A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z




Zaigi (ဇော်ဂျီ)

Burmese term for a yogi (fig.), but also the name of an alchemist from Burmese folklore, who possesses supernatural powers. READ ON.


1. Arabic. The cenotaph in a Islamic tomb.

2. Hindi. Name for a type of thread made of fine gold or silver wire used in traditional Indian and Pakistani garments, especially those made from silk.

zat (ဇာတ်)

See zat pwe.

zat pwe (ဇာတ်ပွဲ)

Burmese. Classical dance drama in −or from− Burma, with performances usually based on the Jataka or Ramayana stories. READ ON.

zayat (ဇရပ်)

Burmese. Prayer pavilions in Buddhist temple compounds in Burma, with a function and style very similar to the Thai sala.

Zebra Blue

Common name for a species of small butterfly in the family Lycaenidae and with the scientific designation Leptotes plinius. Above, the wings are white with black lines and markings, and with a bluish-violet shine that emanates from the base of the wings. Below, the wings are white, with a zebra-like pattern in pale and dark brown, and with two ocelli at the apex of the hindwings, which end in a short tail. Though this pattern remains the same year-round, the dry-season form is paler than the wet-season form. The head, thorax and legs are mostly white, apart from the large black compound eyes, brown bars on the top of the abdomen, and dark rings around the lower legs. The antennae are banded, with black and white. This butterfly is also commonly known as Plumbago Blue, and in Thai, it is called phi seua fah laai (ผีเสื้อฟ้าลาย).

Zebra Dove

Common name for a bird of the dove family Columbidae, native to Southeast Asia. It is also known as barred ground dove and has the scientific name Geopelia striata. In Thai it is called nok khao chawa (นกเขาชวา), i.e. ‘Java dove’. It is a small and slender bird of about 20 centimeters in length, of a brownish-grey colour with black-and-white barring. There are however two varieties, i.e. the Pilbara reddish form (fig.) and the Kimberley grey form (fig.). Whilst its face is blue-grey with bare blue skin around the eyes and black bars on the sides of the neck, breast and belly, the top and back of its head is brown. It has a long, narrow tail with white tips to the tail feathers and its underside is pinkish. Zebra doves love to dwell on the ground and are often seen in pairs (fig.). Both in Southern Thailand and Indonesia, the birds are popular as pets and in Yala, the Asean Barred Dove Tournament is held annually, in which competitions are organized to find the most beautiful bird with the most attractive cooing call.


Name for a type of domestic cattle with the scientific name Bos indicus, and found in South and Southeast Asia. It is characterized by a fatty hump on the shoulders, drooping ears and a large dewlap, and is hence also referred to as humped cattle. It has more sweat glands than other types of cattle, and is well adapted to high temperatures. In Thailand, Zebu are used mainly as beef cattle and draught oxen (fig.), as well as for byproducts such as hides, which in Isaan are, together with the ears, also consumed as food (fig.). In India, this kind of cattle is regarded as sacred (fig.). According to Hindu tradition, the holy cow was the first creature to arise during the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (fig.), and as such it is in iconography sometimes depicted on waves of milk (fig.). In the Vedas it is detailed that cows are to be treated with the same respect as one's mother, because of the milk they provide, and some Hindus even see a linga (fig.) in the hump on its back. When a so-called holy cow in India dies, it is taken to a dumping ground by some dalit, social outcasts, i.e. people without a caste or varna. Here they are left to decay after stray dogs and other scavengers may first consume the better parts. Many of the protagonists in Hindu and Buddhist mythology are associated with cattle, such as Krishna, who is described as a cowherd, and Sujata, who was a milkmaid, whilst the mount of the god Shiva is a bull named Nondi. In the same tradition, oxen are used in the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony (fig.) at the beginning in Thailand, a brahmin ritual in which the oxen are served seven several food baskets to forecast the future for the coming year, according to which basket the oxen eat from. Also known as brahman cattle, and in Thai called wua india (วัวอินเดีย) or ko india (โคอินเดีย), i.e. ‘Indian cattle’. In Vietnam (fig.), it is known as B Zebu (fig.). In Thailand, there are several varieties and hybrids, that are categorized and named after both colour and purpose, with primary colours being black, reddish brown and off-white, while other colours are hybrids, whereas their purpose varies from dairy, meat and draught animals, or a combination of those, and even sport, i.e. bull fighting, which is mainly practiced in the south and typically with a variety called koh noht (โคโหนด), that in English  is known as Thai Fighting Bull (fig.), Southern Thai Fighting Bull or Southern Fighting Bull, and which is more bulky and fierce than the other varieties found elsewhere, such as the common Black Zebu, used mainly for meat, or the Thai Milking Zebu used for dairy. Fighting cows are in general also referred to as wua chon (วัวชน), literally battle cattle’. Read also the extraordinary story of Nandi Baba (fig.), and see POSTAGE STAMP, and TRAVEL PICTURE (1), (2), (3) and (4).

