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Amabie: the mythical creature making a coronavirus comeback

Amabie: the mythical creature making a coronavirus comeback

What the world is reading, eating and drawing

What the world is reading, eating and drawing

June/July 2020

What Japanese are drawing
Cartoons are so popular in Japan that even some railway stations have their own colourful mascots. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, social-media users have turned to an older character for solace: Amabie, an obscure mermaid-like creature from Japanese folklore. Amabie first appeared in the mid-19th century, a period of frequent cholera outbreaks. A government official spotted Amabie in the sea, so the story goes, and was told by the genderless figure that anyone who saw its likeness would be returned to good health. Now its image has new-found resonance. Thousands of people are sharing their own versions of Amabie online. Some draw it attacking the spiked structure of the coronavirus, others have made it their smartphone wallpaper “to prevent infection”. An imaginary friend can be comforting in a crisis, especially when you can’t see your real ones.

What the Vietnamese are eating
Vietnam is the world’s leading exporter of dragon fruit, most of which goes to China. The spread of covid-19 has impeded this trade, leaving hard-hit farmers with mounds of unsold produce. Bakeries in Ho Chi Minh city are easing the burden, buying up destitute dragon fruit and baking them into mini baguettes, which are purple, soft and speckled with tiny black seeds. Finding new uses for surplus produce is a trend with potential: another local company has started mixing watermelon juice with rice flour, making instant noodles with a pink tinge.

What Brazilians are watching
A video showing Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, serenading Donald Trump with the classic ballad “I Will Always Love You” has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online. But the footage isn’t real. It was made by Bruno Sartori, a self-described “deepfaker” and journalist who uses artificial intelligence to superimpose one person’s face and voice onto another’s to mock Brazil’s political elite. Sartori has targeted other politicians too. To those who think deepfakes erode trust in the media and civil society, Sartori responds that he is trying to puncture politicians’ pomposity and power with one of democracy’s oldest weapons: satire.

What video-gamers are reading
Millions of people around the world live in countries where the government censors the media and the internet. Gaming enthusiasts in such places now have somewhere new to obtain prohibited material. The Uncensored Library is a location within “Minecraft”, a popular video game that is rarely restricted by governments. Players can visit this virtual library to read banned articles, which have been republished inside in-game books. Different wings cater to different countries: there are rooms for Egypt, Russia and Mexico. Players in Saudi Arabia can even find articles by Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Perhaps it’s time to accept that video games really can be educational.

What Ugandans are reading
“Fuck the dictatorship,” writes Stella Nyanzi, a Ugandan feminist, at the start of her new poetry collection, “No Roses from My Mouth”. She penned these verses from behind bars, after being jailed for writing about the vagina of the Ugandan president’s dead mother (Nyanzi was released in February after a 16-month term). In her battle with an intrusive state and a priggish society, Nyanzi asserts that nothing is taboo: she will not be one of those “feminists in high heels”. Ugandans are both awed and appalled by her audacity. But she has become an icon for many younger activists and her Facebook page has over 200,000 followers. “My writing may be cheap,” she says, “but it is rather effective.”

Who South Koreans are following
Meet Pengsoo, a ten-year-old, 2.1-metre penguin who hails from Antarctica, according to its creators, a Korean broadcasting company called EBS. The character was originally aimed at young children watching YouTube videos. But Pengsoo, who is often rude and doesn’t mind snapping back at those in positions of authority, is now just as popular among South Korea’s teenagers and young office-workers. In a country with a rigid social hierarchy, Pengsoo’s blunt attitude is refreshing. This has helped Pengsoo reach celebrity status: the penguin has appeared on TV talk shows, met K-pop stars and chatted with Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s foreign minister.