Just plain weird: TV as a travel experience

Some foreign absurdities need no translation. Like, for instance, watching people wilfully injuring themselves in the pursuit of cash.

That's the great thing about Japanese TV: it doesn't matter that you can't understand a word of what's being said. If you can understand the looks of pain etched on the contestants' faces, then you're pretty much in the picture.

Watching TV in Japan is a travel experience. And that's weird, because you're not supposed to watch TV when you travel.

That's wasted time - time that could be spent looking at churches, or waiting for buses, or whatever it is you spend the rest of your holiday doing.

However, that little box in the corner of your hotel room shouldn't be ignored. Not when grown men are running around a studio punching little plastic animals that keep popping up all over the place, or swinging through obstacle courses trying to delay their inevitable plummet into the muddy waters below.

Yes, I admit it, I watch telly when

I travel. Not a lot - just enough to give me an idea of how the locals tackle their entertainment. And to see what The Simpsons sounds like dubbed into whatever language they speak in those parts.

Japan stands out because it features people hurting themselves for no apparent reason and it needs no translation. It's actually funnier making up your own version of what's going on in front of you.

Most Japanese game shows seem to involve a "physical challenge" element and most look pretty painful. I'm not sure what the whole thing can teach you about the Japanese psyche but it's great to watch.

Television in the US, on the other hand, is ultimately disappointing, because it's just like Australian TV, only worse. Sure, you have 500 channels to choose from but most are playing even cheesier versions of Two and a Half Men, or the replay of a golf tournament from 1992.

When you consider that the shows we import are the "best" of US TV, you don't even want to think about the worst.

About the only saving grace in the US is the ad breaks, which feature either multimillion-dollar extravaganzas that are entertaining in themselves, or bargain-basement local commercials where guys in giant hats bully you into buying things you don't want. Now that's worth wasting some time on.

France is a great place to watch TV but only because every time you flick on the telly you think you have accidentally tuned into SBS after 11pm. It's actually mid-afternoon but there's still some art-house flick on that seems to involve people having a serious discussion for a few minutes and then taking their clothes off.

Another country whose telly needs no translating is Poland; while the English-language shows there are dubbed into the local language, the original language track is thoughtfully left underneath the dubbing. So, if you can block out the sound of some Polish guy doing every single voice in an episode of Seinfeld, you can actually follow the show.

Even our own Rex Hunt has been given the dubbing treatment in Poland, although why Rex's ocker yanking of fish out of the sea appeals to Polish audiences is beyond this viewer.

Maybe the translations aren't 100 per cent correct. I know an Australian who lives in Warsaw and who once got a call from one of the translators asking for her help on Rex's show. "What does 'yibbida yibbida' mean in your language?" the translator asked.

Actually, mate, we're still scratching our heads over that one.

Anyone visiting a Spanish-speaking country would be mad

not to flick on the telly during a game of football. The commentary will be a complete mystery until that stunning moment when someone scores a goal and the man behind the microphone loses all sense of reason.

It will start with the drawn-out scream of: "Gooooooooooooooal!" From there, you'll just have to wait and see. I've heard commentators break into song they're so excited. Ray Warren could learn a thing or two from these guys.

As amazing as that is, the grand prize for bizarre foreign television must be awarded to Thailand. Now, this is something I would never have even realised had a friend not explained it but here goes. In the Western world, crime shows are pretty popular. True-crime shows as well. So we're used to seeing crimes re-enacted for entertainment purposes.

The Thais take it a step further. See that guy carrying a gun, bursting into a bank and holding

up the place? And see that frightened teller shaking as he hands over the cash?

Right. They're not actors. They're the actual people who were involved in the crime. The perp is the real perp. The victim is the real victim. They're recounting exactly what happened, for the cameras.

The purpose of this set-up is unclear. Still, it's a true-crime show in every sense of the word.

Puts the Japanese to shame, really.