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BIG LIST: Looking Ahead
Friday 27 January 2012, 10:17AM
If you want to know what the future has in store, you could always head to your local market and grab some asparagus. However, “asparamancing” is only one of many wacky ways of divining your fortune:   Say cheese: We’ve all heard that eating cheese before bedtime can give you nightmares. But apparently a humble piece of cheddar can also help you find your dream partner. In Europe during the Middle Ages, young country girls used what was called ‘tyromancy’ to predict who’d be their future husband. They’d write the names of prospective suitors on a piece of cheese, and the name where mould grew first was the ideal love match. Mouldy cheese – where romance blossoms.  Feline forecast: Ailuromancy – also known as ‘felidomancy’ – is literally the cat’s whiskers when it comes to determining the future. Simply observe the way your feline friend moves or jumps and you have an insight into what’s about to occur – especially when it comes to the weather, apparently. Every twitch, yawn, sneeze or stretch foretells some forthcoming event. If it’s hissing and arching its back, for example, it’s probably about to swipe you in the face.  The future? My a**e! Rumpology is not just an excuse to stare at people’s behinds. Sure, that’s probably part of it, but who are we to judge? Where palmistry experts see all through your hand, rumpologists go for the bottom line, meaning you never need to be behind the times again.  Navel gazing: The shape of a belly button reveals all about a person’s personality and life expectancy, according to Berlin psychologist Dr Gerhard Reibman. If you have an “outy” – protruding – omphalomancy tells us you’re optimistic and enthusiastic. If it’s round, you’re shy and retiring. If you’re the guy pictured above, well, then you’re just an idiot.  Bookish behaviour: Choose an important book, let it open on a random page and read the first passage you see. That’s your fortune according to bibliomancy. We tried it with a phone directory and apparently have a life to look forward to as a male escort after journalism.  Don’t wine: Seems like a real waste of a decent drink, but spill wine on to a piece of cloth or paper and the subsequent stains can be read by the right people (usually sober people). The Romans believed oinomancy, as it is known, was best carried out by a priestess of Bacchus, the god of wine. If you can’t find a priestess of the god of wine though, then a local drunk will probably suffice.  Shoedunnit: Many of us might be able to tell where people have been by the state of their shoes. But only a rare few can tell where they’re going from a quick glance at someone’s footwear. ‘Scarpomancy’ relies on predictions based on the wear patterns, tongue deformation and lace fraying of shoes. From the wear on your shoes, I predict you will buy a new pair soon.  Wee will rock you: Urine samples are used by medical professionals to indicate the state of a person’s health. But, according to ‘uromancy’, the bubbles in wee can reveal future events. If the bubbles are big and far apart, expect good things. If they are small and close together, something appalling may be around the corner – something like proteinuria, vesicocolic fistula or urinary tract infection, for example, all of which list urine bubbles as a symptom.  Faecal fortune: Scatomancy involves human excrement being scrutinised to tell the future. In ancient times, ‘scatomancers’ were often influential members of their community. Today, handling people’s poo and prophesising the future will probably land you in a psychiatric facility.
