Category Archives: Other

Bamboo Straws

In these days of environmental awareness and sustainable living, there are all kinds of easy and interesting ways that anyone can make a difference.

Take these straws, handcrafted from bamboo by Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers – they not only offer a way to stop the ocean filling up with the discarded plastic version, but buying them gives new economic opportunities to women in rural backwaters. It’s a win-win situation.

Bamboo grows ridiculously quickly, so this is a source of raw material that will not run out any time soon. It is also fully biodegradable and compostable when you can’t use the straw any longer, so it will help something new to grow.

I can see that keeping the straws clean might be a problem, but the instructions are to wash with warm soapy water and leave to dry, and I expect it will be obvious when they have reached the end of their useful life.

The idea is great, and at about $1 a straw they are perfectly affordable. They do feel slightly strange in use, though, perhaps because after all this time sipping through the thin and delicate plastic version, they seem bulky and over-long. I feel sure, however, that in the interests of saving the planet this is something you can quickly get used to.


Security Luggage Racks

I don’t know about you, but I get very nervous on trains when I have to leave my luggage on those racks at the end of the carriage. When the train is full, or I can’t actually see my bags from where I’m sitting, I have to jump up and make sure they are not being ‘accidentally’ removed during station stops en route.

Of course it is possible to carry bicycle locks or similar, for peace of mind, but you never know when you are going to need one, and usually I never realise it would have been a smart idea until too late.

So I was very happy to see this locking device for suitcases, on the NEX train from Narita airport into Tokyo. It also made me laugh, because Japan is probably the last place in the world where you could leave your bags unattended without stress, but also probably the first place to think of making life that little bit easier and more convenient for travellers. The service is also completely free of charge.

Essentially, you heave your bag onto the rack, and use one of the curly cords to secure the handle to the rail. Set your own combination and you are free to relax until your destination. The only trick is remembering the code to remove the cord in time to get off the train. And as Japanese trains tend to stop for seconds only at most intermediate stations, there is no time to be messing about with this. If you forget the number or it is the 3rd possibility you try, you will probably find you have either missed your stop or need to continue to the end of the line before rail staff are available to help you unlock your bag.

Oh, and as this is Japan and the status quo hinges on everyone being polite and considerate to everyone else, do please remember to reset the lock to zero for the convenience of the next user…

 

 


Rage Room

There are moments in life, no matter how calm and patient you are, when anger and frustration threaten to take over and you really need to hit something.

Tempting though it may be to thump your rival or your infuriating boss, it is never a good idea to punch anything harder than your pillow. (I am not going to dwell on the possible legal complications of actually assaulting someone…)

Taking up boxing or muay thai is a good plan if you regularly struggle with feelings like these. Or you could try a ‘rage room’.

Here in Singapore we have The Fragment Room, which is an accurate description of what the place looks like when your half hour is up. For $38 you are kitted out in protective overalls, with hard hat and goggles, then let loose on a crate of empty bottles or other junk that has already been discarded but diverted from the recycling plant.

If your fury is directed at a particular piece of technology – like the computer which lost your project, for example – you can either bring your own or choose one from the shelves outside. Either option costs extra, as does a second crate if you haven’t yet worked off your rage.

The rules are simple – let out all your anger, don’t hurt yourself and don’t set fire to anything. You can plug your own music into the speakers and play it at top volume, and each room can safely hold 2 people if you want to bring a friend. Baseball bats and golf clubs are provided to help you wreak destruction, together with a handy platform on which to balance things before you take a swing.

Daughter #2 and I tried this out and had a wonderfully cathartic time. It is surprisingly hard work and we were pleasantly exhausted by the time we had smashed all our empties then had a go at further destruction of the remains heaped up against the wall. It really is a great way of releasing all those pent-up worries and frustrations.

The company calls this the ‘new age of anger therapy’ and I really think they have a point. I hope I won’t need this for real, but if I do, it is nice to know they are there!


Resealable Cans

Plastic water bottles have a terrible impact on the environment… we generally use them once then throw them away, meaning that quite apart from the landfill problem, around 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year.

Recycling is the answer, and these particular aluminium cans apparently have the best recycling rate of any drink currently available – they can be back on sale within 6 weeks. The really clever thing about these cans, however, is that they contain alpine water rather than flavoured soda, and include a special lid which can be resealed so you can finish your drink later.

