Lost in Translation


Now, I would never do anything that could be perceived as mocking one nation’s attempt to tackle our tongue; especially when their own language is to most of us as impenetrable as the Queen’s wotnot. Not that many of us would even attempt either. I speak of course, in general, of Chinese and, in particular, the peculiar, baffling and often hilarious mis-translations between Chinese and English we’ve come to know and love as ‘Chinglish’.

Yep, whilst most Brit’s only dalliance with the tonal nightmare of conversational Chinese is ordering a number 37 with Special Fried Rice, the freedom- and fun-loving figures within the decidedly democratic Chinese government like to go the extra mile by translating the country’s signs from meaningless squiggles into holidaymaker helping English; or something roughly approximating it, anyway…

Can anyone else sense giraffe?

Irony Fire Extinguisher

1 ChinglishIronyFire

If you think you don’t know what it is, imagine being an American whose understating of irony largely comes from the ironically off-the-mark descriptive prowess of queen of Canadian angst-pop Alanis Morissette’s Ironic. At best guess, I imagine this exists for the benefit of said Yanks as rapid relief in case irony levels become too much for them to bear – a pressurised metal canister full of whipped cream and burger fat that both instantly cools the mental overload and also tops up lard deposits to counteract the dangerous weight loss they’ve endured waddling from taxis to restaurants. At worst guess? The same thing.


Incomplete Small Town Coffee

Erm, I’ll come back when it’s finished then, shall we? I mean, everyone has to applaud your commitment to signage, and if it’s just a matter off a seat scarcity and shortbread shortage, I wouldn’t mind too much, but just how incomplete are you? Oh, you still have children building the place? Right, yes, I’ll come back later…

Lovesickness-Carrying Pavilion

3 clinic

Sounds quite sweet, doesn’t it? Like The Tunnel of Love at a fairground or an amusement park for the heartbroken – a place where you’d go to try and mend your achy breaky ticker when your latest lady has stepped on it in her stilettos and left you on your lonesome. It’s not, though. It’s direction to the clap clinic at a Chinese hospital. Although ‘Lovesickness-carrying’ sounds a lot friendlier than ‘STD-ridden-slagbag’.

Deformed Man End Place

4 deformedman

They’re a civilised lot, the Chinese. Nobody has any wish to have to look at the ugly or genetically mangled, but only in China will you find suicide booths for the fatally flawed to do the decent thing and end it all instead of making us beautiful people physically sick. No, not really, it’s the Disabled Toilets at Chengdu Airport! Though you wouldn’t necessarily arrive at that conclusion; ever.

Fuck Vegetables

5 Fuck-Vegetables1

Yeah, damn right! Like the cry of a Tourettes-toting tot being forced to go down on an al-dente artichoke, it looks like the staff at this carnivore-only supermarket have had enough of pale-faced man-cows milling around the meat products and asking where they can graze. Either that or they’re actively encouraging people to fuck their five-a-day; which would be ridiculous; it’s not Japan, you know!

Do Not Defecate

6 dsc00103

It’s a fair request, isn’t it? But slightly concerning that it’s a request that has to be made at all. I mean, sure, we’ve all been caught short once or twice and had to hurry past the queues for a McShit, but just how many of us would just release a hostage anywhere? Well, the fact that the authorities deemed the problem bad enough to translate it into Engrish suggests quite a few would.

Racist Park

7 Racist Park

An all-time classic, if this was in Britain it’d be called Daily Mail Racist Park. But, despite the Nick Griffin-enticing name, this mangled bit of language actually points the way to a foreigner-friendly park specifically set aside for immigrants to The People’s Republic to enjoy Johnny Foreigner days out with their awful, godless, running dog lackey families. Actually, scratch that, if it was over here it’d be more likely renamed as the Daily Mail Centre of Racially Aggravated Assault Excellence.

Wildlife Is Not Food

8 img_1983

Has anyone told Jeremy Clarkson this? Hmm, here we have the crux of the whole food-chain issue – a country famous for eating anything, absolutely anything, to the extent that the only thing with feet or wings they won’t eat is the table, seeing a local casually tucking into a raw Giant Panda haunch is probably only a matter of time. But, given the fact that we’re infinitely more civilised in the English speaking world, why bother translating it? Oh, yes of course, Australians…

Drunk, Insane, Armed

9 img_3537-2010-10-06

The newspapers would have us think we have many and myriad problems in this country with drink, drug abuse and violence, but here’s an entry conditions sign for a landmark that makes our ‘problems’ look like a storm in a green-teacup. “No admittance for anyone who is drunk, insane and not properly dressed’ – fair dos, you don’t want Lindsay Lohan ruining it for everyone else. “Prohibit carrying… sword… metal-made electrical appliance… articles which can destroy the tower… articles which disturb common sanitation including unusual smell”. Fuck it, I didn’t want to go up it anyway…

Notice To Tourists

10 edited chinglish02

This is all just common sense really: Do not enjoy the views and don’t flirt with the monkeys – some of them have the morals of a mandrill and would do you up the wrong ’un claiming you led them on in the wink of an eye. As to the views, they’re fucking abysmal anyway – call that a mountain? We could have gone to fucking Wales and seen better; and still got fucked up the bottom by a hairy primate…

Food for Thought

11 chinglish_restaurant_sign

Okay, I think we’re looking at some literal translation attempts here, so let’s take them one at a time:

The temple explodes the chicken cube – Cubed chilli-flavoured chicken

The soil bean burns the beef – beef and potato curry

The water boils the beef – boiled beef

Slip away the chicken slice – chicken breast fillet

Chicken silk noodles – just that

Black mushrooms rape – black mushrooms rape…

Moral Character Room

12 DSCN0232-e1286337146485

I’d love to tell you exactly what this is, but the door-staff turned me away every time I tried to get in; even when I tried to bribe them whilst disguised as a sexy nun. I’ll have to consign this to ‘mystery’.


13 Chinglish5x7image

Good advice for life right there. Not sure it needs to be a permanent wall-fixed reminder of the nature of ‘the slippery’, but then perhaps if we had more signs like this dotted around the public areas of Britain we wouldn’t have let the likes of Bob Diamond screw us over with such ease.

Don’t Litter Downwards

14 dont-litter-downwards

This may seem like a bonkers order given the predictable nature of the laws of gravity, but stop and think for a moment – this is the Chinese government, the shower behind producing the worst air pollution of any other nation on the planet. There, now it makes sense…

Mystic Yeast

15 6796495939_fc1c60f221_b

Okay, you’ve got me. Possibly a sequel to 80’s Julia Roberts vehicle, Mystic Pizza, turning away from the theme of doughy junk food and to the subject of vaginal thrush? Perhaps using new age medicine? Hang on, I need to pitch this to some Hollywood types. Now, who really makes you think ‘Thrush’? Yes, Jennifer Aniston, of course!

16 chinglish_15

Civilized Urinating

Thank you, I don’t mind if I do! After all, no matter how civilised a slash I’ve just had, I still like to get away from the perfume of toilet pineapples and the stench of stale urea and enjoy an olfactory orgasm of fresh air. Sometimes I even remember to do my flies up too. Sometimes.

Published by stuartpritchard

Journalist, Editor, Lover and Fighter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: