Each year at the start of spring, more than 1 million people travel to Washington, D.C., for one major reason: the cherry blossoms.
Most of the travelers visit an area known as the Tidal Basin. During “peak bloom,” the Tidal Basin is bursting with color. It is also bursting with people.
But there is another, quieter way to enjoy Washington’s cherry blossoms.
Cherries at the Arboretum
About eight kilometers across town, you will find the United States National Arboretum, a huge public garden and research collection.
The United States Congress established the Arboretum in 1927. Its aim is to use research and conservation to improve the appearance and environmental and economic value of plants.
Cherry tree research is one of the Arboretum’s specialties, says Margaret Pooler. She is the director of research. She and her team work on developing a larger base of cherry trees.
“Most people know the Yoshino Cherries, they know the Kwanzan Cherries, the familiar one that you see down at the Tidal Basin. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s so many other species that we can use to broaden the base of the cultivated plants that we see. So, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Today, the Arboretum has more than 1,000 different cherry trees. Some are short and wide. Others grow tall. A few are “weeping” trees. Their long, flowering branches hang down near the ground.
The Arboretum's research fields, where researchers plant cherry tree hybrids.
Pooler showed VOA Learning English around the Arboretum’s research field. In late March and early April, this wide, open space comes to life with flowering cherry trees. Some produce bright white blooms. Others are different shades of pink.
Many of them are new species of cherry trees developed by Arboretum scientists themselves. They are “hybrid” cherry trees, Pooler explains.
“In our research program, we create hybrids. That is, we take pollen from one plant and put it on another plant to combine the best traits from both of those. And so, most of the plants here in our research field are various hybrids of that kind that we’ve created.”
Most of the hybrids are known only by number. But scientists have given some of hybrids names, such as Dream Catcher and First Lady. One cherry hybrid is called Helen Taft, in honor of the wife of former U.S. President William Howard Taft. She played an important role in bringing cherry trees to America.
A flowering cherry tree hybrid is seen in the National Arboretum's research field
“The really, really good ones, those are the ones that we end up naming and we release to...the public to then grow and produce.”
Pooler has worked on cherry trees at the Arboretum for more than 20 years. She lists two “weeping” trees as among her favorites there.
“I like them because they’re just huge. I mean, they’re just awesome trees. But I like them also because they tend to not bloom very long. When they’re in bloom, they’re just spectacular.”
A weeping cherry tree is seen at the United States National Arboretum.
The Arboretum has a self-guided tour of its cherry trees. People can use the small book to learn about the different species. The book describes about 35 kinds of cherries.
Among them are genetic matches of a few of the original trees that were planted at the Tidal Basin back in 1912. The trees were a gift to the United States from Japan.
“Very few of those original plants still exist there. We got involved with the National Park Service a few years ago to help propagate or clone some of those original plants. So, we have some of those planted here.”
Visiting the Arboretum
Antonio and Marlen are from Spain and now live in the state of Maryland. They visited the Arboretum with their two young children and had a picnic near one of the flowering trees. The family had gone to the Tidal Basin earlier that day to see the cherry blossoms, as well.
“Here you see nature around, which is like, better...I prefer Arboretum than [to] Tidal Basin.”
Emily Kowalksi and Elisabeth Seburg had just arrived to Washington from Minnesota. They came straight from the airport to the Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms, Kowalski said.
“There’s this one we just walked up on and from afar, just the view from afar you can’t even take a picture of it because it’s just something you have to take in with your own eyes.”
Whether at the Arboretum, Tidal Basin or elsewhere, cherry blossoms are a special part of life in America’s capital. Along with being beautiful to look at, the trees are something Washingtonians can “count on” every year, Pooler says.
“Even when the spring is late or drawn out or cold or even when winter is freezing cold and our temperatures are terrible, we know, no matter what happens…even when things are happening in Washington politically…it doesn’t matter. These cherries are going to bloom every year. We can totally count on them.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Ashley Thompson wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. Dorothy Gundy produced the video.
