Category Archives: Weird

Love Most Absurd

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged man who will die single and lonely, love can sometimes be a frustrating emotion. Think about it, somebody develops an deep attraction for somebody, and they might say and do foolish things. They get rejected, and in the doldrums of despair, they say and do equally foolish things. I have been both married and divorced — both loved and spurned. So, trust me. I know.

I was thinking about this because recently — by complete accident — I happened on what has to be one of the most absurd places in Changzhou. There is actually a small museum dedicated to the pain of heartbreak. It actually has curated items and other rooms that just defy rational description. Instead of describing it further, I think it’s just best to let some pictures do the talking.

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These few pictures do not adequately capture the level of surreal absurdity that can be seen here. In short, this place really has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes, it feels more like an avant garde art installation than an actual museum. Either way, it’s a lot of mindbogglingly goofy fun.  It’s downtown and in the MOOC shopping center. This is the plaza that used to be Golden Eagle. It’s located on the uppermost floor.

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Forgotten Wujin Weirdness

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As noted elsewhere on this blog, the area around and beneath the Wujin TV Tower can be a little weird and creepy. This is especially true for the abandoned retail spaces beneath the tower. That area used to be dedicated to eyeglasses. However, that eventually moved out and to the sunken shopping plaza beneath Hua Yuan Road. You cannot see it in the above photo, but all the entry points to that underground retail area are now blocked off. The above photo is just but one of many. This is likely due to subway construction. So, what did this area used to look like? I think I took the following pictures in 2015.

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Pretty much as abandoned as the circular concourses beneath the tower itself. However, before this place was totally blocked off, there was some semblance of life down here.

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The eye glasses had moved here from beneath the tower. But, even when this was open, it was only at one end of what was essentially abandoned subterranean retail space. However, that was not the weirdest thing down here. The most surreal thing down here were some of the posters that were in one of the men’s bathrooms. These were public service announcements regarding urination.

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Um, rainbows?

At any rate, this whole sunken plaza is on Line 1 of the forthcoming subway. Wujin’s Xintiandi Park and the Tower is a stop on that line. So, this underground retail space will likely be re-purposed. And, who knows, with the metro may come new life. However, part of me has a suspicion the above three posters will not be part of that new life.

 

Down a Grape Flavored Rabbit Hole

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Originally, the thought was to take my new ebike and seek out Cangshan Temple in Jiangyin, but as is usual, the weirdest things are always the ones not expected. The Huangtu Grape Corridor was one of them.

But first, where and what is Huangtu? It’s the part of Jiangyin that is right next to Xinbei. Actually, it’s considered a village. The part of it next to the Changzhou city line looks the most urban. The more east you go, the more rural things get. The prime industry here is agriculture, and more specifically, the cultivation of grapes.

So, on my way the above mentioned temple, I saw the “grape corridor” and said, well, why not? The things I ended up finding were not necessarily celebrating grapes. Rather, there were a lot of public signage and tiny parks dedicated to Chinese patriotism.

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This includes a tiny park in honor of Lei Feng. This seems a little odd, since Lei Feng was born in Hunan Province, and he died in Liaoning when a telephone pole fell on him. As far as I can tell, he had no living connection with Huangtu or Jiangyin as a whole. Lei was a member of a transportation unit within the People’s Liberation Army. To this day, his image and likeness lives on as an intended symbol of being a “model citizen.”

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There are other things to see in the area. It does function as an integrated green space as part of a residential community. Huangtu people do live around these parts — which gets into something else.

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A lot of the buildings have vibrant, colorful pictures painted on them. None of it has anything to do with Lei Feng. But then again, Huangtu has little pockets like this in a few other places.

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The more I wandered around, it got weirder. I eventually found an area of the village with cannons.

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I won’t include a picture of an anti-aircraft machine gun.

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But here’s a rocket launcher!

