For your eyes only

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - SARAH MORI star2@thes­ By ALAS­TAIR SOOKE

read­ing glasses are freely avail­able at banks, clin­ics, post of­fices and a host of gov­ern­ment of­fices.

POINT­ING to the three pairs of spec­ta­cles in a round plas­tic con­tainer on the counter at the clinic, I asked the re­cep­tion­ist: “Waser­e­mono desu ka?”

“No, they are not left be­hind by pa­tients. They are ro­gankyou. Would you like to bor­row one?” she said.

“Uh, no thank you,” I replied. Her an­swer con­firmed what I thought were read­ing glasses or glasses for the el­derly.

Some­times pa­tients for­get to bring their own read­ing glasses or need a pair when fill­ing in ques­tion­naires re­gard­ing their med­i­cal his­tory. These ro­gankyou, which are of dif­fer­ent mag­ni­fy­ing pow­ers, sure come in handy.

Many gov­ern­ment of­fices, banks, post of­fices and some hos­pi­tals or clin­ics in Ja­pan pro­vide ro­gankyou.

When I first saw three pairs of read­ing glasses in a box at a post of­fice, I was sur­prised. The in­struc­tions on the box read: “Glasses for loan. Please feel free to use it and re­turn it to its re­spec­tive place af­ter use.” The pair with the black frame has the low­est diop­tric power, the orange-framed pair is of medium diop­tre, and the red-framed pair has the strong­est read­ing power.

As I stepped into the dis­trict of­fice, I was taken aback. Whoa! What used to be read­ing glasses for fill­ing up forms on the ta­ble have been re­placed by huge, flex­i­ble arm mag­ni­fiers. There must be a big per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion which is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pres­by­opia.

Pres­by­opia is a con­di­tion in which the crys­talline lens of your eye loses its flex­i­bil­ity, which makes it dif­fi­cult for you to fo­cus on close ob­jects.

Pres­by­opia usu­ally de­vel­ops when we are in our for­ties, and it is a nat­u­ral part of the ag­ing process.

Most of my my­opic (short-sighted) friends wear con­tact lenses. Now that they are in their for­ties, they have be­come pres­by­opic. Since mul­ti­fo­cal con­tact lenses are ex­pen­sive, they have opted for read­ing glasses.

Some bought slim, el­e­gant ro­gankyou with sleek pen-sized cases which can be car­ried in the hand­bag or pocket.

Due to hy­per­opia (far­sight­ed­ness), pres­by­opia and an eye dis­ease, I use two pairs of spec­ta­cles: a pair of pro­gres­sive ad­di­tion lenses that of­fers a more grad­ual vis­ual tran­si­tion, and a no-line bi­fo­cal. A Ja­panese friend once gave me an ac­ces­sory – a neck­lace with a pen­dant mag­ni­fier. The mag­ni­fier was so pow­er­ful that each al­pha­bet looked gi­gan­tic!

While I was at the oph­thal­mol­ogy depart­ment in a hospi­tal last year, an el­derly woman’s spec­ta­cles caught my at­ten­tion. It had plas­tic fit­tings wrapped around the lens of her spec­ta­cles, like gog­gles. Ea­ger to get some­thing like hers, I ap­proached her.

“It is clipped onto my glasses to pro­tect my eyes from UV rays. Also good for pro­tec­tion from hay fever,” she ex­plained.

“Where did you get it and how How a sim­ple, feel­good logo spawned a global in­dus­try. THERE is a fa­mous scene in For­rest Gump. One day the epony­mous char­ac­ter, played by Tom Hanks, goes for a run – and doesn’t stop. For more than three years he jogs across Amer­ica. When a truck drenches For­rest with mud, a fan hands him a yel­low T-shirt to mop his face.

Af­ter For­rest re­turns it, the man dis­cov­ers that the mud has im­printed the cloth with a sim­ple de­sign: a schematic smi­ley face, con­sist­ing of two nar­row oval eyes and a beam­ing grin with dim­ple-like creases at ei­ther end, con­tained within a cir­cle. It’s a “Eureka!” mo­ment: the man recog­nises the po­ten­tial of the de­sign at once, and we un­der­stand that he will start flog­ging sim­i­lar mass-pro­duced mer­chan­dise.

For­rest, of course, is a fic­tional char­ac­ter. But the man with the yel­low T-shirt is an amal­ga­ma­tion of two real-life broth­ers from Philadel­phia who are cred­ited with turn­ing the smi­ley face into a global fad. Re­cently I met one of them, Mur­ray Spain, in his of­fice on the out­skirts of Philadel­phia.

Mur­ray and his el­der brother Bernard ran a small busi­ness sell­ing greet­ings cards and nov­elty items such as smi­ley-face badges. Around 1970, af­ter these started fly­ing out of their shops, the broth­ers be­gan sell­ing a range of smi­ley mer­chan­dise, in­clud­ing bumper stick­ers, cookie jars and key rings. In Fe­bru­ary 1971, much is it?” I in­quired.

