Enjoy learning more about Global Sherpa’s picks of the top 10 oddly true world news stories of 2010. Favorite topics include Paul the Psychic Octopus of World Cup Fame, iPad-wielding sumo wrestlers, treacherous Indian coconut trees, and neighborly Russian spies, to name a few.

1. Paul the Psychic Octopus Aces 2010 South Africa World Cup Predictions

During 2010, much of the world outside of Germany and the Netherlands came to know, love, and even mourn the loss of Paul the Psychic Octopus.  In a miraculous string of prescient predictions, Paul correctly foretold the outcomes of Germany’s World Cup run and even picked the winner in Spain’s final victory over the Netherlands.  Paul’s exploits were feted round the world by the international news media and even earned him a prime spot in ESPN’s annual sports award show, which featured an appearance by a comedian from Saturday Night Live who graced the award stage in full octopus regalia.  Before it was all said and done, Paul received more than 160 endorsement offers, including a book deal, according to his agent.  Unfortunately, on October 26, the world learned of the sad news that, in keeping with the short lives of his species, Paul passed away at his home at the Sea Life aquarium in the German city of Oberhausen.  For more, see the related posts An Ode to Paul the Psychic Octopus and Pulpo Paul, We’ll Miss You.

Paul Predicts Germany Beats Argentina

2. 150 Year Old Japanese in Abundance

According to official Japanese government records, more than 77,000 missing Japanese residents were at least 120 years old as of last August.  In an eye-opening case of bureaucratic oversight, Japan’s Justice Ministry announced that more than 234,000 people age 100 or older in government records were actually missing and probably no longer living.  In many cases, relatives were continuing to collect pensions on behalf of the deceased.  For more on Japan’s long life expectancy, health secrets, and shrinking, aging population, see the post 150 Year Old Japanese in Abundance.

3. Russian Spies Grow Beautiful Hydrangeas

In a bizarre story sounding as if it were ripped straight from the pages of a Cold War spy novel by John le Carre, the U.S. uncovered a Russian spy ring that had mostly been living quietly behind the well-kept shrubbery and fence lines of America’s suburbs, unbeknownst to friends and next-door neighbors.  According to an NYT article, one blindsided young neighbor observed, “’They couldn’t have been spies’ … ‘Look what she did with the hydrangeas.’”  The incident seemed to disappear almost as quickly as it came to light thanks to a somewhat curious even-up exchange of spy men and women between the U.S. and Russian governments.  Despite how little they supposedly accomplished during their time in the U.S., the spies were later seen receiving high commendations and partying with President Dmitry Medvedev upon returning to Russia.

4. Fat-fingered Japanese Sumo Wrestlers Turn to iPads to Communicate

Sometimes you just never know in whose hands new technologies will come to find a home.  In August, the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) announced plans to distribute 60 iPads to the sport’s 51 training stables.  The iPads are intended to help the Sumo world get past a shocking gambling scandal.  Given their size, sumo wrestlers tend to have fat fingers that make it hard to type and text on the cell phones and other small mobile devices that are so popular in Japan.  (Hawaiian-born Konishiki is said to have been the heaviest sumo wrestler ever in Japan at 630 pounds.  Unfortunately for many of his opponents, there are no weight classes in traditional sumo in Japan.)  For more on the intriguing story, see the related post Japanese Sumo Wrestlers Type Better with Ipads.

5. Treacherous Indian Coconuts Threaten President Obama

When President Obama visited four Asian democracies in the fall, host country officials were worried about more than the usual security threats from possible gunfire or bombings by terrorist groups or other enemies of U.S. policies and values.  To ensure the President’s safety, Indian officials took extra precautions around Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s former base of operations in Mumbai (Bombay) between 1917 and 1934, to make sure that the President would not fall victim to an attack from a seemingly far more benign source – renegade coconuts that have been known to plummet to the ground from palm branches high overhead.  In recent years, Indian coconut production has suffered from a shortage of experienced coconut pickers due to the competition from more attractive job offerings in India’s vibrant economy.  For more, see the related post India Protects Presidential Noggin by Disarming Dangerous Coconuts.

6. Chinese Archaeologists Unearth 2,400 Year Old Dinner

The Chinese seem to have a thing for old food.  There are thousand-year-old eggs and XO (extra old) sauce, to name a few.  The eggs, which also go by other names, are actually made by preserving fresh eggs for a period of weeks to months until the yolk turns dark green and the white dark brown.  XO sauce is a spicy seafood sauce, made from fine XO Cognac, that was developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s. Earlier this month, Chinese archaeologists added a new item to the extra old menu by unearthing a 2,400 year old pot of soup that dates all the way back to the unification of China under its first leader, Emperor Qin Shihuang.

Tests are being conducted to determine the ingredients of the “soup” of liquid and bones that was found in a sealed bronze cooking vessel near the ancient Chinese capital of Xian in China’s Shaanxi Province.  Don’t be too surprised if a new special soon finds its way to your favorite local Chinese eatery.  For more, see the related post Eat Like an Emperor: 2400 Year Old Chinese Soup.

7. Indian Mogul Constructs 27-Story Mansion in the Sky

India’s economic rise sometimes seems to get a little lost amongst all the attention showered on China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy and growing influence in international politics. One Indian businessman is doing his part to bring more attention to India’s economic success, or at least to his large share of it.  In late November, Mukesh Ambani, the richest billionaire in India and fourth richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine, hosted a house-warming party for his newly constructed, 27-storey skyscraper of a home in Mumbai (Bombay) named Antilla, after a mythical Atlantic island.  The arguably palatial residence reportedly cost over one billion dollars, even in India, and houses three helipads, a 50-seat cinema, multiple pools, and a massive, lavishly decorated ballroom.  The Indian novelist Shobhaa De was quoted describing the eccentric entertainment room as, “the biggest, glitziest ballroom in India – the Palace of Versailles is a poor cousin.” The first six floors of the structure are reserved for parking.  Some of it may possibly be used by the most fortunate of a staff of some 600 people who will keep the building up and running in top shape on a day-to-day basis.  The electricity bill for the relatively moderate month of September ran just about $150,000 depending on the exchange rate.  A few pictures of Antilla appear below.