BIG LIST: Crazy Conditions
Friday 20 January 2012, 09:45AM
Some rare medical conditions have unintended benefits, but many others are just downright awful. Exploding Head Syndrome: Yes, really – although it’s not as cool as it sounds. Sufferers won’t be cleaning up brain matter off the ceiling, but instead essentially hear a very loud noise (that isn’t actually there), usually when asleep. Symptoms can include the inability to vocalise any sound, bouts of sleep paralysis and frequent ‘WTF just happened’ moments. It's still not known what causes it.    Walking Corpse Syndrome: Walking corpse syndrome is a neurophyciatric disorder where people are under the false belief that they are dead and rotting. Sufferers basically wander the earth telling people that they’re dead. Just to clarify, they’re not. The illusion can become so real that they can make up elaborate stories of their death.    Alien Hand Syndrome: It’s the plot of a more than a few bad horror movies, but also a very bizarre reality for some: Hands with minds of their own that move and behave seemingly independent of the sufferer’s intentions. The ‘alien’ hands undo buttons, manipulate tools and even grope people without the awareness of those to whom the hands are attached - that's their excuse anyway.    Human Werewolf Syndrome: For people with severe Hypertrichosis, hair grows profusely in all sorts of unusual places, such as freakin’ everywhere. Sometimes referred to as “human werewolf syndrome”, it involves excessive hair growth all over the body which grows back even after laser treatments. Only about 50 living people are currently known to have this condition, including Thai schoolgirl Supatra Sasuphan, named 'the world's hairiest girl'.    Fish Odour Syndrome: We’ve all sat next to that smelly guy on the bus before. But try multiplying that smell by approximately infinity and you are somewhere in the region of someone suffering from trimethylaminuria. Sometimes called ‘fish odour syndrome’, because there’s no need to be sensitive to someone who smells like rotting fish, people with this condition can’t control the very strong smells that are emitted through their sweat, urine and breath because their bodies don’t properly break down a fishy-smelling organic compound found in food.    Vampire Disease: More commonly known in the medical world as the much less awesome sounding cutaneos porphyria, vampire disease is a disorder where the victim’s skin experiences blisters, necrosis, itching and burning when exposed to sunlight. It also causes excess amounts of hair growth on body parts, particularly the forehead. Perhaps even weirder, and not vampire related, the victim’s urine turns different colours when exposed to sunlight. Doctors are also relatively sure that silver bullets and stakes through the heart will most likely kill sufferers, though this hasn’t been independently verified.    Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: When objects appear much small or larger than they should – like dogs the size of mice, or ladybugs as big as a house – you’re either on drugs or experiencing Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (perhaps both), a temporary condition that affects our perception of the world around us. Doctors believe that it may involve the brain’s occipital lobe, which controls visual information. Or it may just be the drugs.    Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome: Okay, so this one sounds awesome. But imagine having 200 plus orgasms every day. Still sounds awesome? Now imagine having 200 plus completely uncontrollable orgasms per day in very public places. There’s no known cure, although there are far less pleasurable conditions to be struck down with.
Couple renew vows – after sex change
Friday 20 January 2012, 09:43AM
BIG LIST: Freaks of Nature
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:42PM
We all know that scientists are really just the world’s biggest pranksters. I mean, they created a giant-headed supersoldier ant just because they could (see left). So, instead of imagining what other kinds of crazy mutants they’ve knocked up on their lunch break, we’ve made a list.   Got milk? Have you ever looked at a cow and thought, ‘Man, I wish that gorgeous beast had a nice ol’ set of human breasts I could drink from’? Scientists in China apparently have, creating genetically modified cattle that produce “human” milk in a bid to make cows’ milk more nutritious. Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University, insisted that the GM milk would be as safe to drink as milk from ordinary dairy cows, but why should we trust someone who thinks it cool to drink milk from a cow?    Rodent’s revenge: If human breastmilk’s not your thing, how about a nice refreshing glass of rodent nectar? It’s all about lactoferrin, apparently, a substance in breast milk that boosts infant immune systems. Human milk contains only four to five grammes of the stuff per litre, but mice milk that includes up to 160 grammes. Scientists must anesthetise the mice and then attach tiny pumps to their itty-bitty mouse teats to harvest negligible quantities of milk (yes, just like in The Simpsons). This process is admittedly hilarious but extremely inefficient and difficult to produce on an industrial scale.    Venomous veggies: Remember when your mum always told you to finish your greens? Well she may as well have told you to finish eating your scorpion poison glands, because that’s what future children may have to look forward to. Scientists have recently taken the gene that programmes poison in scorpion tails and looked for ways to combine it with cabbage. Why would they want to create venomous cabbage? To limit pesticide use while still preventing caterpillars from damaging cabbage crops. These genetically modified cabbages would produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves — but the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. So who wants to try it first?    Buzz off: Hands up if you hate mosquitoes. Now everyone put your hands down. It should please you then to know that the same British biotech company involved with the GE bollworm has created mosquitoes that are specifically programmed for sudden, early death, kind of like the computers of the insect world. The idea is to release quick-dying males to mate with wild females, passing on lethal genes that kill the young before they can reproduce. The short-lived bugs could help control the spread of dengue fever and other diseases. Despite having some critics, the only real down side of this terminator gene is losing out on the satisfaction of a mosquito killing revenge rampage.    Fluro felines: In 2007, South Korean scientists took the GloFish and stepped it up notch, altering a cat’s DNA to make it glow in the dark, and then took that DNA and cloned other cats from it — creating a set of fluffy, fluorescent felines. Here’s how they did it: The researchers took skin cells from Turkish Angora female cats and used a virus to insert genetic instructions for making red fluorescent protein. Then they put the gene-altered nuclei into the eggs for cloning, and the cloned embryos were implanted back into the donor cats – making the cats the surrogate mothers for their own clones.
