By Nury Vittachi
My adult friends can basically be divided into two lots. Those who have children and those who have decided not to. The second category is growing fast.
Am I bothered? Not a bit.
Think about it. The first group will expand. The second group will die out.
Almost exactly 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, a group of people in Vietnam proved the truth of the naturalist's greatest theory: natural selection. They stole 1,000 chickens involved in a bird flu scare and took them away to eat. Guys! THINK.
I could not help but be reminded of the hunger strike on death row at a US prison a few years ago. One of the TV commentators remarked at the time: "This seems to me to be the sort of problem that solves itself."
Then there was the thief in Sydney who stole a sack containing a live, poisonous snake. Police ended up looking for an empty bag and a corpse. A few more successful robberies like that and the criminal classes could wipe themselves out completely.
These incidents show the truth of the principle of natural selection: every generation, certain individuals helpfully remove themselves from the gene pool so that smarter people can continue the species.
Examples of this are celebrated in an annual listing called the Darwin Awards, which started off as a bit of faxed office humor in the mid-1980s, but now can be found on the Internet and in bookshops.
Here's a real life sample. In the UK, two burglars decided to rob the home of British footballer Duncan Ferguson. This gentleman is famous for being a "hard man". Not only is he a wall of muscle, but he is a bad-tempered wall of muscle: he has numerous convictions for assault and is a jailbird. After attempting to deprive Mr Ferguson of household property, one of the burglars required three days of hospitalization. I ask you, was it worth it for a used video player?
But newspaper stories you can generally trust, while the majority of Darwin Award stories listed on the Internet are pure fantasy. That's a shame, because real life is WAY funnier than fiction.
Here's proof. One of the least believable tales in the Darwin Awards listings is the one about Lawnchair Larry, who tied balloons to a garden chair, floated up into the path of passing jumbo jets, and shot the balloons with his gun until he landed safely.
That's a TRUE story. Larry Walters, a US truck driver, DID manage to use a garden chair and some weather balloons to get some five kilometers into the air stream heading to Los Angeles airport, and survived the experience by popping the balloons with a gun.
Sad to say, a recent attempt to recreate that ride came to a sad end. A priest in Brazil ascended into the sky in a chair tied to balloons last year. But he did it close to the coast. Strong winds blew him out over the ocean. He phoned rescuers for help, but was unable to tell them where he was, as there are no landmarks in the open sea. His body was washed up a few days later.
Darwin Awards judge Wendy Northcutt gave the priest, Adelir Antonio de Carli, a double award.
"Catholic priests take vows of celibacy. Since they voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool, the entire group earns a mass Darwin Award," she said. "Adelir Antonio wins twice over."
Meanwhile, if cut-price frozen chicken shows up in your supermarket imported from Vietnam, think of your genes.
By Nury Vittachi
Not fair! How are humorists supposed to compete when government officials steal our shtick?
The funniest thing I've heard for ages came from China's ambassador to the United Nations, Li Baodong, who spoke at the UN headquarters in New York recently.
"China has never restricted freedom of speech," he said. "There is no media censorship. We guarantee full religious freedom, and journalists, lawyers, human rights advocates, have full freedoms. The public can express their opinions freely, and nobody will be punished or investigated for making opinions."
Most impressive was the fact that he said all that with a completely straight face, as if there was anything remotely believable in it. Mr Li, I take off my hat to you. You are the new King of Comedy.
On a related note, consider the recent antics of CCTV, the China state television broadcaster. The massive fire at the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing was featured on all major news media outlets around the world. But mysteriously, the news crew at CCTV itself completely missed it. This is despite the fact that they had four camera teams with high definition cameras at the scene. They clearly forgot Mr Li's "full freedoms". The picture at the top of this column appears to show the Chinese media’s notion of free speech.
His words reminded me of an interview I once read in Thailand. A government minister said the people of Thailand were "very modest" and "extremely conservative" by nature. I think I would have believed him more had I not read his statement while sitting in an outdoor café in Patpong, a part of Bangkok dedicated largely to clubs in which women perform "dances" involving ping-pong balls that few people would characterize as "very modest".
But the most shocking statements are on the business pages. When I was a business reporter, a tycoon released a statement saying that rumours that his company was negotiating to buy another company were entirely false and no such talks had taken place. THE SAME DAY, his company announced that it had bought the other company. Both statements could only have been true if the tycoon had, on a whim, decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a company in which he had had no interest whatsoever seconds earlier.
News reports say that everything is falling, but the "lesser spotted lie" is definitely on the increase. You can see them all over the place. I reckon the most likely locations to find them include:
Any statement released by listed corporations;
Any statement by a government suggesting that it wants to move towards greater accountability or democracy
Any statement by Microsoft Corporation, and
Any statement on Fox News.
And what are the world's most common actual untruths? I would suggest the following:
1) I'm not here to sack people.
2) I love you too, darling.
3) Fun for all the family!
4) I'll call you.
5) He's in a meeting.
6) Can't talk right now, I'm on my way out the door.
7) Don't worry, I'll be good.
8) No, of course you don't look fat in that.
9) The cheque's in the mail.
10) I didn't get your email.
11) The dog ate my homework.
12) This won't hurt a bit.
13) I only had one beer.
14) Mm, this home-made pie tastes great.
15) No, really, it's fine, I prefer it cold.
16) Actually, we're just good friends.
By Nury Vittachi
On the bus into work this morning I was reading about the Japanese minister who appeared drunk at an international press conference.
It was the pictures of his face that gave him away. Shoichi Nakagawa had that classic brain-dead look of someone who had drunk himself into a coma.
But having said that, I have much the same expression this morning. One of my kids had a high temperature and I was up half the night looking after her. I'm sure I shall make some interesting decisions today.
Never mind. I think I will fit in with the rest of the world just fine. I don’t know if it is stress or what, but there does seem to be a spate of stupidity sweeping the planet just now.
In fact, reading the paper, I reckon the World Stupidity Index has soared to record heights. After hovering around the mid-to-high mark for the past half-year, it jumped to "extreme" in the first half of this month.
It's not clear what is causing this epidemic of general brainlessness. Sunspots? Secondhand smoke from Australia? Consumption of melamine snacks from China?
New Zealand meat-worker Bryan Speers sawed off his own hand -- AGAIN. When the 26-year-old butcher chopped off his left hand, emergency workers raced him to hospital. But doctors who reattached it found two sets of scars around his wrist. He admitted it was his second time. "The scarring made it difficult to know what was what," Dr Katerina Anesti told the press. Mr Speers appears to be making a habit of sawing his hand off. Should he not ask himself: is he really cut out for his job?
Meanwhile in India, police sent a man for an autopsy before he was dead. Abdul Raza, a steamroller driver, was found lying on the street. Police sent his body to the post-mortem room at Patna Medical College Hospital and summoned his family. When relatives reached the morgue, they were told he was alive. They were irate, having already telephoned family members to summon them for a funeral. "We cannot stop them now. They are on their way," grumbled one.
Also in India, politician Pramod Mutalik declared that young women celebrating Valentines' day were actually victims of evil young men using a Western tradition to molest them. To "help" the girls, he organized gangs of men to pounce upon pairs of friends and conduct forced marriages. I wonder what he actually said to the young women he "rescued"? "This man is an evil molester of the worst kind. I will now force him to marry you."
But don't assume Mutalik was successful in driving romance out of India. No sir. A man in Jharkhand revealed he had written the name of his lost love 1.4 million times. Kishore Kumar Gaba of Ranchi says he will continue until he has done it 10 million times, as penance for not asking for her hand in marriage 20 years ago. Gaba's tale of unfulfilled love would be a rather romantic, poignant one--except for the fact that the guy is a married man with two kids. The press missed the really interesting character in this story, who I reckon is Gaba's wife, who has to be some sort of saint.
But the mass outbreak of stupidity does have some positive aspects. Smart people can exploit the general low level of intelligence to develop their businesses.
For example, a pub owner in the UK was lamenting the size of his clientele. "We've got a small group of regulars -- well, two at the moment," said Tim Gibson of the Royal Oak pub in the town of Blean.
So he put two signs outside. One said: "Wanted. Customers. No experience needed as full training will be given. Please apply within."
The other sign offers wives a "free husband creche. Is he getting under your feet? Leave him here while you shop -- just pay for his drinks."
Business immediately began to pick up.
Nosebleeds are how we communicate
By Nury Vittachi
The phone rang. It was a Western reporter from an international newspaper wanting to ask me a question: "Do Asians celebrate Valentine's Day?"
"Sure," I replied. "In India they get these heavy wooden clubs and form armed gangs to force pairs of friends to get married. It's really romantic."
"That doesn't sound romantic," she replied.
"It's an Asian thing," I explained.
Ah, love is a tough thing to communicate. And even tougher when it comes to crossing intercultural barriers.
To explain Asian romance, I forwarded her an article from Chinasmack.com, called "Ten signs a girl has fallen in love with a man".
This list, written by a woman named Tianya, shows how you can tell if a mainland Chinese woman loves you.
1. The woman makes requests with hidden meanings, Tianya says. Her example: When you are "on your way back from singing songs at the karaoke bar, a girl will suddenly say to you: 'Can you help me keep this bag of milk warm?'"
2. If a woman starts a conversation with a man, she is in love. "Otherwise, a girl would rather be beaten to death than risk the kind of social criticism that goes along with that behavior," Tianya points out.
