Testing Your Travel IQ


by Harold Stephens


We use terms in our everyday life without really knowing what they mean. We talk about wine having vintage, putting our children in kindergarten, that a gun is 12-gauge or 22-calibre, that we prefer pilsner to lager—yet what do all these things mean?

When we travel it’s even more confusing; we are suddenly confronted with more terms, weights and measures we don’t understand. Strange names baffle us. But don’t let it turn you off. It’s all the fun of traveling. So let’ give it a try and test you ravel knowledge.

You are in Bangkok and decide to rent a car.  At the petrol station you learn fuel is sold by the litre. No Problem. There are roughly four litres to a gallon. But what gallon? U.S. or Imperial?

You cross the border into Malaysia, and hear the stock market report on the radio. Rubber is selling at ten Malay dollars a picul. You ask how much does a picul weigh, and they tell you a picul is 100 katis.

You drink a San Miguel beer; it tastes different than the San Miguel you drank in Manila. The barman says it’s because it’s 3.5 San Miguel export. Then he tells you Mekhong whiskey is 35 per cent proof. What’s the difference?

You want to buy a ruby. The salesman weighs it. Not in grammes. In carats. What is a carat?

Two men are talking, one English, the other an American. The American has gained ten pounds; the Englishman says he has put on more than a stone. Who gained more?

Aboard your flight you study the inflight magazine and notice it lists distances to various cities, given in nautical miles. Is a nautical miles more or less than a land mile? What, then, is a sea mile, and a knot? What did that rug salesman mean when he asked how many knots did you want? You look around Asia and see a Dynasty Hotel and a Dynasty Restaurant. And learn the Thai king is from the Chakri Dynasty. What actually is a dynasty?

We all know what a rickshaw is, but what about a trishaw, and how does it differ from a pedicab? A becak? And where does the samlor come in?

In Asia we can take a sampan or a wallawalla, dine on a junk, and cross a river in a prau. Or is it a prao? And then there is the dhow, banka, pumpboat, Macassar schooner and Rhio trader.  From which countries do they come? And how many riggers does an outrigger canoe have?

We begin to fill out our landing cards, and on the customs declaration we read that it is unlawful to carry more than US$2,000 in cash without declaring it. What’s the difference between unlawful and illegal?

To answer the questions above, first, which is larger, an Imperial or a US gallon? Before the metric system was adopted throughout Asia, all fuel — petrol, gasoline, benzene or what ever you want to call it—was sold not in litres but in gallons, Imperial gallons. The US gallon is equal to four quarts or 231 cubic inches. The Imperial gallon equals 277.42 cubic inches. Thus the Imperial gallon is larger.

Piculs and katis are still widely used as measurements in Southeast Asia. A kati is 1.33 pounds, and a picul is 100 katis, or 133 pounds.

When it comes to alcohol, the relative strength of an alcoholic liquor with reference to the arbitrary standard for proof spirit is taken as 100 proof. Pure alcohol is 100 per cent—but not 100 proof, which is approximately half alcohol, half water by volume. Most whiskeys are 86 proof—42 per cent alcohol. Wine is about 12 per cent; beer averages less than six per cent. Mekhong whiskey, surprisingly, is 35 proof, and it is not aged. The date of bottling Mekhong is printed inside the label. San Miguel beer sold in the Philippines is a strong six percent, but by law that which is exported to Asian countries is 3.5, a rather weak content.

Pilsner and lager, what’s the difference? Lager is beer stored for six months before it is used. Pilsner is merely a light lager….

The value of a gem is determined, in part, by its size. A “carat” is a unit of weight for precious stones and pearls, equal to about 3.086 grains troy, or 0.2 of a gramme. When weighing gold, 24 carat is pure gold; 20 carat gold is 20 parts pure gold and four parts alloy. In Thailand we use the baht weight for gold.

The American and his English friend who were arguing about weight: the Englishman would have gained more. The American put on ten pounds (4.5 kilos) while the Englishman put on one stone or fourteen pounds (6.3 kilos).

Which is longer, the nautical mile or the land mile? The nautical mile is 6,080 feet while the land mile is 5,280 feet. And the more knots in a rug, the better the quality.

We usually associate Dynasty with age, but what it really means is a span of time. Thus, a dynasty is the period during which a certain family rules; or it can be the succession of rulers who are members of the same family.

Nowadays the rickshaw is only seen in Calcutta and some remote towns in Bangladesh. The modern version of the rickshaw is the trishaw. It’s any pedalled vehicle with three wheels. The name trishaw is interchangeable with pedicab. In Indonesia it’s called a becak. Put a motor on a trishaw and in Bangkok it becomes a samlor, or tuktuk, and in Indonesia a helicak.

The dictionary terms for a junk is a seagoing ship used in Chinese waters, having square sails, a high stern and a flat bottom. A sampan is any small boat seen in Asian ports, propelled by single sculls over their sterns. In Hong Kong sampan taxis are called wallawallas.

Prau can be spelled proa, prao and prahu, and is a swift sailing boat balanced by a single outrigger.

In Asian ports you see sailing craft from many nations: dhows, from the Arabian Sea; Macassar schooners from the Celebes; Rhio and Bugis traders from the Sulu Sea; and banka ferries from the Philippines. Bumboats, sometimes called pumpboats, carry cargo and passengers from ship to shore.

In weapons, gauge is the size of the bore of a firearm, while calibre is the size of a rifle determined by the bullet or shell as measured by its diameter.

Finally, unlawful and illegal. Give up? Unlawful is anything done against the law, while illegal is a sick bird. Sorry. I couldn’t resist.