Mukesh Ambani is Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, one of the largest private sector conglomerates in the world, with headquarters in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.  He owns a 48 percent stake in Reliance, which his late father, Dhirubhai Ambani, founded in 1966 as Reliance Commercial Corporation.  Reliance Industries generates an annual turnover of $45 billion from diversified operations in the petroleum refining and petrochemicals, life sciences, infrastructure, and clean energy sectors.  In 2002, it struck new gold with the year’s most noteworthy discovery of a large natural gas reserve off India’s eastern coast of Andhra Pradesh near Vishakapatnam in the Krishna Godavari basin.  Reliance initiated gas production from the site in April, 2009.  Reliance Industries is also the world’s largest producer of polyester and operates the largest recycling center for polyester waste.

8. U.S. Wishes Queen Elizabeth II Happy Birthday on the Wrong Day

It’s not exactly the rare earths debacle, but the U.S. State Department dropped the ball earlier this year when it congratulated England’s Queen Elizabeth II on her birthday a whole week early.  Luckily, the U.K. and the Queen Mom took the matter in stride, likely not expecting much better etiquette out of the upstart Americans who are still probably remembered for deserting the crown and lacking any kind of respectable royal pedigree.  That hardly seems like the thanks the Queen deserves after paying a kind of homage of her own to good old-fashioned American ingenuity by joining the worldwide Facebook community earlier this year.

9. Chicago Consults Singapore on Odd Michigan Avenue Bridge Rules

The Chicago Tribune discovered a perplexing set of rules that apparently govern the act of crossing the Chicago River by way of the internationally popular, heavily trafficked Michigan Avenue Bridge.  The rules were supposedly developed in consultation with Singapore, though no one there seems to want to take any credit for the advice.  Reason and practicality do not appear to have been high on the list of considerations when the ordinance was drawn up.  If you find yourself on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, try adhering to this handy little regulation, “The minimum pedestrian pace on the Michigan Avenue Bridge is that of a person who is running 15 minutes late and wearing sturdy walking shoes. Those who can’t keep up must use Clark Street.”  Probably to no one’s great surprise, hardly anyone, including long-time Chicago locals, seems to have any idea that the rules even exist, much less makes any attempt at following them.

10. World’s Longest Tennis Match

Viewers of the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championship were treated to the longest-ever tennis match in world history.  In a grueling three-day, first round match of 183 games that lasted a total of 11 hours, 5 minutes, John Isner of the U.S. eventually managed to just edge out Nicolas Mahut of France to win a fifth set tie-breaker by the required two-point margin at 70-68.  After beginning at 6:13pm British Summer Time on Tuesday, June 22, the match finally ended at 4:48pm on Thursday, June 24.  During the match, fellow American tennis player Andy Roddick reportedly supplied large quantities of take-out food to help keep Isner and his coach going, including “three boxes of pizza and all sorts of chicken and mashed potatoes.”

It seems fitting that the world’s longest tennis match occurred at the oldest tennis tournament in the world.  The Championships, Wimbledon, has been held on the famous grass courts of the All England Club in the London suburbs of Wimbledon since 1877.

Honorable Mentions:

North Korea

North Korea pretty much earns itself a perennial spot on the list just by being North Korea.  The Hermit Kingdom decided to emerge from its shell a bit more than usual this year by anointing a new heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, and, sadly, taking the lives of two South Korean soldiers for the first time in over 50 years.  Vaulting from virtual international obscurity, the 20-something third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was presented as a four-star general and official successor to his father in a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.  As yet another descendant of the Kim clan, North Korea’s new leadership in waiting is hardly expected to be a revolutionary changing of the guard.

In late November, a North Korean artillery barrage “resulted in the first South Korean civilian casualties from North Korean weaponry since the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War.”  In response, South Korea promptly put its military on “crisis status,” and President Lee Myung-bak even threatened “strenuous retaliation” in the form of military strikes.  The North’s aggressions toward the South and the growing tensions between the two countries raised new questions about the stability of the Korean Peninsula and surrounding region that drove China to propose a resumption of the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, the U.S. and Russia.  For more on North Korea, see the related posts Myanmar (Burma) Evades Democracy and Development while Courting North Korea and Top 10 World News Headlines and Stories of 2010.

Chicago Coyote Rescue

In a heart-warming holiday story, the Chicago Fire Department recently rescued a wild coyote that was spotted floating on a patch of ice hundreds of yards offshore in the frigid December waters of Lake Michigan.  During her anxious time at sea, the female coyote, who was nick-named Holly in honor of the holiday season, bravely tried to rescue herself by jumping from one ice patch into the near-freezing lake water in an attempt to swim ashore.  Likely exhausted from the ordeal and cold, she quickly managed to find her way back onto another smaller piece of ice that was barely big enough for her to lie down on curled up.  A worker from Chicago’s Animal Care and Control accompanied the Fire Department rescue team managed a once-in-a-lifetime maneuver by snatching Holly from the floating ice patch and lifting her safely aboard the fire rescue boat.  After reaching shore, Holly was taken to a wildlife shelter where she was found to be in generally good health.  Animal workers planned to help Holly recuperate for a few days before releasing her back into her natural habitat.

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