Much like little kids go to the zoo to see the new and wonderful animals, people travel to human zoos outside their own to see new ways of interaction. In Shanghai, pale devils can be seen observing the locals (or transplants like me) eat stuff like snake, pigeon, rat, dog and cat, while they gutlessly gasp at our brave stomachs and refuse to participate. I've heard "barbarian" quite a few times, and it offended me. I can probably speak English better and have better table manners than those flower-shirted tourists, yet they call me a "barbarian"? Once I said "Excuse me?" in an American accent and they all scampered off.

Wide-eyed and dazzled, the tourists wander among the human zoo animals, observing the sights, living a slight mindfuck, but always disdaining from actual participation, because it is too strange for their hard-wired heads and their "Western" cultures. Soon, they get sick of the new scenery, and yearn for the old days and leave, having acquired the "been there, done that" bragging rights.

Some delve into new cultures, the backpackers, and enjoy the mindfuck to the full, a full "high", one might call it. They eat the strange animals, gesture like fools trying to imitate the animals, and sometimes live among them for a bit. Inevitably, they crash and burn when they realize that the culture here is the same old boring life routines as in America, just with less sugar. That's right, nobody lives on the Great Wall, except for the souvenir vendors. Off they go, back to America, disappointed with the lack of magic in travel, and return to their dreary lives, until the next opportunity for international mindfuck presents itself.

A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
Robert Louis Stevenson


I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;--
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie,
And, watched by cockatoos and goats,
Lonely Crusoes building boats;--
Where in sunshine reaching out
Eastern cities, miles about,
Are with mosque and minaret
Among sandy gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far
Hang for sale in the bazaar;--
Where the Great Wall round China goes,
And on one side the desert blows,
And with the voice and bell and drum,
Cities on the other hum;--
Where are forests hot as fire,
Wide as England, tall as a spire,
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts
And the negro hunters' huts;--
Where the knotty crocodile
Lies and blinks in the Nile,
And the red flamingo flies
Hunting fish before his eyes;--
Where in jungles near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,
Lying close and giving ear
Lest the hunt be drawing near,
Or a comer-by be seen
Swinging in the palanquin;--
Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
All its children, sweep and prince,
Grown to manhood ages since,
Not a foot in street or house,
Not a stir of child or mouse,
And when kindly falls the night,
In all the town no spark of light.
There I'll come when I'm a man
With a camel caravan;
Light a fire in the gloom
Of some dusty dining-room;
See the pictures on the walls,
Heroes fights and festivals;
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys.

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved

I really like Thomas Swick's definition of travel:
Today I think of travel as anything that extends one's realm of experience or expands one's lexicon of acquired convictions and occurs beyond the backyard (this distinguishing it from reading).
From "Charmed Lives: Reflections of a Travel Editor on Abroad and Home"
The Oxford American. March/April 2001, p. 58.

Swick relays in his article a story about "traveling" to a friend's house, where the style of parenting was 180 degrees from anything he knew. In his mind, this was traveling to a foreign place as much as going to Paris.

In basketball, traveling is a moving violation in which someone moves both feet without dribbling the ball. It is legal to move one foot (called a pivot), and in professional basketball often it is overlooked when used as a precursor to dunking, just because the masses are watching basketball to have fun, not to make sure that all the rules are followed precisely.

When a player is caught traveling, the ball is turned over to the opposing team, and one of their players takes it out of bounds.

The Thlipsi Hotel*

Cambridge First Certificate in English is an international exam open to learners of English as a foreign language. Not too long ago in Greece everyone wanted to pass First Certificate, or at least possess a forged copy. Part of the exam is an oral test, and once ex-pats in Greece could earn good money with the British Council in June and December doing FCE oral examining. If you were dispatched to examine in the provinces for a week or so, you could be lucky and have a good time, especially as along with the hourly rate there was a generous daily allowance for food, drink, mobile phone cards and what not. The nicer provincial postings such as Samos or Crete, were reserved for seasoned examiners, and rookies would be sent to less appealing places like Agrinion, Kozani and Ptolemaida. Also, if you were very unfortunate, you might be teamed up with some of the dreaded Dragon Ladies, a kind of Brit Council knitting circle of ex-pat matrons who had had their feet well under the table of Greek FCE oral examining for years, arriving in Athensbiannually by broomstick from their various Greek islands. Despite virtual tenure, they had only the haziest notion of what oral assessment entailed, as their chief purpose was to get fatter in tavernas afterwards.

Oral examining was about the most boring thing I have ever done, and I have worked at an Unemployment Benefit Office and stacked shelves at Sainsbury’s. You sat in a hotel room, and interviewed a succession of mostly teenaged candidates, using a set of pictures and pro-forma questions as prompts. I would get so bleary and punch-drunk towards the end of the day that I would often ask the last few kids the same questions over and over in the one interview. The British Council have now reduced the hours examiners may do, maybe in part because the kids complained they were being tested by repetitive glassy-eyed zombies. I think also that the Dragon Ladies have been dropped. At the last briefing session I attended at the end of the nineties, they were all having kittens at the news that lateness would no longer be tolerated, and afraid that examining might therefore eat into shoe-buying time.