zedi (စေတီ)

Burmese for chedi, i.e. a —usually solid— type of pagoda enshrining sacred objects, though the term is also used for any shrine or sacred depository. Besides the usual chattra or plih, i.e. the multi-layered royal umbrella (fig.) atop a zedi, which in Burmese is referred to as a hti, some bell-shaped pagodas also have a circular ornament with horizontal radiating beams (fig.) just underneath the chattra and coined after the flower of the Star Flower Tree (fig.), which in Burmese is known as hkray bain. Sometimes transcribed zeidi or ceti, and occasionally also referred to as zedi taw.

zedi taw (စေတီတော်)

Burmese. A synonym for zedi, also transliterated zedi daw and pronounced zedi do.

zee kwet (ဇီးကွက်)

1. Burmese name for a golden owl in Myanmar, which is made made of papier-mch and believed to bring luck and prosperity to a family. READ ON.

2. Burmese name for the Spotted Owlet. Also transcribed zi gwe.

Zen (禅)

Japanese. Term for a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed mainly in China and Japan. It emphasizes self-realization and meditation, and discourages ritual practices. In Sanskrit called Dhyana, and in Chinese known as Chan (禅), which besides ‘Zen’ and ‘meditation’ can also mean ‘to abdicate’. In Zen, daily life and practice are not separated, it includes the inner life with outer, while focusing on what one is doing at the moment, while clearing the mind of all thinking and being in the moment, which is believed to increase the power of intuition and achieve a blissful state of mind. It is said to allow for instant Enlightenment, here and now, rather than in some future chaht. The Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong (fig.) is a famous centre of Zen Buddhism. See also kare-sansui.

zenana (زنانه)

Arabic. Segregated residence for Muslim or Hindu women. See also purdah.

Zen circle

Name for a kind of Zen ink painting. It consists of a simple black circle that represents the entire universe made in a single, perfect stroke. Besides this it also symbolizes the void, wholeness, perfection, strength, elegance and Enlightenment. Despite the fact that this common object seems quite simple, it is actually rather difficult to paint successfully. It is said that, like in Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, only one who is spiritually whole can paint a true Zen circle. Besides the circles in black ink, also more artistically and colourful Zen circles can be found, like those decorated with gold leaf. Some are painted on paper or canvas, others may be printed on cards and sold as commercial art. Many are accompanied of the imprint created by a Japanese seal, usually in red and similar to those used in China, which are called yin zhang. In Japanese, Zen circles are called en shou, literally ‘circle countenance’ or ‘circular aspect’. See also THEMATIC STREET LIGHT.


A language related to Sanskrit in which the Avesta is written, a religious book of the ancient Persians and their descendants, the Parsi.

