Travel broadens the mind, so they say, and after 3 weeks in Vietnam & Cambodia it certainly feels like my brain has been well and truly streeeeetched. If you haven't been, they're both incredible countries, full of beautiful scenery, fascinating history, friendly people, delicious food and crazy, memorable sights.
One of the big reasons they're so memorable, though, I was thinking after my jetlag woke me up at 4:30 this morning, is that the new stuff I saw/did/ate in my travels wasn't always completely unfamiliar - it was made up of new ways of mashing together things I know well. Here's just three of my discoveries, all featuring two words I wouldn't normally have put next to each other:
1. Fish Massage
Siem Reap, Cambodia, isn't just home to the incredible temples of Angkor. It's also home to tens of Fish Massage stalls - pools of water containing shoals of "kissing fish" that are more than happy to suck the dead skin off your feet if you stick them in. It's a bizarre sensation, kinda like sticking your feet in a can of coke, but when you pull your feet out they're as smooth as a babies bum.
Fish Massage: an awesome and unexpected blend of the human and animal that's got me thinking more about the increasing relevance of symbiosis (creating mutually beneficial relationships between humans, animals and the planet) as we move into an ever more environmentally conscious future.
2. Snake Wine
If people are feeling adventurous in the UK, they might make flavoured vodka, by putting some toffee, peppermint or even a chilli in a vodka bottle. In Vietnam, those people would get laughed at, by locals who regularly drink their rice wine with a pickled cobra inside. After steeping in the wine for a minimum of three years, the stuff is finally good to drink - and having tried some 9 year old vintage, I have to say I was actually pretty impressed. Kinda like sherry for hard men.
Snake Wine is supposed to have health benefits including helping rheumatism, but it's main function is basically virility - in every sense. On one side, a few shots is supposed to do wonders for your "manpower," as I heard it called (I also heard it called "Vietnamese Viagra"). On the other, one of our guides explained how rich men buy massive tanks of the stuff, filled with hundreds of snakes, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, to sit in their living room as a status symbol.
Snake Wine: a blend of the primal and sophisticated that's got me thinking about the way we take power and identity from the symbols and signs in the world around us and how we absorb and display them to others. That and what my dad will think when he opens his present this Christmas.
3. Water Puppets
Finally, a bit of fun from Hanoi, in north Vietnam, with a Water Puppet show. Slightly cruelly described as "Punch and Judy in a pond" in my guidebook, I found this 45 minute display, where puppets rise, dance and perform in a pool of water, thanks to the skillful expertise of some puppeteers lurking behind a screen at the back, thoroughly charming and strangely enthralling - in spite of, and perhaps part due to, some slightly crap puppet design.
Water Puppets: something basic elevated to something special, just by shifting the context. And that's got to be a lesson we can apply time and time again to the brands we work on. A decent production budget certainly helps too, though.
It's time to get clashing
So those were just three of the weird and wonderful new mixtures I came across whilst I've been away. Of course, creativity's always been about combining, remixing and re-making stuff that doesn't usually go together, though. That's why George Kneller, the American philosopher, said "creativity consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know" and that's why I wrote my IPA Diploma thesis - because I think there's so much to be gained by smashing information and imagination together.
So hey, get out there, mix, re-mix and mash it all up again. And next time you're out travelling, don't just bring home a T-shirt or a straw donkey, grab yourself some new ideas - and chuck it all into the melting pot together.