First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where is my Chinglish? I was promised Chinglish!

Family In Beijing Countdown: T-minus 1 week! (For those who don't know, my wife, parents and sister are touring China now, and will be coming to stay with me a few days when the tour is done.)

Chinglish, for the uninitiated, is the delightfully mistranslated English that one sometimes finds. It's a relative of Engrish, which is the same idea only in Japan.

I have to admit, I often find it quite amusing, but I feel a little guilty pointing it out - after all, the people who write Chinglish actually speak my language far better than I do theirs, so who am I to judge?

On the other hand, it has been in the news over the past couple months, so I would be negligent in my duty as an observer of life in China if I didn't mention it... right?

Anyway, Chinglish got worldwide attention recently when people started noticing that a lot of the English signs being put up for the Olympics were hysterically mistranslated. News agencies wrote about it - one of the most famous was "To take notice of safe: The slippery are very crafty," which essentially meant 'Caution: Slippery' - then wrote about edicts from the Chinese government that they were going to stamp OUT Chinglish before it could embarrass them on a global scale.

Well, when the Chinese government says they're going to do something, it very often gets done. I have looked for Chinglish since getting here, and found very little - certainly nothing like the news articles had described.

I asked some people who had been here for a while, and they were almost wistful in remembering how it had been a few years ago. I get the impression that for English-speakers, it was one of those little touchstones that could unexpectedly make them smile.

I've been asked to keep my eyes open, and I will continue to do so, but for now I'll just share what few examples I have come across.

1.) The notebook I use at work:

On the one hand, I'm flattered, of course. On the other, the 'future technology' appears to be lined paper, so I'm not sure quite what Notebook considers an 'outstanding achiever.'

2.) A store I stopped at:

You know what? It really, really was.

3.) The tag from my strainer:

OK, first, I am really glad that my strainer is so concerned about both my physical safety and the image my business projects. Second, I bet every Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade nerd out there read "and grail will make you healthy" and thought some variation of the joke "...unless you choose -- POORLY."


A story from last week. My wife and I were going out for dinner last Thursday and noted that the intersection right by my building, which has been under construction since I got here, was moving along nicely.

(They don't stop work for anything here - recently they were putting down blacktop WITHOUT STOPPING TRAFFIC. It was the responsibility of the drivers not to get crushed by the steamroller. I was crossing the street and my shoes were sticking to the hot tar.)

Anyway, we returned an hour later - and found that while we were gone, they had finished work (this is at 10:00 at night) and opened part of the road. So some traffic was rerouted, and some wasn't, and some people knew it, and some didn't, and there's no signs, and smack-dab in the middle of this 6 lane, five way intersection (which narrows to one lane in one direction, by the way) is a free-standing traffic light.

This promised great entertainment, so we sat on the edge of a small walkway leading to the mall my building is atop to watch, with our backs to a small flower garden and narrow cobblestone sidewalk.

The show was as good as expected, when suddenly Shannon turned with a start.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I wanted to make sure a car wasn't coming up behind us," she replied.

As someone who has almost been run over on a sidewalk, I have to commend my wife for her rapid, instinctual survival skills.

As I mentioned last week, I lost my Motorola RAZR. On the one hand, this is a bummer. On the other, an opportunity. I am in the cell phone capital of the world, and while phones actually aren't cheap here (there's no subsidies from the service providers like back home) they do have phones that aren't released in the US.

But I have no idea what to get! I'm not going to drop money on a RAZR because I can probably get one at home cheaper than here. So if I buy something, it has to be cool and something I can't get otherwise. I was thinking of a Sony Ericsson K790a (which I could get in the US, but not easily.)

Anyone else know of anything cool I should consider?