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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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The Return of Chinglish    

By Garreth Humphris
2119 Views | 4 Comments | 1/12/2012 11:02:55 PM

One of my greatest joys when I first came to China was finding Chinglish - that curious mixture of words derived from mechanical translation of Chinese into English. It can be such a treasure - and a great source of entertainment as you try to decipher exactly what is being said such as “Please refrain yourself strictly, keep the flowers on the trees to prove you are a gentleman” (Please don't pick the flowers) and “enjoy the verdure essence from mountaintop scenic vantage not pleasant valley stroll” (Keep off the grass) and the others which are pure oxymoron “slippery when wet ... and dry” and my all-time favourite safety sign “warning, beware of unsafely danger strictlyness”. All of these featured in the Gardens of Suzhou a few years ago - but alas, have faded into obscurity.

One of my first experiences was at hotel I stayed at about 10 years ago that had a delightful message delivered to the room one day that read “Because alignment sunny moon strangeness, TV set disappear replace spatter” - meaning, a solar eclipse was due that evening and it may disrupt the satellite TV signal for a while.

I think I love Chinglish so much because my father used to complete the “Cryptic Crossword” in the newspaper every weekend and it was a Sunday night ritual around the dinner-table to help him with the last few words of trivia...so the whole idea of deciphering unknown words is a pleasurable memory to me.

But alas, around the time of the Olympics, China went of into a mode of permanently removing Chinglish - I remember reading in the newspaper that a rabid group of US university students went on a Wild Chinglish Hunt around Beijing with clipboards and grammar books and all but replaced it's colour and pithiness with droll PC correctness. The elimination also spread to other tourist venues, hotels and street signs around China.

But I am happy to report, just as the Olympics did not cure every Chinese person’s habit of hocking greaseballs onto the sidewalk, so too Chinglish is making a comeback!!! Hurray!!!

My foreign friend and I decided to explore a few new restaurants in the last couple of days - those off the ’traditional’ foreigner fairways, and try our luck and very broken Chinese to see what foods we could get - of course, we were well prepared for foodstuffs not before seen by foreign eyes and also combinations of dishes that every local in such restaurants would fall over in tears of laughter watching us negotiate into our mouths...but, this to is the joy of discovery of China!

We want into one establishment that had quite a few local people in it, so we decided that the food must have been edible and probably fairly tasty...it also had a “fat” owner so I decided that he probably ate at least some of what his cooks prepared so it probably wouldn't poison us.

We were lead to the deepest part of the restaurant, past all the other tables and doorways of the private rooms - I suspect it was so the boss could show the regular patrons that he was indeed able to attract a different kind of clientele. The whispered “laowai” from every table and doorway indicated we were at least, a bit of a novelty in the place, as well as the 5 scruffy cooks piling out the kitchen door to gawp at us also indicated it was probably not a common sight on a weekday lunchtime in little-alley-kitchen-down-the-back-of-the-housing-development-under-the-bridge place that we were in!

The Chinese language itself is usually very descriptive of nouns associated with food - so these present excellent examples for Chinglish to appear - for example the simple and uninspiring English word (stolen from the French) "broccoli" translates literally into 'Green Flower from the West'...so you can see that there is great scope for fun!

The shy waitress went to the stack of dog-earred menus and shuffled deep to the bottom ones - then brought across a dusty tome for us to review. It was indeed a marvel of Chinglish - every dish was truely indecipherable at first reading...
Item number 1. Intestinal if...
Item number 2. Yellow fruit sausage acid burn
Item number 3. Bird of feather burnt 3 times roast
...
Item number 300. Husband and wife lung bean stuff.

Upon asking the girl for the Chinese names, I found “intestinal if” was actually cold sliced pork tongue, item 2 was cold cucumber and vinegar, item 3 was Beijing Roast Duck and well, we didn't get far past 10 before the girl got really bored and said “so what to you want?”.

“Soup” - Hangzhou West Water skimmed top
“Family style bean curd” - old woman wash hands bean
“Green beans in chilli” - green fire long sweet
“Roast Eggplant" - ball fruit rubber ball cooked
“Broccolli with bacon” - West flower green chop pig doodle

I pointed to a few more interesting sounding ones and got a few shrugs - so decided not to try my luck too much.

Needless to say, the food was pretty good and not badly priced, I got everything I could identify, even if it wasn't too adventurous this time around because I confirmed everything with the waitress but...given my love for Chinglish, and my desire to fill my belly, I will say I'll be back to try 'Jane bacteria spent rubber chicken stew’, whatever that is!


PS: Of all the Chinglish I have seen in China (and hope to see), the most perplexing for me for about 5 years was a small blue sign that I passed every day going to work that I said “lie fallow” - meaning of course, ’Rest Area’. Ah, Chinglish, may you ever be by our side.

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(Showing 1 to 4 of 4) 1
#2012-01-17 01:57:25 by bmccull @bmccull

Among other admonishments seen at the Great Wall: "No spraddling." I still have no idea what that is!

#2012-01-18 10:43:27 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Oh bmccull, I think that is a Chinglish Composite Sign - no spitting, no spreading gaudy souvenir stuff on a blanket for resale to tourists, and no straddling the wall to get a better photo!

#2012-01-23 14:56:14 by Lexicroft @Lexicroft

Hahaha I laugh a lot

#2012-04-02 05:31:24 by canadianmike @canadianmike

I loved this article. After just recently returning to Canada from a whirlwind tour of all parts China, I experienced the novelty of being the only Caucasian in town (northeast China) and finding Chinglish on the menu in Shenzhen. My gracious female host quickly ordered our food before I could ask what "After effects of carpet bombing" was at a restaurant near Coco Park.

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