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Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Cat and Dog Debate the Best Peppers for Steaks in a Restaurant Chain Ad in China

Houcaller (豪客来) is a widespread Western-style steak restaurant chain in China, and I have seen it, and some imitators, in numerous cities. A recent promotion of theirs recently caught my eye as I was passing a bus stop in Shenzhen.

Houcaller ad for red pepper and black pepper steaks


The ad features a red pepper steak with bones and black pepper steak without bones. The ad asks who is more correct in their tastes. The cat apparently prefers the red pepper steak and the dog prefers the other. I would have associated a preference for bones more with dogs, but maybe the black pepper would win them over after all.

Beside the dog is a Chinese phrase which can be interpreted as "Dare to be black" or "Of course, black". But it's also a bit of pun, presumably intended, because in slang the phrase means "dare to mock yourself".

I haven't tried either of these steaks, so I can't help settle this debate. I think the last, and perhaps only, time I went to a Houcaller was about 8 years ago far to the north in Anyang, Henan. It was a fascinating experience. I'll save that short story for another day. No cats or dogs were involved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Dope Sign in Taipei

Admittedly, I paused for a moment when I first noticed the "Dope Rent" sign hanging above a lane in Taipei.

"酷租 Dope Rent" sign in Taipei


I figured the sign wasn't about renting illegal drugs, so I wondered what led to the use of "dope" in the company's English name. A look at the company's Chinese name "酷租" gave a clue.

The first character can mean "hip" — a loanword reflecting that "kù" (Mandarin Chinese) sounds somewhat similar to "cool" in English. A look around Dope Rent's website indicates that was the meaning they had in mind.

The rest of the English name is straightforward, as "rent" is a common translation for the second character in the Chinese name. Fittingly, both the website and the sign indicate Dope Rent is a property management company.

So they could have gone with something like "Cool Rent" for their name. But maybe they didn't think that would be so dope.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Language School Wants to "Make Taiwan Great Again": Cheers for Donald Trump in Taipei

During my travels the past couple of years I have seen images of Donald Trump in a variety of settings, such as at a newsstand in Taiyuan, on the wall of a noodle restaurant in Hong Kong, and at a stall selling paper cut portraits in Shanghai. The past few weeks it was an advertisement on a building in Taipei that most caught my attention.

Cheers language school advertisement with "Make Taiwan Great Again" and image of Donald Trump


The "Make Taiwan Great Again" slogan which accompanies the image of Trump on the advertisement for Cheers International Education Group is a clear play on Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. While the use of English in advertisements isn't uncommon in Taipei, it is especially fitting given the focus of Cheers: foreign language training.

The Cheers page on Facebook features the same slogan and image of Trump:

top section of the Cheers International Education Group's Facebook page


Trump is depicted making a sign with his right hand, as best as I can tell not one which has been captured in an unaltered photo of him. Since the thumb is extended it isn't a standard horns sign, though perhaps a horns sign was intended. The hand sign does match the American Sign Language sign for the acronym "ILY" — standing for "I love you". But there's a twist here. The palm should face towards the object of the love. So the hand sign in this case could be interpreted as "I love myself".

Whatever the advertisement's designer had in mind, that a language school in Taipei would use Trump's message and image in this way raises questions about how he is perceived here. I am not aware of any scientific polling results on the matter, but both positive and negative opinions about Trump could be found in Taiwan when he was elected. Anecdotally and more recently, I have come across a mix of opinions as well. For example, when Trump came up in a conversation with a Taiwanese friend who strongly dislikes him, she commented that a surprising-to-her number of people in Taiwan view him positively as President of the U.S. due to his business background. And a local political activist I met mentioned that some Taiwanese hope Taiwan's next president will be like Trump for the same reason.

So while The Trump Organization could see the advertisement as impinging on their brand, Donald Trump may first see it as indicating some of his appeal abroad. A bigger test, however, may be whether a Taiwanese politician ever prominently features Trump in a positive fashion as part of a political advertising campaign. Barack Obama can already claim that achievement.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A "Starbucks Coeeff" Store in Guangzhou, China

About a month ago when I visited the China Plaza shopping mall in Guangzhou, I saw that one of the two Starbucks stores there was under renovation.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coeeff" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou


To my surprise, I soon noticed something far more remarkable about the store — its storefront sign.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coeeff" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou
Mmm.... coeff


A new Starbucks store with "Grond Open" signs outside as I had seen earlier this year in Bengbu is one thing. A Starbucks store with "coffee" spelled as "coeeff" on its most prominent sign is a much bigger thing. And while imitators are easy to find in China, this isn't a case of a non-Starbucks store with a strikingly similar name or a fake sign for an empty store. Starbucks lists this store on their website.

