Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 106

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 106

 …All the regulars: the mailman, clients, Jimmy from Western Union, etc… come to the front door. Nobody uses the rear…

All the Regulars

Molly’s tail wags enthusiastically at the sight and familiar smells of Fanny Renwick. Dogs cannot tell time, but they do get happier the longer they are apart from their owners and two months in the care of a neighbor most certainly qualifies.

It turns out that she had not been so friendly the day before, when someone was nosing around the fringes of the Constance Caraway Private Investigation building. While out doing her business in the back yard, she startles someone who has left a package on their back porch. All the regulars: the mailman, clients and Jimmy from Western Union come to the front door. Nobody uses the rear.

Molly-001… As the story goes, the guy takes off running, losing some papers & money in the process. Molly’s range stops where the alley and Calhoun Street meet, so she turns tail back to the house, whereupon grabbing this guy’s lunch bag—or so she thought. When the woman’s’ best friend brings the bag to Betty, the alert neighbor notices a ticking sound and lunches do not make sounds, so she takes it back to the back and tosses it in the direction of Image result for bomb gifthe garbage cans… in a flash and bang, there are no more garbage cans, replaced by a 10 foot circular crater, three feet deep…

“Sheriff Odz told me that it was a good sized bomb and if it was left at your back door—that somebody probably wants to send you a message.”

“Oh swell! So now “they” know where we live?” Fanny is disgusted.

“Who are they Fanny?”

“They are some bad folks connected to that case Connie is still working on up North. But now they are hitting too close to home Betty,” she doesn’t go into great detail with the shell-shocked neighbor. “Where is that money you were telling me about?”

“Well it looks like money, but I can’t read a word on it, what is a L-I-R-A?”

“It’s Italian for trouble,” Fanny cautions. “I have to let Connie know what’s going on.”

The two friends are working at more than arm’s length for a change, in order to cover more ground.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 94

Finders Keepers – Losers Weepers – WIF Treasure

Leave a comment

Hidden Treasures

Found in

Strange Places

When we imagine someone finding hidden treasures, we may think of uncovering massive shipwrecks under the ocean, or explorers discovering the legendary golden city of El Dorado. It turns out that ordinary people can find hidden treasure just about anywhere in the world. In these 10 stories, people were just going about their normal lives when they stumbled upon an unexpected fortune.

10. Golden Opportunity

Life as a janitor is never easy, and it’s not a career path that normally leads someone to become a millionaire. But for one sanitation worker in South Korea, another person’s trash is truly someone else’s treasure. In April 2018, a janitor working at the Incheon International Airport was changing the bags in a garbage can, and discovered solid gold bars hiding at the bottom of the bin that were wrapped in newspaper. They were worth 70 million won, or $64,807 US.  This employee (who wished to remain anonymous) turned the bounty in to the police, since he suspected that the gold bars were most likely connected to some sort of crime.

In South Korea, there is a “finder’s keepers” law, which says that anyone who turns in an item to the police is entitled to keep it if it is not claimed after six months. There is also a “lost articles act” which says that even if the original owner shows up to get their bars of gold, the janitor still gets to keep between 5-20% of the total value as a reward for turning it on. Considering that these bars were hidden for a reason, the likelihood of the real owner claiming them is slim-to-none.

9. Always Double-Check

The Cerezo family was going through an awful series of tragedies. 14-year-old Savannah Cerezo died in 2012, and in 2015, the family was going through financial problems, and their home went into foreclosure. Most people who buy lottery tickets watch the numbers on live TV with eager anticipation, but for Ricardo Cerezo, he simply bought lottery tickets every week out of habit, because he had some small hope that everything would get better.

Before she died, Savannah gave her parents a cookie jar as a gift. Ricardo treasured one of the last tokens of his daughter’s memory, so he kept all of his lottery tickets and other valuables in the jar. After several months of accumulating tickets, Cerezo’s wife threatened to throw out the slips of paper if he didn’t clean up. So, Cerezo took all of the tickets to his local gas station to have the clerk scan them. One of the tickets said, “file a claim.” He called the Illinois State Lottery, and found out that his ticket was worth $4.85 million.

8. Unique Taste Pays Off

Sometimes, when you go to a museum, a piece of artwork looks so simple, you cannot help but think, “I could do that.” Ben Nicholson is one of those artists. In his most famous works, he layered blocks of colors, and sometimes did landscapes and sculptures. One woman named Jo Heaven was doing some thrift shopping in 2015 when she spotted a picture with a scene of horses, deer, and houses screen printed on cloth.

Despite the fact that the image looked like an elementary schooler created it on MS Paint, Heaven recognized the name of English artist Ben Nicholson, because her mother was an art teacher. She also had a taste for art that was weird and quirky, so she actually intended to keep it for herself, and had no idea it was worth anything. When she got home, she was shocked to find out that it was actually pretty valuable. She eventually sold it for £4,200 or $5,691 at auction, and gave 10% of that back to the charity shop in Swindon where she originally purchased it.

7. Between the Pages

In 2012, a man named Carlos went to his local book exchange in Marlborough, Massachusetts. The program allowed locals to bring in their old books, and they could pick an equal amount to trade and take home with them. When Carlos got into his car with the stack of books, he opened one to skim the pages. He was shocked to see that it had been hollowed out, and had roughly $20,000 inside, along with other valuables. Instead of keeping it a secret, he tried to figure out who the original owner was. There was no name written in the book, and he had no idea who left it behind.

