Category Archives: everyday trivia

Behaviour-shaping public signs

Public signs are good indicators of the prevalent behaviours, concerns, or ideal norms in the society. Here are a small collection of such public signs collected randomly during my travels in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Switzerland, India, China, Ghana, Vietnam, Denmark, and UK. I compiled these photos for THEME magazine article in 2008 (unfortunately the magazine is no longer in publication).

A few public signs are culturally unique. Most of them demonstrate the nuances of the expected norms of the public behaviours. One of my pet interests to write and dig more about in the future.

What entertains you?

If you go to a small town or relatively large village in India, you are likely to find a fair ground – provided that you are not out of luck. I stayed for a week in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh for a research work and the local fair at night was indeed like a cold, fresh air. I simply cannot tell whether I will enjoy visiting this place as much if I visited again. But it was the magical time. Reviewing the photos, I got to ponder on what really entertains people, or what makes people perceived that they are entertained. The rudimentary human nature does not vary much, while the representation may vary greatly.


Aspiration-inducing show
People want to see something amazing, to dream of, to be inspired from. In this case, featuring new technology, not easily attainable and decorated with female bodies that are perceived to be beautiful above norm (or following the known convention).


Food not available at home or should be eaten everyday
Rare fruits taste better. Entertainment venue foods can also be quite messy to make at home, or simply do not taste the same if made too healthy.


Things to buy, to make you feel good or achieving something


Strength measuring machine to let people entertain themselves


Fortune telling machine, which is not your usual human astrologer


Letting the memory last longer – Photobooth
Read more about the photobooth operator in this post on digital imaging entrepreneurs.


Getting exposed to useful information, however practically helpful it is
Pictured are advertisements for: Network & software engineering department of ‘Nice’ college with the slogan of ‘the preferred runway, to fly high’ / Call center training program.


Simple physical moves on the machines or a large man-made structure
Physical movements are particularly good and create a different dimension of shared activities as people are freed from the burden of verbally communicate or do something proactively. This fair appointed the mickey mouse – or its relative as the visually consistent host for these machines.


Reflection on the way home….
On the way back to the reality or everyday environment may be mixed with relief and longing for next time. If you had a very good time, you may not consider this as entertaining at all. In Bareilly, we came back to our hotel on a bicycle rickshaw. I was ridden with the guilt that I felt so heavy for the tiny, thin guy driving the bicycle.

Being prepared : Service mindset

Preparing small notes and changes often becomes the responsibility of consumers in India – based on what I have experienced so far, which is different mentality compared to Japan or Korea especially. If you only have 100 or 500 rupee notes, be prepared for delays in getting your changes back, or even the risk of not being able to buy what you want. I cannot yet find a pattern with which this happens. It just happens. I experienced it so far at: office canteen, food court at the flower show, street vendors, high-end grocery, or entrance fee to an exhibition. If this happens at general stores, I might be offered to buy more products that would fit the corresponding amount of the lacking change.

It so happened when we were driving to Tamil Nadu. One of the highway tollbooths gave a piece of chocolate instead of one rupee coin. It is a witty solution, but I consider it a misdirected effort: getting candies ready instead of one rupee coints. Other more fair and sustainable solutions are abound, however perhaps they might be just slightly out of reach to those who work at the tollbooths.

Blue is (the leading color to) white

While the perception of color is culturally dependent, blue and white are known to be one of the most popular for logos and national flags. In India, the color white is particularly important for clothing. It is typical for male politicians or authoritative figures to wear all whites. Dhotis, always white in color, are essential for formal ceremonies and events too.

India is probably one of the most difficult countries to keep clothes white: colorful food, red pan (chewing tabaco/mouth refreshner), general dust along with the red soil mixed with sweat and body fat and what not. Perhaps this is why putting on spotless white clothes has extra significance.

The fabric whitener bottles are blue. Furthermore I heard that the whitener actually makes the white fabric slightly blue to create the visual effect of looking whiter. Blue seems to be the common color choice for soaps as well. Hand washing stations in restaurants and around toilets I encountered outside of Bangalore often had blue soaps.

A picture taken out of context

What is happening captured in the scene in this photo?

