When I visit the United States on Friday, there will be a lot of things I won’t miss about Beijing: the air pollution, traffic jams and kids taking a dump on the sidewalk, just to name a few.
But one thing I will certainly miss are the Chinglish signs. There have been days when – after failing to accomplish the simplest of tasks because of my limited Chinese – I’ve felt like swearing off chopsticks, grabbing my passport and catching the first plane out of town.
But when I look up and see a sign for dried fruit that says “fuck fruit,” suddenly the clouds part, birds chirp and all is well. (“Dry” and a colloquialism for “sex” share the same Chinese character.)
Lucky for me, China is full of these translations gone bad, or what I like to call wonderful perversions of the English language. You see them on bumper stickers (“Baby on road,” instead of “Baby on board”), on signs at lakes (Don’t swim on the ice) and on menus at restaurants (Mystery meat).
You see them at coffee shops above safety protection devices (Please do not embellish the fire extinguisher), on trash cans (unrecycle) and in restrooms (FUR MEN).
Rather than hire a native English speaker to translate signs or instructions, business owners often just use an online translator and go with whatever comes up, according to some of my Chinese friends. Apparently, accuracy is overrated.
Not that I’m complaining. As long as phrases like “Beware of lion” aren’t confused with “Turtle crossing,” China can keep churning out the Chinglish that colors my days.