• Techie toilets: Staff writer Amelia Newcomb says it was while visiting a Tokyo coffeehouse with a friend that she first became aware just how much toilet technology had advanced since her first visit to Japan in 1979 (see story).
"When I lived in Tokyo way back when, I may now confess, I would sometimes snag the sticker in public bathrooms that showed Japanese how to maneuver around a sit-style Western toilet," Amelia says. "I sent these as 'thinking of you' notes to friends."
But this time she was the one who needed instructions. Most of the toilets offer explanatory icons, but they're not always easily comprehended. "Anyone who has had a discussion about these toilets has heard of the Westerner who inadvertently gets squirted by the automated bidet feature of the toilet, which is easily activated by the uninitiated," Amelia says. Other features – like how to flush – could be elaborated on a bit more clearly, she notes.
• Priceless? The lure of lucre has been known to sway a decision or two. So when contributor Ian Evans got in the car in Cape Town, South Africa, for the 430-mile journey to Pella in the Northern Cape, he was intrigued to find out why the poor Khoi-San people declined a movie developer's generous offer to buy their land.
"In many places of the world, residents would have taken the money and run. But not Pella," says Ian. Located next to awe-inspiring mountains, bleak scrubland, and beautiful river valleys, the Christian community said they simply didn't need it to be happy. "The physical land and its spiritual wealth were more important than bank balances," says Ian, who admired their decision to pick beauty over wealth.
– Michael B. Farrell
Middle East editor