3. The woman will fuss over your clothing. Tianya says men should watch out for girls who say things like: "Why are you just wearing such little clothing?" This "may seem like just normal politeness, but in fact is her limitless love".
4. The woman can stop your nose bleeding with a verbal command. "When a guy likes a girl, he will be so nervous his nose will bleed uncontrollably. Yet with just a few words, that girl can effortlessly stop the nosebleed that could not be stopped."
5. The woman will go into a trance-like state. "Whenever a girl likes a man, there is always something called hormones that will cause mischief, something secreted on a woman's body, often causing trouble for women, making them unable to control themselves."
6. The woman will ask personal questions. Men who do this should be avoided, Tianya warns. "On the other hand, if it is a girl, a delicate girl, then your caution is unnecessary. With this, there is only one possibility: She has already begun to like you."
7. The woman will wink at you. "This is an oft-used weapon of devastating power that women use, making even the most powerful men defenseless," says Tianya.
8. The woman's face will turn bright red. "A girl meeting a man she likes will be so shy that her face turns red, all the way to her ears, her entire face flushed, just like a bright shiny spring tomato."
9. The woman will give you a watch. "Men who receive a wristwatch already know that it is a very unusual special gift packed full of meaning."
10. The woman will behave like a spoiled child. For example, if she says, "Hey, let's go eat!" she will "then add in a few whiney baby-like noises," Tianya says.
The article above (which is real, I didn't make up any of it -- click here for the original) explains why no woman from mainland China has ever fallen in love with me.
I wouldn't know how to keep a bag of milk warm and never realized I should compliment women by bleeding profusely from my nose.
Love is strange.
By Nury Vittachi
"Are all dogs boys?" a small, sticky child asked.
"Yes," I replied. "All dogs are male. Including girl dogs."
The child looked smug. Clearly he had been arguing this point with someone. I went on to explain that all cats were girls, including male cats.
I could see that the teacher was looking puzzled. So explained what I meant with a story.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve felt lonely.
So God told his angels to make them a creature for them. "Make it medium-sized, with four legs and a tail," God said. "You can call it a Pet."
The angels made the first pair of pets. They were cute but they were also very playful. They ran around heaven, hid under the sofas and scratched the furniture. Then they saw what looked like a pair of paddling pools. One jumped into the blue one and the other jumped into the red one.
But they were not paddling pools. They were vats of Male Essence and Female Essence.
After the angels fished them out, they noticed the Pets had changed.
One had become shaggy-haired, simple-minded and deep-voiced.
And the other had become sleek and complicated and whiney.
"Oops," said the angel. "We'd better classify these as two separate creatures."
They called one Dog and the other Cat.
This made perfect sense to the children. But later on, in the staff room, I had to explain what I meant to the teacher.
Proof that all dogs are male:
1. Dogs, like men, are completely predictable.
2. They are supremely interested in your nether regions and pathetically unable to hide this fact.
3. They don't respond when you shout in their ear, but they can hear the sound of a packet containing something consumable being opened a kilometer away.
4. If you once let them hog your sofa, they will feel like they own it.
5. They eat anything. Their basic philosophy is put stuff in their mouths first, ask questions later.
6. They are intensely loyal but sometimes stray through sheer stupidity.
7. When they are not happy, they don’t say anything, but sulk and growl and knock things over.
8. They emit large amounts of gas from both ends.
9. They often consume ill-advised items until they are sick, give you a sad "never again" look, and then do the same thing again the next day.
Proof that all cats are female:
1. They are completely unpredictable.
2. They expect to be worshipped all the time.
3. They look cute but are surprisingly tough-minded creatures who make all the decisions.
4. You can call them, but you never know if they will actually turn up.
5. They leave bits of their hair all over the place.
6. They completely ignore you when you come home.
7. They take the stance that you exist solely to ensure their happiness.
The teacher listened patiently, and then a rather guilty look appeared on her face. She pulled two sandwiches out of her bag. "I chose your lunch for you in advance," she said. "After all, women make the decisions, and men eat anything, right? Meow."
What could I reply? "Woof."
By Nury Vittachi
I was shocked to hear that American Idol, a singing contest, has become the most popular show in the history of TV all over the world, INCLUDING in Asia.
It is so popular now that whenever a new series begins, traffic vanishes, pollution falls, wars stop and global warming halts, with Antarctic ice sheets GROWING by two millimeters.
I watched a bit of the show the other day. It consisted entirely of pretty young people tearfully revealing that their deepest wish is to be incredibly rich, famous superstars. How, er, cute.
It’s just a bit too American, if you know what I mean: it’s based on young people having wildly unrealistic fantasies.
Now we Asians are famous for being inspired by ("stealing") Western ideas and improving them. So let's fix American Idol. Here's how it could go.