This is CanOWater, available in both still and sparkling versions and using natural mineral water from the Austrian Alps.

We tried them both, and they taste just fine. The slight hiccup we experienced, however, was in actually opening the cans – embarrassingly, I had to go back to the vendor for help. Once you have prised the special sliding mechanism open, it does work pretty well, although my can did drip slightly inside my bag on the way home. For keeping the opened drink fresh in the fridge, though, it works perfectly.

At the moment, these cans seem to be available mainly in upscale grocery stores and so are unlikely to wipe out the market in plastic bottles just yet. But the idea is sound and I wish them luck with this project.


Unicorn Cafe

Tragically, no actual unicorns, but a great many toy ones and enough rainbows to make your head spin. Welcome to the Unicorn Café in Bangkok!

This is hidden down a side soi off Sathorn Rd, and was surprisingly hard to find, but once you are engulfed by the swirling pastels of the decorations, you wonder how you could possibly have missed it. There’s even a large plastic unicorn in the window which looks like it escaped from a circus carousel.

This is definitely a destination for young Asian girls. You can dress up in a unicorn onesie, lounge with large plush unicorn toys on pink sofas and take selfies to your heart’s content. There are rainbow coloured cakes and drinks on the menu, unicorn souvenirs to buy, and everything including the floor and ceiling is a riot of swirls, stars and –obviously – unicorns.

I did order a cake and a drink, although since they were a triumph of decoration over taste, I did not actually consume very much of either. It was all highly entertaining, however, and well worth a visit.


Umbrella Bag

This is one of those things which you never knew you needed but swiftly discover you cannot do without…

I mean, you know how annoying it is when you go into a mall or get on a bus carrying a wet umbrella. It drips everywhere, sticks to your legs, or water gathers dangerously in the bottom of the flimsy plastic bag you find at the entrance of particularly efficient stores.

Even if you have a bag of your own to hand, it usually ends up spilling water all over your shopping when you take it out later.

The Daily Susu is the invention that will transform rainy days – a slim waterproof bag lined with microfiber which soaks up the water. You pop your (foldable) umbrella inside, zip it up, and can get on with your day knowing that the rest of your belongings will stay perfectly safe and dry. Hang it up inside out overnight, and it will be ready to go again next day.

It is made by Japanese firm Yamazaki-Sangyo, and cost a very reasonable S$24 at Tokyu Hands in Singapore. Where, as the rainy season seems to be continuing way beyond its expected limit, I am finding it especially useful.


Water Brush

This is one of those supremely useful inventions that you did not know you needed until you saw it.

It’s a paintbrush, but a hollow plastic one which holds water and feeds it through a tiny valve to the brush itself.

Ideal for those artistic moments when you turn a drawing made with those wonderful ‘watercolour’ pencils into an actual painting, or when you let small children loose on that special paper which changes colour when wet.

These things need practise, as it takes a while before you work out how hard you can squeeze the brush without ending up soaking your masterpiece, but otherwise they are a joy to use.

From the art stores of Japan, obviously…


Painting with Pollution

This is a fascinating initiative from Tiger, long time producers of Singapore’s most popular beer, and is designed to create art ‘from the streets, for the streets’.

This particular artwork, packed with local landmarks in the general shape of our island state, is currently in progress on Orchard Road.

Its USP is that it is being painted with ink made from air pollution, specifically exhaust fumes, and this is a continuation of a project which has already been carried out in Hong Kong with great success.

In Singapore it all comes under the umbrella of #uncageideas, a direct reference to recent Tiger advertising campaigns, and is all about ‘ideas that are so bold they stop you in your tracks’. Here they are trying ‘to turn the ugliness in our air into something beautiful’ whilst pointing out the damage that industrial growth is doing to the region.

Modern technology is all very well, but a lot of it depends on burning fossil fuels, the by-products of which are thought to be responsible for untold health problems and premature deaths each year. One of the most obvious examples is the traffic on our roads, which plays a huge role in polluting the atmosphere.

This whole project is a collaboration with scientists at Graviky Labs in India, an MIT Spinoff that builds high impact technologies, and it focusses on a ‘Kaalink’ designed to capture the fine particle matter from exhaust fumes before it reaches the air.

The devices were fitted to trucks, generators and ferries across Asia, and over a period of months they captured billions of these particles.  Trace heavy metals and carcinogens were removed before the purified soot that remained was converted into different types of inks and paints.