No one was being tormented in the scene – or at least I would think so, regardless of what the captured digital memory might imply. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person in Paris for the first time, then again in NYC a few months later this year. Several of his digital traces are worth following, if you are not doing so already. Personally, I am quite curious to see what he will be doing in a few decades from now.

Photo courtesy of stapledesign. Photographer’s name – Unfortunately I don’t know.

mobility of your existence

I was asked for my home address today – I could only say “I don’t have one at the moment, except my temporary address.” Have you realized the limited access to services you will experience when one of these is taken away, lost, or invalid: Home address, mobile phone number, governmental identification, credit/bank card?

The world is often not designed for, or accommodating to those who do not have a regular place to live. Or opted out of using the means that are typically used to prove where you live. When I wanted to register to eBay.co.uk while I lived in UK, it offered two options to confirm my existence so that I can become a member: A landline phone number or a credit card. I never had a landline phone number myself since 1998, and one and only credit card from Japanese bank was of course not accepted since they could not verify the address for the card, which was in Japanese.

Recently I stayed in South Korea for a while. Even though I am a citizen, I found myself constantly relying on other people’s identity: mobile phone, residential address, and credit card. With Korean Internet services, it becomes more evident – I felt like an underground citizen not having a mobile phone of my own. So the role of residential or ‘permanent’ addresses is becoming a shared one with the mobile number. Ironically, or naturally – our digital being is only acknowledged when it is verifiably linked to our physical being.

Socially and systematically our digital birth is not acknowledged. It only becomes valid when our physical and proven existence is linked to it. Will this change? Will we – digitally or physically – be freed from our permanent residence when so many of us are no longer in a position to claim a permanent residence?

Living out of suitcases quite often, my attention is always attracted by how people manage to live in the minimal space and things. Here are some taken in Osaka, Tokyo. I indulge in the clear visibility of what is essential for the living. The digital life of this home owner? – I am left to wonder.

(branded) warning

what do you see in this product?
it is a tobacco package you can see all around India, usually sold in street stalls specializing in all things around smoking and chewing (and subsequently spitting) pleasures of men. i thought all cigarettes were branded with a scorpion logo and hence monopoly might be in place for cigarettes in India.

as you can see on other products – the scorpion logo is not a branding of any particular company, but it is a symbol used for health warning. having been born and living in scorpion-free countries, the logo does not communicate any danger – except the faint memory from reading fairy tales and myths.

Expanding the boundary of your space

In Chengdu, you see various objects are hanging or arranged to be used in what some of you and I might call public space. Without the familiar layer of protection that is common in other places, like an extra glass wall or plastic wrap. I could not help thinking of the word ‘exposed’ for these objects: Exposed to the open air, exposed to potential germs and dirts, exposed to public eyes, exposed to theft. But obviously my perception is contrived – as I spent the whole of my life living in densely populated cities where houses did not include much of outdoor or semi-public space. Where do you draw the boundary of where your ‘private’ space ends?

hanging_clothes

hanging_rooftop

hanging_tops

hanging_mirror

hanging_wokpan

hanging_sausagecourtyard

hanging_sausagelaundry

hanging_meatmarket

hanging_meatmarket2

animals in our lives

Domesticating animals is a long part of human history. It is speculated that there are and will be more pet dogs than children in some parts of the world. My sister declared that her lifetime partner will be a Russian blue cat, not another human being. Her mother, in the hope of persuading her, argued: “imagine you will get sick one day – your cat cannot help you with anything.” My concern for her is more about the discrepancy of the life expectancy between humans and cats. One of major reasons why modern city dwellers have pets is for emotional attachment. In that sense, you may say their roles will not change much, but here are two provocative scenarios of ‘useful pets’:

Networked dog in Brinkland: my ex-colleague and design ‘futurescaper’ anab worked on a concept of networked dogs with implanted chips that turn them into mobile hotspots and digital data storage (you may remember Anab from her yellow chair story as i did, from ubicomp 2005 in tokyo).
Life support: Using human-friendly animals for life support, replacing the role of non-functional organs in human bodies through the ones in living animals, was shown in last year’s graduation show in RCA designing interaction, by revital cohen.

