If only someone had told me…

How many times have you travelled and said to yourself “If only someone had told me that so and so means so and so (usually the opposite) in this country” or “I thought it would be like a village there with no toilets but it turned out to be just like a Western country”..

Well here I am writing a list of ‘so and so’ which I found during my travels.. The blunt and brutal honesty. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

1. It’s not okay to say okay in Brazil



Usually used as a symbol of “OK” all over the world, never.. wait let me emphasise.. NEVER ever use this hand sign in Brazil.

To put it simply, it means to take it up your arse. So when you ask someone to take a picture of you and your friend/partner/dog/cat/whatever you fancy, the moment you feel like giving this hand signal to say “okay”, quickly change it to a thumbs-up instead.

2. “A friend of a friend of a friend got his arm chopped off in Brazil… because he was wearing a Rolex watch and hung his arm outside his car”

I was told this before I travelled to Brazil.

Common sense is highly uncommon these days. Now if you were travelling to a city with a high crime rate carrying a huge camera, a bum bag, a flashy Rolex watch, flashy shoes and clothes, you might as well hang the sign of “Rob Me” with neon lights on your forehead.

The number of tourists I saw in Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) carrying a huge bum bag and cameras with them makes me wonder if people are naive or to put it simply, stupid travellers. Any part of the world you go to, if you dress and act like a tourist, be prepared to get ripped off!

3. People in Brazil speak Spanish and there are hot men and women everywhere.. “Can you get a hot model for me?”

Correction. People in Brazil speak Portuguese.. Brazilian Portuguese. Any attempts to talk in English will only alienate you from the locals. They appreciate if you talk in Portuguese no matter how broken it is. Any attempts to claim that America is the best place in the world might even get you deported (I’m exaggerating here. Just please do not travel like a loud-mouthed naive American like the few that I saw in Brazil). Get out of your comfort zone, go to the streets and talk to people! Not only will you get to know the city more but you’ll also be able to polish your Portuguese 🙂

And yes Brazil is a huge exporter of gorgeous people (like any other country) but that doesn’t mean that everywhere you go there you find super models. Like any other country, they have a mix of the good and not-so-good. So if your sole aim to go to Brazil is to ‘get-laid’, I’d suggest you spare the Brazilians the agony of having to put up with a gringo like you and travel elsewhere instead.

4. It’s never “just there” in India

When lost in India and you ask for directions, the typical answer you’ll often get is “It’s just there.. Just go straight”. And you travel with this false assumption of “oh it must be nearby”. An hour later and still the “it’s just there” place is nowhere in sight. You stop to ask a pedestrian the whereabouts of the place and guess what answer you get “It’s just there.. Just go straight”.

5. It’s easier to tell a joke to a cow than to a Singaporean

Yes it does sound harsh but it’s the truth. Try telling a joke (the dry witty ones that usually get a lot of Ha-Ha’s in Australia) and you’ll be met with the sound of crickets in Singapore. The pain starts when you have to explain your joke to the Singaporean and then only will they laugh. It’s painful really.

It all started when I was shopping in a store in Orchard Road and was at the cashier to pay for my purchase.

Cashier: (scanning the barcodes of the mountain of things I bought)

Me: “So how much damage has been done?”

Cashier: (looks at me blankly) “Ma’m, if there’s any damage you can always return the things with a receipt and tags intact”

Me: (huh?!) “No I meant how much damage has been done to my wallet.. you know.. for the things I bought”

Cashier: (lightbulb! laughter ensues)

Me: (can’t believe I had to explain my joke)

6. Are you even talking in English? (in Singapore)

Another word of wisdom on Singapore – you will never be able to understand them. Singapore must be the only country where English is the official language and still you can’t understand it. It makes a native English speaker wonder if they know English after all! Oh if you try to explain to a Singaporean in proper English, they won’t understand it. You’ll have to explain to them in Singaporean English (or Singlish) as they call their version of English.

For example,

Singlish: Can or not? — Standard English: Is it possible?

Singlish: Borrow me $5 can? — Standard English: Can you lend me $5?

7. When in Africa, follow the African time

Concept of time in Tanzania (and I guess for the majority of Africa) is non-existent. So if you’re an impatient, organised, everything must happen in a timely manner kind of traveller, you are up for a HUGE challenge.

At the restaurant in Tanzania, expect your meal to arrive after half an hour or even an hour after you placed your order. And don’t be surprised if they come back in an hour and tell you that the meal you ordered is not available! This happens everywhere, even when you’re the only one in the restaurant.

To truly enjoy your experience there, you need to lose this concept of time and as the Africans say, “go with the flow”. Really! It’s worth a try!