Zeng Zhang Tian (增长天)

Chinese. ‘Deity that enlarges’. Name of one of the Four Heavenly Kings. He correspondents with the Indian lokapala Yama or Virudhaka, who guards the South. In Chinese tradition his attribute is a sword. In Sanskrit, he is known as Virudhaka, and in Thai as Wirunhok.

zha can yong (炸蚕蛹)

Chinese. ‘Deep-fried silkworm pupae’. Name of a true Chinese street snack, that consists of the chrysalises of silkworms, that are impaled on a skewer and then deep-fried, usually in a wok.

zhan chi fu tou (展翅幞頭)

Chinese. ‘Spreading wings head cover’. Name for the black hat with two short, wing-like flaps of thin, oval shaped boards, worn by feudal officials in the Ming Dynasty, and also known as wu sha mao. It is an adaptation of the earlier zhan jiao fu tou worn by court officials in the Song Dynasty. The names for both kinds are sometimes shortened to fu tou.

zhan jiao fu tou (展角幞頭)

Chinese. ‘Spreading horns head cover’. Name for the black hat with two elongated, horn-like projections, one on each side, as worn by Han court officials in the Song Dynasty. It was allegedly designed in order to keep distance between the officials so they couldn't whisper to each other during court assemblies. Depending on the wearer, the elongated appendixes could be straight or somewhat curved, either downward or upward. The style was later adapted by the Ming Dynasty to become the zhan chi fu tou. The names for both kinds are sometimes shortened to fu tou. Perhaps, the style of these winged hats may itself have evolved from the pu tou.

Zhang Fei (张飞)

Chinese. Name of a late 2nd to early 3rd century military general, who served under the warlord Liu Bei (fig.), and was among the earliest to join this lord and later founding emperor of Shu Han, together with Kuan U (fig.), thus sharing a brotherly band amongst them. Zhang Fei and Kuan U accompanied Liu Bei on most of his early exploits, fighting for him in various battles, including the Red Cliffs Campaign, the capture of Yi Province, and the Hanzhong Campaign, all fought over a period of ten year, between 208 and 218 AD. Zhang Fei was assassinated in 221 AD by two of his subordinates, who cut off his head and took it with them when defecting to the side of the enemy. Today, Zhang Fei often features as a character in Chinese Opera, where he is depicted with a white face decorated with black spots surrounding his eyes like a mask, black bat-shaped eyebrows, and black spots with curls around his mouth. Zhang Fei is venerated up to this day, especially in the city of Langzhong (阆中) in northeastern Sichuan Province, where he was killed when mobilizing 10,000 troops in order to lead them to meet-up with Liu Bei's main army at Jiangzhou (江州). His remains are also enshrined in a temple in this city.

Zhang Heng (張衡)

Chinese. Name of a 1st and 2nd century AD polymath, who lived from 78 to 139 AD, i.e. during the Han Dynasty, and due to his various successful achievements as an inventor, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar, is sometimes regarded the Leonardo da Vinci of ancient China. He was educated in Luoyang (fig,) and Xi'an (fig.), and is noted for many ancient Chinese inventions, some of which that have been registered as a world’s first, such as water-powered armillary sphere (fig.), an instrument to locate the position of various stars and to represent astronomical observations; an odometer that consisted of a carriage with a mechanically operated arm that struck a drum every 1 li, i.e. a Chinese mile measuring around 500 meters, while another arm would struck a bell or gong after 10 li had been covered; a south-pointing chariot, a two-wheeled vehicle with a figure mounted on top that always pointed southward and acted as a compass; as well as the world’s first seismometer called hou feng didongyi, which was invented in 132 AD (fig.). His name is also transliterated as Chang Heng. See also TRAVEL PICTURES.

Zhang Qian (张骞)

Chinese. Name of a 2nd century BC imperial envoy and explorer from China during the reign of Han Emperor Wu. He was the first official diplomat to bring back reliable information about the world outside of China and his missions played a key role in opening up the Empire to international commercial trade. His pioneering work, travels and explorations are associated with the Silk Road.