Did you think about the lives of these animals when reading through these scenarios? Would you argue that this may make their lives ever more meaningful for them and their owners? How would you compare this to the currently wide-spread practice of castrating house pets? Human race has genetically modified or influenced the evolutionary development of domesticated animals for a long time. Furthermore, we have started to see genetically cloned animals. I cannot yet form my opinion around the topic of modified and ‘enhanced’ non-human life forms, but it will surely be a space to watch.

Back to the present, I found some photos of animal-related signage that highlight public behavioral issues living with pets.

dogs_2_scary
Warning of potentially hostile dogs can be an important safety issue – or ensuring the effectiveness of employing the dog. In Japan, each household is asked to put a sticker indicating there is a dog in the house. A new sticker is issued every year, so you can guess the age of the dog by looking at the number of stickers.

dogs_3_dontbringdogin

dogs_3_notallowed
The most common sign about dogs is to indicate whether dogs are allowed or not in that space, in an attempt to promote the right behavioral norm suitable for the space.

dogs_6_onleash

dogs_4_notallowed

dogs_5_guidedog
Sometimes, dogs are conditionally allowed if they are kept on a leash. Service or ‘working’ dogs are typical exceptions. I once saw a ‘working’ dog in the underground helping a blind person. He was impressively calm and controlled in the extremely crowded tube. I don’t know how they are trained and qualified, but they certainly seemed to deserve a special treatment.

dogs_8_bigdog
In Helsinki, public parks have dogs’ playgrounds. These playgrounds are usually divided into two different kinds: Big dogs’ and small dogs’. There are a huge variety of dogs people have domesticated, and many of them still have the perfectly preserved instinct to kill.

dogs_10_waitingoutside

dogs_11_dogbarmiyakohotel
It is not so common but there are occasional facilities prepared for dogs. Some Helsinki supermarkets have hooks on the wall to tie your dogs or metal cages outside the entrance. In Tokyo, I saw a water fountain named “dog bar”.

dogs_9_dogwasteonly
Dog waste disposal might have had a leaping progress over decades but I don’t think I have witnessed it in my lifetime yet. Considering the elevated level of hygiene standard, it is unbelievable that some dog owners let their dog soil the neighborhood under their surveillance. After all, it’s the density that makes the waste disposal a real problem. So as pet dog population increases, we may see stricter rules about this in more places around the world. In places where dog walking is popular, you will see dedicated bins only for dog waste.

dogs_14_cleankamakura
Perhaps your dog will one day be your guide to behave properly in public space?

dogs_13_dontletdogmarking
The text-heavy orange sign below is a request from the district health center asking residents to forbid dogs from marking in the neighborhood. Considering that marking is a fundamentally instinctive behavior of a normal dog, it is an indirect message to tell the residents that they should either not walk in the neighborhood, or seek surgical solution.

dogs_12_donotthrowpetsaway
A disturbing phenomenon of all this is that there are a lot of pets that are discarded by humans. In Kamakura, a quiet neighborhood outside of Tokyo, I found this sign saying that throwing pets away is a crime subjected to a fine of 300,000 yen (~1800 pounds).

I recently watched the movie A.I. (artificial intelligence) with bitterness. As appearance can be deceiving, robots that perfectly replicate human children would always spark up much more debate and emotional reaction than (hypothetically) equally-able teddy bears, thus making it humane vulnerability. A mighty robot engineered to pursue its dream without any constraint subjected to the rules of its environment seems fundamentally violating the basic rules of the robot engineering, or the very virtue of all ‘beings’. More so, if the appearance had no bearing on what it can be capable of, as it will defy our own human instinct that we developed over the long path of evolution. Will our relationship with pets change? Will the functions of the pets get ‘enhanced’? Will we adopt new species of pets of our own creation? How will we evolve our notion of ‘the right thing’ to do when it comes to treating and living with non-human beings?

dogs_15_puppyseller
This last photo was taken in Seoul a few years ago. She is selling puppies on the street. She didn’t have much business going on, but surely playing with all her puppies kept her busy.

I am looking forward to my sister’s cat, Summer, next week in Seoul. Even though I have cat allergy, I always look forward to having him lounging around me.