Carlos contacted the local news, saying that if the true owner comes forward by sending him an e-mail, he would give it back. They just needed to identify the name of the book, the approximate amount of money inside. They also needed to identify the other valuable objects that were hidden away. There was never a follow-up to this story, so we’ll probably never know if he got to keep the money, or if he reunited the treasure with its owner.

6. Under the Sea

A fisherman living on the Palawan Island in the Philippines dropped the anchor of his boat, and he noticed that it was stuck on something. He dove underwater to check, and the anchor was caught on the biggest clam he had seen in his entire life. He pried the mouth open, hoping to possibly find a pearl that he could sell to a jeweler. Instead of the stereotypical ball-shaped pearl, he found a massive white mound that weighed 75 pounds. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

Since this wasn’t the typical pearl that could be made into a necklace, he assumed it was worthless, and decided to keep it under his bed as a good luck charm.

The man’s aunt, a woman named Aileen Cynthia Maggay-Amurao, works as a tourism officer for Palawan Island, and she was looking for ways to attract more people to come visit, bringing in some much-needed tourist dollars to help the local economy. Her nephew figured that this was such an odd object, maybe people would be interested in seeing it. So he brought the pearl to his aunt, and she put it on display behind glass. Once word got out about the story of this massive pearl, they discovered that it was valued at $100 million.

5. Hard Work Pays Off

The Elliot family had been tenants of a farm in Somerset County, England for years. After working the land for decades, they were finally able to get a mortgage to purchase the property in 1998. Cousins Kevin and Martin Elliot were running the farm together, so they decided that since the land now belonged to them, they could get out a metal detector and see if they could find anything buried on the land.

They knew that the property was very old, and it had been used as farm land for thousands of years. So when they pulled out the metal detector, they were not disappointed. They found 9,213 silver Roman denarius coins. There were so many, they had to carry them in buckets back to the house. After they were confident that they found all of the coins, they sold them to the Somerset County Museum for £265,000, or $358,224.35 US. While there is no report as to what the Elliot’s did with the money, it very well may be that the land paid for itself.

4. A Frugal Shopper’s Fantasy

Almost everyone who moved into their very first apartment had to buy things from a thrift store to furnish it, but almost no one has ended up with a fortune because of it. In 2007, a college student living in Berlin, Germany needed by buy a couch, so she headed to a local flea market to save money finding second-hand furniture. She paid $215 for a couch with a pull-out bed.

When she got it back to her apartment, she pulled out the bed to test it, and a tiny 10-by-12 inch painting was hiding inside. There was no signature on it, and she was unsure of its value, so she brought it to a local art auction. It turns out that the painting was from the 1600s, and it was painted by a friend of a famous Venetian painter named Carlo Saraceni. It was given the name “Preparation for Escape to Egypt” and it sold for $27,630.

3. A Gift From the Past

In France, crumbling chateaus are passed around to extended family every generation. The amount of work that would go into fixing up a mansion or castle and the responsibilities that come with it far outweigh the building’s actual value. Many older homes in aristocratic families remain untouched for several generations, and they fall into disrepair when the children choose to live their own lives in modern-day houses and apartments rather than dealing with their ancestor’s home.

So, when one heir (who wished to remain anonymous) inherited their family home in Normandy in 2016,  it was still filled with antiques and old belongings from years before. They decided to move the furniture, and there were tin boxes covered in a thick layer of dust. Hidden inside were gold bars and coins that were worth $3.7 million. The one and only downside it that they have to pay inheritance taxes after the sale. Even so, that should be more than enough money to make necessary renovations on the crumbling estate.

2. Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

Recycling plants take in scrap metal to melt it down and re-use. The plants hold various metal parts inside of bins, and an employee of Blue Grass Recycling in Burlington, Kentucky named Mike Rogers was cleaning out one of these barrels when he spotted green at the bottom. They were vintage US savings bonds that ranged anywhere from $50 to $500 each, and they were worth a total of $22,000. Someone must have accidentally donated a coffee can or metal container that held the bonds.

When he got home from work, Rogers and his wife did some research to figure out who the original owner was.  After doing some research, the only information he got was that these were purchased by a woman named Martha Dobbins, and they were for “Robert Roberts.” It may sound like a name that no one would dare to give their child, but Rogers actually found hundreds of men named “Robert Roberts” and he had no idea how to find the real owner.

Instead of giving up, he contacted every single Robert Roberts in the country, simply asking if they knew a woman named Martha Dobbins. When he finally found the right man, it turns out that he was 82-years-old, and his mother had died years before. She was secretly saving bonds for her son as a way to thank him for caring for her in her old age, but she died before she could tell him about it, which is why the money was accidentally given away. Just a few days before Christmas, Mr. Roberts got a huge gift he would have never expected.

1. Underground Bling

A farmer in Uekan, Switzerland was walking around his cherry orchard when he spotted something shining underneath the dirt. He started to dig, and found silver Roman coins. There had been a nearby Roman settlement 1,700 years ago in Switzerland, and that field was used for farming back then, as well. Thankfully, there had never been any homes built on top of the land, so the artifacts had remained untouched for all that time. The owner of the orchard called in professional archaeologists to dig up the cherry orchard in order to uncover as many artifacts as they could. In the end, they recovered 4,166 coins. Historians estimated that this amount of money would have been equal to one or two years of wages for a Roman.