Cat: meat hot pot
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:41PM
It was supposed to be a civilised chat over a casual meal of, ahem, cat meat hot pot. But police in southern China have detained a man suspected of murdering a billionaire tycoon over a financial dispute by poisoning the cat meat they shared. Long Liyuan, who made his fortune running a forestry company in wealthy Guangdong province, died last month after sharing a dinner of cat meat hot pot – a local delicacy – with two associates. Last Monday authorities in Yangjiang city, where the incident occurred, said police had detained one of the two associates, Huang Guang, a local forestry official, on suspicion of poisoning the meal after a business deal went sour. “Huang, who was helping Long take a lease on a forest, had himself used funds provided by Long. This led to an economic dispute and gave Huang the idea to kill Long with poison,” a statement on the city’s official microblog said. Long’s brother claimed at the time that the billionaire, a Guangdong provincial people’s congress delegate, had been poisoned, and his family posted a 100,000 yuan (B5 million) reward for information about his death. All three men fell ill after eating the meat on December 23, but Huang and the third diner recovered, the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday. The paper said that Huang had snuck into the restaurant kitchen to poison their food. “He tasted the cat meat, saying it needed to boil longer, then asked the owner of the restaurant to go fetch him three bottled beverages,” said the Guangdong-based daily. “Her [the owner’s] husband then went out to buy cigarettes, which is when Huang is now suspected to have slipped in some gelsemium elegans,” it added, referring to a poisonous plant native to China. Before the dinner, the three men had gone to inspect woodlands that Huang wished to sell to Long, the report said, adding that the official had previously helped the tycoon buy woodlands and got other officials to grant permits and public development funds. Long or his firm appeared to have paid Huang a total of 3.5 million yuan (B17.5 million) for various services and Huang had recently been trying to raise more money to settle debts, it said. Huang, who earlier told the newspaper of his “great sadness” at Long’s death, had sent a text message to the billionaire giving him his bank details, the paper said.
Scientists create new ‘supersoldier’ ants
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:39PM
Nightmarish “supersoldier” ants with huge heads and jaws have been created by scientists, though it’s unlikely they’ll be taking over the world anytime soon. Rather, the monsterous ants may be a genetic throwback to an ancestor that lived millions of years ago. Scientists created the ants by activating ancient genes that trigger their development. They showed that ordinary ants of the species Pheidole morrisi contain all the genetic tools needed to turn them into supersoldiers. By dabbing their larvae with a special hormone, they were able to induce the development of “supersoldiers” instead of normal worker and soldier ants. Supersoldier ants can occur naturally in the wild, but only rarely. In the deserts of America and Mexico, their job is to protect the colony from raids by invading army ants. The supersoldiers use their enormous heads to block the nest entrance and attack any enemy ants that get too close. Scientists in Canada created the monster ants in the laboratory by activating the ancient ancestral genes. Authors Dr Rajendhran Rajakumar, from McGill University, Canada, and colleagues wrote: “We uncovered an ancestral development potential to produce a novel supersoldier sub-caste that has been retained throughout a hyperdiverse ant genus that evolved 35 to 60 million years ago.” The results suggest that holding on to ancestral development toolkits may play an important role in evolving new physical traits, say the researchers. The results also suggest that science can be awesome.
