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来猜一猜:Come Guess One Guess

February 16, 2011

If you’re not studying Chinese, you probably don’t get much of this post. In my own time, I’ll post the translations/answers/explanations. Meanwhile, enjoy guessing.

Answers, explanations and a correction are available here.


New Year, New Post

February 13, 2011

We’ve entered a new year here in the PRC, the Year of the Golden Rabbit. For anyone thinking this is a ridiculously late New Year’s post, keep in mind Chinese holidays follow the traditional lunar calendar, so the year started on February 3rd (making this just an oddly late New Year’s post).

 Pictured here is one of five very collectible (to me) 红包 I got this year. 红包 (hong2bao1) are literally “red envelopes” that adults give to children during the first weeks of the new year, usually filled with “lucky” amounts of money. Though it’s not unheard of, it’s strange to give 红包 to adults.

The Trix rabbit, on the other hand, is basically unheard of in the PRC, since Trix cereal isn’t sold here; these 红包 came with a box of Cheerios. Nor are there any commercials using the line, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.”

I almost wonder whether, instead of just being chosen because it’s the only General Mills rabbit mascot, the Trix rabbit isn’t suddenly appearing here as part of an obscure joke, the unspoken English catch-phrase changing to “Silly rabbit*, 红包 are for kids.” The Chinese on the envelope is 茁壮成长(zhuo2zhuang4cheng2zhang3), “Growing/maturing vigorously.”  Taken together, it’s almost like saying, “My, but you’re getting big so fast…guess this will be your last 红包.” Or maybe it’s only me that makes that connection.

For anyone wondering why the 福 (fu2) on the rabbit’s cereal bowl is upside-down, this is a widely followed tradition. The 福 or “luck” hanzi is usually hung upside-down, because the Chinese for  upside-down, 倒 (dao4), sounds like the Chinese for arrive, 到 (dao4), so an upside-down 福 sounds like luck arriving.

*小兔崽子(xiao3tu4zai3zi5) or “son of a rabbit” is a slightly rude way to refer to a kid, but I do hear parents here fondly using it to tease their own children. 


November 1, 2010

严格的说,今天是万圣节快乐,昨天就是Halloween,另外一个节日。看一看,圣的意思就是saints,还可以说hallows. 西方人的传统节日,All Hallows Day, 是每年的十一月一号,这节日是跟基督教有关系的。原来这个节日可能被翻译对的,但是现在的用法错了。

Strictly speaking, today is what Chinese call 万圣节, not Halloween. The 圣 means “saints,” or “hallows” as it appears in the holiday name. (万, literally “ten thousand”, is often used just to mean “a lot.”) The Western All Hallows Day, November 1st, is a Christian holiday. Originally this holiday was perhaps translated correctly, but it’s now used incorrectly.

Living Seriously

October 31, 2010

One typo gets repeated again and again in this sign, and while it may seem bizarre to confuse “t” and “e,” it’s not so difficult when you realize most Chinese begin writing each with a horizontal line, then finish “t” with the curving downstroke in 七 and finish “e” with a similar (and unnatural to their writing style) curving up-down stroke. The “r/”l” typo in “esprosive” is neither particularly common nor unheard of; the “s/x” typo is very common.

(For anyone who still thinks it seems strange, try remembering that 巳 is one of the Earthly Branches, 已 means “already,” and 己 means “self.” )

Aside from that on little letter turning “lift” into “life,” this sign is almost perfectly translated. (Note that the British “lift” is preferred to the American “elevator”; the addition of a definite article in the instruction “Take care of the children” also makes me think of Reverend Lovejoy’s wife: “Won’t anyone think of the children?”)

While the “life” typo renders most of these instructions nonsensical, “For your safety, please do not play or rock around inside the life” has a wonderful Orwellian feel to it that has me laughing every time I leave my apartment. To anyone thinking that life in China is like 1983, note that this young woman has chosen to ignore this prohibition completely:

Look, Ma! I'm in Pitchers!

And she's just shopping online...

There’s not a rat helmet in sight in that picture , though her purchases do seem to include a kicky version of Darth Vader’s helmet. (I’m still looking for a better picture of that ad.)

Quick quiz: Which hanzi means “self”? a) 已 b) 己 c) 巳

Not Just a Reminder

October 23, 2010
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Just for context, this notice shows up in the elevators of a development I won’t mention. I’ve pinked out some names and numbers in the photo.  There’s a lot of tricky little differences between the original and Chinese in this one, but the eye-grabbingly hilarious one is

Just a sweet reminder to not let your dog rabidly maul your neighbors. Oh, and pick up its feces.

