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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Living a happier life on far less money? Here's where.

Editor’s Note (26 December 2015): BBC Capital brings you one of our most-read stories on where you can live well on a budget.
Paying for the roof over your head is eye-wateringly expensive, and economising is getting you nowhere fast. So, could there be a simpler, easier life?
We went to question-and-answer site Quora to find the best place in the world to live cheaply — with great weather and reliable internet of course.
After all, no idyllic paradise is complete without speedy wi-fi.
South East Asia was top of the list for many Quora users.Jingcho Yang suggested Bali, Indonesia, for “rockstar living on backpacker budgets”.
The weather is balmy and beaches are “pretty awesome,” Yang wrote. “There's a few hundred beaches around the circumference of the island. Most are still 'undiscovered' by outsiders.” 
Two-bedroom homes in good neighbourhoods cost about $200 per month, Yang wrote, and luxuries such as top-flight French cuisine cost a third of the price of major cities, because of the island’s huge, competitive hospitality industry. A two-hour spa treatment is $20, and pool villas go for less than $100 per night, she said.
“Bali rivals any major city I've been to in terms of diversity and sophistication in dining, nightlife and design,” Yang added. “It's home to some of the world's best beach lounges and clubs. An endless list of sporting activities, yoga, water-sports.” 
Plus, Yang wrote, there's a “growing niche of digital nomads on the island too”, with the locus around Ubud town.
(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)
Meanwhile, teacher Nathan Edgerton wrote in 2011 that he was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he was sharing a house with a friend for just $70 per month. “I eat out for every meal, even though it's generally at cheaper Thai restaurants. I have plenty of money to go out drinking with friends and to train at a kick-boxing gym. I can do all this easily for under $700 per month,” he wrote.
“Chiang Mai is a great place to live, but you could live pretty much anywhere in Thailand with similar expenses,” he added. 
For Spanish speakers, there’s Latin America. Brian Fey has been living “frugally” in Mexico since 2004 and it has become more and more popular with expats. “Where I live there are people from Argentina, France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, the USA, Switzerland, Chile, etc,” he wrote.
Getting six-month or longer-term visas is fairly “easy” for people from most nationalities, he wrote. Fey added that despite the negative news stories about violence in Mexico, “it is quite safe and there are millions of expats from other countries. Some areas have concentrations of expats: Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and Patzcauro".
He added that while renting is generally good value, there are also a large number of expats looking for house-sitters, so a responsible person “could live for free all year in very swanky places”. 
Eastern Europe is also a popular choice. Mircea Goia voted for Romania, where he said you can live easily for under $1,000 per month, including food and rent, in part because the average monthly salary is only about $575 and even lower in smaller cities. Goia posted his answer in 2013.
“Real estate prices have dropped dramatically as well, thanks to the global crisis, so you can buy a cheaper home/apartment/land,” Goia wrote. Those who wish to rent in the capital, Bucharest, should expect to pay around $200 to $500 per month, he said, adding that “people are friendly towards foreigners” and many know basic English. 
Whereas Chinmaya Patanaik, suggested “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”, Prague, Czech Republic, where the cost of living is lower than other western European cities.
“With $1,000, you can live quite comfortably. You can get a decent one-bedroom or a studio apartment with $400 or less. This also includes expenses on utilities such as internet, heating, electricity etc. The internet connection is very fast. I pay around $30 per month for a 100Mbps connection.”
Patanaik added, that although summers can be hot ”you can cool off with a traditional Czech beer for just $1.50.”
Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.

In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears

STOCKHOLM — Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the AbbaMuseum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins.
Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.
This tech-forward country, home to the music streaming service Spotify and the maker of the Candy Crush mobile games, has been lured by the innovations that make digital payments easier. It is also a practical matter, as many of the country’s banks no longer accept or dispense cash.
At the Abba Museum, “we don’t want to be behind the times by taking cash while cash is dying out,” said Bjorn Ulvaeus, a former Abba member who has leveraged the band’s legacy into a sprawling business empire, including the museum.
Not everyone is cheering. Sweden’s embrace of electronic payments has alarmed consumer organizations and critics who warn of a rising threat to privacy and increased vulnerability to sophisticated Internet crimes. Last year, the number of electronic fraud cases surged to 140,000, more than double the amount a decade ago, according to Sweden’s Ministry of Justice.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

China’s Former Security Chief Zhou Yongkang Sentenced to Life in Prison

Media captionZhou Yongkang is the most senior Chinese politician to be put on trial for corruption
China's ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang has been jailed for life - the most senior politician to face corruption charges under Communist rule.
He was found guilty of bribery, abuse of power and "intentionally disclosing national secrets", China's official Xinhua news agency reports.
Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou was one of China's most powerful men.
He was put under investigation one year later as part of President Xi Jinping's major anti-corruption campaign.
State TV showed a clip of Zhou, 72, pleading guilty at a closed-door trial in the northern city of Tianjin. When responding to the judge, he said he would not launch an appeal.
"I've realised the harm I've caused to the party and the people. I plead guilty and I regret my crimes," he said.

Analysis: Celia Hatton, BBC News, Beijing

The verdict caught many people off guard.
It was expected that Zhou Yongkang's trial would be played out for the Chinese public; his failings strung out for every citizen to see.
In similar high-profile cases, like that of Zhou's protege, Bo Xilai, the foreign and Chinese media were given 48 hours' notice that Bo's trial would begin. Reporters camped outside the courthouse for days, breathlessly waiting for updates.
In March, the head of China's Supreme People's Court had promised that Zhou Yongkang's trial would be "open in accordance with the law". The trial was set to take place in the eastern port city of Tianjin. It seemed Zhou was set to follow Bo's pattern. Like other senior officials convicted of serious crimes, it was expected he would receive a suspended death sentence.
Months passed without any word. Some guessed that Zhou Yongkang was not co-operating with prosecutors. Others believed that his crimes were too much of an embarrassment for the government.
After all, Zhou Yongkang had held a seat at the very top of the Chinese government pyramid. If he was thoroughly corrupt, some in China might ask whether others at the top were rotten too.
In the end, the decision to keep Zhou Yongkang's trial secret matches the case surrounding him, and Zhou's own public persona: inaccessible and secretive.

IMF Halts Its Bailout Talks With Greece Amid Lack of Progress There are still major differences between creditors, Greece in most key areas

There are still major differences between creditors, Greece in most key areas

The International Monetary Fund said it was halting bailout talks with Greece in a stark signal of its exasperation about a lack of progress toward a deal needed to avert a Greek default, as European leaders suggested negotiations were nearing their endgame.