So along with some other questions, I wondered "Has the sign always been like that?"

I knew I had taken photographs inside the mall before, so I did some digging. Fortunately for me, I had a useful photo from earlier this year. Fortunately for Starbucks, "coffee" was spelled correctly back then.

Starbucks at China Plaza in Guangzhou in March 2017
China Plaza, March 2017


Out of curiosity, I continued digging and found a photo from over five years ago.

Starbucks at China Plaza in Guangzhou in January 2012
China Plaza, January 2012


Even in this previous version of the sign, "coffee" had been spelled correctly.

But if the sign was spelled correctly before, how did the misspelling later occur? Was it the result of a prank? If the letter "v" had been available, would the sign be "Starbucks Covfefe" instead?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know that when I more recently stopped by China Plaza I discovered the Starbucks store had reopened and the sign had been fixed.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coffee" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou
No coeeff today


I will refrain from congratulating an American coffeehouse chain for correctly spelling "coffee". If Starbucks ever officially puts coeeff on the menu, though, I will be tempted to try it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mistaking All at a Shopping Mall in Foshan

For a brief amount of time on a recent day, I thought the two shopping centers in Zhuhai with signs stating "All you can get here" and "All is here" had been upstaged by a mall in Foshan — a city bordering Guangzhou and not far away from Zhuhai. But then I looked at another sign and realized I was not now at the All Shopping Mall. Instead, both of the Ls in "All" were actually the number one.

A11 Shopping Mall sign in Foshan


I am tempted to argue the A11 Shopping Mall should have a used a font in their logo which makes a clear distinction between the two characters. But I would like to hear their logic for this design. Perhaps the similarity is intentional, though that isn't necessarily a good justification.

In any case, their online presence does clearly make use of two number ones in their name. So yet again, sometimes all is not as it appears.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dutch and Tolkien Possibilities for the Starbucks Grond in Bengbu

In regards to the "Grond Open" sign displayed on the opening day of a Starbucks in Bengbu, one reader pointed out that "grond" is a word in Dutch. I had noticed that as well. But since the word translates to "ground" in English and the Dutch phrase for "grand opening" is "grote opening", I didn't see strong reason to believe the sign was a result of the Dutch language.

Another reader excitedly (I imagine) shared that Grond is the name of a battering ram in the novel The Lord of the Rings. Author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it.
Here is how Grond was depicted in the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) directed by Peter Jackson:

Battering ram Grond in the movie The Return of the King
Source: Lord of the Rings Wiki

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all, but I feel safe saying there wasn't a gigantic battering ram at the Starbucks nor were there images of Grond in any promotional signs. Perhaps Starbucks should consider it for the future, though.

Although the Dutch language and a fictional battering ram may not explain the "Grond Open" sign, along with the conversations about the sign I had with people at the Starbucks they are indicative of the various paths and questions that can be raised when trying to identify the cause of English which appears to be incorrect or unusual in some way in China. As one reader who has much experience in translating Chinese text to English mentioned, looking for explanations often leads one down a rabbit hole. Sometimes it even leads to a Grond hole.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trying to Explain the Starbuck's "Grond Open" Sign

In a comment about the sign with incorrect English — "Grond Open" — for a Starbucks on its opening day in Bengbu, Potomacker suggested reasons why English errors on signs are more common in China than in Singapore and included this as a factor:
I'm very confident that more than one employee at this new franchise can read English and recognize the error. But to speak up has no upsides and only downsides. It means that the manager must reorder the signs (more work); the printer must admit that he has no quality control (loss of face); there is a delay in getting a corrected sign on display (horrors, a potential loss of income!) Whereas a Singaporean business owner might express gratitude to a stranger pointing out an English error in a business text, a mainland employee who catches a similar mistake has learned by example to just keep silent and pretend that everything is perfect.
In reply, I will share two relevant conversations I had at the Starbucks along with some impressions. I don't have answers to some of the questions they raise, part of why I don't feel like I know why this "Grond Open" mistake occurred and why it was allowed to be displayed.

