I found this sign interesting, both for the characterplay with the 南, as well as for the interesting font design (which, unfortunately, also makes it a bit harder for learners to read):
The top reads 江南 (Jiangnan), which is the Chinese equivalent of “Gangnam” (yes, as in “Style”).
The bottom hard-to-read part says 偶巴尔坛, a transliteration of the Korean word “Obaltan” (오발탄), which apparently is the best Korean movie ever made? (I’m a bit out of my depth on this one.) Anyway, don’t feel bad for not knowing what 偶巴尔坛 is as a Chinese learner!
There’s a word 嘎 (“ga”) in Shanghainese (and other Wu fangyan) that just means “really” or “very.” Because it’s not standard Mandarin, you don’t see it written a whole lot, but I noticed it in two different ads in Shanghai recently (and one even has pinyin!):
噶便宜 – really cheap
Also, extra points for:
最WOW – “WOW-est”
嘎实惠 – really a good deal
(And yes, if you want to try using this adverb, you are quite likely to amuse your Chinese friends.)
UPDATE: Commenter Lin and reader Danny point out something I glossed over in the original post: the first ad uses the character 噶, and the second ad uses 嘎. Both are “gā” in this context. So what’s the difference? Well, the short answer is that since this is not a standard word (both characters can be found in the authoritative 现代汉语词典 dictionary, but neither list this meaning), there is no “officially correct” character for it. In my experience, however, 嘎 is more widely used, and it’s also the one my computer’s pinyin input prompts first.
I’m not saying it never happens, but I see black women prominently featured in Chinese ads seldom enough that I notice when it happens. These ads from the Shanghai Metro are by JD.com (京东), which is a Chinese company, not just a foreign company doing business in China.
There’s also one ad with pale (half-?)Asian girl, and one with random perky white dude:
The ads all read:
That means, “it’s you that made the spring come.” Not the most inspired slogan, but easy for Chinese learners!
The character here is 聘 (as in 招聘, referring to “recruiting for a job,” in other words, “now hiring”), with a little 才 thrown in for flavor:
That’s not the adverb 才, but rather the one in the word 人才, referring to “talent.”
P.S. On a related note, my company AllSet Learning is currently looking for new academic interns. You can see what past interns have done here.
My love of characterplay aside, “and” has to be one of the worst English product names I’ve ever seen. It’s a faithful translation of its Chinese product name, 和 (meaning “and”), but that doesn’t make it any better.
Some shots from the Shanghai Metro:
Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and I bring you this pun/characterplay combo. Unfortunately, neither is particularly clever, but at least it’s not hard to understand!
The large text of the ad reads:
This basically just means “happy New Year,” but the 呀 on the end is a modal particle you hear a lot in Shanghai. It adds a tone of playfulness, possibly childishness.
The pun is on 好牙, which refers to “good teeth.” (The two-character word for “tooth” or “teeth” is 牙齿). And since it’s an ad for dental services, the pun on good teeth is quite appropriate.
But do you see where the 口 component of 呀 (the modal particle) is actually a tooth? That’s the characterplay aspect. But the weird thing is that if you take away the 口, what’s left actually does literally mean “tooth.”
I like these subway ads for the QQ阅读 app:
The ads have been running for months already. The app is QQ阅读, an ebook reader app. 阅读 in Chinese can mean “to read” or “reading.”
The main line in the ad is:
The more you read, the more you understand yourself.
It’s a great usage of the 越……越…… (the more… the more…) grammar structure. But, in case you didn’t notice… it’s also a pun. It’s an ad for QQ阅读 (Yuèdú), and it starts with 越读 (Yuè dú).
This is one of the least cringeworthy ads I’ve seen in Chinese marketing, I must say! (No, I haven’t tried the app.)
Summer is over, but I can’t help sharing this 一下 / 一夏 pun:
The “喝一夏” part is punning on a very common use of 一下 after a verb, whereas the “冰一夏” part is punning on the same usage in a less typical way.
An uninspired translation would be, “have a drink and cool off.” (Sorry, I have no inspired translation!)
I noticed this poster in the Shanghai Metro:
You gotta love Disney’s attention to detail. If you look at the characters carefully, you’ll see that elements of the iconic “Disney” typography have been incorporated into the Chinese characters:
(Oh, and nope, I’m still not planning any new trips to Shanghai Disneyland!)
