can?
If I didn’t have Down’s, I wouldn’t be the same person – and I like who I am. There are a lot of things that I would like to be able to do of course, but nobody can do them. For example, I would like to found a league of superheroes and be able to create my own superheroes.

Is it annoying that you can recognise Down’s syndrome just by looking at someone’s face?
The fact that you can see it isn’t so bad. But when someone tries to reduce me to my Down’s syndrome, that annoys me.

Why do people with Down’s syndrome always laugh so much?
If something is funny, then we laugh. Or when we’re being mischievous – though that’s not so nice.

How hard is it to find a partner?
It’s pretty tricky. I’m waiting for the right person but I don’t really believe in love any more. I used to have a girlfriend but it didn’t really lead to anything. Maybe it’s my fate – I’m not sure I’m made for relationships.


Would you prefer it if a girlfriend of yours also had Down’s syndrome, or not?
That’s a good question. I actually would rather not have a girlfriend with Down’s syndrome because I have it and it’s not always easy. But it would also be fine if my girlfriend had Down’s.

What about children?
I love children and it’s a big wish of mine to have my own children. But you really have to want it and I’m still searching for what I really want.

Would you have your baby tested for Down syndrome before it was born?
You’re talking about abortion, right? I would give anything to have a child – even if it had Down’s syndrome. But I would have to decide that together with my wife of course.

What do you think about the fact that some people have abortions, when they find out their baby will have Down’s syndrome?
Good people love children, whether they have Down’s or not. If you abort a child with Down’s syndrome – I’ll say this flat out – then you’re a bad person.

Do you wish you didn’t have Down’s syndrome?
That would be amazing, obviously. But I’m actually a really normal person, just with an extra chromosome and a scar on my chest, from my heart operation. I don’t feel disabled. It’s more like, I feel that half of me is affected by Down’s syndrome and the other half functions properly.

GO OFF THE GRID WITH YOUR OWN HOUSE FOR $10,000 0 186

build-a-tiny-house

Australia is a bad place for first home buyers. Booming property prices, stagnant wages, and negative gearing have all created a real estate market that is virtually impossible to enter without some dramatic lifestyle sacrifices. Unless, of course, your parents can spot you $100,000 for a deposit.

But there is actually a way to own a house cheaply. And not just any house, but a tiny house, which is exactly what it sounds like but with a design modeled around environmental sustainability.

Nye and Tess Stewart are one such couple who have built a tiny house in Australia. They live just outside Brisbane in a place they built themselves on a block of bushland. Fighting their way into the city’s overheated property market wasn’t high on their agenda, so instead they dropped $20,000 to build their own place. And now they’ve done it, they think could do it again for half that price.

We asked them how.

Scour the Internet and Read All the Books

For Nye, the first step was to spend a few years reading everything he could find about sustainability and tiny houses—and there’s a lot. The internet is kind of obsessed with tiny houses. The problem is that most of them gush over tiny house aesthetics while rarely getting into the nitty gritty of construction. For that, you can’t go past Robert Rich’s Earth Garden Building Book, which is a bible for eco-builders.

The Australian Tiny Homes Foundation is another great resource. It’s a non-profit organisation that provides shelter for the homeless by building communities of tiny houses around the country. They even have tiny house plans on their website, which you can download for free.

Tiny house Facebook groups also have a lot of handy information, and can be a good place to meet others with some construction experience. Nye also recommends sources like Tiny Texas Houses (the project of an American environmentalist who builds houses out of salvaged and recycled materials), Richard Olsen’s book Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth-Friendly Home Design, DIY log-cabin builder Noah Bradley’s Handmade Houses site, and Facebook group Living Off The Grid.

“The info is getting better and better,” Nye says. “We’re also hoping to organise some workshop days and info sessions near Brisbane soon, to share ideas and knowledge.” The workshops will run along similar lines to the Tiny Homes Foundation. Punters will pay a small fee to learn how to make their own tiny homes, and the finished places will be used as temporary accommodation for the homeless.

Figure Out Where You Actually Want to Live

funny-map

Nye and Tess Stewart bought their own block of land just outside Brisbane—but if you can’t afford your own site, there are alternatives. “There are loads of communal living groups around,” Nye says, “and websites where you can source somewhere cheap to use as a plot of land.”

Check out the Cohousing Australia Initiative, which helps people to organise and promote their own rural or urban co-living communities, or the Willing Workers On Organic Farms program (WWOOF.com.au). This is where owners of organic farms often donate farm space for workers to live on, in exchange for their help around the farm. You can also find cheap land advertised on Gumtree’s Land For Sale page—two kilometre square blocks in rural NSW or Victoria will set you back between $6,000 and $10,000.

Unfortunately in Australia it’s illegal to live full time in temporary accommodation, like a caravan or a tiny house on a trailer. But if your tiny home is anchored to the ground with a permanent foundation, you won’t have any council troubles (you can find out more about different types of permanent foundations at website The Tiny House).

What Do You Need From Your House?

build-a-tiny-house

Nye and Tess built their tiny house by hand in the backyard of their old rental place, working off design tips in resources like the Earth Garden Building Book. They went with an open plan design with three separate rooms—a main living area and two side rooms that can be folded into the centre, so the whole house can be packed up and transported on the back of a trailer. The finished structure is about six metres wide by six metres deep. But in that small space they’ve packed in everything they need—including an indoor hot water shower and composting toilet.

“The centre section has all the plumbing, electricity and solid fixtures, including the kitchen and bathroom, with a loft bed above,” Nye says. “The two wings or side sections are open plan for a lounge area, extra bedroom, storage and sitting areas, and I’ve also built a small deck on the front.

