More Machine Translation Menu Fun

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 [more on that here and here].

Anyway, here are some samples (apologies for the quality!):

Roast pork bag

Where pathology and cuisine meet:

Carrots for the corn from what virus

Have make any bacteria

Halogen? (Another meaning of )

Spiced halogen three

A bunch of them have really weird endings (I think the machine translated names have been truncated):

Pomelo the smell of

Bouquet steamed fish when

It smell of cooking rice stuffed with

Member of the bamboo and

'd better meat with a te

This last one is my favorite, because it comes across almost poetic:

Taken meat dishes broken string beans

taken meat
dishes broken
string beans

Indeed.

You can find more of the menu here.


Update:

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:

Aristocratic Family of Soup

Also, a big thanks to Will, who introduced this resturant to me and provide the above photo and address.

Happy Birthday to AllSet Learning

This month my learning consultancy, AllSet Learning, turned one year old. It’s hard to believe that a year has already gone by. So much has happened in the first year, and yet there is so, so much more to be done. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve got a blog post up on the AllSet Learning blog: Year One Complete.

The service is developing quite nicely, although I’m nowhere near satisfied. Thanks to all the Sinosplice readers who have shown your support for the new business, and especially the ones that have become clients. Great things are in store for 2011.

If you’re interested in becoming a client, it’s a good time to get in touch; the number of clients I can serve at one time is limited, so I may have to start a waiting list soon.

VPNs Under Attack

Attack!

Attack! by FlyinPhotography

How do we foreigners live in China when YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all blocked here? We use VPNs to get around the blocks. Five years ago, it seemed like only a few foreigners I knew in Shanghai found it really necessary to pay money to circumvent the blocks. Now, almost all foreigners I know find it necessary. Tools like Facebook have become too important of a means of communication to just give up.

For a while, it felt like there was a truce. Lots of sites will get blocked, but the blocks are easily worked around through VPNs. Those who “need” VPNs just had to pay for them. Now the situation is different. Recently many VPNs have stopped working, and even those of us that prefer to stay apolitical need to use the internet (unfettered).

Some recent articles about the status of VPNs in China:

Are all VPNs now disabled in China? Fortunately, no. I am lucky enough to be using one of the ones that has not been affected by the recent changes to the GFW. Who knows how long that will last.

Edmund Backhouse: Decadence Mandchoue

I first started hearing about Sir Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944) years ago from Brendan O’Kane and Dave Lancashire. A “self-made sinologist,” he was apparently fluent in Chinese and quite well connected, but was also later exposed as a magnificent fraud. A prolific diarist, he also dwelled quite a bit on the sexy details of the Qing Dynasty.

Anyway, it may at times be difficult to separate the fact from the fiction in Edmund Backhouse’s story, but it’s quite a story. So I’m really looking forward to reading a new book called Decadence Mandchoue: The China Memoirs of Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, which makes a lot of Backhouse’s memoirs available for the first time. From the Amazon page:

Published now for the first time, the controversial memoir of Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse, Decadence Mandchoue, provides a unique and shocking glimpse into the hidden world of China’s imperial palace with its rampant corruption, grand conspiracies and uninhibited sexuality. Backhouse was made notorious by Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1976 bestseller Hermit of Peking, which accused Backhouse of fraudulence and forgery. This work, written shortly before the author’s death in 1943, was dismissed by Trevor-Roper as nothing more than a pornographic noveletteA” and lay for decades forgotten and unpublished in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Yet even the most incredible tales deserve at least a second opinion. This edition, created using a combination of the three original manuscripts held by the Bodleian, has been comprehensively annotated, fully translated and features an introduction by editor Derek Sandhaus, urging a reappraisal of Backhouse’s legacy. Alternately shocking and lyrical, Decadence Mandchoue is the masterwork of a linguistic genius; a tremendous literary achievement and a sensational account of the inner workings of the Manchu dynasty in the years before its collapse in 1911. If true, Backhouse’s chronicle completely reshapes contemporary historians’ understanding of the era, and provides an account of the Empress Dowager and her inner circle that can only be described as intimate.

Full disclosure: I’m friends with Derek Sandhaus, editor/author of the book. But that doesn’t make this book any less awesome.

Big Taste, as in “Spicy”

Diced Spicy Chicken chong qing style

Spicy, by roboppo

The other night I was enjoying a simple meal by myself in a dongbei (northeast China) restaurant. I overheard an exchange between two women and the restaurant owner. It went something like this:

[after ordering]

Woman: 上次点的菜太淡了,我们要味儿大一点的。 Last time our food was too bland. We want the taste to be “bigger.”

