Twisted tales from 2017: viral weirdness from around the world
Some might say that after Donald Trump’s inauguration, world events became so bizarre in 2017 that our covfefe of the year’s offbeat yarns would pale in comparison. Not so. From the US president inspiring people to use toilets in India to snakes on trains in Indonesia and outrageous aircrew rage, there’s something to shock everyone. Many of the stories went viral, such as inter-species sexual activity in Japan and animal-to-human disease transmission. No, those last two are not related. Here we go ...
After spending a few months observing macaque monkeys living in a Japanese forest, a group of scientists found a pattern of behaviour they described as both “unusual” and “intriguing”.
Adolescent female macaques climbed on top of a sika deer and crouched. Then, they moved their pelvises as if thrusting or grinding. They squeaked sexual sounds. They also bit, sniffed and pulled on the deer’s antlers. The deer, meanwhile, stood nonchalantly and continued foraging for food. When the deer walked away, the female monkeys “often displayed sexually motivated tantrums which consist of crouching on the ground, body spasms and screaming, while gazing at the deer,” the scientists wrote in a peer-reviewed study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour.
Two Hawaii men who grew up as best friends recently learned that they are actually brothers and revealed the surprise to family and friends over the holidays. Alan Robinson and Walter Macfarlane have been friends for 60 years. Born in Hawaii 15 months apart, they met in the sixth grade and played football together at a Honolulu prep school. Macfarlane never knew his father, and Robinson was adopted. Separately, they sought answers about their ancestry. They later learned they have the same birth mother. They revealed the relationship to friends and family during a party. “It was an overwhelming experience, it’s still overwhelming,” Robinson said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to get over this feeling.”
An Indonesian man who used his bare hands to kill a snake that was discovered slithering on a busy commuter train became an internet hero. The train made an emergency stop after the reptile was spotted lurking on a baggage rack in a carriage headed to Jakarta from Bogor, south of the capital. Video of the incident, which quickly went viral, showed the man casually snatch the snake’s tail and then smash its head on the floor in a violent whipping motion. The creature was apparently killed instantly as shocked spectators – including a baton-wielding transit security guard – kept their distance. The unidentified man then tossed its limp body, which appeared to be about one metre long, out of the door to waiting security staff. It is not uncommon to see livestock or pets travelling on public transport in rural Indonesia, but passengers are prohibited from taking animals on urban transport lines.
Andrew Cho had just returned home alone from dinner with friends in downtown Vancouver when he collapsed. What came next was the terrible realisation that he was paralysed from the neck down – followed by a remarkable display of willpower as he crawled to his phone with his chin, then called 911 with his tongue. “It was completely surprising,” the 29-year-old said. “It was a pretty big panic moment, you know? You always wonder: what would it be like to be paralysed?” He did not know it at the time, but inside his spine, between the neck’s C3 and C4 vertebrae, a blood vessel had already burst. The trapped blood had massed to the point that the pressure on his spine paralysed him. Cho survived by crawling to his phone with his chin and then dialling 911 with his tongue.
United Airlines came under fire for the violent handling of a seated passenger, who was dragged off a flight by police after the airline mistakenly overbooked the flight and randomly chose him to leave to make room for airline employees who wanted seats. And the video went viral. Officers pulled David Dao from his window seat and then dragged him, while bleeding, down the aisle as other passengers yelled at them to stop. A recording of the incident posted on social media sent people into an apoplectic rage over the carrier’s heavy-handed response. Dao was reportedly a Chinese American doctor who said he had to be in Louisville Monday to see patients and would not relinquish his seat. The incident ensured United Airlines scored one of the year’s biggest PR disasters.
Not to be outdone in terms of PR disasters, Pepsi was forced to pull an advertisement that featured celebrity model and reality television star Kendall Jenner re-enacting a seminal moment in the Black Lives Matter protest movement to sell soft drink. Created by Pepsi’s in-house ad agency, the sweeping spot features Jenner breaking from a modelling shoot, doffing a blonde wig and joining the swelling ranks of a generic street march, where she defuses the tension by handing a Pepsi to a cute police officer. The Twitterverse erupted with derision, outrage and threats to boycott the beverage company. Pepsi initially defending the ad, issuing a statement saying it “reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey”. And then they backflipped and pulled the ad.
A toilet-building charity’s effort to rename an Indian village after US President Donald Trump has been blocked. Officials who oversee Maroda said the renaming effort was a fundraising stunt for the charity. But residents of the village in Haryana state worried they would not get free toilets if they abandoned the new name “Trump Sulabh Village”, the charity said. Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak said he hoped the renaming would bring attention to their efforts to improve sanitation in India, where about 60 per cent of people defecate in the open. “The real issue is that the area had already been declared open-defecation free,” Pathak said. Most villagers who attended a renaming ceremony said they did not know who Trump was.