Sadly, this farmer doesn’t get to sell the coins for thousands of dollars. There is a law in Switzerland that says that these kinds of historic artifacts belong to the Swiss people, even if it was found on private property. So the farmer got a finder’s fee, and the coins went to a museum.


Finders Keepers – Losers Weepers –

WIF Treasure

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 12

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 12

He hands over the metal briefcase he has been holding on to tightly. It contains $50,000.

By the time they passed La Grange Road, Kamen had loosed his bow-tie and shed his coat. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead just thinking of the Libby ordeal.

“I see that you are upset. Let’s stop and get something to eat… There,” Constance points at the sign of CLANCY’S – a bar and diner. There is a Philips 66 Gas pump out front.

“Clancy’s,” Fanny thinks back fondly to a much earlier time. “Do you remember where we first met, Connie?”

“It was Yancy’s… How do you like this for karma?” she smiles widely.

Clancy’s: Food, Fuel and Fun; now you are talking Carol!” Eddie proclaims with enthusiasm.

Martin gives Constance a crooked look.

She whispers in his right ear, “He knows us as Carolyn and Sara, doesn’t know our real names and he thinks we are visiting a high school chum. We will clue him in only if we have to.”

He gives a “got it, a chum” nod at her. As much as they like Eddie, their level of trust is still set a cool medium.

Once inside, all fed and relaxed, Eddie steals Sara/Fanny away for a game of pool. A married man, all the way to his Polish roots, it has been a long while since he has been this far from home on a real adventure and to be in the company of good looking women… GOLDEN!

With the others in an adjacent recreation room, Martin takes advantage to have Carolyn/Constance off to the side. Up until this very moment, full disclosure financial details had not been finalized. He hands over the metal briefcase he has been holding on to tightly. It contains $50,000.

“Fifty thousand,” he identifies the stacks of Franklins therein, “I want you to know that the university and I are serious about bringing Willard Libby back to us safely and in one piece.”

Her “that will do nicely” nod of approval brings out the richness of her violet eyes, a glint reserved for special occasions.

In his own pragmatic, scientific and vexed state-of-mind, Martin David Kamen goes on to unravel the known threads in the mysterious cloth that has become a Manhattan Mystery, here in the outskirts of greater suburbs of Chicago Illinois.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 13 (end Ch. 1)

Cheap Sleeps – Money Stretching Places to Live

Leave a comment

Cheapest Countries

to Live In

We’ve all been there. Sat at work on a spectacularly boring day, gazing out the window and dreaming about moving somewhere less resolutely meh. But it’s one thing dreaming about moving to London, or Paris, or Tokyo, and quite another turning up there, looking at the square feet of space your meager savings will buy and realizing that you haven’t thought this through at all.

 The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. While there are plenty of countries it will likely bankrupt you to move to, there are plenty more where even the most middle-of-the-road foreign income will see you living like a king. Here are 10 countries, gleaned from the annual Cost of Living Indexes published by Numbeo and Expatistan, where it’s cheapest to live in 2017:

10. Mexico

America’s southern neighbor is mainly famous in the north for sombreros, Tex-Mex, and drug violence. But as we revealed in a recent article, there’s so, so much more to the ancient home of the Aztecs than that. Aside from the long history and vibrant culture of Mexico City, there’s some 60-odd indigenous groups speaking a mix of languages, crumbling Aztec ruins, unique traditions from each Mexican state, and coastline galore. Oh, and did we mention it’s very, very cheap?

Numbeo estimates the cost of living in Mexico to be nearly 60% lower than living in the US. Outside the capital, you can rent a 3 bedroom apartment near the center of a city for an average of $480 a month. You can get a meal for two in a decent restaurant for twenty bucks. A transport ticket costs under 40 cents. Someone, get us to Tijuana.

Of course, this is all assuming you’re moving abroad with a US salary or pension. In terms of local purchasing power, Mexico sits somewhere in the middle of the list, meaning a local on the average wage can buy maybe half the stuff a local on the average wage in the US can.

9. Tunisia

It would probably be stretching the limits of acceptable writing to describe Tunisia as the jewel in North Africa’s crown, but we’re gonna do it anyway. The tiny desert nation is home to 10 million, all crammed into a handful of ancient cities that are staggeringly beautiful. This is the place where all the Tatooine scenes were filmed for the first Star Wars, which should give you some idea of how visually-arresting the country is. Then there’s the crazy affordability. The cost of renting a 1 bed apartment in a bustling city center? $160 per month.

On the other hand, Tunisia suffers a downside Mexico doesn’t: it borders Libya. Since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been a haven for ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and about a bazillion other crazy rebel groups, all itching to kill Western tourists. In 2015, an armed gunman trained in Libya attacked a five star hotel in Sousse, killing 38, including 30 Brits; making it the deadliest day for UK citizens since the 7/7 London bombings a decade earlier. As a result, the UK Foreign Office now advises against all but essential travel to Tunisia. The US government likewise advises extreme caution when visiting.

8. Moldova

Hands up: who can point to Moldova on a map? Eastern Europe’s least-visited country is a tiny sliver of land sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, and locked in a perpetual war with its pro-Russian population. We don’t mean that metaphorically. Moldova’s eastern flank has been occupied since the early 1990s by an insurgent army who set up their own, autonomous republic known as Transnistria. Although the conflict is “frozen” (no one has been killed in ages), it is still a potential flash point in Europe’s poorest nation.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind Soviet architecture, cold winters, and the possibility of Putin annexing your living room, Moldova has a lot going for it. Aside from being crazy cheap – the cost of living is 62% lower than in the US – it’s one of the biggest wine producing nations on Earth, with over 200 km of tunnels filled with wine buried beneath one monastery. Plus, Chisinau is getting a reputation as one of Europe’s party capitals. Double plus, you get to say you’ve lived in Moldova. How many of your friends can say that? None.

