Category Archives: Other

Everlasting Rose

Nothing says “I love you” better than a single, perfect rose. The problem is, they don’t last long (and there are enterprising people out there making a good living by sending bouquets of dead roses to that ex you now hate…). But what if you could present your partner with a real rose that is guaranteed to last for years?

It is all apparently a question of treating the rose using a special technique which replaces the natural sap with glycerine, water and dye. This leaves the petals with a soft texture which looks and feels amazingly natural, and means the rose does not need water or any special attention.

I saw these in Bangkok – they were offering a whole range of lovely pinks and reds as well as this multi-coloured version, which was put together from individual petals. At 1,000 baht a bloom I wasn’t planning to buy one, no matter how beautifully packaged, so was politely discouraged from taking any more photos, mai pen rai…


War Spoons

This is a story about war and peace…

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States fought to stop the spread of communism across Indochina, a ‘war’ which wreaked devastation yet has largely been forgotten. Except by the people still living with the consequences.

In Laos, recorded statistics show that between 250 and 260 million bombs were dropped over that 9 year period, of which a horrifying 30% did not explode. Many of these were cluster bombs, tennis ball sized and easy to overlook, until you dig one up whilst ploughing, or stumble on one in the undergrowth.

Forty five years later, dedicated teams are still working to clear fields of lethal unexploded ordnance, and a steady stream of famers and children are killed or crippled by bomblets. In the Mines Advisory Group centre in Phonsavan, the chalk board notice of ‘this week’s casualties’ makes devastating reading.

The locals, however, are making the best of things, and a whole new industry has grown up based on recycling the debris. Scrap metal from the salvaged bomb casings is being turned into all manner of useful things, from spoons and chopsticks to souvenir bottle openers, bangles and beads.

There are half a dozen stalls at Luang Prabang night market devoted to these, and whilst the recycled metal is a strange, silvery and fragile material, it is a real feel-good thing to buy  – not just as a cool gift or a fascinating souvenir, but also as something that will help the community.

Even better, if you head up-country to the heart of the devastation, you can not only see the mine clearing in action but also try your hand at making some of these souvenirs yourself.

At Ban Napia, or ‘War Spoon Village’, in the region of the Plain of Jars, hut after hut has an area at the back where a small kiln is constantly in use melting down bits of wartime scrap. In the most low tech way, ladles of shimmering molten metal are poured into wooden moulds – by the time you’ve done the third, the first is ready to remove and you start the process over. A small but very efficient little production line was going on at the one I visited, with the son pouring and unmoulding spoons, the mother filing off the rough edges once the metal had cooled.

It did not take much persuasion for them to give me a chance to try this myself, although it soon became clear that it is way less simple than it appears. I am not going to be invited to make spoons again any time soon, and the one specimen I did finally produce is something I am hanging on to but will probably never dare use in case it collapses and pours soup into my lap.

All the night market stalls have the slogan: Buy Back the Bombs. I certainly did my best!


Clip Markers

As a person whose travel guides bristle with mini post-its marking the really interesting pages, I was thrilled to spot this very efficient clip.

Ready loaded with slim sticky strips just the right size for the job, it attaches firmly to the cover of your book or magazine, so you need never put said book down to hunt around for your markers again.

I found it in Tokyu Hands, in a variety of colours, for less than $8, and promptly snapped it up. Best of all, it comes with a refill set I am sure to be needing soon.


Cigarette Incense

It was a real puzzle working out what these strange little sticks were when I saw them in Hanoi airport – they looked very intriguing packed into bottles and arranged in gift boxes. It took the combined efforts of three shop assistants and some entertaining sign language before I got the picture, so they must have been a bit disappointed when I decided not to buy…

But it is a fascinating concept, and I’d be interested to hear from someone who has bought them to discover if they really do work as advertised.

Essentially, the sticks are tiny slivers of agar wood, which is sometimes called oud and is used in the production of fantastically expensive perfumes in the Middle East. And not just any bits of wood, but heartwood from certain species of the aquilaria tree which has been transformed by mould into a dark, dense resin-like substance which contains a crucially important aromatic chemical compound.

What you do is (using a special cigarette needle if you have one) insert an agar wood stick into the centre of your cigarette then smoke as normal. The effects are apparently fairly special: the perfume from the burning wood covers the normal smell of smoke, making things more pleasant for both the smoker and other people nearby, it also acts as a breath freshener. Not to mention that it apparently reduces nicotine damage and provides some sort of detox for the whole body – especially in the case of wine and beer drinkers. In fact, it is touted as improving male health in general.

I did manage to track down some information online once I was home, and discovered that you don’t have to put these in your cigarette and smoke them to reap the benefits. Apparently some of the same benefits can be gained by simply burning the sticks as you would incense, or making them into tea. Maybe I should have bought some after all…


Cow’s Urine

Who knew it was possible to buy this in the supermarket? I have seen (and bought) cow dung cakes in India, but never saw this particular product on the supermarket shelves until a recent visit to Malaysia. It must be said that I was there for the Thaipusam festival, and it is possible this product was available only for the duration, but still.

Research reveals that there are all sorts of fascinating uses for cow’s urine, particularly in medicine, where it is renamed ‘gomutra’ – check the ingredients labels on your Ayurvedic medicine bottles now(!) – and said to be useful in the treatment of leprosy, colic, bloating, epilepsy, diabetes and even cancer.

Mind you, when I offered to send my bottle to a friend in the UK, she said she would rather live with her diabetes than try this…

The most widespread use of cow’s urine is for religious purposes, as a spiritual cleanser when sprinkled in holy places. Scientists in India have also apparently determined that it is a bio enhancer, which means it can boost the activity of antibiotic and antifungal agents. It is even possible, in certain places, to buy it as a health drink, where it is mixed with herbs and flavoured with citrus fruits, or else incorporated into soaps and shampoos. This last use is actually perfectly feasible, as urine was always the main cleansing ingredient employed in ancient Roman laundries.

The most likely use for my bottle, however, seems to be as a fertiliser and bio pesticide for the pot plants clinging to survival on my balcony. If it kills them stone dead, I will let you know!


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.


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