China has shared bikes, umbrellas, and basketballs, but one company is taking the country’s love affair with the “sharing economy” to an erotic extreme with a line of rentable sex dolls. Touch, a Chinese sex-products retailer, on Thursday launched its “Shared Girlfriend” service in Beijing, featuring Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Hong Kong versions, as well as an Amazon-like “Wonder Woman” who comes armed with sword and shield. Like many of China’s pioneering shared-economy products, the life-size silicon seductresses are reserved via a phone app for up to a week a time. “They have perfect bodies, are totally submissive and can meet the needs of the single home boy,” a company statement says. “With one touch of a key, you are no longer single!”
For most people, the Chechnya region in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus brings to mind a dark history and grim present. The mountainous republic was the scene of two brutal separatist wars against Moscow that left tens of thousands dead and Grozny devastated. It has since been pacified, under the iron-fisted control of Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin loyalist. Nonetheless, authorities insist they are looking to turn Chechnya into an unlikely tourist draw. “Recently people have been spreading lies about our republic, saying we torture gays, violate human rights and that it is dangerous to come here” said information minister Jambulat Umarov. “But this is completely false and we are going to show you that tourists are welcome.”
A group of men seen swimming inside a baited crocodile trap in Australia near where a woman was recently eaten were blasted as “idiots of the century”. Photos posted on Facebook showed the four men clambering on the floating trap set near a marina at Port Douglas in northern Queensland state and even posing inside it. It is not far from where a 4.3-metre crocodile killed a woman. Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said she was stunned at their stupidity. “I was absolutely gobsmacked, this is incredibly stupid and dangerous behaviour,” she said told broadcaster ABC. “I’m wondering if these fellows are vying for the idiots of the year award or the idiots of the century award.” Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles also weighed in, tweeting: “Srsly? The meat we put in these traps is bait. For crocodiles. Don’t swim in them! It’s stupid, and illegal.”
A university building in central China was mocked by internet users for looking like a toilet. They joked that the front of the 12-storey block was at the North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power in Zhengzhou in Henan province looked like a toilet bowl and the back a cistern. Even the roof of the block at the college looked like a toilet lid, they joked. “It looks ugly and strange,” one internet user was quoted as saying. About 86 million yuan (US$13 million) was invested in the building which is designed to help the college’s graduates start their own businesses. One internet user was a little more forgiving about the building’s design. “I can’t see any innovation and beauty in the building, but the designer did well if it’s to help local graduates,” they wrote.
A typeface sparked uproar in Pakistan after documents using the font were produced in a corruption case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – despite being dated a year before the design was released.
Microsoft’s Calibri font was used to type certified papers naming Sharif’s daughter Maryam as a trustee for several of the family’s high-end London properties. The plush flats were at the heart of the case against the Sharif family, with authorities and the opposition questioning the legitimacy of funds used to buy them via offshore companies. The font led investigators to conclude the papers had been falsified. That conclusion, dubbed #Fontgate, set Pakistani social media alight with jokes and memes. Journalist Mubashir Zaidi said the prime minister should write his resignation “in #Calibri font”.
A former internet tycoon who wore a Hitler T-shirt on a talk show sparked anger in Japan, with the broadcaster forced to apologise. Takafumi Horie is the founder of popular internet service provider Livedoor, who spent nearly two years in jail for accounting fraud before his release in 2013. Appearing as a guest on the Gogo Nama talk show on Wednesday, the entrepreneur donned a black T-shirt with a caricature of Adolf Hitler on it and a peace symbol next to the words “NO WAR”. Despite what public broadcaster NHK called the shirt’s “anti-war writing”, the Hitler imagery drew a barrage of criticism. “The T-shirt is not appropriate because it evokes Hitler,” one viewer said according to an NHK spokesman. Periodic actions and comments in Japan deemed anti-Semitic have sparked controversy, though they tend to be blamed on ignorance rather than malicious intent.
India unveiled a new weapon against air pollution – an “anti-smog gun” which authorities hope will clear the skies above New Delhi but which environmentalists say amounts to a Band-Aid solution.
The cannon’s Indian manufacturers say the fine droplets of water it ejects at high speed can flush out deadly airborne pollutants in one of the world’s smoggiest capitals. The giant mister – shaped like a hair dryer and mounted on a low loader – was tested in Anand Vihar, an area of Delhi’s east bordering an industrial zone that often boasts the dirtiest air. The US embassy website on Wednesday showed concentrations of the smallest and most harmful particles known as PM2.5 at Anand Vihar hit 380 – more than 15 times the World Health Organisation’s safe maximum.
Wildlife investigators from India and Britain uncovered an international fraud in which dried penises of endangered monitor lizards are being sold as a plant root regarded as a good-luck charm and used in religious rituals. The London-based group World Animal Protection (WAP) said the dried penises of Bengal monitor lizards and yellow monitor lizards look similar to a rare plant root sought by people who believe it brings good luck. While the plant has all but disappeared from the Indian countryside, wildlife traffickers have been buying the dried lizard penises and fraudulently selling them online. The two lizard species are on India’s list of endangered animals. Wildlife activists said the volume of the item being sold online was huge. “We were shocked at the sheer audacity and scale of the illegal wildlife trade,” Neil D’Cruze of WAP said.
