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Mongolia travel story

Ah yes, it’s a new month and there’s a new issue of Perceptive Travel online magazine, with the best travel stories from wandering book authors.

In May we travel to diverse spots on the globe and also highlight some worthy travel-related books and music. We welcome two authors making their first appearance in the webzine. Larry Zuckerman, author of The Potato, is an American Jew in Israel when he joins up with a tour company run by ex-soldiers to see how the politics of occupied Palestine play out on the ground in Hebron. See Make Hummus, Not Walls.

Marco Ferrarese, author of Nazi Goreng brings us a story on hard cheese and hard horse riding on a Mongolia steppes adventure. See Cutting the Cheese, Mongolian Style.

David Lee Drotar returns with another tale from Canada, this time exploring Quebec in the dead of winter for some outdoor activities of snowmobiling, dogsledding, and skiing. But with a twist… See The Blade Runners of Quebec.

Quebec winter adventure

William Caverlee reviews a few new and notable travel books: Ukraine before the conflict, overland Morocco by motorcycle, and travelers writers’ food experience around the globe. Graham Reid spins a few mash-up world music albums, but also the aptly named collection The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You’ve Never Heard. Perceptive Travel newsletter winner

Each month one of our loyal (and attentive) readers scores something useful for their travels for free. Here’s a picture of our March winner Jack with his Granite Gear pack. In April, reader Jen from New York state scored a nice pair of $90 water sneakers from Sperry.

A month from now somebody is going to have that old Timbuk3 song in their head when their future starts looking brighter. They’ll be sporting a new pair of Vibe sunglasses from Bolle with polarized lenses—a $100 value. If you want it to be you, get on the newsletter list or at least follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook.

travel sunglasses

Huh?If you can’t understand what someone said, there’s one thing you can say in most countries and be understood.


If you want to be universally understood around the world when traveling, there’s almost no phrase or even gesture that works across all cultures. A nod of the head is “no” in some places, a thumbs up is offensive in some spots, and even “mama” changes across languages.

Some linguists think they might have found the one syllable that works, however.

Yes, according to this article in the New York Times, some Dutch researchers have discovered that the questioning syllable “huh” with a rise upward at the end will be understood almost anywhere. Good news if you’re confused or don’t understand—which happens a lot when you’re traveling of course.

The researchers tested a variety of words and phrases in 10 languages, “including Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African Siwu and the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha.”

It makes sense that this syllable would rise above all others, they say, since language is about communication and a core principle of communication is making sure that you’re being understood.

“We think of this as the core of language: managing common understanding as we talk,” Dr. Enfield said in an interview. Confirming and checking with other people, he added, “are really fundamental to the use of language.”

While one of the key points of the research study is that this word is universal, the second and equally important part is that it must be learned: it is not just a grunt or expression of pain that occurs without social training. So while it’s not much of a word, it is a word.

This one word is not going to get you very far, of course, so you’ll still need a good phrase book or language app along to do more than just confirm the fact you have no idea what anyone is talking about. It’s always a good idea to learn some basic phrases and the staples yes, no, hello, thank you, and “Do you have a room?” But at least you don’t have to learn this one. You’ll land with one word in your vocabulary everywhere.

[Flickr Creative Commons photo by JoeBenjamin]

Sometimes I like to take a break from blabbing on and acting like a travel know-it-all, so here are some news stories and blog posts that have caught my eye recently. Random notes from cheap destinations and a few travel tips, preserved for longer than a fleeting tweet or status update.

China's phallus buildingFirst, no link necessary for this one. The Week magazine’s editor started an editorial with the question “How much terrorism can we tolerate?” He then noted that roughly 30,000 Americans a year die in car crashes and another 30,000 die in gun violence. That’s “the equivalent of twenty 9/11s every year.” But we seem to live with that—we assume we can’t get to zero no matter what. So why is getting to our plane so much harder than buying a handgun?

Have you ever had a nightmare about your plane landing in the wrong destination? A couple flying on Turkish Airlines from Los Angeles to Dakar, Senegal, instead ended up in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Here’s the killer quote: “When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent.”

Last month a columnist for the Daily Telegraph noted that the third-largest political party in Hungary hates gypsies and Jews and isn’t afraid to say so. Pretty depressing if you’re one or the other. (You know a newspaper column has struck a chord when even the sane comments that weren’t deleted are at 299.)