This “sweet reminder” is a translation of the Chinese 温馨提示, which in English more or less just means “Notice.” The literal Chinese version of “Notice” is 通知, but the 温馨提示 is a common way of labeling “No smoking” or “Keep off the grass” signs. 提示 translates simply as “sign”; however, 温馨, meaning something like  “heart-warming,” introduces a weird little element of Chinese culture into the culture gap–namely the rather new idea that notices announcing things like “Trespassers will be killed on sight” should be  heart-warming, touching, friendly, or at least contrivedly cute.

Therefore, you get such heart-warming signs as “Green-green grass, cherish it under the foot,” instead of the straightforward “Keep off the grass.” These are supposed to be more “human” than the previously used signs. According to one of my teachers, 温馨 is like the feeling brought about by the knoweldge of a mother’s (or an enlightened father’s) love. So the more “human” translation of 温馨提示 would be something like, heart-warming-as-knowing-that-your-mother-loves-you sign (and, by the way, put your dog’s excrement in a baggie).

I like to think of such notices as announcing, “Hi! I’m a friendly little sign with fragile feelings,” and then for the most part ignore their advice, especially when the friendly little sign is suggesting I not smoke in a smoky restaurant that provides ashtrays. Good luck, January 1st.

Now, we get into the big translation gap, which is that the original Chinese really is much more motherly than the English. The first chunk of the Chinese translates roughly as follows:

“Honorable Tenants: As the neighborhood’s number of pets are continuously  increasing, so the noise regarding dog-raising etiquette [literally “raise-animal civilization”] is getting louder and louder. But in some instances, owners [保姆–roughly, nannies] are not paying attention to dog-raising etiquette, walking dogs within the neighborhood without using a leash, allowing dogs to 小大便 [“little-big-convenience,” i.e., urinate and defecate] as they like. Not only does not using a leash ruin the cleanliness of the neighborhood’s environment, but it also results in dogs running and scurrying about all willy-nilly, chasing people [that is the best translation of 随意乱跑乱窜追逐行人 that will ever be written, if I say so myself] and giving other tenants a big fright. The impression left on old or frail people–and children–is even greater. Heavens forbid [万一, literally, “ten thousand to one”] there should be an accident of the sort that no one wants to see (In the present time, in other neighborhoods [目前其他小区], tenants have been bitten by dogs.)

“Because of the above, the management reminds dog owners of the following:

“1, Any dog-owners who have not already done so should register their dogs as soon as possible, and at the same time have rabies-shots administered in a timely manner to their dogs.

“2, Regarding violent dogs and large dogs, they should be tethered or kept in cages. It is not allowed to carry your ‘dog-baby’ [That’s literal! 狗宝宝!] into the clubroom or guest elevators. When taking ‘dog-babies’ outside, please carry a garbage bag with you and clean up your dog’s squirted-out feces [Again, that’s literal–排出的粪便] in a timely manner.  Also, please put a muzzle and harness on your dog and only allow adults to lead the dog by the collar.

“If you have any concerns regarding dogs, please call…”–END

Now, from my experience, the big and violent dogs in question are generally about the size of beagles, while the “dog babies” are at largest mini-pugs. Notice that the management officially recommends using muzzles and harnesses for all dogs too small to be constantly tethered or caged (even toy poodles). Even more alarming is the English version of the notice.

Apparently the writer found his or her English not up to the task of translating the saccharine heart warming message, and what we get in English is quite abrupt. Nothing is said about the cleanliness of the environment or dog-raising etiquette; instead it’s all about health and safety:

“In order to safeguard health and the personal safety of the tenants in [neighborhood name deleted] please pay more attention to points as follow:

“1, Please inject bacterin into your dog regularly to prevent hydrophobia.

“2, Please tie up your dog when you walk the pets. [Foreigners apparently own dogs so dangerous they must hogtie them before going for a walk.]

“3, Please wear protective mouthpiece and dog chain on your dog and please keep your dog on a lead by adult or safeguards. [These dogs are so dangerous, dog-walkers should wear mouthguards.]

“4, Please take a garbage bag when you walk the pets.

“5, Please don’t take dog into the club and the guest ladder [ladder is the literal translation of 梯, the second hanzi in 客梯, or guest elevator.]


Notice that in the translated English version, it’s not people in other unspecified locales being bitten by dogs, but local tenants; add that to the first point about rabies-injections, and I have to wonder if it’s just me who reads this as a warning: Rabid dogs are biting people right in our own backyard!

You Can’t Always Trust Spell-check

October 10, 2010
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This one’s from a supermarket in 厦门. It’s easy enough to see how such signs happen; I always forget characters myself when I write sentences. 购物袋 are shopping bags, though seeing it translated as “hopping bags” makes me think of sack races.

And, yes, Chinese supermarkets do now have entire aisles dedicated to shopping bags, specifically fabric tote bags. This is because the Chinese government, in order to limit the amount of plastic bags used in stores, actually requires stores to sell each plastic bag they give to customers. As a result, more and more stores sell cutesy fabric bags, usually covered in cartoon designs.

