Found in translation…
My friend couldnâ€™t contain his giggles as he sat down to have dinner with me in a Hong Kong restaurant. â€śI just bought the funniest of books,â€ť he declared and proceeded to pull it out of his bag. The book is called â€śMore Chinglish: Speaking in Tonguesâ€ť and is a collection of poor English translations of Chinese words and sentences. Even though my friend was born and raised in Hong Kong and therefore must have seen countless such examples, he couldnâ€™t help guffawing over the gems in the book he had just acquired. Here is a particularly funny one:
(You must know that traditionally Chinese was and still is, as in this example, written right to left.)
My personal favourite example of a horrific-to-the-point-of-unintelligible translation is the one I encountered in the hotel lobby of the best hotel in Yichang (where is Yichang?), the gateway town to the Three Gorges dam in Hubei province.
Just in case you find the English hard to read in the photo, here it is again in clear text: â€śIn order to thank the new old guest, the guesthouse decorated corridor invites the national senior painter work to bestow for into goes visiting the person. Because these works have the very high collection value, therefore the unification did has mounted, presently depends on presents as a gift the picture card and Fang Kazhi must pay mounts the cost to spend then receives.â€ť
Since Yichang is the launching point for viewing the Three Gorges dam close up, it attracts many foreign tourists. Most of them stay in this, the best hotel in Yichang. I would therefore have expected the hotel to spend, say, USD5 on an English-speaking student to review and edit the English translations of its announcements.
Why, and this is the question that always immediately comes to my mind when I am confronted with poor English translations, do Chinese establishments not spend the tiny amount of money required to get their translations right? I mean, why even bother translating something if the result is something no English speaker can be sure to understand? To be honest, it beats me.
As I was pondering this question once again in response to my friend showing me his Chinglish book, I was reminded of another use of funny English, namely that in Chinese advertisement. The following are two wonderful examples:
When I first saw â€śCalifornia Beef Noodle King U.S.A.â€ť adorning this shop front in Chongqing, I couldnâ€™t but smile because I know California to be famous for a lot except for one thing: beef noodles. In other words, for anyone who knows, this claim â€“ that the shopâ€™s noodles are the famous Californian beef noodles â€“ is meaningless. So why put it there?
There is, in my mind, only one explanation. It is the same one that explains why the â€śGe Di (ĺ“ĄĺĽź)â€ť fashion store proudly includes â€śGIRDEARâ€ť (which, even though it is of course not an English word, sounds a bit like the storeâ€™s Chinese name) in its storefront display. The reason is that in both cases the English words are not meant for the consumption of foreigners (as they are in the Chinglish of “steliot”); instead, they are meant for a local audience. Why? Because it is no secret that in recent history the average Chinese consumer has associated everything foreign with high quality and everything local with questionable provenance. Given this mindset of the average consumer, it is little wonder that certain businessmen use English words and lettering in their product marketing.
That is how it used to be. But things are changing. There are these days a growing number of Chinese brands that are beginning to acquire international recognition. I think, for example, of Qingdao beer. Lenovo as a maker of computers fits the bill as well. And Huawei in the field of telecommunications is rapidly becoming a globally recognised name. In time, as Chinese consumers gain confidence in their own countryâ€™s brands, I would expect that fewer and fewer Chinese businessmen will add English to their productsâ€™ Chinese names.
As if to prove my prediction correct sooner than I had expected, I hit upon this ad by ZTE, a Chinese company that is another rising star in the telecommunications firmament.
It actually goes a step further. This is the first time I saw a Chinese company adding to its English name (â€śZTEâ€ť) its original Chinese name (â€śä¸ĺ…´â€ť which means, by the way, “rennaissance”) in an international advert. This, to me, marks a turning point and makes me wonder: when will the day come that, for example, an American or a German firm will add Chinese to its English or German name in order to confer upon its products the desirability that, at that point, will come with being of Chinese origin? And sooner after will come the day when the Chinese will giggle over books that contain horrendous Chinese translations of foreign writings. Oh my.