7. Nepal

It’s the country where Everest lives. That’s all you really need to know about Nepal, a fascinating mountain nation that has been wowing travelers ever since they first set eyes on it. Sagarmatha, as the locals call it, is just the biggest of the world class peaks dotting this frozen, high-altitude land, each sheerer and scarier than the last. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also ancient Buddhist temples, mysterious mountain villages, and wild elephants you can ethically ride and oh our God yes, that’s actually a real thing. Shut up and take our money!

Speaking of the $$$, Nepal’s actually kind of an odd one. Numbeo ranks it as a hair more expensive than Mexico, but Expatistan ranks Kathmandu as cheaper than any city in Moldova. So we’re adding it here just to be on the safe side.

However, before you leap on that plane, we should warn you that things aren’t all peachy. In 2015, Kathmandu suffered a horrifying earthquake that killed 10,000 and nearly leveled the city. The damage costs were equivalent to 50% of Nepal’s GDP, and reconstruction is still barely underway. Although locals would doubtless appreciate you adding your tourist dollars to the local economy, it’s perhaps still a bit soon to think about moving permanently.

6. Syria

Yeah. Syria.

We’re not exaggerating when we say Syria was once one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If you don’t believe us, check out these pictures. It was a land of mountains and winding rivers and valleys and ancient castles and cities that have been standing since the dawn of time. As the Syrian Tourist Board is currently at pains to point out, a stretch of coast about 120 miles long that has miraculously avoided the fighting remains wonderful. And it’s about 63% cheaper than living in the US, too.

 Of course, even the relatively safe coastline isn’t somewhere you should be heading anytime soon. Since 2011, Syria has been caught up in the deadliest civil war of the century, with an estimated 250,000 being killed and around 4 million being left homeless. ISIS, AL-Qaeda and other groups are fighting Kurdish paramilitaries, Assad’s regime forces, and about 100 other rebel factions as Russian jets scream overhead, dropping bombs. It ain’t a safe place. But even a war as awful as this can’t last forever. Perhaps in another decade or so outsiders will be able to go back in and witness the beauty of the Middle East’s most tragic country.

5. Azerbaijan

You didn’t expect a wealthy petro-state to be on this list, did you? Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is an oil rich collision of east and west, a place where gigantic glass towers dominate the money-soaked capital, and emerging dictator Ilham Aliyev has made a hobby out of jailing democracy activists. About the size of South Carolina (or Scotland), the ‘Land of Fire’ is both a hyper-expensive Dubai of the Caucasus Region, and a place where you can rent an apartment for less than $150 per month.

So, what’s with this great contrast? Well, you know how New York and California seem to suck in all the money and energy, and London is like Britain’s NYC plus Britain’s Silicon Valley? Baku is like London plus every single other city that isn’t in terminal decline. The rest of the country is basically a rural world of farming sheep and kicking back and eking out an existence on the average wage of $260 a month, an amount that makes $150 for an apartment suddenly look like daylight robbery. Still, at least you get to live in a country that has a place called ‘fire mountain’ that really is a mountain that’s literally on fire.

4. Georgia

If you want all the excitement of living in the Caucasus region, but for some inexplicable reason don’t dig the idea of residing within driving distance of a flaming fire mountain, you could always opt for Georgia. The Christian flipside to Azerbaijan’s Muslim culture, the two neighbors are historic allies, largely due to a mutual dislike of nearby Armenia. The big difference comes with their neighbors to the north. While Azerbaijan and Russia have a cold yet cordial relationship, Georgia got invaded by Putin in 2008.

Since then, the tiny South Ossetia region has been under de-facto Russian control, in a situation kinda like that of Moldova and Transnistria. Only Georgia has the additional headache of another area like that. The unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia declared independence years ago, with Moscow guaranteeing its territorial integrity; meaning Tbilisi actually has control of far less of its 69,000 square kilometer territory than most similarly-sized nations.

On the plus side, Georgia is perfect if you like untouched wilderness, craggy peaks, and little mountain villages lost to time. And if you like your beer to cost 70 cents, which is really the important thing.

3. Pakistan

If you want a (potentially short) life of non-stop excitement, you could do worse than moving to Pakistan. India’s long-term rival, Pakistan is home to Karachi, the world’s most violent megacity, an unrecognized republic controlled by insurgents known as Balochistan, deadly terror groups, armed kidnappers, and the occasional mega-earthquake. It’s also a nuclear state that frequently tries to start wars with another nuclear state (India).

In fact, Pakistan is so fundamentally wild that its government recently issued a decree that all foreigners must stay within a single city unless they hire a security detail and inform the government of their travel plans, in case they wind up with a severe case of death. With advice like that, hearing that an apartment can go for as little as $77 per month likely comes as cold comfort.

Still, if you go happen to go out there, at least you’ll be in one of the prettiest, most historic countries on Earth. Aside from the mountains, there are forts built by the Mughals, old colonial relics from the British days, and some of the grandest Islamic monuments ever built.

