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The 15 quirkiest stories of the year
What do a smoking baby, a man in a coconut tree and North Korean super tonic have in common? Read on to find out
When seasoned weird news junkies need a fix, Asia is often the first stop for the kinds of mind-boggling, face-crinkling, jaw-distending -- in one case, literally (read below) -- stories that couldn’t possibly originate anywhere else.
They’re as extraordinary as the continent that spawned them. They’re the quirkiest stories of the year and there’s been no greater challenge than limiting them to 15 …
15. Career thief falls asleep on job
After stripping a northern Penang home clean of its most valuable possessions in September, a Malaysian looter rewarded himself for an exhausting score with a cat (burglar) nap.
Only he hadn’t left the house yet. Upon their return from holiday, the home’s owner and family arrived to find the villain sacked out in one of the kids’ rooms upstairs with 10,000 ringgit (US$3,200) worth of plunder.
The 42-year-old bandit fled through a kitchen window, but was arrested shortly after.
14. Man nests in tree to dodge hospital bill
After an Indian man admitted his pregnant wife to a government hospital in Orissa last October, her surprise cesarean section added Rs 4,000 (US$90) in costs that the man couldn’t pay. So he ditched the check by climbing up a 60-foot tree.
But when hospital administrators waived the fee, he simply moved to another tree in disbelief. Police and fire officials unsuccessfully tried to bring the man down for four days, after which the story was never again updated.
Food and water were delivered via stick.
13. Infant smoking rate declines by one
After averaging two packs of cigarettes a day for half of his life, two-year-old Aldi Rizal kicked the habit.
Rizal became a worldwide sideshow when video depicting him sucking down butts like a noir detective circulated last May, highlighting the larger problem in Indonesia: three percent of kids over three smoke regularly and 25 percent have tried it.
Aldi began smoking at 18 months, throwing tantrums, deliberately hurting himself and even vomiting when denied a cig. But after five weeks in rehab, he’s mostly cured. "I'm really happy," said his mother Diana, before admitting that the little dumpling is a bit plumper and still tries to bum the occasional butt.
12. Costumed Chinese boards flight, suggests all white people look alike
A Chinese national disguised as a cartoonish Caucasian elder improbably boarded a flight from Hong Kong to Canada in October, making it as far as the Vancouver airport before being discovered.
Believed to be a farmer from Fujian Province in his 20s, the man wore a silicone mask caricaturizing a curmudgeonly Western geriatric onto the flight and changed out of costume in the plane’s lavatory, attracting the suspicion of the cabin crew.
Upon arrival, he was accosted by Canadian Border Services agents and is now seeking asylum.
11. Western burgers too big for Taiwanese mouths
Dentists on the island of Taiwan united in July to pressure fast food chains into downsizing the titanic hamburgers headlining their menus.
Their case: that an increase in jaw injuries is the result of burgers that are often twice oral capacity. With many of the Western sandwiches as large as eight centimeters in height -- and the average Eastern mouth topping out at four -- eaters are forced to unhinge their jaws like pythons to accommodate them, resulting in mandibular soreness and even dysfunction.
The dentists want either the burgers miniaturized or signs displayed warning of this maxillary menace.
10. Mom tosses son's toys, he burns her Gundam house down
In August, a 30-year-old Tokyo man admitted to setting fire to his mother’s house last year in retaliation for her disposal of Gundam robots from his toy collection.
Pleading guilty, Yoshifumi Takabe testified to having suicidal thoughts after his mother threw away the toys, part of a collection that had grown to approximately 300 boxes and reached the ceiling.
The two-story home in Kasai, Hyogo prefecture was occupied by both of them and was completely destroyed, ironically finishing the job his mother started.
9. Twenty-eight-year-old South Korean loner marries pillow
They do everything and go everywhere together. The only thing left for Lee Jin-gyu last March was to pop the question to his dakimakura (body-sized hug pillow).
Emblazoned with the likeness of anime character Fate Testarossa from the series “Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha,” the pillow gets her own seat on amusement park rides and her own meal when the two go out to dinner. Which, if you’ve seen the obsessive Lee, is likely often.
The couple was married in an intimate ceremony presided over by a local priest in which the bride wore white.