Ok? What gives? Why does this town have old artillery pieces laying around? I was able to figure that out due to the ample signage, but none of it was in English. As I always say, the camera translator on Baidu Translate is sometimes my best friend. The military and patriotism theme in this part of Huangtu is likely due to this guy.

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This is 徐超 Xu Chao. There’s nothing on him in English on the internet. However, he was a battle hardened Chinese general. He had fought in both the war against Japanese Occupation and in the civil war that followed that. Unlike Lei Feng, Xu Chao was actually born in Huangtu.

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Although, it doesn’t look like his former residence is open to the public. Eventually, I moved on and found the temple I was looking for. It was closed and underwhelming, so you could say learning about Xu Chao was the highlight of this jaunt into Xinbei’s closest neighboring village. All of this is roughly five kilometers from where B1 bus turns west towards the Changzhou North Station. An intercity bus making local stops comes out this way. I do have to admit one thing. The last time I visited Huangtu, I left quite unimpressed. Times change, and so do perceptions.

 

Searching for Wujin’s Train Station

Question: In the Changzhou Prefecture, how many train stations are there?

Answer: Two? Changzhou Station and Changzhou North?

Wrong!

Answer: Three? Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, and Qishuyan?

Wrong again!

The keywords in the question are “Changzhou Prefecture.” So, that includes the city of Liyang to the south. They have high speed rail on a different route to Shanghai. So, while they have a station, you can’t actually take the train from Changzhou to Liyang. If you are using public transportation, the only option is a three hour bus ride. So, the answer is likely more around “four.”

I thought about this because I once tried writing trivia questions for Quiz Night at OK Koala. However, some of the questions in my music section seemed to revolve too much around the post-rock bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mount Zion.

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Godspeed’s most recent album. Think bleary instrumental rock that also uses violins and cellos. It’s the perfect soundtrack to writing a memoir about overcoming a midlife crisis (which I have been doing a lot of, recently). I was also listening to this while writing this post.

 

While they are currently my favorite bands, I realized that much of my quiz reveled in needless obscurity only I would likely know, and so I never finished it. I did want to fact check one thing, however.

 

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Apparently, Wujin has a train station. A Chinese friend, a few years ago, told me that she grew up near it. So, I decided to see if I can find it. The other issue is this: Baidu Maps can sometimes not be trusted. I have spent a lot of time traipsing through empty fields looking for “Martyr’s Memorials” that simply didn’t exist. As for Baidu, the app claimed it was a long-but-straight-forward trip.

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Roughly, 35.5 kilometers from my apartment in Xinbei’s Huai De Ming Yuan housing estate to a part of southern Wujin that is actually closer to the city limits with Yixing than it is Changzhou’s city center. Much of the trip took me along Heping / Changwu Road. (The name changes, once you cross the bridge into Wujin). For the most part, it was simple ride even after I turned off of Changwu Road. Until….

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I ran into some construction. These shipping containers I think functioned as like a makeshift foreman’s offices. It was completely blocking the road. I nearly gave up, but if you notice off to the right, you can actually see a train. So, I looked to see if there was a narrow path around. There was. This was on the other side.

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I thought the rest was about simple. However….

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The building I suspected of being the train station obviously was not. There is another thing to consider. There are plenty of narrow farm roads in the area. I tried to stay off them, but I couldn’t help myself.

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My photo archive always needs more Chinese scarecrows!

Essentially, vineyards make up a large part of this area. These are likely not wine grapes, as they look a lot like the type I see sold along the side of the road. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. That’s just to say: it’s a local agricultural product. That was reinforced once I actually found the train station.

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One vineyard had been harvesting it’s crop and loading it onto a freight truck. Well, what about Wujin’s train station? Don’t get your hopes up.

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It looked pretty abandoned. That got me thinking, though. What about the train parked there? My guess is this: if this place is used at all, it’s for freight only. It is so far removed from an actual population center that it makes absolutely no sense for passenger traffic.