2. Ukraine

According to Numbeo, Ukraine is home to the cheapest McDonald’s combo meal in the whole of Europe. You can get a Big Mac, fries and a drink for under $2.50. We’re not gonna say this is a good reason for you to pack your bags and head to Ukraine, but it’s certainly a reason… another being that life in general in Ukraine is 65% cheaper than life in America.

Not that this is much use to the locals. The average salary across the whole nation is under $200 a month. As a result, Ukraine only just misses the bottom 10 countries for local purchasing power, ranking under Zimbabwe, Moldova and El Salvador, and only just higher than Nigeria and Nepal. An average Ukrainian salary will buy you 26% of what an average American salary will buy you. Then there’s the not-quite-frozen conflict in the country’s east, which has killed about 10,000 in nearly three years (once again, as with so many on this list, Russia is involved).

On the other hand, if you can stomach the screaming inequality, unbelievably cold winters and territorial crisis, then Ukraine is almost breathtakingly beautiful. There’s its snatch of haunting mountains in the West, its two great, ancient cities of Lviv and Kiev, and, finally, its ridiculously good-looking citizens. If you need us, we’ll be booking our flights to Kiev.

1. India

This is it, possibly the cheapest country on planet Earth. India has mid-range restaurants where two people can eat world-beating food for under $10. It has taxis that will wait for you for an hour and charge less than a dollar. It has apartments for slightly over $100 per month. In the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram, utilities can cost only twenty bucks a month. With an income of under $1,000 a month, you can live like a freakin’ king.

It’s also, y’know, famously one of the most picturesque nations on Earth. There’s the Taj Mahal, the ancient city of Varanasi, the Himalayas, Raj-era hill towns, creaking old railway lines, the lush, tropical south, and the venerated, epic, eternal Ganges. You’ve got Bollywood, curry, tigers, ancient history, epic gorges, friendly people and a floating temple that is literally made of gold. Plus, Octopussy was set here. Man, we must’ve seen that movie… twice.

 Of course, it ain’t all fun and highly-choreographed dance numbers. There’s shocking inequality, extreme poverty, deadly diseases, sporadic ethnic violence, and the eternal possibility of nuclear war with Pakistan. But is it worth it? You check these pictures and decide for yourself. (The correct answer is ‘yes’.)

Cost of Living Havens

– WIF Economics

Japanese Silly Shopping Spree – WIF Around the World

Leave a comment

Frivolous

Ways to Spend

Money in Japan

Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Then you should definitely visit Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun offers more bang for your buck than any other country on the planet. Whether you’re looking for something unique to eat or want a crazy way to spend the day, if you’ve got enough money, Japan has got you covered.

10. Hang Out In A Cat Cafe

cafe-of-cats

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who hate cats and those who love them. Fortunately for felines, Japan is one of the most cat-friendly nations on Earth. Japanese citizens love spending time with the four-legged fur-balls, but there’s one major problem: unless they’re married, have kids, and live in a condo, most folks can’t own pets. Japanese landlords are pretty darn strict and won’t allow cats in their apartments. So what’s a young animal lover to do?

Visit a cat café, of course! While the first café appeared in Taiwan in the late ‘90s, these kitten clubs have taken Japan by storm. Today, there are close to 150 cafés across the country, and they’re the perfect places for stressed-out office workers hoping to relax with their favorite animals. Cat cafés keep anywhere from twelve to twenty-four felines on staff, and while there are a few purebreds here and there, most are mixed breeds. Customers spend their time sipping coffee (which usually costs about $1.97 per cup), relaxing at tables or on sofas, and waiting for the kittens to come visit. Some people even sketch or take pictures of the cats, but flash photography is strictly forbidden (as is waking a sleeping cat, which sounds pretty wise).

Cat cafés attract people from all walks of life. Tourists, office workers, and businessmen all stop by to chill with the kitties. While most spend about an hour and a half, some spend up to six hours while others take off whole days from work to visit the cafés, hoping to escape the rigors of everyday life. Obviously, this can get pretty pricey. The Neko no mise café charges $1.50 for every ten minutes, and at the Calico, customers pay $9 for the first hour and about two dollars for every fifteen minutes after that. Still, if you yearn for feline affection and can’t own a pet, the cat cafés might be worth every penny.

9. Buy A Clone

clones

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish there was a Mini-Me?”  Well, if you visit Tokyo’s Clone Factory, your Dr. Evil dreams just might come true. Of course, this new-you might be a little, well, inanimate. Unfortunately, the Factory hasn’t discovered the secret of creating an actual clone, but they’ve come up with the next best thing. If you’re willing to part with $1,300-1,750, these techno-wizards can conjure up a doll that bears your exact likeness.

The process involves a lot of digital cameras and a 3D printer. After a client sits in a chair, she has her picture taken with multiple cameras, each one positioned at a different angle. When the photo shoot is finished, the technicians whip up a digital map of the customer’s head and print it onto the plaster that soon transforms into the head of a smiling (and much too lifelike) doll. The Clone Factory’s creations are extremely popular with brides hoping to memorialize their wedding day in 3D form. Of course, if you want to release your inner geek, you can deck out your doll in anime attire or Storm Trooper armor. Afterwards, you can take your doll home and creep out your friends with the 20-inch version of you sitting up on your mantle and smiling for all eternity.

8. Send Your Stuffed Animal On Vacation

Unagi-Travel

In the 2001 French hit Amelie, the eponymous heroine swipes her father’s garden gnome and sends it on a trip around the world, having a flight attendant photograph the little guy in front of famous landmarks. In Japan, Sonoe Azuma will do the exact same thing, only she charges a small fee and works with stuffed animals.

