A half-Chinese, half-American actor by the name of Mike Sui (Mike 隋) has been making quite a stir on Weibo and on the Chinese web with his recent video in which he plays the part of 12 different nationalities/personalities. He does various accents in both English and Chinese (and he’s clearly fluent in both). My favorite is the Taiwanese one (starting at around 7 minutes). Take a look if you haven’t seen it already:
(More details about the video and the Chinese reaction are on ChinaSMACK.)
Interestingly, the video is being promoted in a way that refers to him as a 老外 (foreigner), but Mike is clearly half Chinese, and speaks both English and Chinese natively (or very close to natively). According to various Chinese sources (here’s one), Mike’s dad is a Beijinger and his mom is American. That still counts as 老外?
A friend of a friend has started a new video series in Beijing called No Drama Real China. The host is a Chinese girl named Rachel Guo. The concept is simple: ask a cross-section of Beijing’s population some interesting questions related to Chinese culture, and present the hodge-podge of answers in all its heterogeneous glory for the benefit of cross-cultural understanding (so, with subtitles, obviously). The result is interesting, funny, and perhaps even educational (especially for all you students of Chinese).
Sorry, I can’t credit the original author because I don’t know it. I added the Chinese translation into the mix (蝴蝶).
This is especially hilarious to me personally because I know very little German, but I actually learned the German word “schmetterling” long ago by chance, and found the word enormously amusing. Guess I’m not the only one!
I’ve been living in Shanghai a while now, but it wasn’t until just recently that I ever heard of Shanghai’s “fake collar” shirts (假领子). Technically, the collar is not fake at all; the collar helps to create the illusion that the wearer has on a full shirt under a sweater, when in fact he/she does not. They even have little straps on the sides to keep them in place!
Naturally, this calls for pictures:
According to this website, these “fake collars” are a Shanghai creation. My mother-in-law (a Shanghai native) proudly explained to me that they were invented to preserve a well-dressed appearance in a truly Communist age when neither clothing nor fabric were cheap. “We all wore them,” she said. “We could buy quite a few jia lingzi for the same price as one shirt.” When worn under a sweater, they create the impression of full, proper attire. Quite innovative! (Reminds me of all the ways I used to fake having taken a shower when I was little.)
These things were common from the 60’s through to the 80’s, but have long since fallen from favor, now that ordinary people actually have a little bit of money. Apparently you can still buy them in Shanghai, somewhere on Sichuan Road. I’ve gotta get my hands on one of these. (They also just might make for an interesting souvenir!)
Maybe I don’t read the right blogs, but it seems like China Daily Show isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it deserves. This China-centric Onion-style “news” site is hilarious. It describes itself like this:
> China Daily Show is not affiliated with China Daily or The Daily Show and is intended for humorous purposes only. All events, characters, names and places featured are products of the authors’ imaginations, or are used fictitiously.
Here are some recent headlines to get you started:
One of our teachers at AllSet Learning introduced a hilarious Chinese article to me on the grammatical usage of the phrase 他妈的 (often abbreviated as “TMD”). The most appropriate translation of 他妈的 in English is usually “fucking” (in the emphatic sense), so if that offends you, stop reading now.
The origin of this article is unclear to me, but it dates back to at least 2009 (here’s a copy). Anyway, I found the article both funny and instructional, so I’ve translated it below. This is the kind of thing that has tons of translation options, though, so suggestions for more skillful translations are always welcome!
The grammatically correct use of “TMD” (“fucking”)
In this article, I will offer some simple explanations and examples regarding this expression.
Consider the following sentence:
This year’s test questions were the same as the exercise questions.
There’s ambiguity here: are we saying that that the questions on the test were really the same as the exercise questions, or are we just metaphorically stating that the test questions simply resembled the exercise questions? At this time, “fucking” becomes useful. We can insert “fucking” into this sentence to make the distinction:
“This year’s test questions were the fucking same as the exercise questions.” (indicating identical to the exercise questions)
“This year’s test questions were the same as the fucking exercise questions.” (suggesting that the test questions were too simple)
There are many similar cases, for example:
[Translator’s note: I don’t think there’s any way to preserve this ambiguity in English translation, so I’m forced to translate it twice in English.]
“This explanation is unclear.” / “This cannot be explained clearly.”
There are two meanings here: that the explanation itself is not lucid, or that the matter is difficult to explain. However, once we add “fucking,” the ambiguity immediately disappears:
“This explanation is fucking unclear.” (the explanation itself is not helpful)
“This cannot be fucking explained clearly.” (the issue is difficult to explain)
“Didn’t finish reading it once.” / “Didn’t finish reading it all at once.”
This sentence has two meanings: did not finish reading it a single time, or didn’t finish reading it all at once. If we insert “fucking” in different positions, the ambiguity can also be removed:
“Didn’t fucking finish reading it all at once” (didn’t finish reading it all in one go)
“Didn’t finish reading it fucking once”
(simply has not ever finished reading it)
Therefore, our fucking conclusion is that we should advocate the fucking inclusion of “fucking,” which can fucking assist in the clarity of fucking sentence structure, reduce fucking syntactic ambiguity, and make possible obstacle-free fucking communication.