Server: 好的。 OK.

[the dishes are served, the women try them]

Woman: 服务员,我们刚才说过了,我们要味儿大一点的。 Server, we just told you: we want the taste “bigger.”

Server: 你这个“味儿大”啥意思?是说咸点,还是什么? What do you mean, “bigger?” Saltier, or what?

Woman: 就是味儿大一点。辣点。 Bigger taste. Spicier.

Server: 哦,你要辣一点的。我以为“味儿大”的意思就是味道浓一点。 Oh, you wanted it spicier! I thought “big taste” just meant stronger flavor.

Woman: 不,是辣的意思。 No, it means spicy.

Server: 那,你本来就应该说“辣点”。 Then you should have just said “spicy” in the first place…

[The server takes the dish away to make it spicier, grumbling a bit.]

I was intrigued by this exchange for several reasons. First, neither party was from the Shanghai region, so the miscommunication couldn’t be blamed on the north-south divide that you typically see in Shanghai (like the baozi / mantou distinction). Second, the women were using an expression which, although simple, I had never heard either, and I couldn’t find listed in any of the dictionaries in Pleco (I was looking it up while eavesdropping on their conversation). And third, any time groups of Chinese people have trouble communicating, it’s interesting to me for linguistic reasons, as well as somewhat comforting, as a student who has experienced his own fair share of frustrating communication difficulties.

Also, since the word 味儿 can refer to odor as well as taste, in the absence of clear context, a more likely interpretation of 味儿大 is “strong-smelling,” or, quite possibly, “stinky.”

Three Gorges Dam, Yichang, China

Yichang, by DigitalGlobe-Imagery

Anyway, after I finished my meal, I decided to go over and ask the women about the 味儿大 expression they used, where they were from, etc. They were extremely cooperative. It turns out they’re from Yichang (宜昌). I recorded the conversation, edited it down a little, and have included it for your amusement.

Read the rest of this entry »

X is the Unknown

Do you remember “solving for x” in math class? When you first started algebra (or was it pre-algebra?), you had to learn a whole new set of methods which, when applied, could magically reveal the values of the unknown variables.

So when you saw this:

2x = 8

4x + y = 17

z(3x – 2y) = 30

…before long you could handily solve for x. And once you had x, you could solve for y. Then z was a piece of cake too.

The Algebra Connection

Chinese pronunciation is similar. We native speakers of English of English have to learn to produce some new sounds in order to become fluent speakers of Chinese. Although the pinyin “r” sound is formidable, what I’m talking about today are the sounds linguists call “alveolo-palatals“: the three Mandarin consonant sounds pinyin represents as “x,” “q,” and “j.”

So how are the sounds of Mandarin like algebra? Well, just as the in the above algebra example one would first solve for x, then solve for y, and finally solve for z, learning those “alveolo-palatals” involves a similar chain effect. Once you’ve solved for “x” (I’m talking the pinyin x here), “q” and “j” both become relatively simple. “X” is definitely the one you want to start with, though, for many reasons. X is the unknown. First solve for “x,” and “q” and “j” are within your grasp.

Why X?

There are a number of reasons to start with “x.” First of all, it’s a prominent feature of the Chinese word almost everyone learns right after “nihao” (你好). Yes, the word is “xiexie” (谢谢), the Chinese word for “thank you.”

Second, the “x” consonant contains the basic feature you need to build on to learn “q” and then “j.” Just as solving for x in the algebra equations above allows you to solve for y with a simple operation, the same is true for pinyin “x” and then “q.” Allow me to explain.

The True Nature of X, Q, and J

If you’ve studied phonetics at all, you learn IPA (the international phonetic alphabet). The main idea behind IPA is that as nearly as possible, every unique sound is represented by a unique symbol. So one good way to know if a sound in a foreign language is really equivalent to a sound in English is to check their respective IPA notations.

In English, for example, the “sh” sound isn’t actually an “s” sound plus an “h” sound. We just write it as “sh.” In reality, it’s a sound different from all the other sounds in the English language. It gets its own IPA symbol: ʃ. Makes sense, right? Now, a lot of new learners to Chinese think that pinyin “x” is the same as English’s “sh.” If that were true, the IPA symbols for the two sounds would be the same. But they’re not.

IPA for x, q, j

If there is any doubt that the pinyin “x,” “q,” and “j” sounds are foreign for speakers of English, you can look up the IPA for the sounds of Mandarin Chinese. Don’t freak out, now. The alien symbols representing pinyin’s “x,” “j,” and “q,” are, respectively, ɕ, tɕʰ, and tɕ.