“All up, we’ve got two double beds, a lounge area with 12 volt TV and bean bags, composting toilet, shower, kitchen area with sink and bench space, 12-volt normal sized household fridge-freezer, storage shelves and a sitting area for eating and working.”

The beauty of building your own tiny house, Nye says, is that the design “can be adapted to anyone’s needs. The more comforts you want, the more you need to spend, like any house… But if you want the McMansion with a giant refrigerator, heated Olympic swimming pool, and air-con in every room, perhaps this is not for you.”

Hustle For Cheap Materials

how-to-build-your-own-house

Nye and Tess Stewart spent just under $20,000 on their tiny home, but say they “could build it for much less now knowing how to go about it, probably closer to $10,000… and if you’re willing to scratch around for free and recycled materials you could do it cheaper still.”

The biggest expense was their solar energy system, which came in at $3,000 all up for six 250 watt solar panels that feed power into deep cycle gel batteries. The whole system is operated by a 40-amp MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) charge controller installed in the main room, where they can keep track of their power levels.

Nye bought his solar panels off eBay, but reckons it’s useful “to talk to professional solar energy companies about your options—these guys know their stuff and are usually very happy to talk solar and help you out. As far as I can tell the cheap solar panels work just as well as the expensive ones, and there are plenty of good second hand ones around.” Again, he suggests hunting around eBay or Gumtree for options.

Besides the $1,200 they invested in a low energy fridge, the other major cost was a “fancy composting toilet” for $1,300—but Nye says it was worth every cent as it eliminates the stench of your typical camping ground long-drop. The toilet works by separating the urine from the solids using a special seat, while a bucket of biodegradable material like sawdust or grass clippings is on hand to cover the waste and kill any odours.

“The dry stuff breaks down very effectively,” Nye says, “and can eventually be used as a safe compost on non-edible gardens. You have to “deal with your waste” every couple of months by storing it outside in containers, but it’s really not that bad. A 12-volt fan draws air from the chamber up a pipe and through the roof, which helps to break things down and remove smells. It actually smells less than an ordinary toilet, if you can believe it. And if your budget’s tight, you can build one yourself much more cheaply,” Nye says—you’ll find designs at sites like Permaculture News.

As for the house structure itself, Nye and Tess went fully DIY with little more than “a pair of variable speed cordless drills, a good quality hand saw, a couple of G-Clamps, and some trousers with lots of pockets.”

They used recycled hardwood timber for the frame, plantation pine for the walls and plywood for the floor, which is “very forgiving and super strong,” Nye says. The roof is made of lightweight polycarbonate sheets, with marine plywood for the exterior cladding and thin ply for the internal cladding—they’re all materials you can buy at supply stores like Bunnings. They even made the windows themselves from tinted perspex. “It’s awesome stuff,” Nye says. “You can cut it to size with a saw and drill and screw it to a frame. It’s very forgiving and much more resistant to movement and shock than glass, if you’re moving your home around.”

Either Bring in a Professional, or Teach Yourself the Tricky Stuff

Nye and Tess also did all the plumbing and electrical wiring themselves after asking advice from professionals and researching on the internet—but they recommend hiring professionals if you’re not confident in your tradie skills.

“The most important thing is to be safe, and it’s best if you’re on the tools to have the mobile phone close and not to work alone if you can,” Nye says. “If you’re having an off or clumsy day, do something else and try again tomorrow.”

Their plumbing uses the same kind of 12-volt pump you’ll find in boats and caravans (you can buy them on eBay), connected to a tank that collects rainwater from the gutters on the roof, and their hot water comes from a professional grade instantaneous hot water system, which heats the water as you need it. “The water heater’s one area where you don’t want to skimp,” Nye says.

Avoiding Bills is Actually One of the Easiest Parts

Between the rainwater tank, composting toilet and solar panels, Nye and Tess’s bush home is nearly entirely self-sustaining. “We still do our groceries at the shop so we’re not yet growing all our own food, just some herbs and vegetables at this stage,” Nye says. “We also do a load to the tip every now and again with some household waste, and our hot water and cooking is provided by 9kg gas bottles which we swap over every three months or so at the hardware store. So no bills, which is very nice.”

You Might Need to Downsize a Little

Besides moving into a small space, you’ll also need to be prepared to live within your means, as far as power and water goes. “Unless you have an enormous solar energy system you have to say goodbye to high energy items like the toaster, hair straightener, iron and electric heater,” Nye says.

“You might have to settle for a smaller TV and be happy to check the charge state of the batteries before trying to use large amounts of power. And you might have to get used to a different experience of going to the toilet and be prepared to plan your life a little more.”

But as long as you’re in an area with good signal coverage, your internet and mobile access should be fine, and for essential high energy items like power tools you can use a diesel generator, or just buy lithium ion rechargeable tools. “Air con might also be out,” Nye says, “but if you design the house well and have good airflow you shouldn’t need it.”

Now Kick Back and Live Cheaply

“The only costs we have are the food we eat, some cleaning products and council land rates,” Nye says. “Gas for cooking and hot water might be a couple of hundred bucks a year.”

But of course, doing away with rent and regular bills is only a small part of the motivation for most people who get off the grid. “I feel better ethically that I know how our power is produced,” Nye says. “I have a much greater feeling of self-determination, that I’m not at the whim of Big Brother and subject to the price rises of energy and other resources. I feel connected to how we live and get great satisfaction every time I have a hot shower, turn on a light or open the fridge.

“I very much enjoy watching the batteries charge on our energy monitoring screen with a cup of coffee in the morning. These things may sound silly, but all this has made me profoundly happier.”

VIA VICE

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