The Kashgar Travel Glossary of Really Important Words and Phrases

Added over 9 years ago

This glossary is by no means complete, accurate or even very good.  It's just my take on the reality of travel in the modern world and some of the more interesting words, situations and things you'll come across out there along the way.  And it makes absolutely no difference whether you're staying in a 6 star paradise or a zero-star shithole either - travel the world and for better or for worse, sooner or later you'll come across every one of them...


Airline Security:

Airline security

Icould write about all sorts of things on this subject, for example the latest gate device to be developed which will measure the amount of anxiety shown by travellers (too bad if you are just a nervous flyer), or whether or not you should lock your bags even if the airline asks you not to (the answer is yes, but you can use the new type of lock US airport security can pick).   But what this topic really boils down to is the chilling lack of humour shown recently by airline companies and airport personnel when it comes anything even remotely resembling a security issue.  The stories are now legion about the number of passengers who have been detained, cavity searched or lead away in handcuffs for making a jocular comment about what their friends are carrying under their sombreros or the likely sobriety of the flight crew on their particular flight.  So – no more jokes at airports. No funny T-shirts or paging a Mr Al Kider.  When you’re in the air, don’t make comments about your shoe ticking or announce that you are now taking over the plane because they have given you a real knife instead of a plastic one (ok, I did this, but only once).  Make any statements regarding our loss of civil liberties in writing to your Government from your home computer, not when you’re about to fly.  Did you know in the US it’s actually a Federal offence to joke about weapons at an airport?  And when in the air nobody, least of all me, wants the plane turned round in order to remove you and your sense of humour from the flight.


shanghai antique market


Everyone who travels secretly hopes that the vase they bought for 25 cents at the local market will turn out to be an original Ming.  Heres a hint: the place you bought it?  It's not called the Thieves Bazaar for nothing. And they can see you coming from a lonnng way off.  The fact is, almost of the good old stuff left in the world is now in the hands of high-end dealers, museums and private collectors (and private homes - which is where the dealers go to do their buying).   The locals you think are so quaint and unspoilt? They have access to the internet just like you and me, they know what things are worth.  And the lengths to which some unscrupulous dealers will go in order to fake an antique are legion.  The liberal application of urine, dung, acidic and alkaline pastes and other unsavoury unguents is just the beginning.  In China for example, the dust from Ming brick kilns is now being added to porcelain mixes in order to fool thermo-luminosity tests back home.  But don't despair. The 40 year old piece you buy today will be an antique in its own right in another 60 years.  And if you didn't pay a high price for an item and you like it, it doesn't matter if it was made yesterday - a local artisan crafted it by hand and you are helping to support a traditional and honourable way of earning a living.  See also Shopping.



Apsaras: does my bum look big in this?

Lets (almost) begin this list with something real nice - apsaras are the heavenly courtesans and celestial dancers of Hindu and Buddhist mythology.  The idea is that if you are good during your lifetime, several apsaras will be appointed to you for your exclusive use in heaven after you die (mine will be doing the washing up and ironing).  Described as "possessing slim waists and fair large hips", if you are lucky in the afterlife they will perform for you "various evolutions, shaking their deep bosoms, casting their glances around, and exhibit other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts and resolutions of the spectators".  Sweet!  Able to alter their form at will, they rather mysteriously prefer to remain looking like buxom women pretty much all of the time.  In this world you will see them carved over temple surfaces everywhere throughout Asia.  Take hundreds of photos of them by all means but remember, there will always be more apsaras just around the corner...


ATM Machine:

What you are regarded as an incarnation of in many of the countries you will visit - a walking ATM machine that talks incomprehensible rubbish but spits out fabled western wealth if only the right combination of buttons can be pushed. Many attempts will therefore be made to push your buttons, such as throwing manure onto your shoes and then offering to clean them (India), jumping up and down in front of you as you try to enjoy a view then demanding money to go away (Cambodia), and calling you a Nazi Jew in an attempt to intimidate you into buying something or going somewhere you don't want to go (Morocco). See also Tout.