How do you turn a forest into a grave? Check out this innovative ad I spotted on the Shanghai Metro:
The (altered) character is 森, meaning “forest.” The text below it reads:
If the trees all disappear, forests will turn into graves.
To understand the message, you have to know that the character 森, meaning “forest,” is made up of three 木, which each mean “tree.” And 木 does indeed look like a little cross when you take away the two diagonal strokes.
Part of what makes this interesting to me is that crosses are, of course, not a feature of Chinese graveyards at all. Here’s a picture of a Chinese cemetary:
Still, innovative ad that drives the point home. Well done.
There’s a brand of high-quality wigs in China called Rebecca. The Chinese tagline for these wigs is:
The simple slogan (great for beginners!) sets up a nice contrast between the words 假 (fake) and 真 (real). It doesn’t translate well into English, though, because the word for “wig” in Chinese is 假发, quite literally, “fake hair.” So here are your two most obvious direct translation candidates:
- “Fake hair, real me”
- “Wig, real me”
Pretty bad. The wigs themselves look pretty gorgeous, though, and Rebecca hired Chinese superstar babe 范冰冰 (Fan Bingbing) is their model:
The Rebecca wigs also occasionally stray into the “slightly less than practical,” apparently:
I spotted a punny McDonalds ad in the subway yesterday that might not be obvious to a lot of learners:
The ad presupposes knowledge of the word 充电宝, which is a pretty recent word, and isn’t in a lot of dictionaries yet. 充电 means “to recharge” (electricity, but sometimes metaphorically as well). 宝 means “treasure” and is also used in the common word for “baby” (宝宝), but here it just means “thing.” 充电器 already means “charger” (for electronics), but the difference here is that a 充电宝 is a battery that can be carried with you and used to recharge you smartphone. These portable chargers seem to be way more popular in China than the battery-extending cases (Mophie and the like) I’ve seen a number of Americans use.
OK, so back to the pun. It’s focused on the “bǎo” part of 充电宝 (portable charger). It uses the character 饱, meaning “full”. It creates the sense that a meal at McDonalds is a “recharging fill” (not “full recharge”).
Anyway, you get the idea.
I’m used to seeing ads for fake IDs everywhere in China (sometimes as a stamp, sometimes just written in permanent black marker, nothing more than the word 办证 and a phone number), but I was surprised by this ad. I encountered it in a public restroom near Mogan Shan (莫干山):
The ad is the black stamp on the “step closer to the urinal” PSA, and it’s selling three things:
– 迷药 (something like roofies)
– 假币 (counterfeit money)
– 枪支 (firearms)
All of these, obviously, are highly illegal in China. I’m not sure how such a brazen method of advertising illegal goods can be pulled off (even outside the big city).
Today is December 12, AKA 双十二, literally, “double twelve” in Chinese. It’s a day when Taobao (淘宝) and JD.com (京东) offer huge discounts online (and this year, Taobao is really pushing its AliPay mobile phone payments, sort of similar to Apple Pay, but using barcodes on users’ phone screens instead of NFC). So today is kind of like China’s Cyber Monday.
12-12 is clearly riffing on 双十一 (“double eleven”), a modern Chinese holiday that was once known as “Singles Day” (光棍节) but has since been largely co-opted by online retailers and remolded as China’s Black Friday.
At first I was kind of amazed that this 12-12 holiday even “took.” It’s just such blatant commercialism to follow up a 11-11 shopping holiday with a 12-12 shopping holiday. But so far, as long as the discounts keep coming, no one seems to mind. What’s next, co-opting 1-1 (元旦节)? I have to say, 双一 certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Some screenshots for today’s sales from the aforementioned sites:
I’m not buying anything. I’m having my own little Buy Nothing Day. (不消费日 in Chinese, but make no mistake: this is not a familiar concept in China, and people find it pretty ridiculous.)
The following photo was snapped in a subway. It’s a public service announcement (or “propaganda poster,” if you prefer) that reminds passengers to be polite. I thought it was kind of interesting to take note of what expressions were chosen to illustrate politeness.
Here are the words, with pinyin and English translations, and a few observations of my own:
This clearly polite word is nevertheless just a little awkward for foreigners trying to speak polite Chinese, because it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as “please” is in English.
没关系: it doesn’t matter
The nice response to “I’m sorry.”
This word is a bit old-fashioned. It’s also modern slang for a gay person.
您请坐: please sit
您 is the polite form of 你, plus you have the 请 in there. You might say this if you were being super polite to an elderly passenger while giving up your seat. (您 is also more common in northern China.)
