As another year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the most offbeat tales of the past 12 months. As ever, there’s a selection of bizarre animal tales – yetis, pythons, oarfish and heroic dogs – and more than a few lashings of online outrage, stoked by drinking stunts, Photoshop fails and harsh words about a popular Asian fruit. ‘Sex trainers’ deported from Thailand The Thai beachside city of Pattaya has long had a reputation for its seedy nightlife but the story of Russians and Belarusians running ‘sex training courses’ still turned heads. Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen name Nastya Rybka, had spent nine months in a Thai jail after a police bust and was deported in January. She added an extra layer of intrigue to an already seedy story by claiming her connection to oligarch Oleg Deripaska had given her inside information about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Getting fired? Hire a support clown New Zealand man Joshua Jack had an uneasy feeling when his bosses called him in for a meeting: he was either getting promoted at the advertising agency where he worked or being fired. So he took the responsible step and hired a “support clown” to accompany him. “I thought it’s best to bring in a professional and so I paid NZ$200 (US$134),” Jack said. He still got sacked but at least he had balloon animals at the end of it. The clown also mimed crying expressions as Jack went over the paperwork describing his termination. The rise of DNA dating in Japan Japanese singles have become so frustrated with their dating prospects that a new cutting-edge method of matchmaking has emerged. The service costs 36,000 yen (US$330) and plots differences in applicants’ human leucocyte antigen, or HLA genes. According to the science, the greater the genetic distance between two people’s HLA molecules, the more attractive they might find one another. Given the push by governments to drive up plummeting birth rates in countries such as Japan and Singapore, some DNA matchmaking firms are even being supported by the state. Why does this colonial bs persist in food writing? That some tropical people 'let a food rot' or 'use it as birdfeed' until the white saviour discovers value in it as vegan miracle, superfood etc. https://t.co/YRXSl7MwXf @zoesqwilliams @guardian 1/2 — Niranjana Ramesh (@niranjwrite) March 27, 2019 Jackfruit backlash The Guardian newspaper waded into a fruit-related controversy when it published a column by Zoe Williams describing jackfruit as a “spectacularly ugly, smelly … pest-plant” which people consumed “only if they had nothing better to eat”. Jackfruit is popular in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, so Williams’ assessment was assailed online as tone deaf. “This is one of the most offensive bits of food writing I have read in a while, and trust, there is a lot of competition on this front,” Vindhya Buthpitiya, a researcher at University College London, wrote on Twitter. Hero dog rescues buried baby Ping Pong has only three working legs, but the six-year-old dog became the toast of his village, northeast of Bangkok, in May. His digging and scratching at the ground alerted villagers who discovered a newborn baby who had been buried alive by his 15-year-old mother. “Ping Pong was hit by a car, so he’s disabled,” his owner said. “But I kept him because he’s so loyal and obedient, and always helps me out when I go into the fields to tend to my cattle. He’s loved by the entire village. It’s amazing he found the baby.” Oarfish herald disaster in Japan Superstitious Japanese netizens went into overdrive in January after a series of oarfish sightings: long, eel-like fish that inhabit the deep sea and are rarely seen near the surface. Legend has it that when they migrate to the shallows, it foretells tragedy, particularly earthquakes and tsunami. The belief persists in Japan despite experts debunking the connection between the fish and natural disasters. “I’m not a specialist in fish, but there is no academic literature that has proven a scientific link,” said Professor Shigeo Aramaki, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo. How much halal? Islam has strict rules about food and drink – mostly relating to pork and alcohol, which are forbidden. However, halal certification is now big business, having developed into a marker of quality. Accordingly, a dizzying array of products are now subject to halal certification, particularly in Malaysia, which has sought to establish itself a global halal hub. Everything from coconuts to cosmetics, transport to pharmaceuticals, health care to banking can now be certified halal. Electronics giant Sharp has even produced a halal-certified refrigerator. ‘Tornado’ drinking