: Picture the scene. A banker, reluctant to give out a large cash loan to a desperate man, asks: "But do you have any valuable assets to offer as collateral?" The applicant points to his upper lip, saying: "Yes. My moustache."
"Don't be ridiculous," says the banker. But no. That's not what happens. This is Planet Earth, Weirdest Place in the Galaxy. So what ACTUALLY happened was that the banker said: "That'll do nicely," and handed over the money. True story.
In the Arab Emirates, male facial hair is being used as collateral for loans, I hear from a reporter researching facial hair. One of the most feared punishments for wrongdoing in that region is moustachectomy, which is the forced shaving of the upper lip, a traumatic experience which victims liken to castration, although I don't suppose many of them have actually been castrated, not more than once, anyway.
Facial hair is in, in a big way. Thousands of people in India joined in the Australian tradition of turning November into Movember, or "grow-a-moustache" month, and almost all were men.
That's one of several problems with this trend. First, many women find it extremely hard to grow moustaches, so it's only a matter of time before all female Earthlings take
out a class action against the organisers for trillions of bucks.
Second, baldies (like the present writer) cannot grow moustaches as it makes us look like gay guys from the 1970s, not a good look.
Third, many men (and women) in China cannot grow moustaches at all, because Chinese people are more highly evolved than regular humans, or so a friend from Shanghai tells me. I was about to tell him he was talking rubbish, but held back, in case he wasn't. I know for a fact that Chinese WOMEN have weird superhuman powers, having encountered them regularly.
The Shanghai gentleman said it takes him a year to grow a moustache, and even then it is so sparse that it looks like a long, thin, flat spider perched on his lip.
Poor him. Moustaches boost male confidence, psychologists say. In parts of India, police officers have even been given government grants for moustache cultivation. (Not sure what they spend the money on, perhaps that Gro-Fast fertiliser you get in gardening shops?)
The following day I saw a report on the BBC that Turkish doctors are offering moustache implants for men (or presumably, eccentric women) who feel their upper lips are too naked. Simply book yourself into an Istanbul hospital and come out with a thick, luxurious Lech Walesa-style growth which curtains your whole mouth, filtering out bugs, acid rain, particulate matter, etc.
Anti-sexism campaigners are calling for the immediate arrest of everyone on Earth. This is because pretty much every country is littered with "Men Working" signs, which are blatantly sexist, according to Esther Leung and Anya Das, two feminist readers.
They were inspired to protest after reading that anti-sexists at a US college recently demanded the removal of Men Working signs at a construction site (although one report said that after they were removed, several people fell into holes).
But what should the signs be changed to? "Men AND Women Working" is fine in Asia, but is inaccurate in the West, where buildings are erected by guys only. "Construction Persons Working" is over-fussy.
"Illegal Immigrants Working" would be more honest for many places. One reader said the ladyboy district of Bangkok and most of San Francisco should have signs with extra quotation marks: "Men" Working. Having seen the astonishingly low level of activity at building sites around Asia, I would move the quotation marks along a bit, making it: Men "Working".
One reader, whom I will not name because he will (and should) have his house burned down, said we could simply balance out all the Men Working signs around the world by placing "Women Working" signs in every kitchen. Careful.
A reader from Delhi pointed out that the word "man" comes from the Sanskrit word "manu" which means "human being", so we should "simply use the original term". Okay in principle, but "Manu Working" looks weird to me, especially since the only guy I know called Manu has a severe allergy to working, thinking, lifting a finger, or indeed any activity which involves using more than a single calorie of energy.
Reader Ann Teoh tells me there's uproar at hairdressing salons in Kelantan, Malaysia. Prudish officials have made it illegal for hairdressers of one sex to give haircuts to customers of another, indicating that doing so is equivalent to having sex. Officials: just try it. You are going to be SO disappointed.
If traffic jams keep growing at present rates, key highways in Asia will be permanently gridlocked, greenies say. People will have to abandon vehicles and go back to walking and cycling, which would be a good thing.
It is already happening, campaigner Elly Sung told me. I believe it. This columnist visited Bangkok recently, and the drive from the airport to town took so long that I pretty much had to turn around straight way to head back to the airport.
Last week during a traffic jam in Russia, drivers took 24 hours to move one kilometre. This is extremely slow, comparable to the speed of a snail crossing a desert or a Greek businessman paying a tax bill. In China, a single traffic gridlock on the Beijing-Tibet road lasted NINE DAYS, and one on the Mongolia-Beijing road in Hebei lasted ELEVEN DAYS. Picture the scene: HUSBAND: "Bye, honey, I'm just popping out to the shop to buy some milk." WIFE: "Okay. See you in a month!"
"But for the gridlock plan to work, we need governments to encourage reckless amounts of car production," said Elly. "Luckily, almost every government in Asia is co-operating."
The Russian government just put out an official message that citizens will NOT die from the so-called Mayan "end of the world" prediction on December 21. Phew. Russian citizens can get back to their normal pastimes, i.e., dying from alcoholism, snow storms and gun violence.
When Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway visited a friend's baby twins at the hospital in New Delhi recently, staff assumed she was a domestic helper, the media said. This is ridiculous. We're talking about one of the most important, most challenging, most respected roles in the world. Being a domestic helper is tough: no mere princess could manage it.
Talking of royals, friends of the UK's Princess Kate say she may name her baby after where it was conceived - which means it will have an Asian name. King Malaysia? Queen Singapore? Good thing they didn't stop in Hong Kong. The kid would have ended up as King Kong.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)