A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday.
With everyone talking about mispronunciation of place names lately, it reminded me of a couple of times where I've been flailing (and failing) in my attempts to say names correctly. It's one thing when you stuff up and the locals tell you the right way, but what if you're getting it so wrong they genuinely have no idea what city — or island, or temple — you're talking about?
Like Tioman Island in Malaysia. I've told Malaysians living in Kuala Lumpur about the outrageous beauty of this island off the east coast of the Malay Peninsula called "Tear-min" and they've looked at me quizzically. Sometimes even excited. "Wow, it sounds amazing! I can't believe I haven't heard of it!"
Once you get a response like that from Malaysians regarding an island every Malaysian has indeed heard of, it dawns on you that Tioman is not Tear-min. But surely it sounds close enough that they'd click? Not unless you slow things down and say "Tee-oh-maaaaan" instead. Is that difference in emphasis really so confusing?
Evidently. Like the time a mate of mine did a day trip from Bangkok to the famed ruins of Ayutthaya about 90-minutes north of the city. When he returned to his hotel that night, the staff at reception (who had great English by the way) got chatting about how he'd spent his day.
Explaining he'd explored Ayutthaya, it was a carbon copy of my Tioman/Tear-min situation. Pronouncing the word as he thought accurate — and indeed the way my ears have always heard it, "Eye-you-tie-ah" — he received blank looks. Given Ayutthaya is almost as well known to Bangkokians as Angkor Wat is to Cambodians, the odds of two well-spoken Thai hospitality workers being unaware of it are roughly nil.
So my mate gave them some details about the temples and ruins to which their eyes lit up and they said, "Oh! You mean Eye-you-tie-yaaaaaah!" And then they cracked up at the silly tourist's woeful pronunciation. The hilarity! Even more so than the Tioman/Tear-min scenario, this was the mere difference of the length of the final syllable. Like a foreigner saying to an Aucklander, "I really loved Rangitotoooooooooo" and the Aucklander saying, "Nah, haven't heard of it. "
The Schapelle Corby shaggy dog tale
It's the single most riveting pile of horse manure I've ever been subjected to. And I know my manure, especially of the horse or bull variety.
The year was 2005 and I was road-tripping around the South Island. One night at a backpackers in Franz Josef, I got chatting with an Aussie girl who let me in on a little secret about Schappelle Corby.
This was just a couple of months after Corby's conviction in an Indonesian court for attempting to smuggle 4.2kg of marijuana into Bali. According to my new friend, the real (and innocent) Corby had secretly been released back to Australia by the Indonesian authorities. The motivation for this was a fraction shaky, but I was told it had been kept quiet so as not to embarrass Indonesia and sully the country's tough-on-drugs reputation.
To carry on the pretence that Corby was still in Bali's Kerobokan Prison, a Schapelle Corby lookalike had been arranged by the Australian Government under the cover of a bad taste competition in a lads' magazine. Once the doppelganger was found, thanks to the prize money offered by the mag, the government had contacted the winner, paid them a couple of a million extra bucks and then covertly done the switcheroo.
So the story went, the real Corby would live in seclusion in Australia, the fake Corby would feign mental illness in Kerobokan Prison so no-one would get too close to her and the whole charade would be done and dusted within a decade.
"You're not in media are you?" the Aussie girl asked me at the end of the night. "Because you can't tell anyone. Well, no-one would believe you anyway so it doesn't really matter".
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two and writes the music and travel blog RoxboroghReport.com.