For example, the artists have been working with tools which include a range of marker pens, the smallest of which being a fine tip which holds the output of 40 minutes of diesel car pollution, to a 600ml spray can which contains the soot from almost 3 days. It’s all pollution which hasn’t ended up in the air and in your lungs.

There’s no clear link to beer, except that Tiger have always been an innovative company. This is a great idea bound to keep raising awareness of a big problem, and I wish it every success.

 


Kama Sutra Pillow

There is not much excuse for this, except that I was stuck in Kathmandu airport waiting for a flight which was hideously delayed, and was looking round the one shop at the gate for something on which to spend my otherwise useless remaining rupees.

So here, from Mountain Magic, is a handcrafted kama sutra pillow, packaged with suitably racy illustration, and guaranteed to ‘pep up your love life’.

Stop laughing.

This contains ‘an aphrodisiac blend of 16 specially prepared herbs which have been potentized by Tibetan monks to stimulate and arouse both male and female energies’.

We’ll pass over the whole bit about the monks, which just sounds wrong, and look at the herbs involved. Here’s a selection of them and how they are supposed to help.

Juniper: purifies and summons divine energies.

Sandalwood: transmutes sexual energies and strengthens nerves.

Cardamon: awakens the inner fire, arousing clarity and joy.

Black pepper: stimulates the senses.

Black mustard seed: stirs heat through the body’s channels.

The instructions say to knead the pillow softly to awaken the aromas, then tuck it among your bed pillows so you can inhale the scent whilst sleeping.

It’s a small pillow, barely 12 x 15 cm, and neatly enclosed in a brocade pillow case with some suitably Tibetan symbols worked in. It even smells quite nice, in a vaguely medicinal way. If it has any noticeable effect, I shall consider letting you know….


Singing Bowl Therapy

There’s something very mystical about a singing bowl. It’s not just the fabulous sound (especially  when echoing round a Tibetan temple…) but also the vibrations that give you the chills.

Legend has it that the bowls can be used in secret rituals, with master lamas able to achieve out of body experiences through the power of their sound.

So it only surprises me that I haven’t noticed the existence of singing bowl therapy before, and that it hasn’t yet taken the Western world of alternative medicine by storm.

Singing bowls are also known as healing bowls, and have been used for more than 4,000 years in the Himalayan region. You can cook with them, make offerings in them, play them like musical instruments, and – most commonly – sound them at crucial points in Buddhist ceremonies.

They should be made using an alloy of seven metals, each of which represents one of the celestial bodies: gold for the sun, silver for the moon, mercury for the planet Mercury, tin for Jupiter, copper for Venus, iron for Mars and lead for Saturn. Any decorative inlay or engraving is a bonus.

Mind you, as a master craftsman has to hammer out each of these bowls by hand, and you need a reasonably large one for it to be any use, adding all these different metals into the mix means you wind up with something that is pretty expensive. The cheapest I could see at any of the shops around the Bodnath stupa cost US$140.

Using the bowls as therapy is a fascinating idea. Music definitely affects the mood and perhaps also the nervous system and body chemistry as practitioners suggest. Here, the vibrations of the bowl are supposed to stimulate the body to recreate its own harmonic frequency, and to help the brain produce the alpha waves it needs for deep relaxation. The sound affects not only the person who hears it, but also apparently clears the surrounding atmosphere of negative energy.

Trying it out was quite an experience. When the bowl is actually touching your body as it is struck, the vibrations go right through you, and whilst I did not enjoy this too much when the bowl was upside down on my head, it felt very good when it was placed on my aching back. Even when the bowl is simply held a few centimetres away then tipped back and forth or moved in a circle round you, the sound and frequency change in a startling way.

This was just a taster, as the nearby clinic for a proper treatment was fully booked. That, however, would have involved more than an hour of therapy, with up to seven bowls being used, some containing water. Prices start at around US$25, which is expensive for Nepal but ridiculously cheap when compared with a lot of alternative medical treatments in the West.

Regular singing bowl therapy is supposed to promote the energy balance, reduce stress, improve creativity and imagination, and generally harmonise body, spirit and soul to give a more positive self-image, all of which sound very tempting. I was sorry not to have been able to try this properly, and it will definitely be on my list the next time I am back.

 


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