Category Archives: Other

Secret Bar/Secret Menu

There is always something different and quirky on the cocktail scene in Singapore. It might be stumbling onto a secret bar, discovering an amazing new combination of ingredients at an old favourite, or perhaps there’s some fascinating twist in the presentation that gives you pause.

The Library was one of the original secret bars here, and it tries to keep things fresh by regularly changing the look of the ‘shop’ through which you go (if you can find the password) on your way inside.

It isn’t so secret anymore, although the atmosphere and the cocktails are just as great. What makes it special right now is the trouble you have deciphering the menu.

At first it just looks like pages of random and meaningless squiggles. You have to pay attention to the cover, and pull apart what looks to be a decorative plastic edging but is actually the key to the code.

A bit like half the special glasses you need to watch a 3D movie, the red plastic strip makes the letters hidden on the page stand out, and suddenly all becomes clear and everyone is laughing.

I love this place, and cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

Hedgehog Cafe

Harinezumi means ‘hedgehog’ in Japanese (actually it means needle mouse, which is fairly descriptive…) and Harry seems to be the oversized hedgehog who rules the roost in the Harajuku hedgehog café.

Visitors queue up to spend half an hour admiring, feeding, and – if they let you – playing with the couple of dozen hedgehogs who live here.

You might think that hedgehogs are not the best creatures to pick up and cuddle, but leather gloves are provided to protect your hands. And it is just as well, because you soon discover that the prickles are the least of your worries when it comes to playing with these shy creatures – however gentle you might be, a grumpy hedgehog has no qualms when it comes to pooing in all directions.

Half an hour (at the fairly steep price of ¥1,400) is actually long enough, because the best you can hope from your hedgehogs is that rather than struggling to escape they will curl up and go to sleep, possibly in your hands.

But the café is clean and bright, the price includes a drink you can get for yourself from the line of vending machines at the back, and the walls are covered with amusing posters explaining all about hedgehogs and how to hold them. Friendly staff will even take your photo, as it is very hard to manage a creditable selfie with 2 hedgehogs in your hand.

Most of the animals live in glass sided tanks set into the counters, so you can see them amble round at their eye level rather than just peering in from above. Strict rules mean you must disinfect your hands before holding them, and also keep your hands below the top of the tanks so there is no chance of accidentally dropping a hedgehog to the floor.

Small tubs of worms, and tweezers with which to handle them, mean you can feed your hedgehogs as well as simply pet them, and whilst I was there the café was full of happy customers. Whether the hedgehogs were happy as well is not something I can be sure of, as you can’t have the sort of personal interaction with them you might get with a cat or dog. But it was a quirky and interesting way of spending half an hour, and a welcome break from the freezing cold of February in Tokyo.


Kaiten Cosmetics

You know how one of the best marketing tricks is to present you with the temptation of desirable merchandise when you are unable to get away. Think of the sweet racks beside the supermarket tills, as you queue to pay for your shopping, and the expensive treatment ampoules lined up by the mirrors at the hair salon.

Cosmetics store Sephora has taken this one fascinating step further – as you sit at the Make Up For Ever counter for a free mini makeover, presentation boxes of their new lines and best sellers glide slowly past you on a smaller version of those conveyor belts you usually see at sushi bars. (Kaitenzushi means ‘rotation’ sushi)

It’s a splendid way of introducing you to an even greater variety of possible purchases, whilst making you want to pluck them quickly from the belt before they go past and the next person gets them. I managed to resist the temptation, but I’ll bet a great many customers don’t!

Fortune Cupcakes

This is really silly but lots of fun – a cupcake twist on the (usually) Chinese fortune cookie.

‘Fortune Cakes’ gives you a dozen silicone cupcake moulds, each imprinted with a ‘fortune’ you can only see once you have eaten your cupcake.

You might get ‘life is uncertain, eat dessert first’ or ‘a balanced diet is a cupcake in each hand’. They are all different and equally amusing.

I really like these, and feel it would be shame to save them just for Chinese New Year…

Digital Vending

Category : Other

Hats off to Acure, the Japanese drinks company which is responsible for many of those vending machines you see offering everything from hot coffee and soup to ice cold sodas on street corners and station platforms round the country.

Their latest machines employ technology that is almost scary – as you approach, a camera detects your face and makes a swift assumption as to your sex and age. Combining this with what it knows to be the time of day and the prevailing weather conditions, it highlights the choice of drink it thinks would suit you best.

I came across one for the first time at Meguro station, mid-afternoon on a day which was unexpectedly a lot warmer than you’d expect for February. I was on my way back to my hotel to drop off armloads of shopping bags, exhausted but still raring to make the most of my one day in Tokyo. The vending machine summed me up and suggested … Red Bull or ion water.

With no hands free to actually pay for or consume either of these undoubtedly excellent options, I had to carry on, but I was still laughing about it ages later. As far as I know, these only exist in Japan at the moment, but I’ll bet this is just the beginning of a global trend.

Magic Carpet

If you are keen on winter sports, you’ve probably come across one of these before, but it was certainly new to me – a ‘magic carpet’ travellator just like the ones you see at the airport, but going up the ski slopes instead.

