Painting with Pollution

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.


Hair Vacuum

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen at the hairdressers since the arrival at my local salon in Tokyo 15 years ago, of a machine which washed your hair.

That gave me such a fit of the giggles that all the staff were laughing too by the time the revolving jets had shampooed and finished rinsing.

This innovation is considerably more sensible, and seems to do a better job, too.

Sadly, it is only available at barbers shops, where a quick spray rather than a proper wash seems to be the norm. In Japan, men have their hair washed both before and after a cut, to get rid of all those stray snippings. In Singapore, once the trimming is done, those annoying hairs are swiftly removed with a vacuum hose.

Thanks to my husband for letting me take photos… this clearly works a treat!

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…