A TV host leaps out on stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Asian Idol!" he shrieks to rapturous applause.
To the left of the stage sit three judges: a grumpy one, a pretty one and a cool one.
Host: "And our first contestant for this evening is Mr Ah Li."
A plump middle-aged Asian man in a dark grey suit walks on to the stage.
Grumpy Judge: "Nope. Don’t like him. It's a No from me."
Pretty Judge: "He hasn’t opened his mouth yet."
Grumpy Judge: "Yeah, that's why we should stop now, while the going's good."
Cool Judge: "Chill, big guy. Sometimes the worst lookers are the best performers."
Grumpy Judge: "My instincts are never wrong. Remember William Hung in 2004?"
Pretty Judge: "So what are you going to perform for us today, Mr Ah Li?"
Ah Li: "I am an Asian accountant and today I will organize simultaneous listings for an IPO in Hong Kong, Delhi and New York."
Cool Judge: "Cool. Go for it."
Grumpy Judge: "If he must."
The starting hooter sounds. Ah Li snaps into action. He sticks a wireless Bluetooth device receiver into each ear and then pulls out two Blackberrys. He writes texts on both at once while shouting instructions into his headsets.
Ah Li: "Register form 10279a with contact 739 in New York. Copy in triplicate to Securities and Futures Commission. Pick up form 72075b and file with registrar 821. Email certificate 984d (i) to compliance officer 267 and forward receipt to clerk 241."
As he continues in this manner, the studio audience starts to laugh and clap, and the judges sit up and take notice. Ah Li starts to sweat. He earns another round of applause by removing his jacket and tie without interrupting the stream of messages. Another minute passes.
Host: "Five seconds left."
Ah Li: "File form 17a2 in triplicate with Inspector 676. Done? Great, I want them all up on the main boards, now, now, now!"
Host: "Three. Two. One."
Ah Li: "YES! They’re listed."
The hooter sounds. The crowd goes wild. The three judges swap surprised glances with each other. Cool Judge: "Hey man, that was pretty, uh, cool."
Grumpy Judge (reluctantly): "Not the worst I've seen."
Pretty Judge: "Do you have a girlfriend?"
By doing an Asian version of this show, we could make people in Asia seem cool to a worldwide audience. Youngsters in the West will go out and buy thick glasses to be more like us. Math books will outsell Harry Potter.
I'd organize all this myself, except that it seems like a lot of work. Now if only there was a show called Bone Idle.
By Nury Vittachi
Herds of people are flocking to churches and temples, scientists report. Faith groups can expect a 50 per cent jump in growth rates thanks to the financial crisis, New Scientist says.
Why is this happening? Because the rabble seek comfort in irrational beliefs, the magazine indicates.
Ow! Hey, scientists, listen up: the statistics may be right but your conclusion is definitely wrong. People in the banking community are giving each other cash bonuses for screwing up the world economy -– is that rational? I don’t think so.
How about checking out places where people find fulfillment in non-materialistic ways? That’s not irrational: it’s logical in these troubled times.
But there's one thing in the magazine's editorial that I do agree with. "Many psychologists now see irrationality as the default state of the human mind," it says.
At last, scientists have caught up with the rest of us. Life is strange, bizarre and irrational, and human thought-processes even more so.
The fact is, life IS full of questions, big and small.
Here are some common ones that are pondered over in Internet forums, or listed in my notebook:
Is there a God?
Why do men have nipples?
Which came first, the egg or the bacon?
When police arrest a mime, are they still obliged to tell him that he has the right to remain silent?
When it rains, why don't sheep shrink?
When sign makers go on strike, is anything written on their signs?
Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
Why do they sterilize needles used for lethal injections?
So many questions, so little time. I asked regular contributors to identify the metaphysical "mysteries of life" that most puzzled them. The things that puzzled readers were not big questions of existence, but mundane puzzles that crop up in everyday activities. I divided them by age and sex.
The top three great metaphysical mysteries of adult male life:
1. Instead of you, there's a fat, balding guy in the mirror.
2. Somehow your bones turn into accurate weather-forecasting devices.
3. Once you get your head together, your body falls apart.
The top three great metaphysical mysteries of adult female life:
1. A one kilo box of chocolates can make a woman gain two kilos.
2. Every bathroom scale ever made is inaccurate.
3. You hang something in your closet for a while and it shrinks two sizes.
The top three great metaphysical mysteries of young male life:
1. Most of the questions women ask have NO RIGHT ANSWERS.
2. You can keep vomiting long after you think you have finished.
3. Girls want you to pursue them, but as soon as you seriously get into the whole stalking business, they call the police.
