Tag Archives: Chinglish

A Farewell to an F-Word

“This has all happened before, and it will happen again.”

The above quote comes from Battlestar Galactica, which is one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time. Humans build robots. Robots rebel and almost kill off all of humanity. Humanity recovers and builds more robots. Like shampoo, rinse and repeat. History can be cyclical, and patterns do repeat themselves in different contexts from eon to epoch. Just give it time, and a certain type of event will repeat itself. I was thinking about this recently in a much more silly and mundane context.

I took the above photo recently. It’s of a YMD supermarket’s grand openning near Hohai University’s north gate. Specifically, the grocery store is on the second floor, and you have to take an escalator to get in. The ground floor is a fresh market where vendors sell meat and vegetables.

As of this writing, I am less than one month away from my seven-year anniversary of moving from America to Changzhou. The last five have been in Xinbei when I took my current job at Hohai. In all of those years, there has been something weird about this exact retail location. Supermarkets have opened here to much fanfare, and then they go out of business inevitably. They get gutted and remodeled and they reopen. I don’t know why, exactly. Part of me would like to wager that having a grocery store selling meat and vege above a fresh market that sells the same is a bit of a redundancy. By my calculation, I think this is the third or fourth time a supermarket has had a grand opening here while I have been around.

There is also another reason why this YMD caught my attention. It’s an end of an era to an extent. This part of Xinbei used to be home to one of the most infamous bits of Chinglish in Changzhou history.

The English name of the previous supermarket is common misspelling of a frequently used swear word — one euphemistically referred to as “The F-Word.” Chinglish happens in many ways, and this instance is by using the Pinyin for 福客多 fu ke duo and turning that into Fuked Mart. It’s purely accidental — just like when I learned to never use the word shabby while teaching because it sounds like a nasty Chinese vulgarity. Well, now Fuked is gone forever. YMD — which has no scandalous misinterpretations that I can think of — has taken its place. But, seriously, when it comes to this real estate location and supermarkets, Battlestar Gallactica’s logic still applies. This has happened before, and it will happen again. I get the feeling that YMD’s future at this location is Fuked.

No Logic at Computer City

If one tried to follow the plot of the original version of Suspiria, one would be likely driven insane. An American girl goes to a German dance academy that’s secretly run by a cabal of witches. However, the plot twists and turns and contorts into so many absurd directions that it would laughable if it wasn’t for the uniquely terrifying ambiance Dario Argento brought to his art-house horror masterpiece. The interior layout of the Tanz Dance Academy makes even less sense — multiple secret passages, hidden doors, and so on. There is one room that exists only to be filled with razor wire, and one of the students meets an untimely fate there. I reflected upon this movie multiple times over the years while in Changzhou. Specifically, while in the Computer City mall near the city center.

By no means am I accusing Computer City of being a hotbed of the occult or home to a secret hive of evil witches posing as ballet instructors. That would be silly. The bloody gore factor is also nonexistent. But there are a lot of things that have not made sense over the years in terms of Computer City’s layout. It should be noted that Changzhou of 2014 is not the Dragon City of the 2020s. A lot has changed both here and across the Southern Jiangsu region. Computer City had its heyday, but online shopping has both crippled it and other commodity markets. What now remains is an illogical and half-shuttered mess. For example, consider the elevator that nobody uses, is closed to the public, and has absolutely no practical value.

And take a good look at that track and field painted on the floor. It used to not be there several years ago. By the way, the gate to this playground has a D-lock on it, and every time I’ve gone technology window shopping in this half-deserted mall, I have never seen people actually use it. Then, there’s this.

The basement level used to be substantially larger. You can actually see it here. This was from the pre-painted-track-and-field years of this particular location. Recently, I returned to take a similarly angled photo. Keep in mind the above was taken from the third floor, and the below was taken from the fourth.

Floor space was created when there was none before. Anyhow, the weirdness persists. Some of the Chinglish in the elevators is epic.

Why? Most of them are currently abandoned! Their storefront windows are caked with dust. Is this an admission that those hallways and corridors are haunted? Will a scary ghost girl with hair hanging over her face chase me if I do? Will she try to eat my face? Um, no. I don’t buy it. It’s just years of neglect and reduced foot traffic.

But amateur doors are okay? And by which international credentialing committee will you be using? I know the Olympics has been tarred by doping scandals for decades now. You can’t trust them. However, last I checked, doors do not compete in either the winter or summer games. Believe it or not, this is not the worst when it comes to Chinese-to-English translation errors. The basement of Computer City used to be home to one of the most outrageous bits of Chinglish of all time. Consider this photo.

Yeah, nothing to see here. I know. However, keep in mind of what used to be here years ago. And I’ll leave this as a final word about how strange Computer City can be.

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.

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.

Chinglish Park

For some, hunting for Chinese translated very badly into English is a sport. Once you find something absurd enough, you snap a picture and post it on social media so that you and your friends can giggle about it. For others, Chinglish is just another weird aspect of day to day life in China and Changzhou specifically. For them, Chinglish just melts into the background. However, if you are the laughing type, the worst abuses of the English language can be found in Xinbei’s Central Park. You can easily kill an hour wandering around and finding WTF moments. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but sometimes I couldn’t resist and added a caption. I saved the best for last.

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I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!
I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!

Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.
Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.

 

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Just in case you can't read this. The last line is "You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!" Indeed!
Just in case you can’t read this. The last line is “You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!” Indeed! Remember, this is an introductory sign. And this is just one example of the weird nonsense this sign contains. For example, a lot of the “e”s are replaced with the letter “c.”

 

Inseminating? Coagulating! Ewwww! Get a room!
Inseminating? Coagulating? Ewwww! Get a room!