Azuma manages the crazy-yet-cute travel agency known as Unagi Travel. For $45, she’ll escort teddy bears, plush sheep and cotton-filled dogs around Tokyo, taking their snapshots in front of places like the Tokyo Tower and the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa. For $55, she’ll give toys a VIP tour of Japanese hot springs though chances are pretty good the dolls don’t spend much time in the water. And Azuma even offers her services to folks outside of Japan. She runs an English language website for clients in America and Europe where clients can consider purchasing tours of Kyoto ($95), Kumano Kodo ($55) and an enigmatic mystery tour ($35, no Beatles involved). During the trip, she keeps her clients up to date on their animals’ whereabouts via Facebook, and when the trip is over, she mails the toys and photos back home, free of charge.

While Azuma’s business sounds a bit, well, bizarre, it’s actually a source of comfort for many people. For example, her tours have helped people struggling with the loss of family members. Seeing their dolls traveling around Japan has actually lifted their spirits and helped them deal with their grief. Even more impressively, Azuma has inspired people to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary. She tells one story about a woman who suffered an illness that affected her ability to walk. At first, she was too depressed to go to therapy, but after she saw pictures of her toys traveling across Tokyo, she decided she’d visit those places herself and regained the use of her limbs. Ultimately, Unagi Travel is innocent fun and an inspiration for people who’ve given up hope of traveling themselves.

7. Hire A Friend For A Day

Hagemashi-Tai

Feeling lonely? Quite a few people in Japan have the blues too. In fact, over a million citizens suffer from hikikomori, an extreme form of loneliness where people lock themselves in their bedrooms and cut off all communication with friends and family. While most Japanese aren’t that lonely, many have trouble meeting new people. And that’s where rent-a-friend agencies come in handy.

Businesses like Hagemashi Tai (I Want to Cheer You Up) hire out actors who’ll take on most any role, from boyfriend to best man. For example, fake friends will show up at weddings and pretend to be buddies with the bride or groom. One single mom hired a guy to attend sports day at her children’s school, posing as their uncle, and one envious woman rented a phony admirer to make her lover jealous.

Similarly, Ossan Rental fills a very specific niche. The company’s name translates as “Old Guy Rental” and hires out a grand total of two men: founder and fashion expert Takanobu Nishimoto (46) and retired baseball player Mikio Sendou (65). For $10 an hour, these older gents will escort clients to shops, play games, and spend the day talking and offering advice. While Ossan Rental might sound a bit strange, their services are purely platonic (you can visit the site here) and, if nothing else, they help lonely people get and about and make actual human connections.

6. Bathe In A Wine-Filled Spa

Hakone-Kowakien-Yunessun

The Hakone Kowakien Yunessun isn’t your average onsen (hot spring). Located outside Tokyo, the Yunessun Spa Resort is only open twelve days a year, but it certainly draws a crowd. In addition to themed spas like the Ancient Roman Baths, the resort offers unusual pools filled with liquids that most of us usually think of as beverages.

For example, one emerald-colored pool is full of green tea which is supposedly good for your skin. Visitors who want something a bit stronger might slip into the coffee spa and relax in the biggest cup of Joe on the planet. (Employees actually brew the coffee in pots and roll it out to the pool in barrels.)  Of course, if you want an adult drink, there’s the sake spa which allegedly gets rid of wrinkles. Strangely, there’s a ramen bath which has plenty of pepper and pork broth, but no actual noodles. However, the most popular pool is the red wine spa, all of which flows from a giant Merlot bottle. And if you ever decide to visit Yunnessun, drop by on Valentine’s Day when the resort offers a sticky chocolate bath. Sweet!

5. Hire A Fake Priest

gaijin-priest

Christianity isn’t all that popular in Japan. While 77% of Americans and nearly 60% of Britons identify with the faith, only a measly 1% of Japanese believe in Jesus Christ. And that’s what makes Japanese weddings so incredibly weird. Nearly 90% of nuptials are done in traditional Christian fashion, complete with white dresses, Ave Maria and, most importantly, fake priests.

The fascination with Western weddings got started in the ‘80s, when millions of Japanese citizens watched celebrities like Princess Diana and singer Momoe Yamaguchi take their vows on TV. Since then, the number of Christian weddings has skyrocketed, only most of the priests officiating are white guys from the US and Europe. Of course, there are actual Japanese priests, but there are three reasons they don’t preside over most ceremonies. Firstly, there simply aren’t enough pastors to show up at every event. Secondly, most native priests aren’t crazy about this trend because most of these weddings don’t actually involve Christianity — couples are more concerned with image than Scripture, so religious themes are glossed over. Thirdly, most people don’t want Japanese priests, as many feel they aren’t “authentic.”  After all, if you’re going to have a Western wedding, you want a Westerner to run the show, right?

Sensing a golden opportunity to make quick cash, bridal companies started hiring out native-English speakers to work as priests, none of whom have religious training. In fact, many aren’t even Christians. All that matters is that they know Japanese, can read a few token verses and wrap things up in twenty minutes or less. For less than half an hour of acting, fake priests can make us much as $120 (according to a 2006 article). Of course, Japanese couples aren’t just paying the preachers. They’re paying for the churches as well. Quite a few hotels in Japan have Christian style chapels, and you can even find sanctuaries in strange spots like supermarkets. Without a doubt, it’s a bizarre trend, but hey, the couple gets their dream wedding, and the “priest” makes a couple of bucks. Everybody goes home happy.