While I was taking a photo of the outdoor sign, a young Chinese man who had been sitting inside approached me and asked me a few questions. His family lived in Bengbu, he spoke English, and he had studied for the past year in Toronto, where he would return once school was back in session. I took the opportunity to ask him whether he noticed anything wrong about the sign. He said he didn't, so I asked him to read the English words. What he said sounded like "ground open". After I asked him what it meant, he appeared genuinely confused as he looked at the sign and said he didn't know. This struck me since people in China who have studied English are typically more skilled in written English than spoken English. Also, the Chinese text immediately below could have acted as a cue to what the English text should have been.

I also showed a photo of the sign to one of the Starbucks employees who spoke at least some English and asked her what she thought of it. She recognized the sign and pointed out it was for their first day. When I asked if there was anything wrong with the English on the sign, a deliberately leading question, she said "no" and smiled. Based in part on her expression, I wasn't convinced she hadn't noticed a problem. My past experience interviewing people in China led me to believe I wouldn't be able to effectively and comfortably explore the matter in the present environment, so I didn't pursue it. After I pointed out that "Grond Open" was a mistake, she explained the sign had been made by a local company.

These are conversations with just two people, but already there is plenty to consider and ask.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

China's Struggles With English: A Starbucks "Grond Open" in Bengbu

While signs of Starbucks localizations aren't hard to spot in China, such as its red bean scones, one sign displayed on the opening day for the second Starbucks in Bengbu probably isn't how Starbucks wants to adapt in China.



"Grond Open" presumably resulted from a combination of spelling and grammatical errors in translating the Chinese phrase below "盛大开业", which is typically translated as "Grand Opening". When I asked staff about the sign, one young woman told me it had been made by a local company in Bengbu. While them using a local printer doesn't surprise me, with Starbucks opening more than a store per day on average in China I would still expect them to use a design distributed by Starbucks' central corporate office in China. But perhaps displaying a grand opening sign isn't standard and Starbucks corporate hadn't planned for a store to take this route. The last time I saw a Starbucks store on its first day was over six years ago in Kunming, so I can't say from personal experience whether grand opening signs are common or not. A quick online search didn't turn up any similar examples from Starbucks elsewhere in China.

English mistakes like "Grond Open" on professionally made signs, displays, menus, etc. are rather easy to find in China, and the Chinese government wants to reduce their prevalence. It seems fair to have higher expectations in this regard for U.S. based chains, particularly one as successful, prominent, and internationally experienced as Starbucks. That even they slip up suggests it might be a while before such mistakes become a rare sight.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trying to Understand the Finger Rift in Bengbu

A Werner Herzog quote at the movie theater in Bengbu appeared to a be relatively clear case of what can happen when one attempts to translate translation back into the original language. Figuring this out was especially satisfying because often when I attempt to track down the source of English that for one reason or another catches my attention in China I feel like I am going down the rabbit hole.

Such was the case with an example elsewhere in the same shopping mall with the theater. On a men's restroom wall I saw a decal I have seen in China before in places like cafes:

city themed decal on a bathroom wall

Romantic City

Love is promised     twisted in the love   between
Finger rift    the fingers
I didn't understand the message, but perhaps nothing is wrong with the English. Poetry often involves creative language usage that wouldn't typically be considered grammatical or is not transparent in meaning. I was curious to see if I could sort this out.

An online search for an exact match to the message came up empty. But I did find an online site selling the same decal. They display it with the words in a different order.
Romantic City

Love is promised between the fingers
Finger rift twisted in the love
An online search for an exact match to this version also came up empty, but there were many matches to a slightly different version without the word "is":
Love, promised between the fingers
Finger rift, twisted in the love
Notably, most of these matches appear to be on sites based in Chinese. The quote often appears in a lists of quotes presented in both English and Chinese. This is the usual Chinese version:
爱情... 在指缝间承诺
指缝... 在爱情下交缠
Sometimes the list of quotes is described as "classical English" and some of the other quotes are recognizable or similar to other familiar quotes.

Elsewhere online, it isn't hard to find examples elsewhere of people asking in Chinese about the meaning of the English version. Typically somebody replies with the usual Chinese version without any further commentary.