Words in This Story
garden - n. an area of ground where plants (such as flowers or vegetables) are grown
broaden - v. to make (something) wider or more general
cultivated - adj. raised or grown on a farm or under other controlled conditions
shade - n. a particular type of a color that is lighter, darker, etc., than other types — usually + of
awesome - adj. extremely good
spectacular - adj. causing wonder and admiration : very impressive
tour - n. an activity in which you go through a place (such as a building or city) in order to see and learn about the different parts of it
match - n. someone or something that is equal to or as good as another person or thing
original - adj. happening or existing first or at the beginning
propagate - v. to produce (a new plant)
clone - v. to make an exact copy of (a person, animal, or plant)
Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC./AFP
#ZuckerBowl without a clear winner as Facebook hearings end
Tech April 12, 2018 06:55
By Agence France-Presse
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg emerged largely unscathed Wednesday from two days of high-stakes hearings that saw US lawmakers grill the billionaire over how the online giant feeds users' data to advertisers and chide him over privacy rights.
The marathon 10 hours of questioning was one of the biggest spectacles in Congress in recent memory, followed blow by blow on social media under the hashtags #ZuckerBowl and #ZuckUnderOath.
Channeling public anger over data privacy lapses -- including most spectacularly the leak of personal information from 87 million Facebook users to a political consultant -- lawmakers in both House and Senate raised the specter of regulations to bring online firms to heel.
The 33-year-old CEO conceded that some regulation of social media companies is "inevitable," while offering a laundry list of reform pledges at Facebook and vowing to improve privacy and security.
But he stiffly defended Facebook's business model -- specifically the way it uses data and postings from the 2.2 billion users of its free platform -- calling it necessary to attract ad revenue the $480 billion company depends on.
In the wake of the massive leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, Zuckerberg reiterated that the company had shut down the pipeline that allowed data -- including his own -- to slip without consent into the hands of third parties.
A day earlier Zuckerberg took personal responsibility for the data breach.
Yet in his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was also steadfast in arguing that Facebook's users themselves are choosing to make their data available, and that the company's "opt-in" provisions offered them sufficient control.
"Every time that a person chooses to share something on Facebook, they're proactively going to the service and choosing that they want to share a photo, write a message to someone."
"Every time there is a control right there," Zuckerberg said.
'Real trust gap'
Zuckerberg faced tougher questions from House lawmakers over Facebook's stance than during Tuesday's five-hour session in the Senate, where his defense of data sharing was weakly challenged.
"It strikes me that there's a real trust gap here. Why should we trust you?" asked Democratic Representative Mike Doyle.
"The only way we're going to close this trust gap is through legislation that creates and empowers a sufficiently resourced expert oversight agency, with rulemaking authority to protect the digital privacy and ensure that companies protect our users' data."
A path forward
Some analysts said Zuckerberg's appearance suggests a new path forward for social media under closer scrutiny.
"Zuckerberg's testimony demonstrated that the company has matured over the last decade, in particular in his acknowledgement that Facebook is responsible for the content shared on its platform," said University of Delaware communications professor Dannagal Young.
"Acknowledging responsibility for the content shared on the platform changes how Facebook ought to engage in gatekeeping and fact-checking, and how the government might go about regulating the industry."
Syracuse University professor Jennifer Grygiel called the hearings "an important milestone."
"This is a first step in the process of writing much needed regulation," she said.
"It is clear from congressional testimony that self-regulation alone is not working and that regulatory oversight is needed in the United States in order to ensure safe social media."
- 'Glaring gaps' in understanding -
Noting that a European data protection standard due to come into effect on May 25 was more stringent than what was currently in place at Facebook, Zuckerberg suggested it could serve as a rough model for US rules in the future.
Facebook is implementing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standard for European users next month, and some of its rules will be extended to US and other users later, he confirmed.