You know the little 5-note musical tune that Intel uses everywhere their logo shows up? Yeah, you know the one. It’s very easy to remember. I just became aware recently that this little musical tune has a translation into Chinese. Here it is:
So the Chinese is:
The English translation of this would be:
> The light! Wait for the light, wait for the light!
This is amazingly appropriate, considering the “English version” of the “lyrics” would be something like:
> Dunnn…. Dun-dun dun-dun!
Not quite as articulate, I gotta say.
The whole idea of “translating a a musical tune into a spoken language” is bizaere, though.
I subscribe to SmartShanghai‘s email newsletter, less because I try to attend all the latest events in this city, and more because the man who writes it, “Da Admiral,” is pretty hilarious.
His latest newsletter, focused on “un-learning Chinese” definitely caught my attention:
> Whenever I’m stopped on the streets, the thing I get more than anything is, “Oh Admiral, Admiral… you’re so knowledgeable and good looking and insightful about Shanghai life and society — I bet you speak perfect Mandarin!”
> My friends, I’ll let you in on a little secret:
> The opposite couldn’t be more true! I don’t speak Chinese for shit!
> And then it occurred to me… Why don’t I take my eight-years-plus experience in not speaking Chinese and share it with others? For money?
> As a sort of compliment to “Mandarin Garden” or whatever it is, I’m calling it “Da Admiral’s Mandarin Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland” and we’re accepting students at all skill levels, whether you want us to rip perfect fluency in Chinese from your brain, or even if you’re looking for something a little more part-time –maybe you’d just like to reduce your vocab a bit and un-learn a few key Chinese phrases — we can help.
> Here’s the pitch:
> “Through the sweat off his brow and sheer determination, Da Admiral has maintained a near perfect and unassailable wall of incommunicability with 99% of Chinese society. Dude is still pointing at shit on the menus like a nutsack who just got off the plane, like, yesterday.
> And now he’s willing to share his secrets with you.
> For a small enrolment fee, you’ll have access to our proven tools of whittling down knowledge of Chinese to basically nil. Whether you want to take a special, personal, one-on-one, 24 hour intensive course — basically this involves about seven pounds of weed and the Complete Filmography of Nicolas Cage — or are looking to un-learn Chinese in a group setting with our special “Dog Bloopers and Various Shit on the Internet” group classes, we’ll have you not speaking Chinese in no time.”
> Are you a Mandarin un-learner on the go? Subscribe to our special Un-ChinesePod, which is basically just me screaming nonsensical phrases in made-up French to you, intermixed with the latest news on the Batman sequel. Mind-numbing stuff. Just try to retain knowledge after a few of these.
> What I’m saying here is nothing about my time in Shanghai has been more rewarding — more spiritually fulfilling — than not learning Chinese, and I feel it’s a duty at this point to share my non-knowledge with others for money.
> I’m an educator at heart. I care about my students. They’re like my family for money. And when we’re in cabs together and I see them struggling with that last — “Zho-gw-ai” or “Yoh-gw-ai” or “Ting” or whatever the fuck it is, I don’t know, you know what I mean — I feel like my job is done.
> My job is done… and a tear comes to my eye.
I’m obligated to point out here: if you’re looking for a really good one-on-one “Mandarin Un-Un-Learning” experience in Shanghai, there’s AllSet Learning. And of course, the best Un-Un-ChinesePod is ChinesePod.
OK, I know, it’s been done before, and it’s just so easy. There are many menus in China with bad (and often hilarious) English translations. But even after all these years, this one stood out to me because (1) it is otherwise an extremely high quality menu, and (2) the errors are of a somewhat bizarre nature, rather than centering on horribly inappropriate mistranslations of the character 干 [more on that here and here].
Anyway, here are some samples (apologies for the quality!):
Where pathology and cuisine meet:
Halogen? (Another meaning of 卤)
A bunch of them have really weird endings (I think the machine translated names have been truncated):
This last one is my favorite, because it comes across almost poetic:
In case you’re interested, the restaurant is called 炖品世家, or “Aristocratic Family of Soup.” (Oh yes, this is clearly a restaurant that has some fun with the English language!) The restaurant is in Shanghai, near the intersection of Kangding Road and Wanhangdu Road (康定路、万航渡路). A photo:
Also, a big thanks to Will, who introduced this resturant to me and provide the above photo and address.
On my recent trip home, I brought a few bottles of this stuff to give to some friends:
The name of this unremarkable-looking “rice wine” is 张裕特质三鞭酒. The part to pay atention to here is “三鞭“. That means “three penis.” We’re talking various types of animal penis here, brewed in the liquor to impart vitality to the drinker. If you read the back, you can find out which three it is: 海狗鞭 (seal penis), 鹿鞭 (deer penis), and 广狗鞭 (Cantonese dog penis).
If you live in China, the character 鞭 is worth learning to recognize. It shows up a bit more often than you’d expect. “Special” liquor, “special” hot pot, Chinese medicine, etc.
