Friday, October 31, 2008

A Pleasant Tour in Mind from a Clean Tour in Deed

Chinese English (sometimes known as "chinglish", or even "engrish") can be extremely hilarious. Every English-speaking foreigner who has lived in China for a while has their own personal favourites. Chinese ways of saying and Chinese sintax translated mechanically into English give rise to a huge number of funny, memorable and even mystifying English notices all over China. The school where I used to teach in Qijiang, in the municipality of Chongqing, had a notice on top of the main gate which read "Qijiang Normal School: Civilized Unit".

Here in Beijing, I find the level of the English on public signs for foreigners has improved a bit since the last time I visited. Perhaps the local authorities have got someone to check the English on the most prominent signs and notices in time for the Olympics. However, there are still plenty of amusing examples of Chinese English around.

Here's a few funny examples. The first photo is of a completely mistifying noticeboard which I saw in a fun fair in Chongqing. The second one is a "gentle tip of tourism bureau of Changpin". The sign in front of the Elephant in the Forbidden City says "don't touch the cultural relic please". The last photo was taken in the biggest bookshop in Chongqing, and although it is hard to read, the writing in English says: "Elementary school religion is assisted." The notice was in front of the section with primary school books, and the Chinese writing above actually means "Primary school teaching aid". Someone had obviously created this hilariously wrong translation into English by looking up the chinese characters in an English-Chinese dictionary and translating them literally according to some of their possible meanings (the third character, 教, can mean teaching but also religion).
I will add more when I see them. Unfortunately, I couldn't take a photo of the sign in the Forbidden City which said "Do not climb. Perilous Hills" in front of some rather dangerous looking rocks, because my batteries had run out.

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