Zhao Gong Ming (赵公明)

Chinese. ‘Zhao, the Just and Bright One’. Name of the most influential and popular Chinese wealth god. READ ON.

zheng (筝)

Chinese. An ancient Chinese zither, that is to say a multiple-stringed instrument, with a flat soundbox, which is placed horizontally and played with the fingers and a plectrum. It has an arched surface and may have 13 to 26 strings, stretched over individual  and movable bridges. In ancient times, the strings were made of silk, though today metal strings are commonly used. On the right side of the bridges, the strings are plucked by both hands (fig.), while on the left side, the strings can be bend to change the pitch or to produce vibrations in sound. This ancient instrument purportedly derived from a small bamboo instrument that initially was used by herdsman. It is a similar instrument to the Vietnamese đn tranh, and is often referred to as gu zheng (古筝), with gu (古) meaning ancient.

Zhenwu (真武)

1. Chinese. ‘Perfected Warrior’ or ‘True Warrior’. Name for the protector of the North. READ ON.

2. Chinese epithet for the tortoise-snake (fig.), symbol of the protector god of the North. READ ON.

zhenzhi (镇纸)

Chinese. ‘To press down paper’. Name for traditional paperweights, i.e. objects used in Chinese calligraphy to press the paper when one writes or paints, to keep it in place. They come in pairs, one for each end of the paper, and typically consist of a rectangular bar, usually made from wood, but sometimes from bronze, jade or bamboo. Habitually, these bars are at the top decorated with a Chinese calligraphic text.

Zhong Kui (鍾馗)

1. Chinese. According to some the name of Kui Xing, the god of examinations (fig.), before his deification. Also transcribed Chung K'uei.

2. Chinese. Name of a character from Chinese mythology who, similar to Kui Xing (fig.), was also an outstanding scholar with a disfigured appearance and who was unfairly denied examination honors by the Emperor. He committed suicide (according to one version by hurling himself against the palace gate until his head was broken) and makes his reappearance as a powerful vanquisher of ghosts and demons. He is a popular figure in Chinese folklore and a popular door or portal guard, used to keep evil out of homes. As a Chinese door god, he is identified with the military general Yuchi Jingde (fig.). He purportedly is able to command an army of 80,000 demons. He is usually represented as a fierce looking bearded man, sometimes depicted standing on one leg. Mythological characters with similar backgrounds or service functions are sometimes blended together and are spoken of as if they are a single entity. It is therefore unclear if Zhong Kui is indeed another character from Chinese mythology or actually s Kui Xing himself (see point 1 above). Also transcribed Chung K'uei. See also Imperial Examinations (fig.).

Zhong Tan Yuan Shua (中壇元帥)

Chinese. ‘First Commander of the Central Alter’. Official title given to the Taoist child-deity Nezha, after he was deified. In English, the title is usually translated as ‘Marshal of the Central Altar’.

Zhong Qiu Jie (中秋节)

Chinese. ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’. Name of a festival which is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with full moon (fig.), usually sometime between late September and early October, and known in Vietnamese as Tet Trung Thu (Tết Trung Thu). It is observed for lunar appreciation and moon watching, as the moon is then at its brightest, as well as to give thanks for the harvest. During the festival, especially Chinese and Vietnamese people, traditionally eat mooncakes.

Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节)

Chinese. Another name for Gui Yue, i.e. ‘Ghost Month’, which falls on the 15th lunar day of the 7th lunar month, which is known as Zhong-Yuan and refers to the middle period of the year. It is the birthday of the Hell Officer, who has the right to pardon ghosts. On this day, all the ghosts can leave hell and travel to the human world for food. Due to superstition, any Chinese people won't get married in this month. Often shortened to simply Zhong Yuan (中元).

Zhou Bo Tong (周伯通)

Chinese name for Jiw Pae Thong.