‘Oh, Jesus Christ, they're sending you to Xanthi? Worst hotel in Greece, that one in Xanthi.’ The Xanthi posting was a hardship posting, a place new examiners were sent to test their mettle. In the depth of winter I left Athensand flew to Kavala, whence a taxi took me on to Xanthi and the glass-and-ticky-tacky fleabag that was the Hotel Thlipsi. It stood next to a main road, shuddering as lorries passed. The hotel had been built for summer, all big windows, marble and high ceilings, but this was December in Northern Greece, where the raw cold can cut you in half. I went up to my room, showered and dressed at speed before hypothermia set in, then faffed briefly with the useless rabbit ears on top of the telly. No picture, only a blizzard on every channel.

My fellow examiners, Eva, Greek, and Jim, a Canadian resident in Crete, were sitting in the bar when I went down, wearing gloves and scarves and probably wishing they had brought duvets as well. Eva asked Sakis the simian barman for a tomato juice. He had never heard of it: ‘you want me to squash a tomato?’ There was no irony in his this, just irritable incomprehension, which was the only feeling we were to see him express in our ten-day stay. So we had beers just to chill us through completely, and then went out for dinner.

Breakfast at the Thlipsi was a dried-up turd of a croissant, a glass of orange squash, and tepid Nescafe. The croissants were displayed on a tray on the buffet table like the contents of a canopic jar, the insipid squash in big jugs alongside. Sakis poured left-over squash back into the jugs with no attempt to conceal the action, publicly adjusted the sit of his bollocks and sneezed over the croissants. One morning, unable to face this, I phoned reception and asked if I might have breakfast brought to my room. After an interval I answered my door to Sakis, who wordlessly thrust a tray at me and stomped off. I think I ate the croissant because I would have needed the carbs. Only now do I envisage Sakis dropping it on the floor and picking it up several times on his way up the stairs, or gobbing into my coffee pot because it was the nearest handy receptacle.

After each day’s oral tests we repaired to the glacial bar, where there would be a number of parents and teachers of the kids we’d examined. A large lady in a leopard skin two-piece and much clanking dangly jewelry accosted me, and in an American accent gushed ‘are YOU Steve?!?! Oh! You SO impressed my stoodent! Do you remember Costas?’ Half the male population of Greece answers to Costas, so I had to admit I did not. It turned out that Costas was a wannabe actor, and we had digressed a while from the set questions to discuss his ambitions, which I had shared at his age. ‘Oh, he was so impressed! You are sure to get an invitation to dinner!’ I didn’t hang around in the bar, just in case this actually came to pass, but I was vain enough to feel flattered anyway. Later when I related the incident to an old hand, he said the woman buttered up examiners like this every year, in the hope it might sway them into awarding her student a higher grade.

The catering at the Thlipsi was not representative of Xanthi. Northern Greece is much better fed than central and southern Greece, in my view at least, and most evenings we dined splendidly. Only two items did not please. In one taverna I asked if they had ameletita. This means ‘not studied’ and is a quaint euphemism for testicles, which I had eaten and found surprisingly good in Kavala years before. The waiter said they had none that evening, but he would see to it that there were some the following night. And there were. They were not like the ones I remembered from Kavala, unfortunately. Either my tastes had changed or these were the big spongy nads of some unfortunate member of a different species. The other occasion was when Jim decided we were spending too much on food and should go down market a bit. We ended up in a dive that turned out to be a pick-up joint for prostitutes. Ladies who could not be mistaken for other than what they were on a dark night at a hundred paces came and went with their punters. We were served a great cowpat of fava, which is a puree of yellow peas, and dish of chicken livers in a yellowish stock, each bowl resembling an unemptied chamber pot.

I was taken back to Athens by taxi. The driver was a bit worried that there was a problem with the car and said we needed to get it checked before we set off. We stopped opposite a garage where three blokes were smoking and scratching their balls. ‘You got an electrician there?’ my driver called. They did not respond, but instead inspected the sky, scuffed their boots in the dust, and ostentatiously ignored us. At length one ambled over to ask what the problem was, and then tell us there was nothing they could do about it. ‘Bloody provincials’ said the taxitzis, ‘mam, skatá, náni*, that's all they know about.’ (*‘Grub, crap, kip’)

That is not fair, of course. As well as the troglodytic Sakis at the Thlipsi, I remember the cheerful waiters at the taverna we frequented and their concern for our comfort and stomachs, and their generosity with the wine. There is a very strong Turkish presence in Xanthi, and I also remember the open friendliness of the Turkish kids I interviewed, and the kind old man who showed Eva and me round a tiny mosque, and gave us prayer beads as a memento of our visit. So all in all I’m glad I went.

*'Thlipsi' is Greek for 'gloom'. I have forgotten the place's real name.

Originally a blog post

Trav"el (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Traveled (?) or Travelled; p. pr. & vb. n. Traveling or Travelling.] [Properly, to labor, and the same word as travail.]


To labor; to travail.




To go or march on foot; to walk; as, to travel over the city, or through the streets.


To pass by riding, or in any manner, to a distant place, or to many places; to journey; as, a man travels for his health; he is traveling in California.


To pass; to go; to move.

Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

Trav"el (?), v. t.


To journey over; to traverse; as, to travel the continent.

"I travel this profound."



To force to journey.


They shall not be traveled forth of their own franchises. Spenser.


© Webster 1913.

Trav"el, n.


The act of traveling, or journeying from place to place; a journey.

With long travel I am stiff and weary. Shak.

His travels ended at his country seat. Dryden.

2. pl.

An account, by a traveler, of occurrences and observations during a journey; as, a book of travels; -- often used as the title of a book; as, Travels in Italy.

3. Mach.

The length of stroke of a reciprocating piece; as, the travel of a slide valve.


Labor; parturition; travail.



© Webster 1913.

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