Translations gone wild

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.) Continue reading

This language is bleatable

Arriving in China for the first time without having ever studied the language is a bit like being shot out of the womb. You can’t speak or read signs, so you’re forced to point and use body language to interact with this strange, new world.

The first time I hailed a taxi in Beijing, I must have reeked of that fresh off the boat smell because the driver immediately began peppering me with questions. He didn’t speak English, and I only understood three Chinese expressions, ni hao (你好, hello) xie xie (谢谢, thank you) and dui (对, correct).

When we came to a red light, he drew the letters U-S-A on the steering wheel and raised his hand, extending his fingers horizontally so his palm was flat like a duck bill. He moved his hand toward me, making a “whiiissshhh” sound as it cut through the air. Continue reading