The top three great metaphysical mysteries of young female life:
1. Ex-boyfriends are like attacks of toe fungus, they just keep coming back.
2. Although you know that nothing new will have materialized you keep returning to the refrigerator.
3. Even guys who have no fear of bungee jumping or watching horror movies are terrified of making a phone call.
Okay, so I'll admit that the great mysteries of life that most puzzle readers aren't really that deep.
But if any church or temple has the answer to them, drop me a note. I don't mind the fact that my left tibia forecasts rain, but I'm anxious to get that fat, bald guy out of my mirror.
By Nury Vittachi
The above argument was used to attack the present writer recently. My verbal assailant was a man who has spent six years at the same desk. "You always moan about everything, yet you spend your life jetting around," he said.
Not fair! We poor business travelers are to be pitied, not envied. Honest.
Desk jockeys, just compare my life to yours.
In your cubicle you have 1.6 meters by 1.6 meters of space to yourself.
In my economy class seat, I have a space just 50 centimeters square.
In your cubicle, you have a proper desk with drawers and a filing cabinet.
At my seat, I have a rickety tray the size of my forearm.
At your desk, you have a full-size keyboard and a computer screen.
At my seat, I work with my fast-expiring laptop awkwardly balanced on the tiny tray.
If the people sitting near you move around, it doesn't affect you.
If the people sitting in front of me or behind me or next to me make the slightest movement, my coffee goes flying over my lap and my laptop.
In your office you have a whole row of toilets for men and a separate one for women.
In my cabin, I share a coffin-sized toilet with 160 people.
When you get hungry, you stroll to street level and take your choice of restaurants.
When I get hungry, I have to wait until someone brings me a rectangular dog dish.
In your office you can take a break and walk around the park.
In my cabin, the only door leads to instant death.
When you've finished work, you can watch television all evening.
When I finish work, I get to look at a screen that's the size of my hand and suffers from constant interruptions in three languages.
At your home, you have newspapers, internet connections and a working phone.
At my seat, I have yesterday's news, if I'm lucky.
If you need peace, you can turn the television off and enjoy music or birdsong.
If I want peace, I insert earplugs which completely fail to reduce the roar of engines a few meters away from me.
If you want to breathe fresh air, you open your windows.
The only thing I get to breathe is a blend of the recycled gaseous emissions of 160 strangers.
At night, you get two pillows, a duvet and a full-size bed.
At night, I get a Barbie-sized cushion, a blanket so thin you can see through it and a seat that barely tilts.
At night, you get to cuddle up with your spouse.
At night, I get to cuddle up with the 160 producers of the gaseous emissions mentioned above.
In the morning, you are woken at daybreak by sunrise and bird song.
I am woken at an absurdly early hour by flight attendants switching all the cabin lights on.
And after suffering all that, what rewards do we get?
We stumble out into Colombo airport at two o'clock in the morning to wait six hours in the transit lounge before getting on another plane and doing it all again.
Ah, the glamorous life of a business traveler.
By Nury Vittachi
Warning: the information in this column is TOP SECRET. Only MEN should read it. There have been a series of high society weddings in Asia recently so I hereby reveal how Asian fathers get their sons married off.
Father: Can we talk for a moment, son? All your cousins are married now, you know. You'll have to settle down yourself one day. Can I help?
Son: No, Dad. I'll decide who I'm going to marry and when I'm going to marry.
Father: Of course. I was just going to suggest you meet a nice girl I have in mind. That's all.
Son: No thanks, Dad.
Father: She's beautiful, she's intelligent---oh, and she just happens to be the daughter of the richest man in Asia.
Son: Really? Wow. Okay. Well, I guess I could take her out to dinner or something, see if anything clicks.
Father: What a great idea! If there's anything I can do to help, just ask.
Father: Thank you so much for seeing me.
Tycoon: You have precisely 30 seconds.
Father: That'll be plenty: I've only got one thing to tell you. I believe my son and one of your daughters are considering marriage.
Tycoon: What? Impossible. I know nothing about this.
Father: It was a surprise to me, too. They're going out later this week.
Tycoon: But who are you? And more to the point, who does your son think he is?
Father: My son is a good boy, young, single, smart and presentable.
Tycoon: Huh. So are a million other boys who would like to marry my daughter.
Father: True. But my son's a high-flier, just like you were when you were young. In fact, he's just about to start work as vice president of a major bank. He'll be the youngest vice president ever.
Tycoon: Really? Well in that case, maybe it's not completely out of the question. Saves me going out looking for someone, I suppose. Which bank?
Father: The biggest bank in Asia.
Tycoon: Let me think about this.
Father: If you and I give our approval, we would make your daughter very happy, which is the most important thing.
Tycoon: Of course. I guess we'd better arrange some sort of dinner between your family and mine.
Father: What's a great idea!
Father: I want you to give my son a job as vice-president of your bank.