Interestingly, I’ve almost never heard anyone complain about the added charges, and in my district it sometimes looks like there’s a competition to have the cutest bag collection in the Wal-Mart checkout line. My own favorite bag is the 7-11 one shown below, which I not only used for shopping, but also to carry my books to classes my first term:

The happy little Earth is all ready to do some serious cleaning. The Chinese exclamations are 爱护环境! and 少用胶带!–“Take good care of the environment!” and “Use fewer plastic bags!”

When I was back home in the States, I was often frustrated by cashiers’ putting my one-item purchases into large plastic bags, especially since many of my purchases were already in bags, which seems a little backwards to me now. Maybe it’s time for the US to adopt the same change; if it’s good enough for D.C. and PagoPago, it should be good enough for oh-so-hip California. 

 While China’s standing as an environmental watch-dog is maybe shaky on points, this is one point on which China clearly has the right idea.

Quid Pro Quo, I

October 4, 2010

Since the country has given me a few vacation days, I figure now’s a good time to answer the question, “Do you think your Chinese is so good, then?” What follows is my own most recent attempt at writing in Chinese, with my teacher’s corrections. (My own words are struck through wherever I’ve made mistakes; my teacher’s changes are in brackets.) I’d say the result is an emphatic “No.”  Foreigners who don’t “get” hanzi at all can skip down to the English explanation at the bottom.

我教一个小孩儿[,]她的名字叫Boop. Boop现在跟我学习一本英文阅读课本,内容都是关于一个小孩人与他的小狗,叫Blue. 最近我们学过一课, Blue 和另外一只狗在挖洞玩儿,惹它们的[主人生气]照顾者的批评],* 可是两只狗一直不听话,当时偏偏继续挖洞。课文下面有一些阅读问题,第一道就是"你自己觉得Blue和另外一只狗玩儿得很高兴[吗]?为什么?"

Boop开始回答就碰到了一些文化的阻碍阻隔。** 原来她只要回答‘因为Blue非常喜欢挖洞’可是从美国人的角度[考虑,]这道[题这样]回答是不对的。我们觉得那道问题不是问Blue为什么玩儿得很高兴的,反而是问你从[那]什么一或两句话可以看[出]它玩儿得很高兴。[我让Boop再仔细]考虑[一下]这道问题,[这]时候Boop块开始撒娇好多[:]‘唉呀,这一道太伤脑筋[了]![老师]能不能[直接]告诉我[答案?]老师,请你说明一下。’




**在这儿,老师写,‘这个不是文化的问题, 而是没有把握题目的意思。’


So, this should be simple enough story to tell: I have a student named Boop (Names have been changed, poorly, to protect the innocent). She and I are studying a reading comprehension book that’s mostly about a kid and his dog, Blue. Recently, we read a chapter in which Blue and another dog are digging holes, and their owners get angry. [Here, my teacher asks me to explain why the owners are angry.] But Blue and the other dog don’t care; they just keep digging.

After the story, one of the comprehension questions is “Do you think Blue and the other dog were having a good time? Why?” Boop runs into a cultural barrier with this question. She answers, “Because Blue just likes to dig.” [Here, my teacher tells me that this is not a cultural barrier, but rather a matter of Boop not understanding the question. I put the comment about cultural barriers in at the start to indicate that this is not just a story, but rather an illustration of something bigger; perhaps such a mini-thesis shows up in a different place in Chinese writing?] From an American’s point of view, this answer is just wrong. We know that the question is really asking why we think Blue and his buddy are or are not having fun, and we can easily point to one or two sentences to support our thinking.

When Boop tried thinking through this kind of question, she got frustrated and pouty, saying, “Ah, this question’s too tricky. Teacher, tell me the answer.” Again, from an American kid’s point of view, this kind of a question is simple. You just have to think about how you reach a conclusion, and there’s no right or wrong answer. (On the other hand, give them a math question and watch them sweat.)

At the time, Boop remained frustrated, saying, “烦死我了 (This irritates me to the point of death)!” I told her, “This is every day for me. I deal with this sort of thing every day.” [I’ll mention that Boop did finally “get it,” and that she’s doing better now with this sort of question; I’m usually not.]

If you look at the Chinese chunk above, you can easily see how many places are scratched out, and in how many places words have been fixed by my teacher. Every correction she made is one that I can actually say and write, but for some reason, when I’m actually trying to communicate, I completely botch sentences. 

From my mistakes, I can draw a few conclusions: 1, My Chinese is pretty poor; 2, My typing is really poor (since I just implicitly believe the computer must be right); 3, My usage is pretty poor, and I often confuse words that have similar meanings; 4, When I don’t know the right word for things, I make up new words to express my ideas, even though most people can’t understand them; 5, I have no idea of what context is needed to tell a story in Chinese; 6, When I do provide appropriate context, I put it in the wrong place.