“At an op­ti­cal shop I fre­quent. Cost me ¥2,000 (RM77) or so,” she replied. She re­moved her glasses and placed it on the couch for me to take a snap­shot.

When I had a new pair of glasses made, I was dis­ap­pointed that the big op­ti­cal shop I pa­tro­n­ised didn’t have that type of fit­ting.

How­ever, when I went back to Malaysia last sum­mer, my sis­ters showed me their po­larised wrap­around sun­glasses. Cool! They were even bet­ter, since I could wear them over my spec­ta­cles. So I bought three pairs with three dif­fer­ent coloured frames for my­self, my hus­band and my son. they copy­righted the smi­ley face in con­junc­tion with the phrase “Have a Happy Day”.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the prod­ucts sur­prised ev­ery­one. The smi­ley quickly in­fected Amer­i­can cul­ture. It be­came a sym­bol of con­sumer Amer­ica – stamped on ev­ery­thing from cheap plas­tic trin­kets to up­mar­ket goods sold in swish depart­ment stores. Mur­ray and Bernard be­came celebri­ties known as the “Smile Broth­ers”. Mur­ray at­tributes the smi­ley’s suc­cess to the na­tional mood. Many Amer­i­cans felt jaded as a re­sult of eco­nomic un­cer­tainty and the Viet­nam War. Peo­ple wanted to brighten their spir­its – and it helped to wear a badge em­bla­zoned with a grin. “Our only de­sire was to make a buck,” says Mur­ray. “But when it be­came ac­cepted as a sym­bol of hap­pi­ness, we were thrilled.”

The smi­ley be­came one of the most recog­nis­able lo­gos of all time. Car­toon­ists par­o­died it in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines such as The New Yorker. In 1986, it ap­peared stained with blood as a cen­tral mo­tif of the graphic novel Watch­men. Later that decade, it be­came an em­blem of Bri­tain’s acid-house mu­sic scene.

Dur­ing the Nineties, the Seat­tle rock band Nir­vana cre­ated a ver­sion with crossed-out eyes and a wob­bly line for a mouth. The US re­tail be­he­moth Wal­mart gave a “clas­sic” smi­ley a star­ring role in a cor­po­rate cam­paign. To­day the smi­ley ap­pears in the work of artists such as Nate Lowman and Banksy. Most com­monly, of course, it is used as an emoti­con in count­less e-mails and text mes­sages ev­ery day.

My Ja­panese friends in Yoko­hama have not seen such sun­glasses in shops yet. One com­mented that they would sell well. In fact, a Malaysian friend in Ja­pan re­quested for one, too.

Since sun­glasses with big frames are in fash­ion now, many Ja­panese friends think that I am “kakkoii” (stylish) with my wrap-around sun­glasses and a black cap. If I add on a mask to safe­guard against hay fever, I look “kowai” (scary).

My mis­chievous hus­band took a snap­shot of me to prove it. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian mar­ried to a Ja­panese, has been liv­ing in Ja­pan since 1992.

Who, then, is the ge­nius that dreamed up the smi­ley? And who prof­its from it, pre­sum­ably laugh­ing all the way to the bank? The ori­gins of the smi­ley are ob­scure, and much con­tested, but peo­ple some­times at­tribute the de­sign to a com­mer­cial artist called Har­vey Ball, who lived in the Amer­i­can town of Worces­ter in Mas­sachusetts.

In 1963, Ball was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate a logo that would boost morale among em­ploy­ees of an in­sur­ance com­pany. In less than 10 min­utes, he sketched a cir­cu­lar yel­low face with two black eyes and a beam­ing mouth. His de­sign was printed upon tens of thou­sands of badges given to the com­pany’s sales­men and cus­tomers through­out the Six­ties. Ball re­ceived a fee of US$45 – but he never earned an­other dol­lar from his de­sign, de­spite re­ceiv­ing recog­ni­tion as the in­ven­tor of the smi­ley be­fore his death in 2001.

But Ni­co­las Loufrani, a French­man who runs Smi­ley­world, a li­cens­ing com­pany that owns the copy­right over the smi­ley in more than 100 com­pa­nies and has an an­nual turnover of ap­prox­i­mately £90mil (Rm434mil), re­sists Ball’s claim. He points out that a smi­ley face was a key fea­ture of a well-known pro­mo­tional cam­paign for a ra­dio net­work on Amer­ica’s East Coast in the late 50s. Loufrani, whose fa­ther trade­marked the smi­ley in France in 1971, con­sid­ers it the first known ap­pear­ance of a smi­ley face in his­tory.

What­ever its ori­gins, the smi­ley has now been a prom­i­nent part of Western vis­ual cul­ture for half a cen­tury. Per­haps the se­cret of its suc­cess is its sim­plic­ity. What it stands for can be eas­ily moulded by its con­text. – The Daily Tele­graph UK

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