A Tourist Sadu in Kathmandu

What everyone in foreign countries wants from you, all the time, for pretty well doing nothing at all.  From the guy who sits next to you in a Kathmandu temple, engages you in conversation then demands a "guide fee", to the man at Delhi airport who runs off with your bag and expects a tip for "portage", everyone in third world countries thinks you have the expense account of Donald Trump and the common sense of Paris Hilton.  By all means give baksheesh but just remember that you have a responsibility to your fellow travellers, and the more you give for no good reason, the more will be expected the next time round. Also, think of this - although your conscience might be salved by the fact that they are so much poorer than you, you are in fact helping to create a legion of beggars, particularly amongst future generations.  Why learn a trade when you can hang around foreigners and cage money off them? If you want to reward someone for good service, think first.  What is the base cost of a simple meal?  If it's only twenty baht or 30 rupees, then this is the amount to tip - never mind that it's only 80 cents in your own currency.  See also ATM Machine.



A tedious and evil necessity of travelling, unless you are visiting western countries, in which case they have "sales" and "discounts". The bottom line is, you are always going to pay more than a local, unless you are very very determined.  But here are some tips: unless you've been there before, don't start shopping immediately - see what's around and what others, especially locals, are paying for the same thing. Don't bargain over food if they have a menu of any description, do bargain (genteelly) for hotel prices if you're staying for a few days - even in six star hotels. Almost always bargain for transportation, especially at street level (the exception is metered cabs). Remember that for material goods, the first price you are given will be 2 to 10 times the price you should pay- the average is 4 times.  Offer 75 percent off the first price, but do it with a smile. Stick to your price - you don't have to meet the vendor in the middle.  If in doubt, walk away.  If you are called back, you will get the price down further. When you are not called back, you've probably reached his limit.  Then try another vendor just to be sure.  See also Shopping.


Berber Whiskey:

Mint tea and the national drink of Morocco, which the locals delight in calling Berber whiskey. After traveling across Morocco and hearing this joke 70 million times it does start to wear a little thin.  Incredibly sweet, mint tea may be served with flamboyance, poured from a great height out of a tea pot into tiny glasses, or alternatively dumped in front of you and left for you to pour yourself, depending on the class of the establishment you are in and the tip the waiter is hoping to attain.  Nice to drink, but can that much sugar really be good for you?


Chapati Mumma:

In India, these are what Princess Biriyani's turn into after twenty years of marriage and too many ghee-laced chapattis.  You never want to get on the wrong side of one of these ladies.  They're big and used to getting their own way - and they have voices pitched at the exact octave required to penetrate weapons-grade lead shielding.  On the up side, they are also often very good cooks, so if you ever find yourself in India, try and wrangle an invitation to the home of a Chapati Mumma - you KNOW your going to get well fed.



Sometimes pronounced falang, a Thai word and their name for us, meaning foreigner.  Sometimes used nicely, sometimes not.  An adaptation of this word can be pretty much be heard all over Asia.  Interestingly, the word probably derives from Ferenghi, used in Muslim Africa today to describe foreigners. According to the Adventurer’s Handbook, ferenghi is probably in turn a corruption of the word Frank, a generic term once used to describe the people that controlled Europe during the Dark Ages.  


Gulab Jamun:

The best desert in all of India, so long as you are not a diabetic.  Deep fried dumplings made from milk solids then drowned in cardamom and rose flavoured syrup.  Sounds revolting, tastes sublime.  Eat too many of these and pretty soon you'll turn into a Chapati Mumma.


Happy Endings:

This term actually has profoundly different meanings for different travellers.  For example, for one of my male friends visiting, say, a massage parlour in Bangkok it means one thing, but for one of my female friends travelling in Italy it means finding the right pair of pair of shoes in a size that actually fit.  For me a Happy Ending is scoring three adjacent empty seats on the flight home and remembering to pack earplugs, mask and a couple of sleeping pills. 


It burned down/sank yesterday: 

Ah, this one brings back some memories.  The fact is, what ever it is that you want to go to/explore/stay-at/travel on or in…it’s still there.  Guaranteed.  This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and one of the first lessons learned at Tout Finishing School – mark a newbie traveller looking at a timetable, approach them and tell that the object of their desire is gone forever, wait a moment in sympathetic silence and then offer an alternative…at 10 times the going rate. Do not be fooled by this routine.  Be strong, look them sternly in the eye and tell them to go away or you will call the police.  Some variations and examples: Morocco – foreigners are not safe on the Tangier - Chefchaouen public bus because drugs are routinely planted in their luggage by corrupt cops – take my private car instead! Thailand – the public ferry crashed yesterday – take this private boat instead!  India – the Yogi Bear Hotel burned down yesterday – stay at my cousin’s hovel instead! See also Tout.