Zhou Gong (周公)

Chinese. ‘Duke of Zhou’, that is the Zhou Dynasty, who after his death, became a Taoist deity. READ ON.

zhu (竹)

Chinese for ‘bamboo’. In Chinese mythology, bamboo is a symbol for longevity and the word in Chinese is homonym with another character (祝), meaning ‘to invoke, pray to, wish’ and ‘to express good wishes’. Bamboo has hence become a Chinese symbol of good luck and longevity and can often be seen in Chinese art and architecture (fig.).

zhu (主)

Chinese for ‘lord’ or ‘to host’. It is a compound of the character wang (王), meaning ‘king’ or ‘ruler’, and a dot (丶) on top of the character wang. See also CHINESE CHARACTER FORMATION & ETYMOLOGY.

zhu (砫)

Chinese for ‘ancestral tablet’. It has a pictophonetic character, that consists of the words shi or dan (石), meaning ‘stone’ and which suggests the meaning, and zhu (主), which means ‘lord’ or ‘to host’ and is used to provide the sound. See also Chinese ancestral tablet.

Zhuang (壮)

1. Chinese. Name of an ethnic minority group that lives primarily in the mountains of the Guangxi region in southern China. With an estimated 17 million members, they are the largest minority group in China. The traditional clothes they wear vary according to different areas. In Longyi, for example, the traditional daily outfit of women consists of dark, loose and wide trousers, and a dark jacket, with a blue edge on the collar, blue buttons, and blue lower sleeves, whilst on the head, they wear a towel, though during festivities they wear a more colourful attire (fig.), with silver headgear and ornaments (fig.), that all in all can weigh as much as 15 kilos per individual (fig.). The practice of wearing silver is a remnant of the past when Zhuang people were self-supporting farmers that traded by means of bartering, without the use of money nor banks. Thus, in order to save they would stash silver, which they could also wear as ornaments. During festivities, young Zhuang girls dress in a knee-high skirt, with puttees around the calves, and have far less silver ornaments than the adult women of this tribe and no heavy headdress, but instead wear an ornamental silver hairpin (fig.). See also Tay and Nung.

2. Chinese. Name of a language spoken in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi.

Zhu Bajie (猪八戒)

Chinese. ‘Pig of the eight precepts’. Half-man half-pig character from Journey to the West. He was once an immortal Field Marshal called Tianpeng, commander in charge of the Heavenly Naval forces, the 100,000 soldiers strong army of the Milky Way. One day he was intoxicated and flirted with Chang-e, the moon goddess, for which he was banished to the mortal world. In the process of his rebirth however, something went wrong. Due to an error at the Reincarnation Wheel he ended up in the womb of a sow, turning him into a man with the features of a pig. He is capable of 36 methods of transformation and has the power of cloud-traveling. He often behaves like a real pig with a voracious appetite for food and sex, and is always looking for a way out of his duties. At the end of the pilgrimage he was therefore relegated to cleaning the altars of Buddhist temples in perpetuity, perhaps an explanation of why pig's heads are often part of Chinese offerings (fig.). Also known as Zhu Wuneng and in English simply called Pigsy. See also Xiyouji.

Zhu Ge Liang (诸葛亮)

Chinese. Name of one of the most famous and accomplished statesmen and strategists in Chinese history. He lived from 181 to 234 AD, during the Late Eastern Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms Period, in which China was divided into tens of self-governing regions ruled by warlords. In the narrative of the Three Kingdoms (fig.), this well-known scholar, whom other intellectuals nicknamed Crouching Dragon, was recruited by the benevolent warlord Liu Bei (fig.) to be his counselor. To this end, Liu Bei and his two most loyal generals Kuan U (fig.) and Zhang Fei (fig.) went to see the gifted statesmen at his thatched cottage in Long Zhong (隆中), which also became the name of the strategic plan that Zhu Ge Liang eventually presented to Liu Bei. Initially not immediately able to meet Zhu Ge Liang due to circumstances, Liu Bei ended up visiting him three times. Hence, by showing his sincerity and eagerness, Zhu Ge Liang accepted the post of counselor and the triple visit, known as an episode in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms called San Gu Mao Lu (三顧茅廬), i.e. ‘Three (Humble) Visits to the Thatched Cottage, became an idiom to describe a talent scout, i.e. someone who sincerely and eagerly searches for a skillful person to invite him or her to a certain position.