Malaysia has stopped playing the sexually charged song Despacito on public radio, a senior minister said after critics labelled it un-Islamic. The Spanish-language song – its title means “slowly” – became the most streamed track ever, with more than 4.6 billion plays across all platforms. In English, the lyrics include the lines: “I want to breathe on your neck slowly … Let me tell you things in your ears” and “I want to undress you with kisses slowly … And make your whole body a manuscript”. Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said his ministry received numerous complaints about the steamy lyrics. Ruling party official Atriza Umar told The Star newspaper: “I regret that these problematic songs are not censored by the ministries. I urge the authorities to ban this song and other songs that contain sexy and violent lyrics which are not suitable in accordance with Islam.”
A Japanese woman has died from a tick-borne virus after being bitten by a stray cat in what was possibly the world’s first animal-to-human transmission of the disease. The woman in her 50s died about 10 days after being bitten by the cat in 2016. Authorities confirmed she developed SFTS, a disease transmitted by bites from a certain group of virus-carrying ticks. Human-to-human infections of the virus have been reported, but officials believe the woman’s death could be the first case of a human dying from the bite of an infected animal. “It’s still not confirmed the virus came from the cat, but it’s possible that it’s the [world’s] first case,” an official said. Another said there were no signs the woman had been bitten by a tick.
Japan’s Miyagi prefectural government was forced to remove an online video promoting regional tourism after the clip was criticised for being sexually suggestive. The video featured model and actress Dan Mitsu, known for playing erotic roles, as a guide in a kimono. It contained suggestive and provocative lines, and multiple close-ups of her parted lips and her rubbing the head of large rice ball mascot, called Musubimaru. Dan softly strokes Musubimaru’s head and whispers “Miyagi, I-cha-u”, which means “Let’s go to Miyagi”. But slowly saying the words can have sexy connotations, such as “ichau”, which means “to ejaculate”, depending on the context. Despite the outcry, officials suggested the campaign had been a success. “The video has already gained a number of views and served its purpose of promotion to a certain degree,” one official said.
Authorities in Mumbai closed a manufacturing company after it was accused of dumping untreated industrial waste and dyes into a river that turned 11 dogs blue. The group of strangely coloured canines was first spotted in August, prompting locals to complain to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board about dyes being dumped in the Kasadi river, where the animals swim. “It was shocking to see how the dog’s white fur had turned completely blue,” said Arati Chauhan, head of the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell. “We have spotted almost five such dogs here and have asked the pollution control board to act against such industries.” Chauhan posted images of the blue dogs on the group’s Facebook page. An animal welfare agency managed to capture one of the dogs and wash some of the blue dye off. The group concluded that animal seemed unharmed in all other ways.
Ten places in northeast Australia will be renamed due to their racially offensive names, Queensland state government said. References to Niggers Bounce were removed from all databases in May, the state’s natural resources and mines department said. It then reviewed its database and found nine other places that contain the same word – Mount Nigger, Nigger Head and seven spots named Nigger Creek. The places were to be given new names but their old ones will still appear on historical maps and records. “We welcome the removal of those names since the N-word is an unmistakably racial slur,” Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said. “It is rooted in hate and has often been employed to dehumanise and to perpetuate demeaning stereotypes.”
Japanese instant noodle maker Nissin Food Products has created what it claims is a world-first “noise-cancelling” fork to mask the sound made by slurping down food. Dubbed “noodle harassment” on social media, foreign visitors to Japanese noodle bars are often startled to hear the locals – normally so polite and restrained – noisily slurping down their dishes with lip-smacking gusto. Inspired by Japanese toilets, which can be programmed to play an artificial flushing noise to cover embarrassing sounds, Nissin’s giant fork – 4.4cm wide and 15.2cm long – has a sensitive microphone that detects offending slurps and masks them out. “We developed a system in which any subtle slurping sound can be detected,” said the company. When the slurp alert is triggered, the fork sends a signal to the user’s mobile phone, which plays the soothing sound of flowing water to mask the offending noise.
A one-time millionairess dubbed the “Black Widow” over the untimely deaths of lovers and a husband, admitted poisoning her last partner in a multiple murder case that has gripped Japan. She was subsequently sentenced to death. Chisako Kakehi, 70, became notorious over accusations she killed a number of elderly men she wooed. Kakehi was on trial for the murders of three men – including a husband – and the attempted murder of another. Prosecutors suspected she used cyanide to rid herself of her lovers, amassing a reported one billion yen (HK$69 million) in payouts over 10 years. Her trial began in late June, and in November she stunned the court by telling judges it was true she had murdered her fourth husband in 2013. “I was waiting for the right timing as I wanted to kill him out of deep hatred,” the Asahi newspaper quoted her as saying. “I killed him … because he gave other women tens of millions of yen but did not give me even a penny.”