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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.