Monday, 10 April 2017

Friday, 25 January 2008

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange business card holder

Kuala Lumpur is one of my favourite Asian cities, full of flowers and greenery. I visit it usually once a year and stay in the Mandarin Oriental, which is one of my favourite hotels.

I visited the KL Stock Exchange and was given this rather natty business card holder, which I do actually use. It was certainly more convenient to pack than the gift given to the leader of our group who was given a splendid but enormous crystal model of the building in a brass and glass case. It must have been 18 inches a side and weighed a ton. Not easy to then drag around Asia with you! Why do people continue to give these massive presents when they know that you have to get on a plane the next day? I have been given several huge books when zipping in and out of cities for a speech. I have hand baggage! I can't pack a three kilo book of aerial views (it's always aerial views) of some bit of your country I've never heard of. If you're going to give me a book get me one on your country's most famous supermodel!

The real Exchange. A lot less silvery.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Denmark: clocks

Or, rather, a clock, a barometer and a thermometer.
Mostly my gifts range from curious to utterly bizarre. Certainly most are not the sort of thing that you would ever want to take home. Very rarely I get given something nice and, even more rarely, I get given something really special, such as this lovely Georg Jensen set given to me by the Danish branch of a top accountancy firm, for yet another brilliant speech, in Copenhagen a few years ago. They could not be more perfect for my study if they had been designed specifically for it.
I do realise, looking at this picture, that I haven't hung the clock back straight on it's hook from changing the time when the clocks went back in October, however!

Georg Jensen

Georg Jensen (1866-1935) studied sculpture at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts and initially worked as a designer at the Bing & Grøndahl porcelain factory. He setup his own business but didn't do very well until he switched to silversmithing and by the time of his death had five shops internationally and was a well known Art Deco designer. He always gave his designers free reign however and now the firm produces all sorts of interesting jewellery, watches, cutlery, bowls etc.

These particular pieces were designed by Henning Koppel (1918-1981).

Henning Koppel

Singapore: Golden chopsticks

These golden chopsticks were given to me by the Singapore Attorney General's office. I suppose they have some symbolic meaning like "have a fruitful life" or "live long and prosper" or "may you win the lottery" or even "eat your food with shiny utensils" but when searching golden chopsticks on the internet all I get is references to the hundreds of Chinese restaurants around the world called "Golden Chopsticks". Maybe they mean "may you have a successful restaurant".

Chopsticks originated in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BC) and are widely used in Asia. The Mandarin Chinese word for chopsticks is kuàizi which is a compound of the words meaning quick and bamboo. The English word "chopstick" seems to have been derived from Chinese Pidgin English, where "chop chop" meant quickly.

"Rubbery noodles!" Probably shouldn't have cooked them for so long, then.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Ireland: Leprechaun

An all time classic amongst Sue's wonderful gifts. This could be taken as an ironic, post-modern statement on the nature and essence of Irishness. Or it could just be a way to extract as much money as possible from stupid American tourists who have no concept of taste.

I've no idea what all the happy Chinese workers, earning their $30 a month, who make these things must make of this. But then given all the other strange things that Chinese factories turn out (Teletubbies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spice Girls dolls) they must have a very odd view of the West anyway.

There are arguments about the dervivation of the word leprechaun, but the favourite seems to be that it comes from the Gaelic word luchorpán meaning small bodied. Oddly until the Twentieth Century leprechauns were always described as wearing red, not green.

Leprechauns have always given me the creeps from the time I saw the Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) when it was shown on televison when I was little.

"To be sure it's obvious I'm going to be a huge star!" Not.

This film was notable for an early starring role for Sean Connery (3rd billing) and it was his appearance in this that brought him to the attention of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. On it's first showing in Dublin several eminent Irish people picketed the cinema as they claimed the film gave out ridiculous sterotypes of Ireland and the Irish.

So I am glad to see that the Irish tourist industry has taken absolutely no notice of this well-meant stance whatsoever.

"A leprechaun? Me? Begorrah!"

As a footnote the use by the Irish of the phrase "top of the morning" is certainly not current and, indeed, may never have been. George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Is it possible that you don’t know that all this top-of-the-morning and broth-of-a-boy and more-power-to-your-elbow business is as peculiar to England as the Albert Hall concerts of Irish music? No Irishman ever talks like that in Ireland, or ever did, or ever will."

New Zealand: The Tiki

This is one of Sue's more peculiar presents from her trip to Middle Earth. He is, apparently, an ancient symbol and a treasured part of New Zealand heritage (like Dame Kiri-te-Kanawa, although you don't get plastic models of her very often).
There are a number of legends about its meaning (no, not Dame Kiri).

Some say he came from the stars and that he was the first man of the world. Some say his webbed feet suggests a strong link to the creatures of the sea. All I know is that he is called The Stig. I mean, the Tiki.

Tiki was respected as the teacher of all things and the wearer of this symbol is therefore seen to possess clarity of thought, loyalty, great inner knowledge and strength of character. The Tiki is regarded as a good luck charm when worn and in some areas is also regarded as a fertility symbol (that I would rather avoid).

The Māori are particularly unhappy, it seems with plastic, mass-production of this ancient and mythical symbol. But who cares, they're on the other side of the world so they can stick their tongues out all they like.

As far as I am concerned he reminds me of the alien foetus from The Erlenmeyer Flask episode of the X-Files (well he did come from another world- which to most Kiwis means Australia).

Oddly, he also has the texture of those horrible Haribo jelly-like sweets which Fuzzy won't let the children eat, despite them being given them all the time at parties, as they contain gelatine so could give them Mad Cow Disease (not that you'd notice). Haribo was a sweet firm founded in Germany in 1920 (it is an acronym for Hans Riegel, Bonn). Of course our jolly German cousins deny that Haribo used forced labour in their factories in the Second World War and instead are slowly destroying the teeth of Europe's children with their gummy confectionery. Makes me glad I'm diabetic.

" Oh my God, Mulder, you went to New Zealand and all you brought me back was this?"

Egypt: Nefertiti plate

I was given this metal plate by an Egyptian government delegation. It is Queen Nefertiti based on the famous statue in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, which I saw last time I was there.

This marvellous sculpture was discovered by German archaeologists in 1912. The crafty Krauts recorded the find as something unimportant, buried the details of it in pages of tedious paperwork and fooled the Egyptians (and indeed the French, who ran the Antiquities Department at that time) in to letting it go to Berlin where it has been displayed ever since. Now the Egyptians want it back for their splendid new museum near the Pyramids which is due to open in 2012 (which is why they are dragging some of the Tutenkhamun stuff around the world to raise money for the museum). The German's claim it is too fragile to travel. Didn't stop them in 1912, though!

Not such a yummy mummy

Queen Nefertiti herself is entombed in tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings but her mummy, which has been recently, if somewhat tentatively, identified, was x-rayed a few years ago. The Discovery Channel sent these x-rays to the University of Nottingham who reconstructed the face of the woman using the same forensic techniques they use to identify bodies for the police.

The Nottingham reconstruction

Crucially, they were not told who the woman might be and their reconstruction showed amazing similarities to the sculpture and, particularly, to an earlier sculpture from the same studio which is less idealised and is more likely to have been done from life. This earler sculpture belonged to Adolf Hitler and for many years was owned by a private collector.

The idealised sculpture from Berlin

Hitler's more naturalistic sculpture - very close to the Nottingham picture

Nefertiti's beauty has inspired many artists over the years from this rather peculiar illustration to this rather more clever photograph.