8. Chinese women can't stand new female urinals
Couched as an effort to conserve up to 160 annual tons of water, Shaanxi Normal University in Xian installed urinals in its women’s bathrooms in September.
Flanked by baskets full of disposable paper funnels -- with no environmental irony -- the latrines have caused more consternation than conservation, with would-be users unable to perform, then giving up.
While female urinals have been used situationally throughout Europe and Canada over the last decade, the concept is alien in Xian, where previously just one unisex urinal stood, used primarily by just one of the sexes.
7. Indian push-ups record broken by four-year-old Indian
When he was an infant, Ronak Vitha graduated from potty training to training for the Indian national record for push-ups, which he broke in June with 1,482 regulation arm bends in 40 minutes.
After he proved proficient at yoga at age two, Ronak’s parents encouraged the toddler from Rajkot City to try push-ups.
Within a day he was doing 10 on his own, Within two years, he was doing nearly 1,500 of them in a row. Little Ronak wants to become a tennis player, which at his current pace would qualify him for Wimbledon in four, maybe five months.
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6. North Korea invents magic brain, skin, heart tonic
North Korea’s official news agency claimed in June that the state-owned Moranbong Carbonated Fruit Juice Joint Venture (beat that brand recognition, Coke!) has developed a "super drink" that can multiply brain cells, prevent heart disease and, oh, let’s say, give users the proportionate strength and web-shooting ability of a spider.
Containing 60 kinds of plant “microelements,” the anti-oxidation drink is also purported to whiten skin, protecting it from wrinkles and black spots by removing “acid effete matters,” something with which we can all identify.
5. Facebook founders face death penalty in Pakistan
Pakistani police launched an investigation last May of Mark Zuckerburg and his other Facebook co-founders after a user posted a “Draw Muhammad” contest on the social networking site.
Citing that the contest violated Pakistani laws governing blasphemy against the Muslim holy figure, the country’s Deputy Attorney General invoked a section of the penal code in which the guilty are subject to “death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine." It does not specify, however, in which order the punishments are to be imposed.
4. McDonald's adds McWeddings to the menu
In October, Hong Kong became the first city in McDonald’s burger kingdom to announce that it will offer wedding packages to prospective partners.
Ever since one pioneering couple that met and dated at a branch on the island said their vows there, the chain has been receiving phone calls from other soon-to-be-weds seeking fryerside nuptials. Packages include Happy Meal toy party favors and a wedding cake comprised of individually boxed apple pies.
Guests include whatever detritus unconcerned with its health walks in off the street, since the packages don’t include closure of the restaurant.
3. Boozer found sleeping in jet engine just before takeoff
One month after a jet had to abort landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport to avoid a drunk passed out on the runway, another guzzler was discovered sleeping in the engine of an Airbus A-320.
Indian Airlines personnel were prepping the plane for takeoff in March when one of them spotted a leg dangling from the rear of one motor.
When confronted, the man said he entered the airport seated atop a truck then snoozed inside the hulking engine, which boasts enough heat and force when activated to have fired him several hundred feet like a 600-degree wino kebab.
2. Confucius say, 'All you need is 10 yuan and a dream?'
A national Chinese symbol of moral rectitude, Confucius condemned the ethics of gambling.
But you can’t buy Dolce & Gabana Hanfu with ethics, and selling out isn’t just accepted these days -- it’s expected. At least that’s what the use of Confucius’s likeness and teachings on tickets sold by China’s state-run lottery last January would suggest.
Critics cited Confucian quotes such as "The gentleman sees righteousness, the petty man sees profit” as contradictory to state-sanctioned gambling, but officials justified the program as a vehicle for educating the public about ancient Chinese culture.
1. South Korean driver fails 959th try at license
With a surname that, translated, means “vehicle,” Cha Sa-soon should be an automotive natural.
That it took her 960 attempts to earn her driver’s license should be considered the No. 1 most ironic anything ever.
In May, the 69-year-old finally passed the driving portion of the test (after 10 tries), capping a five-year effort and clearing the last hurdle of puberty.
Upon earning her license, Hyundai gave the beloved national symbol a free car and featured her in a series of commercials, finding a strategic fit with their new spokeswoman that says, “We may not get it right the first or 959th time, but stick with us: eventually, we’ll get you there.”