Banker: What? I can’t do that. I don't know anything about him. Is he even qualified?
Father: He's shortly to become the son-in-law of the richest man in Asia.
Banker: He’s qualified.
Father: My son can start work on Monday. What have you got available at the vice president level?
Banker: Not sure. There may be some openings in equities.
Father: Vice president of equities. What a great idea!
And that’s it. Simple, isn’t it? Now eagle-eyed female readers may have spotted something. At no point in this process are the wishes of the female considered. That’s true. This is Asia. Women's opinions don't count.
But we are moving slowly towards female emancipation and may well achieve equality between the sexes in as little as four to five hundred years. Have patience, girls. And if you think I am being a sexist, let me remind you that it is not your business to think.
By Nury Vittachi
One million new books are set to be printed globally this year. But most will come from Western countries, with almost 400,000 from just two: the UK and the US.
"What hope is there for creative people in Asia?" sighed a young author with whom I shared these figures.
I told her that the lack of books from Asia was good news for people like her. Asian tales are rare and unusual. In contrast, Western stories are often extremely predictable. To prove my point, I went out and bought the latest big-selling thriller at the airport. The Whole Truth by David Baldacci (who has written some excellent books in the past) is probably stacked high in every major international airport on the planet.
Here's the story, so you can make up your own mind how original it is.
Once there was a law enforcement guy called Shaw. He was good-hearted but a bit of a maverick. He was handsome and tall. "Rugged is how most people would describe his features, ruggedly handsome," the author tells us.
Shaw goes to Holland and speaks the local language to a surprised immigration officer. The officer, who is 6 feet 2 inches (1.85m) tall and towers over most people, says: "You speak Dutch?" Shaw, who is 6 feet 5 inches (1.95m) tall and towers over him, replies: "Doesn't everyone?" Shaw then speaks to an Iranian in the Farsi language before switching to "a Chinese dialect from a tiny province in the south of the communist country". So now we know that Shaw is handsome, tall AND clever.
Shaw meets a woman who is "young and beautiful with raven hair". She says: "You're very good-looking. And large!" (Now that line rang true. Strange women are ALWAYS saying that to me.)
But Shaw repels her, saying, "I'm married." So now we know that Shaw is handsome, tall, clever AND principled.
As the action hots up, we find Shaw has an amazing ability to get into battles with groups of villains and single-handedly defeat all of them.
At this point, I was thinking that Shaw was the least believable fictional character I had ever encountered, Spongebob Squarepants and the Hindu "cow which gave birth to the world" NOT excepted.
But I was wrong. For the author then introduced me to Shaw's woman, Anna. "The love of his life was fun-loving in many ways, emotional and romantic, but she also possessed an IQ far to the north of genius level: brains and beauty." Anna had "long, elegantly formed legs" and "could speak fifteen languages at last count and all of them like a native".
Shaw decides that he is going to give up being an action hero and settle down to a quiet domestic life with Anna. At this point, the reader knows that if this is the most predictable story ever written, Anna will be blown to bits.
Anna is then blown to bits.
I said to the young Asian author: "So there’s your challenge. Can you think of a more original story than that?"
She replied: "It wouldn’t be humanly possible to think of a less original one."
Too true. One character in the book was shot at but later "found the flattened bullet in her hair". I can only imagine that her head must have been as thick as Mr Baldacci thinks his readers' heads are.
By Nury Vittachi
The beginning of the financial year in most international businesses is April, and senior executives get together and talk about money.
But the beginning of the calendar year for most people is January, and I sit down with my children and we talk about pocket money.
My experience is that the two confabs are almost IDENTICAL, right down to the fighting over snacks and the sneaking of toys into the room.
Yet there's one big difference, which is particularly clear this year. Adults make wildly wrong decisions about money. Kids get things right by instinct. Indeed, I would go so far as to say:
Everything you need to know about money you can learn from your kids.
1. Girls eventually stop buying toys, but boys never do.
2. If you have a tiny, completely useless bit of money and you put it in a savings account and wait for a year, you find that at the end of the year it is still a tiny, completely useless bit of money.
3. Some people will pay a premium for stuff that is shiny, but the smart ones don't.
4. Spending money feels good, but coming out of shop without having spent any feels even better.
5. They say that "money talks", but it doesn’t. It just kind of lies there.
6. The amount of pocket money you lend to someone is never the amount you get back. Whether you get more, less, or none of it back depends on how well you chose the kid you lent it to.
7. Girls spend their money on small, cheap, completely useless things, while boys spend their money on big, expensive, completely useless things.
8. People who get loads of pocket money and people who get hardly any still waste the same proportion of it on silly things.