4. Buy A Fake Finger (If You’re A Criminal)

yakuza-fingers

The fake finger industry caters to a very unique clientele: members of the Japanese Mafia, also known as the Yakuza. Why would gangsters need fake fingers, you ask? It has to do with a bloody underworld ritual known as yubitsume. If a mobster offends his superior, there’s only way to atone: he has to chop off the last joint of his pinkie, usually the left one. If he screws up again, he’ll cut the finger off at the next joint. Hopefully the gangster will get his act together, but if not, he has to move on down the hand, lopping off appendages for every offense. It’s believed this tradition stems back to the days of the samurai, when an amputated finger meant a warrior couldn’t wield his sword properly and had to rely on his master for protection. Today, it’s a sign of criminal activity, and if a gangster leaves the mob, he’ll have a really hard time getting an honest job thanks to his stubby nubs.

That’s where people like Shintaro Hayashi and Yukako Fukushima come in. Both Hayashi and Fukushima make prosthetic body parts, usually for accident victims or breast cancer patients. However, as the government cracks down on the gangs, people like Hayashi and Fukushima are getting more and more business from Japan’s criminals. Some prosthetic makers (like Fukushima) only provide fake fingers for retired gangsters hoping to start over. Others, like Hayashi, are less choosy and will produce duplicate digits for mobsters who want to keep their identities a secret while at public events.

Fake fingers can run anywhere from $1,400 to $3,000. Sure, they might be pricey, but there’s a lot of craftsmanship involved. Made out of silicone, the fingers look one hundred percent realistic. They’re custom made, each finger specially crafted to appear as a natural extension of the hand. They also curve in such a way that the wearer can grasp items without actually moving his mock appendages. Some gangsters even buy multiple fingers to match the seasons (lighter tan for winter, dark for summer) and often come back to have their prosthesis repainted, especially when the color starts fading. It’s a lucrative business, and it’s the only time gangsters don’t mind getting the finger.

3. Dine On Dirt

Ne-Quittez-Pas

Japan is home to quite a few freaky restaurants like Alcatraz ER (a hellish prison hospital) and Alice of Magic World (care to guess the theme?). However, Ne Quittez Paz stands apart from its gimmicky cousins thanks to its boxer-turned-chef Toshiro Tanabe. A Gallic gastronomist, Tanabe runs a really classy joint and has a flair for French food. Not only that, he’s constantly searching for ways to transform food into art, and that’s what inspired his craziest creation yet.

For $110 per person, Ne Quittez Paz serves a full course meal with a special ingredient: dirt. The idea of consuming soil might not sound appetizing, but rest assured — Tanabe uses only the best. It comes from a company called Protoleaf, an organization that goes to countries like Sri Lanka and India and digs ten meters below the ground to find the real primo soil. Afterwards, they heat it up, killing all the bacteria, and then ship it to Japan where Tanabe uses it to make miracles happen in his kitchen.

If you order Tanabe’s dirt special, you’ll start off with potato starch and soil soup and a side salad sprinkled with dirt dressing. Your main meal would consist of an earthy risotto and sea bass, and to end it all, you’d dine on dirt ice cream and dirt gratin. (Try not to “soil” your clothes.)  To be sure, Ne Quittez Pas is a unique restaurant and probably the only place in the world that takes “surf and turf” literally.

2. Visit An Ear Cleaning Parlor

Professional-ear-cleaning

If your ears feel a bit greasy, chances are good you’ll reach for a Q-Tip. However, things are a bit different in Japan. For a small fee, young ladies will clean your ears for you. Ear care is very important in Japanese society. In addition aiding the auditory canal, it’s believed ear cleanings improve skin health and help weight loss. In fact, clean ears are so important that some consider it a mother’s duty to keep her kids and husband wax-free. But when those kids grow up, many frequent the ear cleaning parlors that have popped up all over Japan. Since there aren’t any government regulations, anyone can start their own wax removal business, and professional ear cleaners only need seven to ten days worth of training before they can start poking around in ear canals.

If you visited an ear cleaning parlor, you’d first enter a room decorated in traditional Japanese fashion. A young woman wearing a kimono would make you a cup of tea and chat a bit before sitting on the floor. After putting your head on her lap, she’d lay a napkin over your face and whip out her mimikaki. Essentially a pick made out of bamboo, metal or plastic, the mimikaki comes equipped with a special scoop for scraping out stubborn chunks of ear wax. Services generally last for thirty to seventy minutes and can cost from $32 to $100. In addition to the cleaning, some parlors offer ear massages and even ear divinations. By examining all the folds and flaps of an ear, workers claim they can actually predict your future.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that most ear salon clients are men. Many claim they’re seeking out these peculiar parlors because having their ears cleaned reminds them of their childhoods. However, there’s often a sexual element involved, and workers are allowed to walk away if they feel threatened by the customers. Sadly, sometimes things get out of hand, like the 2009 case when a woman was stabbed to death for rejecting a client’s advances. Fortunately, these incidents are few and far between, and ear cleaning parlors continue to exist on the bizarre border of nostalgia and sex.

1. Buy Crooked Teeth

tsuke-yaeba

Any single ladies in the audience with crooked teeth? If so, you should buy a plane ticket and fly to Japan. Overcrowded mouths are all the rage in the Land of the Rising Sun, where snaggletoothed girls are considered super cute. In fact, they’re considered so attractive that many are intentionally wrecking their smiles in the name of beauty.

