A rubbish zoo and a town with a ridiculously long name

Continuing the story of my Wales road trip with Piers, I want to talk about two places in particular.

First up is the Welsh Mountain Zoo, situated on the northernmost part of Wales atop a mountain, where I thought we could see spectacular views as well as animals.

Well, we didn’t quite, and this is why in a nutshell:

Half the animals couldn’t be found (enclosures/cages were empty), the ones present weren’t really interesting, and the supposed nice view was a letdown.


Welsh Mountain Zoo


Welsh Mountain Zoo view


There’s a rather blah view, which you can enjoy while you sit in a druid ring freezing your bum off.

What’s druid ring doing in a zoo, anyway?

It was inhumanly cold when we went that day, even though it was summertime (23 June). The wind was really strong, making it feel even colder. The moment we got there, I wanted to jump back into the car and drive away.

The only reason we didn’t was because we’d already paid £22 to get in.

Piers gallantly let me wear his sleeveless padded jacket over my autumn coat and, still, I froze, as the wind whipped hair into my eyes for sport.


Very windy


Very windy


I tried to enjoy the outing but I was honestly quite miserable the whole time. The only “fun” I had was when Piers and I repeatedly joked about how crap the zoo was.

Well, I suppose I did like seeing some of the animals. I mean, it wasn’t an impressive show by any stretch but I love animals anyway, so there was that.

Here’s a bunch of them:


Welsh mountain goats
Welsh mountain goats



Welsh mountain kid
Welsh mountain kid



Humboldt penguin



Ring-tailed lemur
Ring-tailed lemur



Brown bear
Brown bear



Cotton top tamarin
Cotton top tamarin



Backtrian camels
Backtrian camels



We had planned to spend three or four hours at the zoo, take some slow walks, enjoy the view, maybe have lunch, etc. But it was so miserable and disappointing that we left after an hour and a half.

We drove on to the town with the ridiculously long name.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yep, that’s the town) is the longest town name in Europe and the second longest in the world.

The name is a Welsh sentence meaning “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio with a red cave”.

Im. pres. sive. (Said with a brow-raising, dafuq did I just hear, look.)


Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch railway station house


Sidetrack: The record holder for longest place name in the world is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu in New Zealand.

It means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.

W. o. a. h. If that is not trippy, I don’t know what is.

I think it’s nuts to name a place using a convuluted sentence. It’s a bloody sentence not a name. Next, people are gonna be naming their babies in sentences, why not?

Example: Baby girl whose mother, Anne, met her father, Bob, under the big dark grey bridge by the pretty daffodils where they fell in love and Bob immediately proposed marriage to Anne using a cheezel he just happened to have in his pocket, while fluffy white clouds stood in the beautiful blue sky as silent but approving witnesses.


And the baby's name is...


There, make that a person name using whatever foreign language you like. Because you’re allowed to join loads of words together to make one word, only in foreign languages.


Okay back to Llanfair…etc.

The story is that, in the 1800s, the construction of a new road and railway crossing turned the small rural settlement into an important commercial centre, attracting all sorts of tradesmen.

Around 1860, a committee was formed to help attract even more trade and tourism and a cobbler came up with the idea of making the town have, like, the longest name in the world. (Except they didn’t reckon for New Zealanders to beat them; they should have added a few more clauses to their sentence when they could.)

It bloody worked, anyway.


Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Vovlo garage


The name is probably the only reason anyone even goes there anymore today. We didn’t find much to look at. Just unremarkable buildings and roads. A very average, very quiet town.

There are only a few small attractions in the area (2 bridges, an old toll house and a 27-metre tall column built in 1815 to pay tribute to some marquess who had lost a leg in battle), but we didn’t have time to do anything other than stop to take photos of the town name.


James Pringle Weaver


This (above) is the James Pringle Weaver visitor-centre-cum-shop. It’s the main stopping point for tourists. Inside, you can buy souvenirs such as record-breaking-size train tickets or get your passport or postcards marked with the famous Llanfairpwllgwyngyll stamp.

And this is how you say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch:


(If you can’t see the audio embed, click here.)


In Welsh, the letter w is read like a double o (w = oo). That’s easy. The hardest thing to say is probably the “ll”, which is pronounced like a “chl”, although not a hard or even soft c but more like an airy version of it (a bit like Darth Vader breathing).


Llanfair PG railway station


The actual railway station sign helps visitors pronounce the name by breaking the word into chunks, but it can’t explain the double ls.

Anyway, that was a mildly interesting diversion on the way to our next destination, Caernarfon, which was about 15 minutes’ drive away.

I don’t really want to think or talk about this town anymore after today because every time I do, I compulsively try to pronounce the name over and over to get it right and I end up with a sore tongue, an irritated throat and a brain threatening to implode on itself if I don’t stop.

So, it’s over to you now.

The problem with my name on it

I have a problem: The English can’t pronounce my name.

You see, my official name (Shen Qiaoyun) is written in hanyu pinyin, which is the English phonetic representation of Mandarin.

So the English would read it as Kiao Yoon because Q is supposed to be a hard K sound in English. Some of them even get stressed because Q is not supposed to come without a U.

“What on earth is this word?!” they’d be thinking to themselves. “It breaks all the rules of the English language!”

They’d make an attempt: “Kuh… Keeee… Kao… Keeeeowwww? Kiao Yoooon? The doctor will see you now.”

I don’t want to be called Kiao Yoon forever.


Wrong number!


So what am I going to do?

The most logical solution is to legally change my name.

But that is a massive pain in the behind. I have already done that. I changed my name once in November 2005 for feng shui reasons and had to go through the tedious process of updating records everywhere.

In fact, I only updated my driving license recently, which is exactly six years late.

I’ve also had to use a passport bearing my old name for more than five years because ICA refused to give me a new one. They just made an annotation in one of the pages in my passport showing that I have changed my name.

But no immigration officer in the world has ever thought to flip to that page on his/her own accord. I always have to spend a long time at the counter waiting for the officer to check my photo page against my arrival card, then look at me suspiciously, then allow me to turn the pages in my passport to show him the annotation.


Wrong number!


Once, a Hong Kong immigration officer even scolded me after I showed him the page. He said I should have written my old name in my arrival card since that was what was showing on the photo page.

So, now that I finally have a new passport with the right name, I never ever want to go through that process again.

In England, Piers usually introduces me as Shey for the sake of convenience because, even if the English hear Qiaoyun being said, they find it hard to say it themselves.

Piers has been practisig the pronunciation for nine months and he still says Chiao Yoon, which is close enough but not quite right.


Just call me Shey.


I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t regret changing my name because it’s been good for me, overall. It has helped to somewhat change my personality, which has in turn altered the course of my life for the better. But I wish I’d had gotten a name that didn’t start with a stupid Q.

My feng shui master had actually given me a list of names to choose from and Qiaoyun was the nicest sounding one. Many of the ones on the list sounded male or ugly, for example, Yongkang. Wtf, right?

I was talking to Piers about this recently. I told him I didn’t want to be called Kiao Yoon because kiao means dead in Hokkien and he wtflol-ed.

Life is never easy, is it?





Just remembered a good example I should have given.

When I was in England, I was online shopping a lot. I received packages from postmen and courier service men probably 30 or 40 times in all my time there.

Each time I opened the door, they would read off the package: “Kiao Yoon?”

Because there are many different courier services in England, I was always getting different people, so I didn’t even try to educate them as to the pronunciation of my name.

I suppose I could use the name Sheylara for my online shopping from now on, but there will still be situations where I can’t use it (bank, insurance, clinic, etc) where people will have to try and read my name off a form. These are the ones I want to avoid!