Leave it alone, it will leave you alone: 

Be very afraid when you hear this phrase, because inevitably it will be addressed to you just prior to some aspect of the local wildlife attacking you in some horrible way - for example, swarms of mosquitoes and sand flies in Burma, marauding monkeys in Nepal, elephants in Thailand, wasps in Jodhpur and giant black hairy-arse spiders in Spain.  And yes, I am speaking from experience.  If you are travelling in the highlands of Nepal and Tibet, carry a stick or umbrella to fight off any packs of dogs and monkeys you might meet.  Don't trust random elephants, no matter how friendly they look, unless their handlers are nearby.  Never put your hand inside a tiger's cage.  Don't sit around monkeys with food in your hand.  Carry a good roll-on insecticide and use it frequently. Take out travel insurance that includes helicopter medivac. And make sure you've got a camera nearby to record it all so you can have a good laugh when you get home.  



The bull that Lord Shiva rides on, and unfortunately off the menu whenever we travel to India. If God had meant the cow to be sacred, would he have made it taste so good? Just a thought...


Neo Hippies:

You see them all over Asia - smug, self satisfied travellers wearing Indian clothes and carrying rosary beads with the red vermilion mark on their foreheads - men and women of a certain age who forgot to go home and basically hang out in foreign climes trying to subsist on 50 cents a day and look like they're enjoying it.  Many of our fellow artefact buyers dress and behave like neo-hippies - why is completely beyond me.  Just because you purchase jewellery in the third world for two weeks out of every year doesn't mean you have to give up all your sense of dress.  When asked why, some neo hippies defend their beads and tie-dye by pointing out that they are far less likely to be harassed by Touts.  May be true, but is it worth it?  I don't think so.


One Dollar:

Ethiopian kids shouting

One would be forgiven for thinking that this expression was some form of national greeting in Cambodia, where the local children routinely meet you with this shouted phrase.  The idea is that as a foreigner you are so rich, you won't miss one dollar and will therefore give one unstintingly to everyone you meet - unfortunately, should you be so generous, you would soon be broke and reduced to begging yourself.  In Ethiopia they shout a modified form of this greeting which simply goes " YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU..." bellowed by hundreds of children simultaneously for up to an hour at a time.  Ear plugs and a sense of humour come in handy at times like these.  Or a certain inherent serenity, which I unfortunately lack.  See our article on begging.


Princess Biriyani:

Princess Biriyani's Just Don't Change

In India, certain young women of the ever burgeoning middle class have developed superiority complexes from watching too much censored MTV and Bollywood.  They believe that they are princesses who should never lift a finger, work, or do anything remotely useful except travel around in their father's cars with big sunglasses on, wear what they think are the latest international fashions and drink bad Indian coffee with their girlfriends.  These are the Princess Biriyanis of India and they are legion. Biriyani, incidentally, is a dish based on rice and peas.  Once these girls are comfortably married, which is their one true goal in life, they let the figure go and very quickly turn into Chapati Mummas.



Meaning correct or proper.  In reality a word heard very seldom anymore, except in books about the Raj or on Jamie Oliver cooking shows.  See also Wallah.



Lets face it, this is a pretty important one.  As Ernest Shackleton once wrote to his wife after abandoning his assault on the South Pole while only 156 kilometres away from it “a live donkey is better than a dead lion”. Unless you are a war correspondent, when travelling learn to follow general rules regarding safety such as not looking too affluent, and don’t carry large sums of cash - or if you must, draw from a small pile of low denomination coins and notes in your pocket, well away from your main stash.  Use registered airport taxis when first arriving in a city or have your hotel send a car to pick you up – NEVER head off with the guy who approaches you with a price that’s just too good to be true – usually it is.  Don’t be out too late after dark (this goes for both city and rural areas) and always tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back.  Make sure you HAVE a way back, whether it’s a cab from your hotel picking you up at a certain time or a scheduled bus ride away to somewhere else.  And don’t give out your hotel room number to anyone, no matter how nice they seem – they can always leave a message at the front desk if they want to contact you. 