This toothy style (known as tsuke-yaeba) became fashionable thanks to celebrities like pop singer Tomomi Itano, whose naturally twisted teeth made guys go nuts. Inspired by their idol, trendy teens (and even women in their 20’s) started visiting special clinics where dental beauticians built some truly bizarre bridgework. For $400, dentists will glue fake ivories onto real teeth, giving the impression that the molars are shoving the canines forward. And if a girl is unsure about this new look, she can just buy temporary teeth. However, lots of ladies decide to go with permanent caps.

Evidently, this fanged fashion is so popular that there’s even a girl band where the members all sport tsuke-yaeba. But what is it about crooked teeth that make them so appealing? According to the guys, these multi-layered grins make girls more approachable. Their imperfections make it easier for dudes to strike up a conversation. On top of that, crooked teeth are often described as “impish” and give girls a childlike quality that some guys go for. (They must love Kirsten Dunst movies.)  While tsuke-yaeba might sound strange to Westerners, is it really any weirder than Botox injections and fake tans? Remember, beauty is in the eye in the beholder — or in this case, the mouth.


Japanese Silly Shopping Spree –

WIF Around the World

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 188

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 188

…The American people have a clear choice between nominees; On one hand you have a sitting Vice-President in Sylvia Freelove and the other, a dogmatic antithetical in Roy Crippen…

 Roy Crippen is trying so hard to prove that he is a different sort of politician.

Today the USA   

Tomorrow the Milky Way 

Crippen/Walker

Astronaut/Straight Talker

***Neither one of the red/white/blue slogan configurations will matter much in the final days of the 2032 Presidential Campaign, with the voters’ blurry-eyed from all the campaign ads nagging them at every turn.***

Way back in 2020, thanks to a 3rd party (Libertarian L-Rand Paul Kentucky) push for fiscal sanity, private funding for national elections was taken out of election process. Gone are the days when one candidate can outspend his/her way into office. As the middle-class dwindled into insignificance and a certain 5% of the population controlled 99% of the wealth, the temptation for someone to finance their way into power is stripped away.

This leaves candidates to their own devices, i.e. merits, accomplishments, policies, and promises. For the most part, to the credit of most office-seekers, the dirty noise of misinformation and mudslinging is no longer an effective tool in influencing voters.

In the case of Pete Sanchez, he was catapulted into office by an ethnic majority, a phenomena that was interrupted briefly by one-term reigns in 2016 and 2020, mainly because neither incumbent administration had the mind to curb spending or maintain a clear vision to justify a second and final term.

Sampan by Dominique Charles FOUQUERAY

Some lessons come hard and if it had not been for the financial & sociological collapse of China, Standard Mandarin would have been spoken in every school, Oriental food would be the national cuisine, and the Yen would supplant the US dollar as the world currency. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for China, the combination of Communism and Capitalism is a lethal mix; planned cities with no people living in them, infused with the truth about life in a free society teamed up to sink their Sampan.

So fast-forward to 2032 where you have relative prosperity and a clear choice between nominees. On one hand you have a sitting Vice-President in Sylvia Freelove and the other, a dogmatic antithetical in Roy Crippen.

The less important position of VP offers an equally, though less scrutinized, divergent choice in the persons of Bud Cauley, the former Congressman from Arizona and Ambassador to the European Union and Charlotte Walker, rifle-toting Governor of Wisconsin.


THE RETURN TRIP

Election Day

Episode 188


page 224

Contents TRT

 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 175

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 175

… Roy Crippen risks losing the mounting momentum his campaign has mustered, all for the sake of his endless passion for space…

Endless Passion by AJ LaGasse

Francine knows there is more to Roy Crippen than folksy anecdotes, or those handsome chiseled features that have made him the fantasy idol for millions of women over the age of puberty, yes puberty. Roy can cheerfully count the 18 and over female voter in his column, while resolutely content to persuade the rest of the electorate with sound policies and square dealing.

Tonight, the third largest city in the nation, in the heart of the American Midwest {Chicago}, is the sight of one such major policy statement. At the feeding trough of inspiration, the meat & potatoes presidential candidate who is seeking office for no other reason than lead his country into the uncertain future; His topic is titled: “The Economic Feasibility of Exploring Outer Space”.

Ever since NASA was forced from the workaday business, a.k.a. good-sense curiosity, through budget cutting and the lure of privatization, its desire to leap ahead in the important work of space has been in limbo. The American people, as well as its partners in Space Colony 1 suddenly have trouble looking past the moon. The political capital to forge ahead with “another try at it” just isn’t there, even though that the same global insurance consortium that is funding the 3rd Panama Canal, has agreed to pay off on the Colony policy; 2 trillion dollars that most countries are being urged to spend on domestic needs instead.

Momentum

Roy Crippen risks losing the mounting momentum his campaign has mustered, all for the sake of his passion for space. He is willing to show his hand, brutal honesty aimed at a prospective constituency that needs convincing, for better or for worse.

Sometimes it is a curse to have a clear view of the future, knowing precisely where the planet is heading, if it chooses to remain isolated from the rest of the galaxy. How shortsighted,” he would say. Earth has already squandered most of its non-renewable resources that it started with when modern man took over management some 8000 years ago. 8 x 1000 is a long time, but it is in the last 150 that 99.9% of it has been stripped away.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 175


page 210

Contents TRT