BIG LIST: 2011's best mugshots
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:42AM
Okay, so a police mugshot is rarely going to capture you at your best. But a few people last year were definitely caught at their worst.   This camouflage might work well in nature, but it really stands out in the police station. Officers only found Gregory Liascos when a police dog bit what appeared to be a patch of grass – which yelped in pain.   Some people have guilt written all over their faces, and others, like assault suspect Robert Norton Kennedy, have apologies. The tattoo reads: “Please forgive me if I say or do anything stupid.”   Cory Smits, 29, was found guilty July 7 on his fifth offence of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Mind you, if you looked like this guy, you’d probably spend your whole life intoxicated too.   Oneal Morris is accused of posing as a doctor in Florida and filling a woman’s buttocks with cement, mineral oil and flat-tyre sealant. Police say Morris was born a man but identifies as a woman.       Colorado native Michael Campbell is a sex offender who was arrested for being within 200 metres of a public pool. He was released later that day. He is pictured here in 2007 and then again in 2011.   Rodell Vereen, twice pleaded guilty to having sex with a horse. He was released from prison this year after serving 16 months behind bars. The horse was condemned to a lifetime of trauma.   Authorities in Georgia, USA, found Ranaldo Jack stuck in a woman’s chimney. He was charged with attempted burglary when it was revealed he was not in fact Santa Claus.   Police in Jefferson County arrested Levi Miller, Johnny Mullet and Lester Mullet of Bergholz, Ohio, for the alleged forcible cutting of the beards of several fellow Amish men.   Sheriff’s deputies in Arizona say Albert Tejeda’s unique tattoos – and lengthy rap sheet – leave him with a face they’ll never forget. Tejeda fled during a traffic stop and was later found with a samurai sword.    If you’re going to commit a crime, wait until AFTER your haircut. David Davis assaulted another man by stabbing him with scissors…while he was getting his overgrown hair sheared off!
Snakes on a plane (almost)
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:39AM
Monks brawl at the birthplace of Christ
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:38AM
German institute at the fore of skin research
Thursday 5 January 2012, 12:57PM
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, recently created the ‘Skin Factory’, and if that name doesn’t alarm you, the details of it probably will.The ‘Skin Factory’ is an advanced piece of lab equipment designed to use foreskin taken from babies to grow patches of human skin used in the place of animals to test products, according to the German Herald. A spokesman for the Institute said the ground breaking equipment may be able to eliminate animal testing altogether and, if developed on a larger scale, could be useful in developing treatments for cancer, pigmentation diseases, and certain skin allergies. So how does the miracle machine work? Just to reiterate, it runs on baby foreskins. First, the foreskins are heated to roughly 37°C. Next, robotic hands meticulously extract cells from the now human body-temperature foreskins, all samples of which must come from boys aged four-and-under. “The older the skin is, the worse the cells function,” Andreas Traube, an engineer at the institute, said. Scientists then take the cells extracted from the foreskin and incubate them inside tubes, where they multiply hundreds of times. The cells are then mixed with collagen and connective tissue to create skin about 5 millimetres thick. The whole process takes about six weeks. European authorities have yet to authorise the Skin Factory for use in product testing. In the meantime, scientists are continuing to develop the machine and are producing skin at a rate of 5,000 samples per month.
BIG LIST: Crazy Kim
Thursday 5 January 2012, 12:55PM
He may have been one of the most ruthless dictators in modern history, but the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was also an endless source of entertainment and an international laughing stock for his unusual antics. Here are some of the more amusing ‘facts’ about his life:     He kidnapped little people: Kim reportedly used pamphlets advertising wonder-growth drugs to lure “small people” into traps, from where they would be deported to “uninhabited islands” to remove their “substandard” stock from the gene pool. It turns out height was a bit of a sensitive spot for old Kim – no official records list his height, however estimates have him measuring in at only about 5’3”.  He was born under a double rainbow: According to Kim Jong Il’s official biography, he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain during North Korea’s Japanese occupation, and his arrival was prophesied by a double rainbow and marked by the sight of a new star and a swallow in the sky.  He was the world’s greatest sportsman: According to national media, in 1994 Kim Jong Il shot a record-breaking round of golf in which he achieved 11 holes-in-one, and a total score of 38 – by far the greatest score in history. Even more amazing was that it was the first time he had even touched a club, having never before played the game before. No other media organisation picked up this amazing feat however, but it’s not like North Korean media ever lies, right?  