As for my proposed trivia question. How many train stations in Changzhou? Technically, five as of this counting. However, this place in Wujin is so obscure, it almost doesn’t count. There is a way around that: reword the question. How many high speed rail stations are there in the Changzhou Prefecture? The answer to that is still four, I think. Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, Qishuyan, and Liyang.

A Return to the Church that Wasn’t

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

–Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a current podcast obsession of mine. It delivers fictitious radio news broadcasts from a small, dusty, and utterly insane American desert town. It’s a place where all conspiracy theories are true, and the fabric of reality unravels all the time. The laws of physics and objective reality just don’t work in Night Vale. For example, the above quote is actually a variation on this well known maxim:

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck … it’s probably a duck.

That’s just pure logic. Only, Welcome to Night Vale gleeful turns stuff like that upside down. Just because something looks and sounds like a duck, Cecil is suggesting, doesn’t mean it really is a duck. You could be hallucinating. Your brain could be confused. You might be possessed by a ghost, and it’s distorting everything you see.  So, you might not be seeing the creature’s true nature — it could actually be, for example, not a duck but a psychotic octopus with a penchant for expensive silk neckties and large top hats. I made the well dressed octopus up myself, but it’s a fairly good example of the mind-bending silliness Welcome to Night Vale offers on a regular basis.

Image courtesy of Cincinati Magazine http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/artsmindsblog/speak-easy-cecil-baldwin/
Image courtesy of Cincinati Magazine http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/artsmindsblog/speak-easy-cecil-baldwin/

 

What does this have to do with Changzhou? Sometimes, I have recalled the above Cecil Palmer quote while wandering around the city. When you are a foreigner living in China, not everything is exactly what it seems. So, again, If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. There is a perfect example of this at Gehu Lake in Wujin.

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This looks like a Christian church, right? Well, it actually isn’t if you go by what a Christian church actually is. I first found this place back in 2014 or 2015, I think. That was a long time before this blog existed. I wrote a lengthy essay about it for T-Guide, which was the precursor of the SupCZ Wechat channel and print magazine. So, if it’s not a church, then what exactly is it? It’s was built as a wedding hall. So, it’s a venue that can be rented. A potential visitor will not find regular Catholic masses or Protestant services here,  because it’s not a place of worship. There aren’t resident clergy here to privide spiritual advice or direction. To riff on Cecil Palmer: If it looks like a church, quacks like a church … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

Well, that was several years ago. I recently returned to Gehu / West Tai Lake (two names for the same body of water). It wanted to see if anything had changed since I left Wujin for Xinbei. The answer is …

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No, not really. In 2018, the half built construction site next to the “Not a Church” looks exactly the same as it did in 2015. This was supposed to a themed plaza dedicated to the wedding industry. I don’t know the full story behind it, but it seems the funding dried up. But then again, what exactly do I know?  Not a lot. there really isn’t a lot of information about this place online. I did find this part a little funny.

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Notice the English part of the sign. I had been walking around this thing trying to peer into its windows for like fifteen minutes. I did the same back in 2015. The only difference, all these years later, is the sign and a bored security guard sitting by an open door to the building. I said, Ni Hao to the guard. He didn’t care. I noticed the “keep out” sign only while l was leaving.

Recent Snowmen

In a thoroughly unscientific poll of one German guy, it hasn’t snowed this badly in Changzhou in at least ten years. For those of us who have lived in this city for awhile, it goes without saying. Some years, we don’t get any snow at all, and if we do, it’s just a dusting. In this regard, I liken Changzhou to a place like North Carolina. It’s so rare, that when it does happen, people freak out a little — unlike people in Maine, Michigan, or New Jersey, where blizzards of a least one meter of accumulation do occur. One of the more interesting things I found this snowstorm is this: people took to the streets and expressed their creativity in crafting snowmen. One could argue they rarely had the chance to do so over the past couple of years. Here are some snowmen I have run across over the past few days. Oh, and the creepiest one is at the end.