Apparently the Sherpas who serve as guides on Mount Everest, Nepal have had enough. At the peak of the climbing season in May, some 100 of them attacked three climbers who had ignored requests to let the Sherpas finish laying their ropes. The exact exchange preceding the 50-minute battle is disputed, but the general interpretation is that the Sherpas are tired of being treated like servants by rich doctors, CEOs, and lawyers who have money but no sense and the guides finally snapped.

This video recently caused quite an uproar in Thailand: Buddhist monks in a private jet with fancy electronics.

For those of us who travel like real monks—in uncomfortable economy—a bit of consumer justice was recently served. Delta got fined for not properly compensating passengers who had been bumped off their flight.

In case you got to the end of this wondering what that naughty image is all about, it’s the new headquarters of China’s People’s Daily newspaper. Apparently comments about it have been blocked on social media after the Chinese went crazy talking about “the organ of the state” while exchanging photos.

It’s time to take a break from serious travel advice again and just have a laugh, this time from Thailand. Sure, I take lots of scenic photos when I travel, but I revel in the silliness even more sometimes.

First up, there are a lot of things you’re not supposed to do in a Bangkok taxi cab. Some of them may make plenty of sense to foreigners, some may produce a scratching of the head.

That spiky thing, if you haven’t been to this part of the world, is a very smelly fruit called a durian.  The throwing up guy is kind of funny though because really, has anyone ever thrown up in a cab on purpose?

Thai travel

This other one is a bit stranger. No mooning is funny in itself, but a dog with sunglasses? Does that mean no blind dogs that need another seeing eye dog? And is that last one just a cigarette…or some kind of drug inhalation device?

Next up, no, I did not take a photo of meditating monks all gathered together. These are creepy lifelike statues of (apparently) well-known Thai monks you can buy as souvenirs and put on your shelf.

Thai travel

It’s been a rough few weeks in the usual powder kegs of the world as an obscure amateur video that poked fun at a certain religion’s founder sparked riots among the faithful. We should all give thanks that the Buddhists are so much more level-headed.

Thailand Buddhi

I traveled through Southeast Asia with a pair of Pickpocket Proof Pants from Clothing Arts. I knew I’d be navigating crowded markets, walking dark streets at night, and visiting sites frequented by clueless tourists. Bangkok tourSo I figured there would be more than a few pickpockets about looking for an easy target. Still, I was perplexed by this sign I encountered several times at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

So…all the pickpockets that might be milling about are foreigners, not locals? How did they all get in there? Did they pay the hefty $13 admission fee like the rest of us, expecting to turn a big enough profit to make up for it? They must be very successful if so…

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HanoiUsually when travelers post photos from Vietnam, they’ve got all kinds of shots of motorbikes loaded down with people and goods. You can see a few of those here in this Vietnam scooter story and I’ve got plenty more I might dribble out later. But here are a few other fun ones I wanted to share.

This first one is also of a motorbike, but this one is doubling as a place for a nap. In the middle of the sidewalk. Next to a really busy street. This guy has both amazing balance and an impressive ability to shut out noise. I would surely crack my skull if I did manage to fall asleep amidst that cacophony.

Next up, this is still a communist country, in politics anyway. Hotels and internet cafes typically have to use a proxy server or some other workaround for you to get onto Facebook or Twitter and access some sites with non-official news about the country. So you still see propaganda billboards around the country and odd sayings here and there, like this one on a straw container near Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house in Hanoi. What’s doubly odd about it is the illustration: a fat pizza guy who is definitely not from Asia.

This next photo is from the excellent Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi. Inside are all kinds of exhibits on the hill tribes and other groups prevalent in the country, with costumes, video, and more. Outside are rebuilt houses and buildings typical of certain areas. This one’s got something to do with fertility.

Gibberish t-shirts are not unique to Asia (see some from Bulgaria here), but a lot of them are manufactured here, often designed by people who have no working knowledge of the language they are using. The words are just a design element. We saw a dozen hilarious shirts in the riverside night market of Hue, one having the word “pimple” repeated about 50 times and another with a cat pictured but the words saying, “Time file so fast in busy daily life.” This one shows up the best as a photo though.

I believe she needs to quit her job and go to Hawaii. Or something like that.

Next post we’ll return to useful and practical cheap travel info. Until I feel the need to post that photo of what you can’t do in a Bangkok cab…