谢谢: thank you
Can’t go wrong with “thank you!”
您 is the polite form of 你, so this is the politer form of 你好. (It also poses a translation problem… Maybe you come close if you use “hi” for 你好 and “hello” for 您好? The difference is still bigger in Chinese, though.) The expression 您好 also reminds me of customer service reps.
不客气: you’re welcome
Literally, “don’t be polite.”
I never really thought of this as polite, exactly, but I guess it’s better than taking leave without a word?
对不起: I’m sorry
Today is Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in China, so here’s a little moon pun for you:
The first line is where the pun resides. It reads:
> 月圆月期待 [moon round moon looking forward (to it)]
This is pretty nonsensical because the character for moon, “月” has replaced the identical-sounding character 越. Most intmermediate learners will recognize this character as being part of the 越……越…… pattern.
So the meaning is:
> 越圆越期待 [The rounder it is, the more you look forward to it]
Still seems kind of nonsensical to me (in this context, anyway), but it’s just a lame pun for a billboard.
The brand an product is:
> 元祖雪月饼 [Ganso “Snow” Mooncakes]
Happy Mooncake Day!
I’ve noticed around Shanghai that certain places of businesses sometimes put up big ads announcing they are hiring which also list specific jobs and their respective salaries. Below are three examples I’ve seen in the past few months.
1. A Restaurant
> Waitress: 2800-3300 RMB/month
> Food Server: 2800-3300 RMB/month
> Hostess: 2800-3500 RMB/month
> Shift manager: 3300-3800 RMB/month
> Food Prep: 2700-3200 RMB/month
Note: The original Chinese job titles are actually gender neutral, but I added gender into some of my translations for ease of translation. Also, 打荷 is not a word you’re going to find in your dictionary.
2. A Hair Salon
> Hair Stylist’s Assistant (5 people) 2000-3000 RMB
> Barber’s Apprentice (5 people) 1000-2000 RMB
3. A Massage Center
> Store Manager 3500-4500 RMB
> Store Manager’s Assistant 2600-3000 RMB
> Customer Service Manager 2300-2600 RMB
> Cashier 2000-2500 RMB
> Foot Bath Masseuse 3500 and up
> Trainer 4000-5000 RMB
> Masseuse 5000-8000 RMB
> Service Staff 2000-3000 RMB
> Sanitation Staff 1800-2600 RMB
Keep in mind that in China salaries are normally given as monthly pay, rather than yearly pay. (So, for example, a salary of 2000 RMB per month would be roughly 320 USD per month, or $3,840 yearly.)
I find this kind of peek into workers’ wages interesting, because China’s economy is changing fast, and not at all uniformly. As an employer in Shanghai I’m acutely aware that salaries are steadily rising, although clearly there are many industries and sectors of the workforce where the wages here are still relatively low.
Are these the real wages you get if you apply? Does pay really range from the low end to the high end of the ranges given? Sorry, I can’t help you there.
省 means “save” (as in “save money,” 省钱) or “conserve” (as in “conserve electricity,” 省电).
I feel like I’ve been seeing this particular in-store advertisement in Carrefour forever, but it’s time I pointed it out, because it’s a nice simple example of characterplay:
The text reads:
Which means, “save even more” (or “saving more”). (Check out this Chinese Grammar Wiki article on 更 if it’s new to you.)
Obviously, the clever part is sneaking the ￥ sign (representing money) into the 省 character.
I’ve grown accustomed to interesting examples of Chinese capitalism (I often say the Chinese are more capitalist than us Americans), but I was presently surprised to see this (sorry it’s not the greatest photo):
So on Valentine’s Day, demand drives the price of roses up to something like 30 RMB per flower (give or take). Normally it’s around 10 RMB (which is already kind of high).
Well, this real estate developer decided to give away free roses on the evening of February 14th, right on the street near Zhongshan Park, with this heart-shaped advertisement attached. Quite clever!
I know for a fact that most people immediately removed the ad and kept the rose, but I do wonder if the tactic proved fruitful for them or not.
It’s almost the Year of the Horse (马年) in China, and you can see it in advertising all around China. Here are three examples from Shanghai:
This first one incorporates the traditional character 馬 (horse) into the design.
Using the word 马上 (literally, “on horseback,” it means “right away”) is the easy way to go.
This one uses the internet slang 神马 (literally, “god horse”), which is sometimes used in place of 什么 (“what”).
Happy Year of the Horse!