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Luqiao and the Nature of Chinglish

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For me, Chinglish has two valuable uses. First, it is a huge source of entertainment. I am a native English speaker, and I have been an English teacher for a very long time. This language has been my professional business as a poetry student, a college writing instructor, a published writer, and as an EFL teacher in China. Second, it has uses in the classroom in with Chinese students. The purpose there is never to mock but to use it to engage students on the differences of native language versus learned language. So, trust me, I have a vast treasure trove of Chinglish pictures. By the way, a Chinese person could easily do the same in the West be taking pictures of absurdly bad Chinese characters some Americans have chosen as tattoos.  Anyhow, so sometimes, I actually go out and seek out Chinglish so that I can grow my archive. I often do that at places like Luqiao Market in downtown, Changzhou.

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Why Luqiao? It’s simple logic. Chinglish can easily be found on public signs or on clothing. So, if you were to go looking for examples, a huge clothing market really is the easiest place. Chinglish there is low hanging fruit that is easy to pick.  So, on my latest wandering around Luqiao, what did I find? This…

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I am from New Jersey, so that makes this extra hilarious. There is no town in the Garden State with that name. Trust me. Jersey folk would have mocked and ridiculed any municipality named Stomach Parboil out of existence a long time ago. Sarcastically making fun of each other is how Jersey Folk and New Yorkers say Hi! to each other. It’s what we do. Howyadoing?

For example, this photo has already had me thinking of the Jersey Devil — a mythical monster that looks like this.

 

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You can read up it’s the legend on this beastie’s Wikipedia page. It allegedly lives in Jersey’s Pine Barrens. That is a huge flatland forest. Whenever other Americans like to joke about New Jersey being a toxic urban wasteland, I like to remind them that the Pines are a lovely place to take a camp, fish, hunt for deer, and take a nature hike.

Only,  the above-pictured monster is also rumored to live there. So, that hooded sweatshirt at Luqiao sent my overactive imagination into this direction: the Jersey Devil has discovered Chinese hot pot, has a plate piled high with tripe, and is boiling them quickly. With chop sticks, he plops them into his mouth one at a time and chews thoughtfully. Then, he looks over at his dinner guest, Sasquatch, who has traveled over from the Pacific Northwest.

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The Jersey Devil asks his hairy friend if he thinks the red peppers in Chendu-styled soup brings the true flavor of organ meat. The primate wipes tears off his furry face. “This is way too spicy,” he says.”

Eating this drains my sinuses!” He smiles before chopsticking up another bit of stomach lining and dipping it into their shared bubbling cauldron for thirty seconds and chomping heartily on the parboiled result.

Yeah, I know that sounds absurdly stupid, but so does Stomach Parboil N.J. Yet, I do like to approach bits of Chinglish like puzzles to be solved.  How do these linguistic mishaps happen in the first place?

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I actually spent a few hours trying to figure this out by looking at a Chinese map of New Jersey. I wanted to see what characters were being used for Chinese version of New Jersey town names and if one could be accidentally be “boiled stomach” in translation. Sometimes Chinglish is not as random as some people think. Most of it is organic, as it arises out of very bad translations from Chinese into English.

Proper names are particularly hard. Shanghai 上海 uses the characters for “up” and “sea.” Wuxi 无锡 is “no tin.” Nanjing 南京 is “south capital.” Changzhou 常州 is “common place.” Sure, no remotely sane person ever actually calls Shanghai UpSea on a daily basis, but, newly arrived Changzhou expats can be routinely confused when a local alternates between Xinbei 新北 and New North in the scope of one conversation. New North is the exact, literal translation Xinbei after all. This is why a common rule is never translate the names of places or people. Leave them as they are. The best way is to write the characters as Pinyin and leave off the tone markers.