zhu sheng (竹笙)

Chinese for bamboo fungus, a kind of net-bearing mushroom used as an ingredient in Chinese haute cuisine (fig.). It grows among bamboo groves in southern China and has a net-like structure hanging down from its conical cap, which gave it the nickname veiled lady. Whereas the word zhu means ‘bamboo’ and refers to the place where it is found, the word sheng is actually the name for a small gourd-shaped musical instrument with bamboo pipes (fig.), similar to that used by some Thai hill tribes (fig.). Initially an expensive delicacy reserved for special occasions, its price has over time dropped due to advances in cultivation. Its botanical name is Phallus indusiatus.

Zhu Wuneng (猪悟能)

Chinese. ‘Pig understanding power’. Another designation for Zhu Bajie.

ziarat (زیارت)

Arabic-Urdu. A sacred Islamic burial chamber, a shrine.

Zigzag Bridge

Chinese-Japanese landscape architectural design of pedestrian bridges that cross oriental garden ponds (fig.) and which merge the concept of feng shui, according to which straight lines attract evil, with esthetics. The bends are said to stop the evil spirits from following a person, as evil spirits can only travel in a straight line. See also Moon Bridge.

zi pai (字牌)

Chinese. ‘Character cards’ or ‘letter cards’. A type of elongated playing cards used in China (fig.), and that at first sight are somewhat reminiscent of domino tiles. There are 80 playing cards, printed in either red or black, and each has two identical Chinese characters on it, one at the top and the other mirrored at the bottom. A full pack holds 80 fixed playing cards, that consist of 56 cards with black print and 24 cards with red print. The black cards are divided into 4 identical sets of 14 cards, whilst the red cards consist of 4 identical sets of 6 cards. Furthermore, there are 4 series of 2 sets of 10 cards each and consisting of a mixture of both red and black cards, with numerals running from 1 to 10. The numbers 2, 7 and 10 are always printed in red, as they are considered the most valuable subjects with which special series can be formed, while others are black. Both sets are numbered from 1 to 10, with one set using ordinary numbers as in simplified Chinese, i.e. 一, 二, , , , , 七, 八, and 十; while the other set uses numerals spelled in the official form, known as banker's anti-fraud numerals, i.e. 壹, 贰, 叁, 肆, 伍, 陆, 柒, 捌, 玖 and 拾. In addition to the 80 fixed cards, the pack may also include one or more loose, special subject-cards (depending on the edition), that act like western joker-cards. With the exception of the single special subject-card, all other special cards come in couples, and feature characters in ordinary and official form, as the sets of fixed cards do. Also transliterated zhi pai.


A theoretical belt of twelve astral signs in which lies the solar orbit. In Thailand both the Chinese and the regular zodiac are used. In Thai the twelve astral signs are called rasih and the circle of the zodiac ‘chakrasih’. The escutcheon of Nakhon Sri Thammarat shows a zodiac (fig.). The word zodiac is derived from the Greek zoo-o (ζώο), meaning ‘animal’. See also dao prajam wan and Chinese zodiac. See also THEMATIC STREET LIGHTS (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7).

Zodji (ဇော်ဂျီ)

See Zaigi.

Zo-gji (ဇော်ဂျီ)

See Zaigi.

Zongkaba (宗喀巴)

Chinese name for Tsongkhapa.

zou shou (走兽)

Chinese. ‘Walking quadrupeds’ or ‘walking beasts’. A name for Chinese Imperial roof decoration.