8. “One for the road” in Tanzania

I experienced this in Tanzania whenever we were about to leave for any destination. Our local Tanzanian friend would always say “One for the road” which if you take it literally would mean having a beer before you go. Perfectly normal, right? One for the road is perfectly harmless you would think. Looking at your watch (if you choose to wear one in Tanzania. I didn’t as it’s futile. See #7), you think that it’ll just take 20mins max maybe?

Wrong! One for the road means many a bottle of beers which means you’ll be at the pub/bar/anywhere that has alcohol for a good hour (if you’re lucky) or two (which is mostly the case). Which means you end up reaching your destination a “little later”, but then again in Africa I think you’ll give a person a heart attack if you were ever on-time.

9. What! There are roads and buildings in South Africa and it’s safe to drink the water out of the tap?!

The reaction you get from people when you say you’ve chosen to travel to any country in Africa is simply hilarious. From “It’s so dangerous there. Are you crazy?” and “What food will you eat there? People are starving!” to “You should watch Russell Peters. He says people only talk in clicks there”, you will learn to disregard all of these as soon as you land in South Africa.

In regards to the language, English is widely spoken there. The language of the clicks, or Xhosa, is spoken too but I guarantee you will not be able to emulate any of the clicks or even learn to talk in Xhosa there as English is more than sufficient. As for the water, yes tap water is safe to drink there. I was told that South Africa has the 2nd best water in the world. I’m not quite sure which country is on the 1st of the best water list. I can safely assume that it is not Indonesia.

I can also safely assure you that there is food in South Africa. Wipe out that image of a starving child from your mind. I’ve had tasted really good local South African food (like pap, braai, biltong, malva pudding, chakalaka) and also the HUGE variety of cuisines you get there from Indian, Cape Malay (fusion of Indonesian and Malay), Italian, Chinese to Japanese.

10. Japanese are quite conservative

Quite the contrary actually. Visit the Akihabara district and you might even find vending machines dispensing used school girl panties for men (see image on right). 

If you ever venture into the wrong side of Shinjuku in the evening (like I did due to my inability to read maps properly), you’ll be greeted with many a girls in high school uniforms outside promoting “love hotels”.

Tokyo is a city brimming with kinky sex. Here you can find love hotels with different themed rooms. Posters of women dressed as high school girls tantalise frustrated businessmen to call and use their service. Pornography takes shape in Manga comic books depicting women (again dressed as school girls) as naive and tickles the erotic fantasies of Japanese men. Visit the Don Quijote department store in the Akihabara district and next to the Maid Cafe where girls dress up as french maids (I found it to be perfectly harmless but then again I’m not quite sure what Japanese men are into), you’ll find a whole floor dedicated to sex toys and all kinds of sex costumes. Conservative, you were saying?

“Japan is about as kinky as sex around the world gets. Cute doll-like girls and frustrated salary men, love hotels and pornography everywhere.” – http://www.roadjunky.com/

11. “I don’t like Indonesia.. They don’t even speak English there”

Ever heard of the term – When in Rome, do as the Romans? Well I would suggest that you apply that whenever you go travelling. If you are willing to learn Spanish in Spain, Italian in Italy and Portuguese in Portugal, then my friend, it is not too painful to learn Indonesian in Indonesia.

I have always believed that learning a local language makes your travels so much more special. Why travel like a tourist and keep away from the locals? Why not talk to the locals instead and make new friends! Stop travelling like a naive American, and start being a Worldly Traveller!

12. When get caught, just go Bollywood – in Indonesia



This happened to a cousin of mine. When she got caught by the traffic police in Jakarta and did not know what to do, her “get out of jail free” card was to sing Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and the traffic police let her go away scot-free.

Hence, if you are ever caught in Jakarta, just go all Bollywood! (If that fails, some ‘cigarette’ money surely helps).


Disclaimer: I have nothing against Americans. Just against stupidity. And it’s unfortunate that some of the Americans I bumped in Brazil exhibited the ‘stupidity’ trait.

A specimen for your delight:

Whilst at a money exchange, an American girl asked me – “What currency do you use in Australia?”

Me: “Australian Dollar”

Her: “Oh I thought you used Euro. Aren’t you guys part of Euro?”

Me: (oh dear) “Umm no. Australia is a different continent.”

Her: “So what language do you speak in Australia?”

Me: “English”

Her: “No. (speaks every word slowly) What language do you speak in Australia? Australian?”

Me: (I can’t believe this) “English. We speak English. English!”


3 responses to “If only someone had told me…

    • Sorry for the late reply. For some reason, I was unable to view your comment. I’m glad it made your day 🙂 Every time I visit Singapore, I always come back with interesting stories!


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