He was God: According to reports, the former leader could make it rain or directly control the weather on demand, depending on his mood. He kidnapped two directors to remake Godzilla: Kim kidnapped two respected South Korean directors in 1978 (Shin Sang Ok and Choi Eun Hee) and forced them to remake Godzilla. (That’s right, of all the movies this supposed ‘film buff’ could have picked, it was a cheesy Japanese monster flick). Their movie, Pulgasari, only emerged after the couple were forced to remarry in 1983 having spent years inside labour camps. They eventually escaped on a trip to Vienna, where they fled to the US embassy in 1986.  He liked the creature comforts...: According to Russian emissary Konstantin Pulikovsky, who travelled with Kim by train across Eastern Europe, Kim had live lobsters air-lifted to the train every day which he ate with silver chopsticks.  He drank $700k worth of cognac a year: According to a study by Dr Jerold Post, a former CIA psychologist, Kim  loved Hennessey cognac – which sells for around US$630 a bottle in North Korea, or just under the average annual income (US$900). According to the study, he averaged around US$650,000 to US$720,000 of cognac a year.  He did not use toilets – because he didn’t need to: According to an official biography posted on the North Korean state web site, that has since been removed, Kim Jong-il did not defecate. Ever. Which begs the question as to where all that rabbit, lobster and cognac went after it entered his mouth.  He was a rice obsessive: According to a nephew of Kim's first wife, Lee Young Nam, the leader had female staff inspect each grain of rice he ate to make sure it adhered to strict standards of length, weight and colour.  He was the hamburglar: North Korean newspaper Minju Joson once reported that Kim Jong-Il had invented something called the “double bread with meat” and created factories to produce them in order to feed his students and teachers. Kim's great invention looked remarkably like the humble hamburger.
BIG LIST: Ridiculous Robberies
Friday 23 December 2011, 04:39PM
Most normal criminals rob banks, steal cars, or maybe just take your wallet. But where’s the fun in being normal? Over the years creative crooks have entered the spotlight for targeting much less conventional goodies – Christmas trees, grain (see opposite), or any of the following: Burning bridges: If someone offered to sell you the Golden Gate Bridge, you’d probably have the good sense to know it was a scam. But if someone in Khabarovsk, Russia, were to offer you a 200-tonne steel bridge, they might actually deliver. In January 2008, employees on their way to a remote heating plant were forced to find an alternate route after the 15-metre-long steel bridge they crossed the day before vanished. While the workers slept, scrap metal thieves dismantled the span and supports and loaded it all onto trucks for a quick getaway. At the time, the plant’s owners estimated it would cost around US$40,000 to build a new bridge. This time, though, they will use concrete. Lifting lingerie: During the 1992 LA riots, while some looters were busy stealing TVs and VCRs, others broke into Frederick’s of Hollywood and made off with around US$200,000 in women’s undergarments. The company also suffered the loss of a few one-of-a-kind items from the store’s lingerie museum – a bustier with gold tassels that Madonna wore in the music video for Open Your Heart, a pair of Ava Gardner’s bloomers, and a push-up bra worn by Katey Sagal as Married…With Children’s Peg Bundy. A few days later, a man known only as Jim B came forward to return Peg’s push-up and Ava’s undies. Madonna’s bustier was never recovered, despite a US$1,000 reward from the company. We like to think it made someone very happy though. A deer friend: Escaped psychiatric patient Leon Hollimon stole an ambulance in Lexington, North Carolina, and led police on a cat-and-mouse chase for hours, travelling through four different counties in two states. One of the cops likened the chase to an episode of Dukes of Hazzard. Eventually, the culprit ran off the road and was apprehended wearing a stethoscope, carrying latex gloves, and sporting a mohawk. It was an odd enough crime, but it got really weird when authorities found, splayed in the back, a dead deer with an IV stuck into its body. There was also evidence that Hollimon had tried using a defibrillator on the animal. Hollimon was taken to a nearby mental health facility for evaluation. Ashes to ashes: After Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, most of his ashes were spread over the grounds of a Buddhist temple in New York and in the Wishkash River in Washington state. His wife, Courtney Love, kept what was left inside a pink, bear-shaped handbag, hidden in a closet at her Hollywood home. In June 2008, Love said that a former friend had broken in and stolen the bag. The ashes’ whereabouts were unknown until a few months later, when German performance artist Natascha Stellmach claimed she acquired them, mixed them with marijuana, and planned to smoke the whole thing as part of an art installation entitled Set Me Free. Of course, no one is able to substantiate whether Cobain’s remains were in the joint or if it was just a publicity stunt. Either way, the ashes were never recovered. Full Nelson: Shawn Nelson was a typical man whose life got a little tough, so he decided to steal a 57-tonne M60 Patton Tank from his local National Guard armoury. As it turns out, tanks don’t require keys to start. Yes, the hatches were locked, but police theorised he used a crowbar to break into three different tanks before finding one that would start. (Yup, the only thing stopping Al Qaeda from taking over an armoured division was that they didn’t know about the crowbar thing.)  The ensuing 23 minute chase ended only when Nelson managed to get the tank stuck on a barrier. At that point, the cops jumped on the war machine, opened the hatch and shot Shawn to death.