Despite trying several different approaches, I have gotten much further than this. I couldn't find any attribution for the quote in either Chinese or English. And while I wonder whether something happened similar to what happened to the Herzog quote, I don't even know in which language the quote originated.

So if you can catch this rabbit, please let me know. And finger rift, the fingers . . .

Monday, July 10, 2017

Herzog Translated in Bengbu

At the Dadi Cinema today in Bengbu, I saw this quote from Werner Herzog on a wall:

slightly incorrect quote of Werner Herzog


The quote struck me as fitting for a movie theater. I also suspected the English version on the wall resulted from an attempt to translate back into English a Chinese translation of the quote — something I have seen with other quotes before in China. Indeed, I now see that the original quote in English is different:
It's not only my dreams. My belief is that all these dreams are . . . are yours as well. And the only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them.
For a more extended version, here is Werner Herzog speaking in Les Blank's Burden of Dreams (1982) — a documentary about the production of one of Herzog's films:


Now I'm looking forward to watching both the documentary and the movie. So, thank you, Dadi.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Two Guangzhou Samples of Text

Both seen today . . .

shirt with an image and the words "SAMPLE TEXT — FOR YOUR TEXT HERE"



advertisement including the text "Sample your text"


I have in mind a point connecting all of the posts since last week beyond the simple "Two Guangzhou [X]" theme. After at least one more two I will try to make it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Advertising Lunar New Year Plastic Surgery in Zhongshan

About two years ago, I mentioned a promotion in Zhongshan for lip hair removal services by the AIST "beauty hospital". The use of flowers to make a mustache around a large photos of a woman's lips was one notable aspect. The promotion occurring on International Women's Day was another.

Recently, I saw a new advertisement for AIST at several street-side locations in Zhongshan.

Lunar New Year advertisement for the AIST "beauty hospital" in Zhongshan, China


As the rooster suggests, the ad was for the Lunar New Year. The message expressed by the large red characters "不俏不過年" may be less clear though. Several Chinese speakers I asked, including a translator, expressed confusion over its meaning. After thinking about it more, I now suspect fully appreciating the unusual message requires recognizing an implication which wouldn't leap out to everybody. My current translation would be "If you're not pretty, don't celebrate the Lunar New Year." The unsaid implication is that the long holiday would be a good time to recover from plastic surgery, which some people consider.

The phrase in the red box also intrigued me. I see it used in some places for the practice of combining astrology and plastic surgery, which could connect to the Lunar New Year theme as well.

So, I have a basic story for the ad but am not sure it is the right one. I would be interested to speak to the ad's creators about their intentions. I would also be interested to know how their target audience, which might not include any of the few people I asked, interpreted the ad.

But I won't be digging into this further. However, as always, I would be happy to hear from any readers. At the very least, I feel safe in saying that the ad isn't about plastic surgery for chickens.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Brief Look at Some Movie Posters in Jieyang

Building with the Rongjiang Theater on its upper floors

It has been a while since I shared two movie posters which caught my eye in Shaoguan, Guangdong. So I will mention when I passed by the Rongjiang Theater today in Jieyang, Guangdong, I noticed a poster for Mermaid (美人鱼), a new movie from Hong Kong (a review).

Mermaid (美人鱼) movie poster in front of the Rongjiang Theater in Jieyang, China


On the poster was a schedule for today's showtimes.

movie showtimes at the Rongjiang Theater in Jieyang

Notably, two of the three movies are in Cantonese, a common dialect in Guangdong. Most people in Jieyang speak the local Chaoshan dialect, which is very different, in their daily life. But the few people I have asked told me they are able to understand Cantonese, if not speak it. The third movie is in Putonghua, a standardized form of Mandarin and China's official language.

Nearby were other movie posters. One pair represented future and past movies with a space theme.



Like the Midnight Whispers movie poster I saw months ago, the Star Wars poster includes an error. This one made me think of The Shining (spoiler alert: relevant movie excerpt). Perhaps the error wouldn't have occurred had they used the Chinese poster, though that version raised other questions.

