Today, together with emails of people asking me to enlarge my penis and give money to dodgy Nigerians, I received one of those interesting but useless viral emails that people forward to their friends thinking it would brighten up their day (although I suspect it has already been making its rounds for quite a while). I would usually delete emails of this kind but this particular one inspired me to propose a solution to the waning interest in Visit Malaysia Year 2007.
The email was innocently titled “A Small Town In Austria” and it featured a newspaper article about the problems of residents in a sleepy 32-house Austrian village near Salzburg on the German border. The residents were growing tired of tourists, mainly from Britain, stealing signs from their not-so-quaintly named village. It’s hardly a wonder since the village is called “Fucking”*.
A local tourist guide who was interviewed complaints that Salzburg and its surroundings offered many interesting sights “but for the British it was all about Fucking.”
But could the tourists really be blamed? I did further research on this (not on fucking, but on places with unusual names) and discovered that it doesn’t take a lot to get people excited when it comes to oddly named places. Nobody starts out wanting to give embarrassing names to their town or village but unfortunately although they may be innocuous in their own languages the names may cause speakers of other languages to regard them as funny. Our capital may sound normal to our ears but not to some Americans who think that any capital city sounding like (or spelt as?) “gouala loubour” has comedic value (see here: answerer 7) . Another American blogger is “shocked” at the name of "Shah Alam, Selangor" but she does admit that she’s geographically impaired.
Of course, this phenomenon cannot be confined to less-informed Americans and such because it would be normal for us too to be amused by foreign place names which has comical meanings in our own language. When I was a child, my family took a road trip on the west coast of the USA and we passed through a town called “Gila Bend” in Arizona ("gila" means "crazy" in Malay). My dad insisted that we stop the car and have my sister and I pose for a photo in front of the sign. At that time I thought it was a meaningless though slightly hilarious exercise. But then I didn’t know that many years later I would be blogging about funky toponyms.
Well, in view of this proclivity our Ministry of Tourism should pay special attention to our own towns in that special category. We already have towns with names of sufficient lasciviousness that should be celebrated . Residents of “Getting Horny” (Menggatal, Sabah), “Dangling Dick” (Batang Berjuntai, Selangor) and “Fishtrap Vagina Village” (Kampong Pantat Bubu, Terengganu) should wake up to the brand potential of their settlements.
That way, they could reclaim their dignity and announce their places of origin with pride. There is no need for folks from Batang Berjuntai to sheepishly abbreviate their town to “BB” when asked where they are from or be the butt of jokes when disclosing their hometown in full. I am talking here about the old joke where you ask somebody from BB where they come from and upon hearing the town’s name in full, comment “Me too. But which town?”
Of course, the ribald nature of these town names may not be too apparent to English speakers. Well, we should look at the Welsh and take a leaf out of their books then. In Wales, town names are displayed on signs in Welsh and English. There is no reason why we could not have both Malay and English on town signage.
To protect the brand value of these towns, there should also be laws passed against changing their names just to suit current (boring) sensitivities. I recently had a holiday in Langkawi and I looked up some excursions to Pulau Kentut Besar (Big Fart Island) and Pulau Kentut Kecil (Small Fart Island). In my schooldays, these were two islands that were circled in bright red ink in everybody’s Longman’s Student Atlas. Alas, the wet blankets have changed their names to Pulau Intan Besar (Big Diamond Island) and Pulau Intan Kecil (Small Diamond Island). Why would anyone want to visit them now? I hear the spoilsports also propose to rename Batang Berjuntai as "Berjuntai Bestari". Where is their sense of tradition?
It would also add to the town’s charm if tourists’ attention could be brought to folklores relating to the names of the places. There is an interesting story as to how Pulau Kentut Besar and Pulau Kentut Kecil got their names. According to legend, there was once a Malay prince who ate half-cooked rice during a wedding feast. His majesty suffered indigestion and farted the two islands, the size of each island corresponding to the size of his fart. If that doesn’t make you want go there for a camping holiday with a week’s supply of baked beans, I don’t know what will.
Similarly, Batang Berjuntai has an interesting folklore. In ancient times, a princess and her entourage stopped by near a river to rest during her long journey from Perak to Johor. She saw a man bathing on the opposite bank and asked her lady-in-waiting, “What is that strange object attached to his person?” Her lady-in-waiting replied, “Ba …” Okay, you know I’m making this up but it will make a hell of a story to tell credulous note-taking German tourists.
Well, I think I’ll have to do further research on this subject before I submit my full report to the Ministry of Tourism. In the meantime I’ll book a holiday to the mountain of Wank in Bavaria to get some ideas. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can ask a local, “Excuse me, you wanker. Where is the nearest post office?” without getting beaten up. Oh, I’m going to have so much fun.
* It means “Fock’s people” in the local language. The sign underneath means: Please, not so fast!
A town called Fucking
Much ado about names
Be careful of what u name
Graham Norton calls Austrian tourist office to ask about Fucking (video)