"The GDPR requires us to do a few more things and we are going to extend that to the world," he said.
By one measure, Zuckerberg succeeded in his Washington appearance. Facebook shares rose five percent on Tuesday and added another 0.78 percent Wednesday in what was seen as a sign of confidence in the company after steep losses in recent weeks.
"To me, he came across as very conciliatory, especially when he took full responsibility for the mistakes of his company," said Jessica Vitak, head of the University of Maryland's Privacy and Education Research Lab.
"This seems to be a relatively new approach for the company and I believe at least in part responding to critique of Facebook's slow and somewhat tone-deaf response to prior breaches that have led to user outrage."
Others noted however that lawmakers had demonstrated little knowledge of how Facebook works -- potentially complicating any regulatory effort.
"Perhaps the most important revelation of Zuckerberg's testimony are the glaring gaps in our lawmakers' understanding of the internal logic and business model of Facebook," Young said.
"No one is going to be able to sufficiently regulate' Facebook until lawmakers are adequately educated about how it works."
Songkran 2018 celebrations to make a splash in Thailand’s major and emerging destinations
Travel log April 06, 2018 01:00
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Amazing Thailand’s ‘Open to the New Shades’ marketing concept is at the heart of its ‘Grand Songkran Celebrations’ in Bangkok and 12 major tourist destinations around the Kingdom.
These include festivities in Samut Prakan, Ayutthaya, Suphan Buri, Chon Buri, Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai, Khon Kaen, Phuket, and Songkhla with event dates varying, with some starting as early as April 7 and running until April 20.
In addition, TAT is also supporting Amazing Songkran 2018 events in five emerging secondary destinations known for unique traditions in celebrating the Thai New Year: Sing Buri, Chanthaburi, Kamphaeng Phet, Kalasin, and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Dates also vary between April 11 and 17.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor, said: “Songkran is one of Thailand’s most important festivals. It is a time when families celebrate with centuries-old traditions, returning to their family homes for three to five days of making merit and water splashing ceremonies, which invokes sins being washed away with scented water.
“The main activity is pouring this scented water on sacred Buddha images of local temples in a ritual called Song Nam Phra. Lustral water used to clean Buddhist statues has been regarded as a form of spiritual cleansing since ancient times. It is collected and then gently dripped over the hands of senior family members for luck in a ritual called Rot Nam Dam Hua.”
At the five emerging secondary destinations, locals and visitors can ‘Open to the New Shades’ and celebrate the Amazing Songkran 2018 Festival with nostalgic time-honoured rituals.
In Sing Buri, the celebration is centred around the ancient Ban Bang Rachan, an important settlement during the Ayutthaya period. Chanthaburi’s Wat Tapon Noi and Wat Kwien Hak annually hold a unique procession of decorated ox-carts parading sacred cloth of the Buddha to warn off bad luck.
In Kamphaeng Phet, where retro-traditions for Songkran are held along the Ping River, there is another Buddha image wrapping procession. The Phrae Wa silk city and dinosaur excavation sites in Kalasin are prominently featured as its two time-honoured symbols of the Songkran tradition.
In Nakhon Si Thammarat, the religious element of the celebrations takes on a distinctly Hindu feel, with Brahmin ceremonies and rituals as well as the must-attend Nang Dan parade.
During April 12-16, 2018, TAT expects tourism spending from foreign and Thai travellers to reach Bt19.8 billion, up 18 per cent from the same period last year. Of the total, Bt9.4 billion will be spent by an expected number of 530,000 foreign tourists, representing an increase of 21 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively. Domestic tourism spending is estimated to reach Bt10.44 billion (up 15 per cent) from Thai travellers making about 3 million trips (up 12 per cent).
For more details of Songkran activities in various locations throughout Thailand, please call the TAT Contact Centre 1672 or visit the TAT Contact Centre website.
April 12, 2018