The Spanish/Catalan Obsession with Scatology: 

The Caganer

The stereotype that the rest of Spain has of the Catalans is that they are humourless, cold, unfriendly, racist and also lacking any sort of sense of humour.  And all of this is in fact true.  I would further add to this list and say that Catalans are absolutely obsessed with scatology.  Now the Spanish in general have a thing about poo (a favourite insult is “Me cago en tu puta madre” - I shit on your whore mother), but the Catalans have taken it a world further.  One special Catalan phrase is spoken just before eating: "menja bé, caga fort i no tinguis por a la mort!" - eat well, poop strong and don't be afraid of death!  At Christmas time, the typical nativity manger scene is accompanied by a very odd character – the Caganer, which translates to “the Shiter”.  And that is exactly what he is doing…taking a poo behind the stable, and not on a toilet either.  Many highbrow academic explanations have been created to explain the presence of the Caganer, but in reality the Catalans just love poo.  A further example is the Tió de Nadal, or Christmas log, found in Catalan homes during the holiday season.  What’s wrong with a Christmas log, you ask? On Christmas Day the Log is ordered to "poop" and to make him do this (because the log is of course a “he”), all the guests beat him with sticks, while singing various pooping songs, until he gives up his bounty of nuts and chocolates.  In God’s name, why you ask, have I included this aspect of Catalonian life in this glossary?  Because you deserve to be forewarned if you ever decide to visit.  And it may help you better understand the average Catalan temperament too. 

A favourite Catalan Pooping Song:

Pooping log,
poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cheese,
if you don't poop well,
I'll hit you with a stick.
Pooping log!



Where is Linda?

Deserving of a category all of its own.  On of the few words in the English language that can simultaneously be a noun (I had to get the footman to help Linda carry the shopping), verb (where is Linda? Out shopping...), adjective (Linda is on a shopping trip) or an adverb (where the hell did she go now?  She went shopping...). Whatever the usage, shopping is one of the reasons we all (well some of us) go travelling.  One thing to remember - unless you are in an established shopping mecca such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong, pretty everyone you'll meet will have an agenda that includes you buying an overpriced suit in their uncle's tailor shop.  What to do?  If you are serious about getting some good deals, do the research before you arrive.  The internet is a good place to start, but if you can find someone who's been before you (and actually likes shopping), even better.  Visit Trip Advisor or the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree and ask other seasoned travellers where to go - you'll ensure your intelligence is spankingly up to date.  One last thing...calibrate any advice you are given.  Auntie Maud and you are likely to have very different tastes in handbags and shoes.  See also Bargining.  



Someone who goes to a special internationally-based school in order to learn how to fleece you of your money.  This is why all touts everywhere are all exactly the same, regardless of their age, sex, nationality or appearance. Ignoring them just makes them try the harder, getting angry achieves nothing but the loss of your dignity and smart-mouthing them back only seems to encourage them more. This is because they have nothing to lose but time, and time is one thing they have in abundance.  The trick learned by touts and professional beggars the world over is to play on the politeness ingrained into westerners - we feel the need to respond even when being obviously harassed.  There is just no easy answer to this one.  Looking simultaneously comfortable but somewhat poor and remembering never to hold an open map out in front of you can help, but the main thing to keep in mind is they can't take your money off you unless you let them.  They can waste quite a lot of your time though. See also ATM Machine, Baksheesh and Neo Hippies



I debated putting this one in as it is actually almost mythical...except that once, it actually happened to me. Really.  On a Singapore Airlines flight, on which we were upgraded for no good reason at all.  The upgrade to business class is the dream of every economy class passenger, a virtual "Shangri-la" of the airways.  Why and when airlines do it is beyond my powers of reasoning but sometimes, just sometimes, they do.  And if it happens to you, savour every moment.  You'll find yourself back in Cattle Class soon enough.



A very popular word in India, meaning literally, "the one", which covers all sorts of things such as objects, people and occupations.  So for example, the guy who does your laundry is the "laundry wallah", someone from Texas is a "Texas wallah", and if you wanted the hot pastry as opposed to the cold one sitting beside it, you would ask for the "garaam wallah".  Not a particularly helpful word to know but kind of a fun one.  See also Pukka.


Where you from? 

Not strictly a word, more like a phrase, this is the commonest thing you'll hear out there after "but sir I have 5 children to feed" and "it is just a five minute walk".  This is the first step in a well-practiced routine to build a rapport with you and will inevitably end in a direct request for money or an attempt to extort money out of you by a less direct means. Savvy travellers will say "the moon", "Liechtenstein" or even "Ulanbataar" in response to this question - hard to build a rapport with you when you don't know what the Liechtenstein cricket scores are.  See also Tout and ATM Machine.


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