Chinglish tends to get sillier once you take into account transliteration. For example, Obama is 奥巴马 Àobāmǎ in Chinese. If you stupidly translated that, one character at a time, you could get Obscure Desire for Horse. (And we are going to conveniently forget that horse can also be slang for heroin.) Are the Chinese mocking Obama by calling him 奥巴马 Àobāmǎ? Are they say that he has an obscure desire for a pony or a mare?Are they saying he wants herion? No, of course not. Some Chinese characters are used for approximating the sound of a word or name that is being brought into the Chinese language.  The actual meanings of the characters are irrelevant.  This is why 沃尔玛 Wò’ērmǎ is supposed to translate as Walmart and not Furtile Thus Agate.

While all of this sounds like an exercise in futility, remember that a lot of lousy phone language translation apps do this all the time with English, Chinese, and other languages. I suspect it’s how Stomach Parboil N.J. came into existence. Somebody absentmindedly copied from a machine translator. It’s why linguists, ever since the dawn of technology, have tried to tell people to trust a living, breathing, fluent human being over a computer when it comes to language. And, dear God, if you are an American, show your potential tattoo to a Chinese person before getting it permanently inked. Laser surgery to get Sweet Lesbian Lawnmower Juggler  removed from your arm or lower back is painful and costs a lot of money.

So, did I ever figure out the origin of Stomach Parboil NJ? No. I searched for a bit and then had to run off and teach a class.  As for Luqiao, it has its practical uses beyond laughing at knock offs and abuses of the English language. If you can fit into Chinese sizes, it can be a useful place to skip Taobao.com and go clothing shopping. After all, while some people swear by Taobao, it’s always better to try clothing on before you actually buy it. Luqiao is walking distance from Nandajie.

Alas, Poor Pinocchio

Apparently, the word for killing or murdering kangaroos is macropocide. When they were living, if you were to take a hatchet to Ezra Pound, William Carlos William, Wallace Stevens, or any other modernist, you would be committing modernicide. Poultry? Poultrycide. I didn’t make any of these up. I ran into them while looking for an appropriate –cide word for when somebody kills a cartoon character. Toonicide? Animanicide? Those two I did make up just now, as they weren’t on the list of words I was just looking at. Why would I even care if such a word existed? Well, it would be to describe something slightly surreal I saw at Xinbei Wanda.  But, first, consider this picture.

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To be fair, there was always something a little creepy about Pinocchio over on Xinbei Wanda’s pedestrian street. I think it was the eyes. Yes, definitely the eyes when paired with that smile of his. Still, if this statue looked a little creepy, that still doesn’t compare to this in terms of creepiness ….

 

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Art and Cigarettes

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During my first year in Changzhou, I used to collect empty packs of cigarettes. It was a silly hobby that came as an extension of a highly self destructive habit. However, the culture around tobacco and smoking in China is extremely different. In the west, packs of cigarettes are simple and focused on branding and logos.In China, some packs of cigarettes can havd gold and silver embossed packaging — not to mention holograms of things like pandas and cats. The weird thing is that I was beginning to treat collecting empty cigarette packs the way I used to collect comic books and trading cards: Ooh, look! It has a shiny foil stamp!

This is a marked difference from other countries. Thailand, for example, has graphic pictures of diseased lungs on their cigarette packaging. Of course, in America, it’s gotten to the point where smoking has gotten so taboo, I once got yelled at for smoking in Central Park, New York City. That’s right. I was outside, far from people, and was ashing into an empty water bottle while sitting on a bench. In short, I was trying to hide and not litter. Somebody still felt the need to go out of their way to shout at me and inform me that I was slowly killing myself. Like I didn’t know that already. Like most smokers do not know that already.

Of course, smoking doesn’t have the same social stigma in China. At weddings, gift packs of smokes await guests on restaurant tables. It’s seen as a sign of respect for one guy to give a cigarette to another — especially while conducting a business meeting lunch that also requires drinking baijiu. As mentioned earlier, there is the strange ornate artistry of some on the packs themselves. While I eventually threw my collection out, apparently this is not an uncommon hobby in China. In fact, Changzhou has a small museum dedicated just to tobacco packaging and related paraphernalia.