Thursday 15 December 2011, 10:44AM
  Dive shop manager and writer of blog site Jamie’s Phuket, as seen every week in The Phuket News.   How long have you lived on the island and why did you move here?  I came to Phuket in 1999 looking for work as a dive instructor, and did not plan to stay more than a year or two, but the diving was great, and then I met my wife who was also working in a dive shop... and we’re still here!   What is best thing about living here?  Phuket is a great place – not perfect, but it’s easy to avoid the bits I don’t like (Patong!). There is excellent local food but its also easy to find any other kind of food if I feel the need, many beautiful places to visit in Phuket and nearby. Good place to raise a family, good schools, medical facilities and so on.   What do you do to relax?  Explore Phuket! We like to find new places, either in Phuket or in the area. Just last week we visited a national park that we’d not been to before, just a three hour drive from home. And then some days, relax means stay at home, play with the kids, do the gardening, and head to a nice quiet beach for sunset, a few beers and tasty food.   What hobbies or sports are you interested in?  Work and family take up most of my time. My hobby for the last few years has been blogging and photography. The aim of starting my Phuket blog five years ago was to show people that there is a lot more to Phuket than beaches and obvious tourist attractions. It’s nice to be able to explore, the whole family enjoys new experiences. A couple of weeks ago for example we took the ferry to Koh Yao Noi and rented scooters for the day, kids loved it, great day out. Sports – well, I don’t participate nowadays, used to run and cycle a lot... enjoy watching football, rugby, cycling.   Favourite food or dish?  Thai food seems to have endless variety. I love yam kung seab (dried shrimp salad), nam prik kung seab (a dried shrimp spicy sauce), kuay jap noodles (noodle soup), tom yum, massaman curry, kana moo grob (fried crispy pork with vegetable), anything with moo grob (crispy pork) really... chicken with cashews, yam tua pu (spicy mixed vegetable), hor mok (fish curry wrapped in banana leaf). Also love a fried egg sandwich! And mango with sticky rice. I eat a lot more Thai food than Western, but a burger now and then is needed or an Indian curry or a pasta dish... and the occasional English breakfast.   What kind of music are you into?  Pretty much anything except boom-boom dance music. In my car right now is Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Paul Simon... I like blues, I can even handle a lot of new pop music (have to, since the kids like it). Anything from Frank Sinatra to Led Zeppelin.   What is the best tip you have for people moving to Phuket?  Phuket is as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. You can live the fancy ex-pat life, or something a bit more local. Phuket is a big place, get out and explore. There’s more here then meets the eye! Read my blog!   What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while living on the island?  Hmm... I am not one of those people who stores up “funny” anecdotes. The best thing that has happened – meeting my wife and having 2 wonderful kids.   The person you admire the most and why?  My mum. She’s battled cancer three times, has been at death’s door and is more active than ever. Mum and dad are coming over here again in September. It’ll be exhausting! I like to have some days at home, but she really likes to get out and do something every single day!   If you could come back as any other person who would it be and why?  Part of me says .. I’d like to be my son... I envy the excitement in those six-year-old eyes. Life is new and full of surprises.  