9. Wasting some of your money on silly things is really important.
10. It is impossible for a girl to have too many bags or shoes.
11. It is impossible for a boy to have too many gadgets or transport-related items.
12. Goodie-goodie kids who save all their money are never as fun to be friends with as naughty kids who spend all their money.
13. But when you need to borrow some money, the goodie-goodie kids suddenly start to seem to be really fun people to be friends with.
14. If you go on holiday, your pocket money changes into several thousand yen, dong or lire which sounds like a lot but is only enough for like one can of 7-Up.
15. If you want a rise in pocket money, wait until Dad has had dinner and is on his second Scotch.
16. Folding all your money into a thick bundle and carrying it in your pocket doesn't make it worth any more but feels really good.
17. When you go on a trip, you always take some money to spend, and some as an emergency back-up supply, but by the end of the trip you always end up re-classifying all of it as money to spend.
One of my kids is a spender, one is a saver, and the third is half-half. With luck, they'll learn from each other and end up with a healthy, balanced attitude.
The real challenge is to make sure The Bank of Dad stays solvent.
By Nury Vittachi
A reader wrote to me to ask me join a Facebook group called "Boycott the new Karate Kid movie".
I was tempted to sign up.
I drafted a reply: "Sure! I am always happy to boycott things I DON’T WANT TO DO anyway. I will also refuse to drink rat poison, decline to throw myself off a high building, and pledge not to cut my own head off with an axe, if that helps."
Boycotts are easy. Remember Woody Allen's answer when he was asked whether he ever took a political stance against anything?
"Yes," he replied. "I once refused to eat grapes for 20 minutes."
But I realized that a weird plague of boycotts was sweeping around the world and I ought to take this a bit more seriously.
For example, someone forwarded to me a call from a religious group in Malaysia for people to stop using Maybelline mascara. Why? Because it is the Asian equivalent of a product originally made by an American company and American companies are sort of associated with the American government and the American government is suspected of being pro-Israel and Israel did terrible things in Gaza recently.
That sounded a bit tenuous to me.
Now it would not be a massive sacrifice for me to promise not to use Maybelline mascara. But there's loads of research which shows that while boycotts sometimes have a good effect, secondary boycotts only harm the innocent. The Maybelline thing was not just secondary but "fourth-ary" or "fifth-ary" or "sixth-ary".
Meanwhile, unknown persons have been forwarding text messages around India, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere saying that Coca-Cola and McDonald's and Starbucks are giving a week of profits to Israel to buy bombs with. As a result, lots of restaurants in Asia stopped serving Coca-Cola, and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for folk working for McDonald’s and Starbucks in his homeland to quit their jobs.
I know a few people who work for Starbucks in Asia, so I asked them if this was true. One of them just laughed. The other said, "Do you know how much it costs to open stores in Asian cities? If we make a profit this quarter, I want it forwarded to me, and then I might use it to buy myself a double-tall latte."
McDonald's spokeswoman Linda Ming was just baffled, pointing out that the message wasn't remotely true, and Asian versions of the company are almost entirely non-American: "McDonald’s is locally-run, serves local customers, employs local people, supports local charities and pays local taxes."
Ironically, one of the few multinational employers who has been willing to help folk in Palestine was Coca-Cola. They opened a bottling plant in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and employ about 400 people there.
So I didn't send a positive reply to the "boycott the karate kid" people. Instead I went to their section on Facebook.com to see why they were agitating against a harmless Jackie Chan movie. The organizers said it was because they were "completely weirded out" that someone should remake a "classic" movie.
Okay, everyone. Time to boycott the boycotts. The next time someone asks you to boycott something, treat it as a BUYcott, and support it. So buy a Coke and let's go and see The Karate Kid remake together. And I'll wear LOTS of mascara if you will.
By Nury Vittachi
Staff at the White House have given Barack Obama his BlackBerry back. You'll recall that the new US President was initially ordered to surrender his beloved popular pocket email device. But at the last minute, they returned it----after inserting extra security devices to stop nosy people reading his emails.
The whole dispute was highly intriguing. What sort of emails does Barack Obama write that have to be kept hush-hush!? What messages did he send in the two weeks before he was inaugurated? My mind started working overtime.
Jan 1. From B Obama to G Bush:
"Hey, George, they’re telling me that I’m not allowed to have my BlackBerry when I’m President. Did they say that to you, too?"
Jan 2. From G Bush to B Obama:
"Dear Barry, that can’t be right. I don’t rightly remember about blackberries but I had strawberries LOADSA times, and once I et a whole blueberry cheesecake and was sick all over the Japanese ambassador."
Jan 3. From B Obama to G Bush:
"Gee, that’s too bad. I hope the Japanese ambassador wasn’t too sore about it. Actually, I was talking about whether you were allowed to do your own email."