Now take a look at those three consonant sounds again: ɕ, tɕʰ, tɕ. The common element is ɕ. That’s the “x” sound. This sound does not exist in English; “x” is the unknown. But the addition of the other sounds, which are not foreign to English speakers, will result in the “q” and “j” sounds.

So, once again, master that “x” sound, and you can unlock the other two. It’s practically “buy one get two free,” but you definitely have to pay for the “x,” and you may need to struggle a bit. [More info on producing this sound here.]

It’s worth it, though. Before long you’ll leave “syeh-syeh” behind and utter “xièxie” perfectly. Just solve for “x” first.


Related:

On Best Buy’s Departure

Best Buy in Shanghai, China

Photo by IceNineJon on Flickr

Recently Best Buy (百思买) announced that it’s closing its China stores. I normally don’t pay too much attention to this kind of news, but Best Buy is a little different. Somehow it felt a bit more relevant to me this time.

Best Buy is an American chain, and there’s still a huge Best Buy store down the street from where I live. I welcomed the arrival of Best Buy because I hate its domestic competitors, Suning (苏宁) and Gome (国美), which, incidentally, are also just down the street from me. I had high hopes that Best Buy would prove that the citizens of Shanghai, too, are willing to pay for better service and assurance of high quality.

Alas, it was not meant to be. It’s hard to say for sure how much of the equation is price, and how much of it is Best Buy’s failure to live up to the levels of service it upholds in North America. But something didn’t work.

I won’t say any more on the matter, though, because Adam Minter did a much better job than I ever could on his blog, Shanghai Scrap, in a post called Bye-Bye, Best Buy (China): You had it coming.

I especially liked this post because Adam shares a lot of my same sentiments. Adam notes:

…let me note that I would have loved it if Best Buy had succeeded in China. In part, out of Minnesota pride (I’m a native, and still consider it home) but also because I liked being able to shop for electronics in China without having to bargain, worry about buying fakes, or not being able to return items. The laptop upon which I’m writing, right now, was purchased there, as was the printer to my right, the speakers in front of me, and the iPod in my gym bag. I’m as sorry, and as irritated, as anybody that this happened.

Meanwhile, business is booming at the Apple Stores across Shanghai…

МОЛОКО’s Gay Chinese Characters

Recently I was browsing Flickr photos and came across one that looked familiar:

New Chinese Character - Brokeback Mountain

To my surprise, I was given credit for the original idea in the photo caption.

I looked at some of МОЛОКО’s other photos and discovered some “gay character creations”:

由МОЛОКО(Zing Wong)發明的疊字(Gay's Chinese character,一種同志用字)

由МОЛОКО(Zing Wong)發明的疊字(Gay's Chinese character,一種同志用字)

Some of these innocent-looking characters are pretty explicit if you go to the photos’ Flickr pages (click on the images) and mouse over the characters.

In case you’re not familiar, the “funny-looking symbols” next to the Chinese characters are zhuyin (注音).

Chinese Smiles

After my last two posts, my parents were complaining that my blog was all of a sudden too tech-focused to follow. Oops. So I decided to follow up with something with a bit more universal appeal: smiles!

The following photos are all from the excellent Flickr photostream of Expatriate Games, one of my favorite China photographers on Flickr. Enjoy!

My Babies Meet My Babies - III

Liuzhou McDonalds II

Me - Making Friends

Cmon' Get Happy

Kindergarten

10 Minutes With A Tailor - 6:42:20

Girl In The Rain II

My Babies Meet My Babies - V

Zhuang Minority Girl

1:50:47 PM

More great photos are on Expatriate Games’ Flickr photostream, and also on expatriategames.net.

Smile!

Sinosplice Tooltips 1.1.1

There’s a new version of the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin out. With the help of Mark Wilbur’s pinyin tone mark conversion code (see it in action on Tushuo.com), version 1.1 added the ability to convert numeral pinyin (like this: “Zhong1wen2″) to tone mark pinyin (like this: “Zhōngwén”), and add that pinyin as a tooltip to text within WordPress, producing a nice little tooltip effect on your WordPress blog or site (like this: 中文).

Installing and using the plugin is by no means difficult, but in case you’re new to WordPress, to blogging in general, or to the idea of tooltips, this is the post for you! Here I’ll just go over quickly how to install it on WordPress 3.0.5 and what exactly you need to do to produce the effects above.

Read the rest of this entry »

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