BIG LIST: Eccentric Eateries
Friday 11 November 2011, 10:50AM
  Buns and Guns – Beirut, Lebanon At Beirut’s Buns and Guns everything is military themed – from the camouflage décor and weapon-adorned names of dishes to the helicopter sounds that play constantly in the background. It apparently reflects the under siege mood of the city during Lebanon’s 2006 war with Israel – because that’s the kind of thing people want to remember. You can order yourself an M16 Carbine meat sandwich, a Mortar burger, or, our particular favourite, a Terrorist meal (which, ironically, is vegetarian).   Nyotaimori – Tokyo, Japan ‘Nyotaimori’ in Japanese literally means ‘female body plate’ – you can pretty much guess where this is going, right? Guess again. Picture an edible body, with dough ‘skin’ and sauce ‘blood’ wheeled into the room on a hospital gurney and placed upon a table. The hostess then cuts into the body with a scalpel and hungry patrons dig in, operating on the body to reveal the edible ‘organs’ inside. Bon appetit.   Cabbages and Condoms – Bangkok, Thailand The only restaurant in the world dedicated to birth control, Cabbages and Condoms offers not mints on your way out the door, but condoms and a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ with various STDs. Their slogan, emblazoned on T-shirts in the gift shop, is “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy”.   Modern Toilet – Taipei, Taiwan At Modern Toilet, yup, you guessed it, hungry customers take a seat on a toilet (Western style, not Asian squat, for the record) and enjoy faeces-shaped chocolate soft serve in miniature toilet bowls (among other more conventional dishes). Toilet rolls are hung over the tables for use as napkins, and drinks come served in miniature urinals. It’s not clear what the actual toilet is like in this place.   Maid Cafes – Tokyo, Japan Japan (surprise) scores another mention on this list with any of the many maid-themed cafes in the Tokyo area. Giggling women in cartoonish maid costumes call patrons ‘master’ and pat them on the heads like babies. Unsurprisingly, it’s not about the food here – which is usually overpriced and less than appetising (think spaghetti topped with ketchup). It’s about the service, which often includes playing games like Barrel of Monkeys (for a fee, of course) and, uh, complimentary ear cleaning.   Pitch Black Restaurant – Beijing, China It’s often said that if you take away one or more of your senses, the remaining ones become stronger. That’s the idea behind Pitch Black, a Beijing restaurant where patrons eat in complete darkness. Illuminating devices like cell phones and watches are strictly forbidden, and it’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face – you’ll just have to assume the meals are amazingly presented. Don’t think you can get away with any funny business, either – the waiters all wear night-vision goggles.   New Lucky Restaurant – Ahmadabad, India The name of this place is more than a little deceptive. There’s probably nothing lucky at all about being surrounded by coffins while you eat. It’s probably even less lucky when those coffins are occupied. The New Lucky Restaurant began as a tea stall outside a centuries-old Muslim cemetery, and grew to encompass it over the years. Business is brisk, and the owners say that the graves bring good luck.   The Hellfire Club – Manchester, UK The Hellfire Club, with its Gothic decor and creepy theme, might not seem like a place to enjoy a world-class meal, but if it’s any consolation, the food is apparently pretty good. It’s located in a reportedly haunted 19th century building and resembles a dungeon, with skeletons, coffins and red lights strewn throughout. Menu items include steaks named ‘Kiss of the Vampire’ and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. No word if the God of hellfire himself, Arthur Brown, makes a ghostly appearance.   Vampire Café – Tokyo, Japan Continuing the theme of death and pretty much everything else you don’t want to think about while eating, the interior of Tokyo’s Vampire Café (yes, yet another Japanese entry) is almost entirely blood red. Guests are ushered down a long hallway with red blood cells superimposed on the floor, while inside the decor includes heavy velvet drapes, black coffins dripping with red candle wax, skulls and crosses. Many of the meals are vampire-themed, and diners drink red cocktails from martini glasses.   Eternity Restaurant – Truskavets, Ukraine When a group of undertakers set out to open a restaurant, you know it’s going to get a little weird. Eternity Restaurant in the Ukraine is a windowless building shaped like a giant coffin. Inside you’ll find funeral wreaths, black shrouded walls and human-sized coffins. Menu items include dishes with names like “Let’s meet in paradise”. Ummm, let’s not?   Hobbit House – Manila, Phillipines Long before the Lord of the Rings trilogy debuted on theatre screens, the Hobbit House was founded in Manila by former Peace Corps volunteer and Tolkien fan Jim Turner. Don’t expect to find the sort of lush Middle Earth scenery that filled the movies, however – what you’ll encounter instead if you stop at the Hobbit House are ‘the smallest waiters in the world’. That’s right, check your political correctness at the door – this is one group of little people who are okay with being referred to as hobbits.  
