Monday, October 3, 2016

What's Behind? More About the Sign and Flags at the Guomao Shopping Center in Mudanjiang

Yesterday I stopped by Culture Square in Mudanjiang yet again. When I arrived, I began questioning an earlier claim I had made — that the photo in the previous post showed a view from "behind the [main] sign" for the Guomao Shopping Center. I had characterized the view this way in part due to three reasons.

1. Viewed from the other side of the square, the large Chinese characters most visible on the metal gratings are "国贸商城" — the shopping center's name spelled from left to right. But from the photo's viewpoint the characters most visible, which are on the opposite side of the metal gratings, are "城商贸国" — the name of the shopping center spelled right to left. Typically, modern Chinese is written left to right when horizontal, but, long story short, right to left is still used in some contexts today. However, left to right would be more typical for a shopping center. It is also how the name is displayed anywhere else I have seen it at the shopping center.

2. The characters on both sides are affixed to a common set of metal gratings and are partly visible from behind.

3. The set of characters for the left-to-right spelling face a much larger area of the square. Here is a photo of a small portion of that side of the square with the sign in the distance:

Girl flying kite at Culture Square (文化广场)  in Mudanjiang, China, with sign for the Guomao Shopping Center (国贸商城) in the background

So without any deep thought, I described the photo as being taken from a location behind the sign.

But . . .

The right-to-left spelling of the shopping center's name (again, the one easily seen in the photo) stands over the shopping center's main entrances. So there is an argument for calling it the front side.

Also, the characters affixed to one side of the metal gratings aren't directly connected to those on the other side. So it would be reasonable to say there are in fact two signs. From that perspective, what I wrote would be correct if the sign facing the largest area of the square is considered to be the main sign. But with it mostly out of view in the photo and the other sign appearing prominently, it strikes me as a potentially confusing or not especially useful description.

You could say I see several sides of this issue, which interests me because it relates to some of my earlier research on visuo-spatial cognition and language. If I wrote the previous post now, I would simply mention the sign in a way which avoided the issue. And then I wouldn't need to write this post, which will probably cause far more confusion than the earlier post.

Since I have made this unexpected return to the shopping center, I will share something more about the topic which caused me to mention in it the first place — Chinese and red flags periodically appearing there during recent days. I had hypothesized the reason I didn't see the flags one late afternoon was because they are only put out during opening hours to celebrate the National Day of the People's Republic of China. Consistent with that explanation, yesterday I had the pleasure to see them being removed about one hour before the shopping center closed.

people removing Chinese and red flags at the Guomao Shopping Center in Mudanjiang

I was hoping there would be more pomp and circumstance though.

UPDATE: A closer look at a part of the sign here.

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