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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Only Engrish spoken here

I impress Petunia by lifting a bus and ponder why flu is so "popular" in Hong Kong. Plus a very tall lady in Seoul. English as she is spoke, in Asia.

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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How tall exactly are women in South Korea?
The highs of travel in Korea/ illustration: Vijay Verghese.

"Excuse my Engrish velly bad," said our host, haltingly. Then he beamed, gestured for us to sit, and went on to explain his night job – teaching English at the university. By day he's a hotelier. “This is Robby,” he said. “Your general manager?” He motioned expansively with his arms. “New Robby.” Indeed the lobby had been transformed. An English professor who doesn't speak English may seem an oxymoron but, in South Korea, things are never quite what they seem. I had earlier met a lady who blushingly revealed she was "about 1.8km tall". Her brother was "about 1.9km". That's long. A romantic interlude with her could take the better part of the day – and this, just to get as far as the dimpled knees.

English as she is spoke, has many forms, ever since Pedro Carolino wheeled out his 19th century Portuguese-to-English conversation guide with many illuminating examples like, “I shall not forget nothing what can to merit your attention.” Exactly.

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My Thai phrasebook is equally precise. Among the suggested openers is, "I can lift this vehicle." This is pretty standard conversation for Godzilla. Apparently it works in Thailand too. You might try it at the bus stop. And an oft-utilised closer must be, "I do not wish to meet your mother."

Thank heavens for phrasebooks. I delight in telling people, "I am not French," another handy snippet. This is especially pleasing to immigration officials and speeds things up when I hand over my brick of an Indian passport with five dog-eared booklets held together by rubber bands. The reason my passport always runs out of pages is the tremendous official welcome I receive all over the world with every country vying to bestow on my humble document, the largest, most ornate, visa stamp possible. This is akin to signing a guestbook. They want to be in. I am honoured, and frequently delayed, by all this largesse.

At a posh Bangkok shopping mall I sat down to lunch when something caught my eye. It was a door sign with bold lettering that read, "This exit is alarmed." Now I was too. In the central Ratchaprasong neighbourhood where rampaging reds torched malls and cinemas, an overtly agitated door is not a comforting sight. What if the shop windows were alarmed as well. They were. I left.

On my Thai phrasebook, a suggested opener is, "I can lift this vehicle." This is pretty standard conversation for Godzilla. Apparently it works in Bangkok too

Safely back in Hong Kong, a friend revealed that "Flu is very popular." Of course. Almost as much as the iPad. An elderly lady had returned from China having picked up the much feared avian influenza virus and, as sneezes mounted, the city was on high alert. Reassuringly though, the doors were not alarmed. My computer technician called later. "I am your engine," he cryptically announced. "I see." "My college will come soon," he explained. Righto.

Then there is the name game. In Hong Kong, men of a certain vintage came with solid, weather-beaten names like Peter, Stephen, Donald, or Robert. You could trust them with the outcome of one-country-two-systems democracy, unless they wore a bowtie. Now it's over to the new generation – Petunia, Chrysanthemum, Twinkle, Money, Champagne, and Goldilocks. I once met a man called Mannix Lux and confess I had no idea what to say. Yet, lurking on Hong Kong's barren rock, I have uncovered both gracious civility and Cretaceous Agathas, Sarahs, Enids and Beulas (names regularly voted among the world's most unsexy). There is hope yet for this proud and varied island.

In India I have waited for a "regular goat" to cross the river (as the express ferries were too expensive) and sought parking at the "backside" of buildings. As an habitual early bird I have caught flights that were "preponed" perhaps because postponing them – or sticking to the schedule – would have meant admitting to overbooking and dealing with irate passengers.

But why stop there? English has become a global language with its ability to absorb, adapt and transform. Language is a tool to be moulded. So if you are offered a packet of peanuts labelled, “For indoor and outdoor use only,” just smile. It might limit your options but won't detract from the eating. I'm sure there are as yet unknown and unspeakable things that people are doing with peanuts in places neither indoor nor outdoor.

Or take the hairdryer that comes with the printed injunction, “Do not use while sleeping”. Then there is the wicked Japanese food processor that darkly cautions it is “not to be used for the other use”. More toe-curling is the Swedish chain saw with this terrifying caveat: “Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.”

I barely blink now when staff at McDonalds in Hong Kong enquire, "Mepchu?" The first time someone tried to mepch me was in 1984. I found it quite disturbing. For the uninitiated, mepchu is the fast rote version of "May-I-help-you?" all squished into a single word. That is the genius of Hong Kong. But how would you react in China if you chanced upon a "Deformed man toilet"? Our advice is to ensure you do "not use it for the other use."

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