Jan 4. From G Bush to B Obama:
"Dear Baz, don’t worry. The Japanese ambassador was fine. We tole him that in America the ultimate sign a respect was to vomit on someone, heh-heh-heh."
Jan 5. From B Obama to G Bush:
"Really? Did he believe you?"
Jan 6. From G Bush to B Obama:
"He shore did. In fact, later that evening, he vomited all over the Pope, who had dropped by to say howdy. The Pope was a bit surprised. Especially when I thanked the Japanese ambassador for what he had done."
Jan 7. From B Obama to G Bush:
"George, how come you are allowed to do your own email, but I’m not? Can you ask your chief of staff?"
Jan 9. From G Bush to B Obama:
"I asked him. His reply was: 'We are not scared of you leaking information, sir, as we don’t give you any, since you are a moronic cretin of the first order.' It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me, so I gave him a Man Hug. But I only held him tight ten minutes, didn't want him getting the wrong idea."
Jan 10. From Philip Morris to B Obama:
"Dear President-Elect Obama. As the world's most famous Marlboro smoker, we'd like to give you a free supply."
Jan 11. From B Obama to Philip Morris:
"Thanks, guys, but I'm giving up smoking."
Jan 12. From B Obama to Michelle Obama:
"Hey, Meesh. You got something nice to wear on inauguration night?"
Jan 13. From M Obama to B Obama:
"I'm going to wear a nice designer ball gown, remember?"
Jan 14. From B Obama to M Obama:
"No, Meesh, I meant something nice to wear for me AFTER all the parties. Remember that negligee?"
Jan 15. From M Obama to B Obama:
"Honey, I got interviews every morning and I'm wearing a mudpack every night. I need my beauty sleep. You can sleep in the Oval Office."
Jan 16. From B Obama to Philip Morris:
"Dear Mr Morris, I would like to reconsider your kind offer about the cigarettes."
By Nury Vittachi
I can't believe it's ALREADY the Year of the Ox. I'm still writing "Year of the Rabbit" on my cheques. Anyway, by popular demand, here are my warts-and-all animal zodiac readings for this year.
Pig (People born in 1935, 47, 59, 71, 83, 95) You are intelligent and artistic, but you can be moody. You enjoy getting into overcrowded train carriages to rub against strangers. Your goal for this year is to be arrested less frequently. Everybody hates you.
Rat (People born in 1936, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96) Witty and good-natured, you are an amusing companion. You enjoy polluting harbors and major waterways. You believe cartoons are real-life events taking place in other dimensions. You are deeply sick.
Ox (People born in 1937, 49, 61, 73, 85, 97) You are calm, patient and methodical. Your hobby is devising new methods of torture. You drink blood and have hair growing on your forehead. Your children are plotting to kill you.
Tiger (People born in 1938, 50, 62, 74, 86, 98) You are eloquent and sociable, with lots of friends. You love animals, especially for genetic experiments. You work hard at your main hobby, which is planting hard drugs on people at airports. You have three nipples.
Rabbit (People born in 1939, 51, 63, 75, 87, 99) You are gentle, kind and likeable, but you can be naïve. You have a beautiful head of hair, under which you hide horn-like growths. Many of your friends don't know you're the world's biggest arms smuggler.
Dragon (People born in 1940, 52, 64, 76, 88, 2000) You are strong, self-assured and proud. To relax, you rob banks and post offices. You aim is to one day to appear at the International Criminal Court charged with genocide.
Snake (People born in 1929, 41, 53, 65, 77, 89, 2001) You're a deep thinker, wise and mystical, but sometimes lack empathy. You like to kidnap people and hold them to ransom. You eat toenail clippings and smell funny.
Horse (People born in 1930, 42, 54, 66, 78, 90) You are cheerful, popular and talkative. You are good with technology and are personally responsible for sending out almost a third of the world's spam emails. You are wanted by police in 19 countries.
Ram (People born in 1931, 43, 55, 67, 79, 91) You are sincere and creative, but you can be indecisive. You wear your underwear for a month at a time and your hobby is stealing mail from neighbours' letter boxes. You vacillate between vegetarianism and cannibalism.
Monkey (People born in 1932, 44, 56, 68, 80, 92) Quick-witted and inventive, you have boundless energy. Your hobby is making hoax phone calls to the emergency services. You enjoy testing poisons on family members, and would love to start your own war.
Rooster (People born in 1933, 45, 57, 69, 81, 93) You are honest, loyal and unpretentious, with a sense of fair play. But you have a cynical streak. You have a tendency to murder people who cross you, but the number of victims will fall as you mature.
Dog (People born in 1934, 46, 58, 70, 82, 94) You are a meticulous, organized person, much admired by all who meet you. You enjoy mugging people in dark alleys. Your family relationships are bad, or at least they were until you killed them all.
Happy year of the ox!