For anyone, beginner or not, who has struggled with rope tows or the horror of needing to ski off the end of the chair lift, this really is the easy option. And when they are protected by a ‘tunnel’ of plastic covering, they give you some temporary respite from the weather, too.

OK, they are also very slow, and have an annoying habit of stopping suddenly when overloaded, but they certainly beat hauling a sledge or a tube through calf deep powder to the top of the playground slopes. I had a lot of fun trying them out in Hanazono, and think that if they’d been around when I first learned to ski, I might have enjoyed the experience a lot more…

Gracious Living

I’ve heard it told that, decades ago, antisocial behaviour was a real problem in Singapore and the government of the time acted decisively to stamp it out.

Offenders can still receive a caning for such offences as vandalism and overstaying their visa (although most of these punishments are handed out for very serious crimes), and I remember in the 90s that it was not unusual to see minor offenders shamed by having their photographs in the paper as they carried out community service orders like picking up litter, clad in distinctive fluorescent vests.

The most memorable tale, however, and it may be just a tall story, was that elevators in certain places were fitted with urine detectors. If these were triggered, they locked the culprit inside the elevator and alerted the police to come and arrest them ‘red-handed’.

Whether this is true or not, it seems there may be a re-emergence of the problem, judging by the banners that have been cropping up in my neighbourhood.

Of course, when large numbers of people live in close proximity, as happens in the HDB high rise complexes which house more than 80% of Singaporeans, people do annoy each other hugely with thoughtless behaviour.

These ‘Gracious Living’ cartoons are targeted at anyone who thinks they can get away with dropping cigarette ends out of their windows, or actually using the lift as a toilet. They are funny, but also to the point, and to be honest, there are so many cctv cameras in operation, you’d think people would know better. Let’s hope these serve as a valuable reminder…

Umbrella Trees

Category : Other

Here in tropical Singapore, it doesn’t pay to venture far without your umbrella. Not just for the inevitable downpours that strike without warning, but also as protection from the sun on cloudless days. A popular choice is the dual purpose brolly that has a special silvery coating to ward off the dangerous UV rays.

The local trees are also terribly important for the shade they provide (the ang sana tree in particular is nicknamed the ‘umbrella tree’) and it’s a rare tree that doesn’t have a snoozing workman underneath it at lunchtime or the weekend.

Project Oasis, an arts and culture group formed by Little India Shopkeepers and the Heritage Association, has taken this idea and produced a wonderful art installation beside the Serangoon Road – fake trees topped with colourful big umbrellas to shade the seating areas underneath. There’s a whole collection of them in different colours, filling out a vacant lot and looking remarkably realistic and amusing.

The artist who dreamed this up is Marthalia Budiman, and it is such a great idea I hope it is not just a temporary installation.


Portable Toilet Bag

Category : Other

There’s a phrase where I come from, used to describe the contents of a suitcase or car that has been over packed … we say it has ‘everything but the kitchen sink’. This portable toilet bag reminded me of that, because it really does seem over cautious to be packing your own toilet.

Mind you, I can think of trips I have taken where the ‘facilities’ have been a huge trial. In the wilds of Western Tibet, for example, the toilets are so basic and horrible that it is actually better when they don’t exist and you have to find yourself a quiet spot in the open. And on some long train journeys, the bathrooms tend to be locked not just during but also for an hour before AND after stops at places where you never know if there is time to risk a quick dash into the station building. Travelling on the Trans-Siberian with 2 small children, this was sometimes an enormous problem…

Anyway, when I saw these in ever reliable Daiso, I had to give them a go. The packet says they are very handy for traffic jams and disasters, although to be honest I cannot see how anyone but a child could get away with using one in a car.

The dark blue bag has a zip lock fastener to prevent nasty spills afterwards, and a strange, foam piece at the neck which ladies are advised to fold over the top. I am not clear how this makes the opening any wider as advertised, and you can’t then fold it inside the used bag afterwards, but never mind.

Inside the bag is a handful of white grains that are supposed to turn liquids to jelly, and absorb the smell. As this gave off a disturbingly savoury aroma like prawn crackers as the bag was opened, I was not optimistic, but in fact it all worked exactly as claimed.

Although the bag is dark blue, it is still fairly see through, so it is nice that the kit includes a small black ‘bin liner’ in which to hide everything until you can dispose of it discreetly.

I can’t say I am ever going to be carrying one of these around on a normal trip, but for just S$2, if I had toddlers in tow, I might be tempted to slip a couple into my rucksack.

Mirror Adverts

Remember when public advertising was restricted to posters? I can still recall the surprise when I first saw cinema-style adverts on giant screens outdoors, usually at big crossings where they must have been a huge distraction to drivers. Smaller screens popped up swiftly in subway stations and malls, and now even bus stops run adverts alongside information on the next service to arrive.

I’d started to think that space was running out, with most available options covered, but it turns out I was wrong.

I walked into the Ladies at a mall in Bangkok to discover that as I approached the mirror, it lit up with adverts just for me. I am not even sure how this works, although motion and proximity sensors must be involved. But somehow the advert is perfectly clear whilst still enabling the mirror to be used as normal.

Taking photos of this in action was slightly tricky, and I gave several local girls a good laugh at the crazy farang lady who was obviously living in the dark ages. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t have anything like this in Singapore. Yet. I await the arrival with interest…