The 3-penis liquor in the picture isn’t expensive, and I got it at Carrefour. When you take it home from China as a gift, remember to ask your friends to try it first, then tell them specifically what kind of special liquor it is. It’s a gift they won’t soon forget.
Recently Micah retweeted a short Chinese comedy routine [original] that was clever enough to be shared a bit more. The setup is that a census-taker asks a resident how many are in his household. Confusion ensues:
> “请问您家里是几口人？” [May I ask how many are in your household?]
> “是一口人。” [It’s one person.]
> “十一口？” [Eleven?]
> “不是十一口，而是一口人。” [Not eleven, but 1 person.]
> “二十一口？” [21?]
> “不是二十一口，其实一口人。” [Not 21. Actually, one person.]
> “七十一口？不会吧？” [71? For real?]
> “不是七十一口，就是一口人！” [Not 71. It’s just one person!]
> “九十一口？” [91?]
> “对，就是一口人。” [Right, just one person.]
OK, maybe I should have warned those of you that don’t read Chinese: the translation makes no sense in English, because the confusion is all based on tone-related misunderstandings:
– 是一 (shì yī) misunderstood as 十一 (shíyī)
– 而是一 (ér shì yī) misunderstood as 二十一 (èrshíyī)
– 其实一 (qíshí yī) misunderstood as 七十一 (qīshíyī)
– 就是一 (jiù shì yī) misunderstood as 九十一 (jiǔshíyī)
Although most of the misunderstandings above shouldn’t happen if both speakers are using standard Mandarin, I’ve witnessed quite a few cases where dialect influences tones, which, in turn, can lead to miscommunications. Personally, I find it a little comforting to know that even native speakers experience tone-related confusion, even if it’s not all that common (or comical!).
While at the pharmacy the other day with my friend Chris, we came upon what seemed like a typical example of Engrish:
Funny, we thought… “the count” instead of “the counter.”
Only as we were leaving did we notice the guy behind the counter:
The Sesame Street character “the Count” is known for his rather clever name. Even a kid can get the pun. How does his Chinese name fare in terms of cleverness? Not too well, I’m afraid. According to this site, his Chinese name is simply 伯爵, a translation of only one of the meanings of the Count’s name, meaning “count” or “earl.”
What would a more clever translation of the Count’s name be? All I can think of is maybe something related to 叔叔 (“uncle”) and 数数 (“to count up”), but once you change the tones it doesn’t really work. (Not to mention that he very clearly looks like a count, not an “uncle.”)
I was quite amused to stumble upon a whole array of fake (but humorous) Chinese documents last weekend. The documents adopt the official style of Chinese 证书 (official documents), but the names are a lot more fun. Here are the three I bought (for 5 RMB each):
The three types of documents above, left to right, are:
– 美女证 (Babe Certificate); “PLMM” stands for “漂亮妹妹” (pretty girl)
– 帅哥证 (Cute Guy Certificate)
– 白痴证 (Moron Certificate); “SB” stands for “傻屄” which I’ll politely translate as “dumbass”
There were at least 10 different types, including things like “World’s Best Mom,” “World’s Best Dad,” “Certified Genius,” “Certified Virgin,” etc.
The insides even look official, with space for a photo:
For comparison purposes, here are some real Chinese certificates, collected from the internet:
I can’t imagine the government will be particularly happy about these things, especially with the Expo looming. I wouldn’t be surprised if these became scarce really quickly (especially in Shanghai).
Looks like my Flickr photos aren’t showing up for the time being; you can thank the GFW for that. The photos are viewable via proxy.
A few weeks ago, a series of clips from The Big Bang Theory, Season 1, Episode 17 became popular on various Chinese sites. In the episode, brainy theoretical physicist Sheldon says he has decided to learn Mandarin because:
> I believe the Szechuan Palace has been passing off orange chicken as tangerine chicken, and I intend to confront them.
Here’s the clip (on Tudou):
To someone who knows no Chinese, this episode works fine. However, native speakers of Mandarin will have trouble following a lot of what Sheldon is trying to say. Although most of the first scene would be easy to follow, a combination of inaccurate pronunciation and bizarre word choices in later scenes make the subtitles a necessity for even native speakers of Mandarin. (I forced my wife to watch this clip with the subtitles covered up, and she could only understand a few of the lines, even listening multiple times. You can also find more than one “what the heck is he saying??” conversations on the Chinese internet, like this one.) The Chinese clip adds Chinese subtitles, but some of them are inaccurate. The play-by-play is below.
I recently looked up the word 贫民窟 (meaning “slum”) in nciku. The definition included this example of usage:
> She decided to slum it for a couple of months.
The Chinese sentence, translated back into English, would be:
> She decided to stay in a slum for a couple of months.
I think the translator missed something in this particular case, and the content of the sentences (as well as the order) strongly suggests that the Chinese is a (not so great) translation of the English.
So how nciku is getting its sample sentences for Chinese words? The OED is the champion of the dictionary quotation for the English language, containing tons of examples of its words’ usage “in the wild.” Dictionary sample sentences are best when taken from other sources, but those sentences should at the very least be composed in the language the dictionary serves. It seems this is not what’s happening with nciku, but maybe Collins (one of nciku’s data sources) is to blame.