Two Perplexing Photos

24 Sep 2009

I was delighted to discover churros in Beijing, and with ice cream! (Sure, why not?) But the second English name threw me for a loop: “Kyrgyzstan Things Fruit.”

Chinese Churros

I don’t know why “churros” wasn’t enough, but apparently this is another casualty of horrible character-by-character machine translation. So we have a case of:

> Foreign word → Chinese transliteration → horrible machine translation to English

> churros → 吉事果 → “Kyrgyzstan Things Fruit”

Why go all the way to machine translation when you started with a foreign word in the first place? Did someone think that the machine translation of a transliteration might help out English speakers? Why is Kyrgyzstan the default translation for ?? There are no answers here… moving on.

I thought this was a rather clever bit of signage:

Secret Code

In context, and especially next to its “opposite” icon, there’s absolutely no question what the above icon stands for. Out of context, though, it can be a bit puzzling. I showed this to a few Chinese friends (out of context, of course), and they didn’t get it on their own.

(Hint: No, it has nothing to do with any characters in WALL-E.)

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. This is soo funny. I love these types of pictures. I don’t get the translation thing, perhaps you can explain it better

  2. I thought the second one was pretty obvious. Maybe I’ve been here too long. I’ve actually wondered sometimes, though, why they want you to do it like that — if the water flow isn’t sufficiently strong (and it often isn’t) it just leaves a mess that would have otherwise just gone down the hole.

  3. Just brilliant John, I love your posts! Keep up the good work!!

  4. Yeah, I’m always confused about which way I’m supposed to face. They should put those helpful diagrams everywhere!

  5. Hilarious!

  6. No, they should invest in real toilets, not a hole in the ground.

  7. Actually I’m quite happy to have one of each in my apartment. Westerners have one they feel comfortable with, and Chinese guests have one they can feel comfortable using too. Plus it keeps me from having to clean footprints off the seat.

  8. Second picture is pretty awesome! What’s the purpose of the sign–to direct people to face the right direction, to warn users it’s a squat toilet? Also, what’s up with the manly shoeprint? Wonder if the ladies’ room would have high-heel prints…

  9. i still don’t get the second one, how much longer will we have to wait?

    as for the first, I think the guy who translated the transliteration was trying to impress Chinese people with the English description. He was only poorly advised. Where could he find a better definition, like “Spanish Doughnet”?

    we this kind of misuse of English all over the world.

    ps. are those the traditional churros or the ones with dulce de leche filling?

  10. What is a churro anyway? I’ve never seen one before, but it’s either a very expensive novelty youtiao or something I might have deposited in the 蹲厕所.

    Being very tall, my problem with these toilets isn’t which way round I should stand, but if I put my feet in the suggested place, I’m likely to miss the target altogether.

  11. Thanks for the reminder with the icon in the second photo. Just the other day, I was wondering to myself whether or not I was facing the right way. Now I’ll never hesitate again.

  12. For the churro, should we assume that the machine translator just took the first character, 古, and automatically searched for a country that it would associated with, since this is a foreign food? That country would be 吉尔吉斯斯坦 (Kyrgystan).

    There’s only one another country I can think of that starts with 古, and that’s 古巴 – Cuba. So perhaps “Cuba Things Fruit” would have been just as appropriate?

    Still, I don’t understand how the Spanish to Chinese translation even happened. How did we get from “Churro” to 古事果? It doesn’t even sound like Churro. Maybe better would be 吃肉 – chī ròu = “eat meat.” Or maybe 吃热 – chī rè = “eat it hot!”

  13. oh no, i’ve been doing it wrong all these years!

  14. Chimpmunkgeek, you’re confusing 古 and 吉.

  15. If you find any churros in Shanghai, you will blog about it, won’t you? Good chap.

  16. Last time I came back from Seattle, I brought Leo a piping bag and tip so he could make churros. They should be easy enough to make in a wok.

  17. I just realized that for girls, squatting to have a 大便 while drunk – in heels – must be the most difficult thing to do.

    Shit, I have trouble enough aiming.

  18. I thought the second one was pretty obvious.

    If “churros” gets translated into Kyrgyzstan, I’d like to go to that country in case everything is made out of churros.

  19. 哈哈! As a Spanish, I can say the “churros” over there are quite good… I was really surprised to see them in Beijing.

    I didn´t even imagine Kyrgyzstan Things Fruit refered to “churros”. I thought they sell other Kyrgyzstan speciality there… What a weird combination!! Spanish and Kyrgyzstan food in the same place!!

  20. love the second one

  21. We have a lot of churros here in Mexico. Is so funny to find it at China and very bad translated. (damn Babelfish!) But here are full of sugar, chocolate, dense milk, all kinds of jam, “cajeta or dulce de leche”, so unhealthy and so taste full!

    Can somebody please upload a picture of footprints in western toilets? Is a picture I forgot to take at China.

    John your blog is awesome.

  22. Those are just phenomenal! I’ve made a special mention of the second in my blog this week.

    Love your posts!

  23. […] *Sinosplice caught sight of a brilliant bit of signage. […]

  24. So, is there any specific reason why one is supposed to face the direction indicated in the icon?

  25. Well the second one is obviously a sign on a door designating the toilet(s) inside as being “male” toilet (ie. the same as having a picture of a man on the door).. and there’d be an opposite one, as John commented about, designating it as the “female” toilets.

    The first picture puzzles me mainly because my Chinese reading skills aren’t that good. The English is identical for both, yet the price is different.

    I see that the top one is saying: 吉事果 + 巧克力 so.. that fruit thingy with chocolate for 15 yuan.. but not sure what the other one is.. it’s the fruity thing (churros I am not familiar with in Australia) but with something else that is causing the price the be 5 yuan more..?

  26. Seen in Narita airport in Tokyo: Three (not two) different toilet signs. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture. The third kind showed something they have in Japan and not in China.

  27. @ John B—I completely agree. After one particular episode of doing it the “proper” way, I have become a life-long convert of the incorrect way (for the sake of those pour souls who will have to deal with the fruit of my labor)

  28. folks, the mens’ shoes are facing that way because the client is going number one. they’d face the other way for number two.

  29. hahaha! thanks JP. check please.

  30. Is this on Nanluoguxiang?

  31. […] Sinosplice刚发了一个很好笑关于烂翻译的博文。博客作家John看到一种小吃叫做churros,来自西班牙的,音译中文名是吉事果。简直不敢相信,那个小吃店把它翻成“Kyrgyzstan things fruit” (吉尔吉斯斯坦 ,  事情,水果)。 […]

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