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The Ge Xiaoxing Sino-Foreign Cigarette Packs and Appliance musuem has AA rating from the from the China National Tourism Administration. Sure, this is the second to lowest rating, but it still means that it receives government support and funding. AA just means it’s not as important as something classified as AAAAA. It’s a very tiny place, and inside you can see old and rare packs of cigarettes wall mounted as if they are priceless art.

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There are other things too, while I found the old packs interesting to look at, I found the older advertisement wall hangings even more intriguing to look at as art. In a sense, it gives a sense of how old popular culture in China differs, slightly, from the west. Yet, part of me wondered how different these are from the Guinness For Strength! pub ads you used to see in the UK decades ago.

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Besides these and the packs themselves, there are also tins, vintage ashtrays, snuff bottles, old pipes, and more behind protective glass.

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As mentioned earlier, this place is tiny.  It’s also near the smaller pagoda in Hongmei, but it’s not actually in the park itself. It’s easy to spend roughly 15 minutes to half an hour in here and see everything. In a way, it’s best to pair visiting this place with visiting the park itself and the other small museums there, like the Tu Yidao Stump Carving Museum.

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Chinese address at the bottom of the screenshot.

In many respects, this place celebrates a form of folk art. In that way, it’s not that different than the Hidden Dragon Museum over in the former Qishuyan district to the east of Changzhou. It’s the same concept. A man spends his life passionately collecting something, and that collection becomes a public exhibit documenting a certain aspect of culture. That makes me wonder about something else — something more related to habitual failing attempts to quit smoking altogether. In 100 years, will there be museums dedicated to vaping and antique vaporizers? Time will tell.

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The Truth About Lishes

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“It’s like there is a comma implied in there, somewhere,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, once. “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink.”

You know, stick in a comma to imply a connection where one really, really shouldn’t exist. Of course, the idea of a drink made out of beef and cheese is beyond revolting. The above photo was one of the sillier instances of Chinglish I have seen in Changzhou. And, since I have a long work history as a college English teacher, I can’t help myself. I have to take pictures, which sometimes makes some of my Chinese friends a little nervous. After all, they are proud and patriotic. They can rest assured of a few things.

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Beef Cheese Drink is now gone for good. This sign was at the front of Future City shopping center and near the Zhonglou Injoy Plaza. For a time, the sign lingered, but it became even more of non-sequitor. The shop below briefly became a small ice cream parlor — which just heightened the absurdity of the marquee saying Beef Cheese Drink. Why sell ice cream and keep the meat reference from the previous lease holder? I was reminded recently, however, that the Chinese are not the only people to garble the English language. Americans have plenty of experience doing it in their own country.

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The sign says NOT SOAR DID

The above photo was taken in a Walmart stock room in Freehold, New Jersey. What the guy meant was “not sorted.” It was the yearly inventory, and the pallet of boxes was a hodge podge of things yet to be sifted, organized, and counted. The thing about that retail chain is that they will hire anybody with a pulse and a lack of a criminal record. That includes angry, bitter, and extremely disgruntled college writing teachers desperately trying to make money to pay a mortgage they were seriously behind on (me!). In a very multicultural state like New Jersey, that also means they employ a number of recently and not-so-recently arrived immigrants. Some of them can barely speak or write English. That includes people from the Middle East and Latin America, but also people from Eastern Europe, Russia, and many other places.

It’s easy to make the mistake of plugging English vocab into your native grammar and get nonsense. English speaking expats likely do that in their early studies of Chinese. I know of this language problem from when I worked as a writing tutor; I had to help ESL students find and correct patterns of error in their essays.

The truth is that Chinglish is just one of many lishes in the world. Some of them, like Singaporean Singlish, actually evolve into something that sound like languages / dialects of their own. But, over in the USA, and New Jersey in particular, I have seen and heard Spanglish (Spanish), Pinglish (Polish), Russlish (Russian), and more.  I did not create these words. The speakers of those languages have used them to describe their own facility with English. Many of them are self aware enough to laugh at their own mistakes. Because, you know, “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink” does sound a bit funny.