Search for the corduroy king
Friday 11 November 2011, 10:46AM
  The most important date in the history of New York’s Corduroy Appreciation Club (no jeans allowed, probably) is here and the club is still searching for its “messiah”. The band of fabric fans are seeking a child who turns 11 on November 11 – or 11/11/11 – the date the club says most closely resembles the ribs of its favorite ridged textile. “That child is the messiah of corduroy,” Miles Rohan, founder of the club, told the New York Daily News. “We liken it to finding the Dalai Lama.” The New York-based club said it had already been contacted by twins from Wisconsin who will turn 11 on November 11, but are looking for a locally based child to attend their “grandest meeting” in Manhattan on that date. The child will be installed on a throne and generally treated like textile royalty after being carried into the meeting. Members who attend the meeting will also be required to wear three items of clothing made of corduroy, instead of the regular two. The club celebrates twice yearly, on January 1 – or 1/1 – and November 11, and has about 250 members. Mr Rohan said he first created the club as a joke and a way of poking fun at secret societies, but his brother – a Massachusetts professor – has given lectures about the “relationship between corduroy and art history”. “[He] is keen on the historical figures who have worn corduroy. It’s the fabric of intellectuals, poets, and Woody Allen.” According to its website, the Corduroy Appreciation Club “wishes to cultivate good fellowship by the advancement of corduroy awareness, as well as, understanding, celebration, and commemoration of the fabric and all related items”.  
BIG LIST: Incredible insurance polices
Friday 14 October 2011, 10:20AM
  There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s insurance. Here are some of the more ridiculous policies that have been taken out by people with valuable ‘assets’ to protect.   MARVELOUS MERV While playing for Australia’s national cricket team from 1985 to 1994, Merv Hughes took out an estimated US$370,000 policy on his trademark walrus-style mustache. Of course his cricketing talent was also pretty valuable, but clearly not as valuable as the mo.   LEGGY BLONDE German supermodel Heidi Klum has both of her legs insured, but strangely enough, one happens to be worth more than the other. The former Victoria’s Secret brand spokeswoman’s right leg is insured for US$1.2 million, but her left only US$1 million. Why the discrepancy? A little scar on her left limb, not that most men on the planet would care in the slightest.   OFF HIS CHEST Believe it or not, Welsh crooner Tom Jones used to be considered a sex symbol. These days, however. 71 year-old Jones lives in fear. Sure, he’s remained famous for half a century, and probably sexed enough women to populate a small and very satisfied country, but he believes it all could come crashing down with a single accident that in any way damages his luxuriant pelt of chest hair. Seriously. To keep his sexiness intact, he’s insured it for a princely sum of US$7 million.   DOLLY BIRD Everyone loves country star Dolly Parton’s music, right? Well just in case that ever goes out of style, Parton has insured each ginormous breast for US$300,000.   EGADS EGON In 1957, world-famous food critic Egon Ronay wrote and published the first edition of the Egon Ronay Guide to British Eateries. Because his endorsement could make or break a restaurant, Ronay insured his taste buds for US$400,000 – sure to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the insurers if he makes a claim. Boom boom.   PROBING THE LIMITS “Alien abduction, impregnation, and consumption”: Non-celeb Paul Hucker would get US$1.5 million should any of those things happen. The policy is actually not as uncommon as you might expect: some 20,000 Americans supposedly have it in some variant. The truth is out there.   REAR-ENDED Jennifer Lopez has a US$27 million insurance policy on her distinctively large rear end – after all, it’s not like the music and movie thing were going to work out forever, as 2003’s Gigli proved.   ¡AY, CARAMBA! When the Mir space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, American fast food chain Taco Bell said that if it hit a floating target the company had set up in the middle of the ocean, everyone in the US would get a free taco. Taco Bell hedged their publicity stunt with an insurance policy to avoid going completely bankrupt. For the record, it missed.   JAKE AND THE FATMAN A British male stripper named Frankie Jakeman insured his penis for US$1.6 million in case of damage in the line of duty. Oh behave.   WHAT A YO-YO Representing the Cheerio Yo-Yo Company of Canada, 13-year-old Harvey Lowe won the 1932 World Yo-Yo Championships (a real event, apparently) in London and toured Europe from 1932 to 1935. While there, he taught Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales, how to yo-yo. Cheerio had Lowe’s hands insured for the then princely sum of US$150,000.