Whole town under one roof
Begich Towers is the 14-storey condominium on the edge of the Alaskan
town of Whittier: Believe it or not all the 200-odd residents in this
small town live here under one roof. The former Army barracks is often
described as a “vertical town” with walls so thin that keeping secrets
is simply out of the question.
Whittier town is rather inaccessible - you can only get there by sea
or take a long one line tunnel through the mountains which only runs one
way at any given time. At night the tunnel is closed completely.
This town spans a thin three-mile crescent of coastline between
mountain and water. The weather can get pretty brutal in the remote
town, with winds reaching up to 60 mph and snowfall up to 250 inches. It
actually makes sense that the residents of Whittier have everything they
need under one roof. The place has a strange intimacy about it -
residents can be spotted shuffling about the building in slippers and
pyjamas, even when on official business. At any hour, a resident can
knock on the door of the police chief, and students can get help at a
teacher’s kitchen table.
Apart from residential apartments, the one-of-a-kind settlement also
houses a police station, a health clinic, a convenience store, a
laundromat, and a church in the basement.
It really is inconceivable how missionaries, bartenders, city council
members, policemen, and even drug dealers can co-exist in the same
building, share the same facilities, and ride in the same elevator.
And believe it or not, they even have room to accommodate tourists!
Resident June Miller owns and runs a bed-and-breakfast on the building’s
top two floors. The comfortable rooms are all equipped with binoculars,
so tourists get to watch ‘whales breaching and mountain goats grazing’,
and stuff like that.
Although Begich Towers resembles a school, the only thing it doesn’t
house is a school. The children in the community attend school in a
building located behind the tower. And because of the brutal weather,
there’s only one way for them to get to school. You guessed it - an
Founded in 1969, nine years after the Army moved out, Whittier was
built from scratch by the few hundred civilians who chose to stay
behind. They continued the operation of freight, railroad and oil
storage facilities, occupying infrastructure that was meant for a
thousand. They set to work creating a new town for themselves; they
dreamed of creating the first car-less town in America, with trams that
would carry visitors over the mountain. In fact, their motto was: “You
haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Whittier.”
No females - both human as well as animals
Dressed in long black robes that signify their death from the outside
world monks living in Mount Athos formally known as Autonomous Monastic
state of th Holy Mountain, located on the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki,
spend every minute of their day praying or reflecting in silence.The
sole purpose of these monks of Mount Athos is to become closer to God;
they practice a life of strict celibacy.
Although technically apart of the European Union, the Holy Mountain
is largely self-governed. This prohibits the free movement of people and
goods in its territory, unless formal permission has been granted. As a
result, a number of traditions at Mount Athos might seem odd to people
outside. The keeping of Byzantine time, for instance, means that their
day begins at sunset. But perhaps their most bizarre practice is the
centuries-old ban on women entering the sacred peninsula.
For over 1,000 years, women have been forbidden from setting foot on
the mountain. In fact, females of other species such as cows, dogs and
goats aren’t permitted either. Only birds and insects are exempted from
the rule - scanning the skies and grounds for female body parts would
surely be too absurd, even by Mount Athos standards.
Only men, particularly those of a calm and pious demeanour, are
permitted to visit Mount Athos, attend church services, dine with the
monks and perhaps even stay overnight at one of the monasteries. The
only way female visitors can view the hills and ancient monasteries is
from a distance, while on a boat tour.
According to the monks, the complete absence of women from the
mountain makes their chosen lifestyle easier to practice. They seem to
strongly believe that women could drastically alter the dynamics of
their society, which is delicately designed to take them towards
The monastic traditions of the mountain date back to 800 A.D. and the
Byzantine era. Today, it is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, and
2,000 monks from Greece and other eastern orthodox countries such as
Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia. These monks live an ascetic life, isolated
from the rest of the world.
Interestingly, the only female influence accepted and even revered by
the monks of Athos is the Virgin Mary.
Local legend tells us that the Mother of Christ was sailing along one
day, when a storm blew her ship towards Mount Athos. Once ashore, she
began to impart the teachings of Christianity, and had soon converted
every person on the peninsula.
Years later, the monks started having visions of Mary, so they
devoted their lives to her cause.
It is speculated that they did not want other women to ‘outshine’ the
Lady of Angels, so they simply banned all females from the region.
Indeed, the picture of the Virgin Mary is the only female presence in
all of Athos, and the only woman the monks choose to lay their eyes
Cerebral palsy couldn’t block her spirit
Tweny-one-year old Hu Huiyan from China’s Anhui province, born
prematurely, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was only 10
months old. This left her permanently paralysed - the only parts of her
body she could move were her head and the left foot.’
Although she was in a state of paralysis her spirit was alive and
fighting. As she grew older, she learned how to perform everyday tasks
using her foot.
Believe it or not Hu her only functional foot to write not just a few
sentences, but an entire fiction novel!
Despite not having received formal education, Hu is surprisingly
well-spoken. Over the years, with the help of her mother, she taught
herself to read and write. “I’m not a genius, but I’m very focused,” she
said, modestly. “When I watched TV in my childhood, I often learned
words with subtitles.”
With time, Hu’s language skills got so proficient that she set out to
write a story about the pursuit of dreams and love. She’s doing this by
typing out every single word on her computer using only one foot. She
has to target the specific keys she wants, move her foot towards the
keyboard, and press it down with all her strength. Her body is fastened
to a wheelchair while she’s typing, to keep her stable. In spite of all
these setbacks, Hu is able to type 20 to 30 words a minute. She has
already written six chapters - that’s 60,000 words - and says she only
has two more chapters to go before the novel is complete.