technique stolen Chinese man Hebei Pangzai became a cult figure online for his videos showing him drinking vast quantities of alcohol, gaining a following of more than 130,000 users. He also claims to have invented the “tornado” technique for drinking beer, swirling his bottle around before chugging it in seconds. New Zealanders, however, were unimpressed, and took to social media to claim ownership. As they pointed out, late comedian Johnny Danger had in fact invented the technique, known as a “vortex”, to slam a beer down quickly. blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> For the first time, an #IndianArmy Moutaineering Expedition Team has sited Mysterious Footprints of mythical beast 'Yeti' measuring 32x15 inches close to Makalu Base Camp on 09 April 2019. This elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past. pic.twitter.com/AMD4MYIgV7 — ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) April 29, 2019 Indian military ‘finds yeti’ The Indian military risked becoming the butt of online ridicule when it posted photos of what it claimed were “yeti footprints” in the Himalayas. The army said the footprints measured 32 inches by 15 inches and were spotted by a team on April 9 close to the Makalu Base Camp, an isolated area on the Nepal-China frontier. The online reaction to the military’s claims was scathing. “Seriously disappointing to see Army propagating such foolish myths into reality. Expected better from you guys,” one Twitter user said. Indian driver uses cow dung to beat heat A punishing heatwave in May prompted one Indian driver to employ an unusual method of keeping her car cool. Rather than crank up the air conditioning, Sejal Shah slathered her vehicle in cow dung. The use of manure as insulation comes from an old practice by rural residents who used it on their walls and floors – it would keep their homes warm in winter and cooler in summer. “Best use of cow dung I have ever seen,” wrote Facebook user Rupesh Gauranga Das after sharing the images of the vehicle. Dug some more, found the OG dirty shoes in a Fiji Times article… LOL #shoegate #auspol https://t.co/DW3FgsJE7f pic.twitter.com/V4RUeGlaed — Luke ♂️ (@lukerhn) January 8, 2019 Australian Prime Minister’s Photoshop fail It was meant to be a cheery portrait of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his family. An overly officious staffer, however, went the extra mile by editing the pictures, adding dazzlingly white shoes in place of Morrison’s slightly battered trainers. And the internet spotted it: as well as the fact Morrison now had two left shoes. Morrison took the gaffe in good humour, tweeting: “Message to my Department (PM&C): I didn’t ask for the shoeshine, but if you must Photoshop, please focus on the hair (lack thereof), not the feet!” Kim Kardashian gets it badly wrong Kim Kardashian was accused of cultural appropriation this year after she ill-advisedly registered the name “Kimono” for her new line of shapewear, inviting a torrent of criticism that eventually persuaded her to withdraw the copyright application. “Trademarking & profiting without any actual true appreciation and recognition of the origin of the name, a cultural garment from Japan, is just gross,” one Twitter user wrote. Even the Kyoto mayor became involved, urging the reality TV star to reconsider her use of the name. 68mm just fell in the last hour at Kununurra. Flushed all the cane toads out of my brothers dam. Some of them took the easy way out - hitching a ride on the back of a 3.5m python. pic.twitter.com/P6mPc2cVS5 — Andrew Mock (@MrMeMock) December 30, 2018 Toads take a ride on a python Summer storms tore through the remote Australian town of Kununurra, dumping almost 70mm into the Mock family’s dam. Worried that the dam would overflow, Paul Mock ventured outside to inspect. It was then he noticed a three-metre python hastily making for higher ground with several cane toads hanging on. Cane toads are a damaging pest in Australia’s tropical north, with their apparently unstoppable march from east to west over the past few decades invading communities and devastating ecosystems. Apparently the pythons don’t mind. Singapore offended by Lady Gaga In the interests of preserving racial harmony, Singaporean parliamentarians were presented with a list of popular songs containing potentially offensive lyrics. The list, which contained songs by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande containing religious imagery, was met with derision after appearing online. “These songs might upset a few strict Christian parents, but by no stretch of the imagination do they incite violence against Christians,” said Tiffany Chuang, a Singaporean sociology PhD candidate at the University of Michigan.