I’m in touch with my OCD side when it comes to menus, leaflets and signs. Probably something to do with all those years of writing and proofreading for a living.
So, while travelling in Asia, I felt a certain attachment to many of the signs we came across in all their misspelt, grammatically all-over-the-place glory. Indeed, I would often imagine who the person was behind the particular pen or paintbrush as they inked or painted their works of art.
Some of their results were awkward, some were unintentionally funny, while others told a powerful message through their stunning simplicity.
Here’s a selection of the most memorable….
1. The ones that really needed a qualified proofreader
I’ve heard that some English-speaking westerners offer their services to proofread signs and menus for restaurants in return for the occasional free meal. And, by the look of it, there’s plenty of work to go around. Especially in India.
For instance, there was this liquor store in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan which, instead of advertising chilled beer straight from the fridge, appeared to be offering a special brew to keep the kids happy on a hot summer’s day. And it was “government authorised”, too. Not sure it’ll catch on, to be honest.
2. The ones that were painfully in-your-face
Not ones for “beating about the bush”, the owners of this public toilet in The Philippines were very clear about their bodily function price structure. Although I’m not sure I’d be too keen paying the 10 pesos for a bath when there’s a good chance there’ll be somebody sitting next to me taking advantage of the other service on offer.
Meanwhile, any plans we had of relieving ourselves in the street were immediately shot down when we came across this sign on the outskirts of Ghandruk, a mountain village in Nepal…
3. The ones that were overly ambiguous
Visiting Hindu temples in Bali comes with a number of etiquette rules. Such as not allowing entry to women who are menstruating or who’ve given birth during the previous six weeks. Rules that, to be honest, we struggled with as we tried to balance our sensitivity to cultural differences with the rights of women.
This particular temple seemed to take the restrictions a step further by including “children whose first teeth have not fallen out yet”. And I’m still trying to work out how someone can get “impure due to death”.
4. The ones that were strangely poetic
You’ll inevitably come across a series of road safety signs as you drive along the high mountain passes of Northern India’s Ladakh region. And they attempt to get their message across using witticisms and rhyming couplets. Oh, and a liberal sprinkling of sexism.
Sometimes they’re borderline genius. Other times they’re cringeworthy. Such as the classic “Don’t gossip, let him drive”, which is just so wrong on many levels!
This one’s message, however, was well made…
5. The one that betrayed a clear social problem
The incredible nightly border closing ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border, sees a huge gathering of locals and tourists alike in what is something resembling a carnival atmosphere. And I’m happy to report that on our visit we managed to abide by the request not to use “filthy body language” throughout.
Unfortunately, it seems that “female constables” still need to be protected from unwanted attention, according to this sign at the entrance.
Note to certain Indian men: time to get your act together.
6. The one that made us change our minds about getting out of the car
5,400 metres (17,600 feet) above sea level. Air as thin as hell. A biting wind and sub-zero temperatures to test the hardiest of souls. It’s claimed that Northern India’s Khardung La is the highest road in the world. So, reaching the summit would normally be an opportunity for the obligatory selfie. Maybe even snap a self-absorbed yoga pose overlooking the valley literally miles below?
Not on this day.
“Thanks for getting us here, driver. Now let’s move on.”
It’s so cold up there, even the guy who wrote the sign had to rush the spelling of “minutes”.
7. The one that should have been read at least half an hour earlier
I’ve not actually seen a “roarming” elephant but, if I did, I can imagine I’d be terrified. So, chancing upon this sign at around 6.30pm in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka you could possibly understand the anxiety that suddenly enveloped me. Thankfully any elephants that were around must have been “roarming” off somewhere else.
However, we did hear locals setting off firecrackers later that evening in an attempt to scare the wild elephants away from their crop fields. A sad indictment of the plight of these amazing creatures as they struggle to retain their natural habitat.
8. The one we wish we’d read properly
Maybe it was the poor spelling or the willful misuse of the apostrophe, but we didn’t really pay much attention to this sign in Sumatra as we left our jungle bungalow to enjoy a beer at the bar next door. How we chuckled as we watched a family of macaques running along the rooftop with what looked like a freshly gathered bunch of rambutans. Until we realised it was the same bunch of rambutans we’d left just inside our bungalow, which had by now been ransacked.
What did you think? Have you discovered any signs on your travels that have made you laugh, cry or just scratch your head? If so, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below. Thanks!