I had intended to see if there was anything interesting to say about the Space Panda movie. But an online search first led me to a potentially seizure-inducing video about the Space Panda video game. I am guessing it is of no relation to the Chinese movie, but it has left me feeling like its best to stop here regardless.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Undoubtedly Trashy: Goats Eating in Jieyang

I thought I might be on my way to a goat-free day, but, of course, this afternoon I came across some goats yet again in Jieyang. A older man had just bought some fresh goat milk and appeared amused when I photographed the goats. We spoke briefly and thinking about the ambiguity of the Chinese character 羊 (yáng) regarding sheep, goats, and other Caprinae I inquired about the name of these fine animals. Not to my surprise, he went with 羊 (yáng) on its own.

What most caught my attention about these particular goats wasn't their number (only two) or their mode of transportation (walking with their human). I earlier mentioned that while buyers like the man I met today could be assured of the source and freshness of their goat milk, there were still unanswered questions which could be of concern such as those pertaining to the goats' diets. So I watched silently as one of the goats munched on . . . something.

goat eating trash on the ground in Jieyang, China


And with that food for thought, I think it can be said not only has the recent goats-on-wheels series come to a close for the time being but now the broader goat series as well.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Signs of Goat Meat in Jieyang

As was evident with the previous lunar year's zodiac symbol, the Chinese character 羊 (yáng) can refer to sheep, goats, rams, and other related animals. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Victor Mair uses the term "ovicaprid" when translating instances of 羊 (yáng) which are ambiguous. "Caprinae" may work as well. My earlier idea to go with "Year of the Yang" never took off.

Although adding a preceding Chinese character provides more clarity, it is still common in China to see 羊 (yáng) without one. For example, a man I recently saw selling goat milk in Chaozhou evidently felt that no additional character was needed. But at a market in Jieyang I passed through the other day, I saw several instances of 山羊 (shānyáng), which typically refers to goats.

sign for goat meat (山羊肉) in Jieyang, China

sign for goat meat (山羊肉) in Jieyang, China


They weren't selling milk like the vendors with goats on tricycle carts I saw nearby. The third character in these signs means "meat".

Elsewhere in Jieyang, I saw a restaurant sign which used 羊 (yáng) alone, once again with the meat character following. During my earlier days in China I would have assumed this meant sheep meat was on the menu. Given how I have seen the character used elsewhere in this region, though, I wasn't shocked to see a picture of a goat below.

restaurant sign with goat meat (羊肉) mentioned in Jieyang, China


So what do they write in Jieyang when referring to sheep? I haven't explored this fascinating issue, but I did see one man selling sheep meat who didn't write anything at all. The head and skin did seem to communicate enough on their own though.

meat for sale hanging above a sheep head and a sheep skin nearby

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Minnight" Movie Horrors in Shaoguan

In addition to the two movie posters I previously saw at the Fengdu Road Pedestrian Street in Shaoguan, another poster there more recently caught my eye.

movie poster for Midnight Whispers (半夜叫你别回头) which misspells "midnight" as "minnight"

More than the warm poses, the word "minnight" is remarkable. An online version of this poster at Douban uses the same word as well. However, all of the other posters for the same movie use "midnight", which makes sense since it is part of the Chinese name of the movie (半夜叫你别回头). While English language errors are common in China, misspelling the name of a movie on a poster which presumably was distributed nationwide seems to include a bit of extra unintended horror. Maybe that was the point though. Midnight Whispers opened today in China, just in time for the Halloween weekend.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What to Do About China's New Year Yang?

Confusion surrounds the identity of this year's Chinese zodiac symbol. Chris Buckley succinctly explained why:
The reason is that the word for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of creatures, yang in Mandarin, does not make the distinction found in English between goats and sheep and other members of the caprinae subfamily. Without further qualifiers, yang might mean any such hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats. And so Chinese news media outlets have butted heads for days on what to call this year in English, recruiting experts to pass judgment.
Some claim the answer can be found in which animal was bred or eaten first in China. I am not clear what that logic says about other Zodiac creatures such as the monkey or dragon.

Others believe the answer depends on region:
Fang Binggui, a folklorist based in southeast China's Fuzhou City, says the image of the zodiac Yang is open to regional interpretation. "People depict the zodiac animal based on the most common Yang in their region. So it's often sheep in the north while goats in the south."
Fang's explanation matches up with another north-south regional difference: the Japanese zodiac specifies the animal to be a sheep while the Vietnamese zodiac specifies the animal to be a goat.

Based on what I have seen during the past month, though, it doesn't appear there is universal agreement on what to use even within individual cities in southern China. While not necessarily representative, photos I took in four Chinese cities — Chongqing in the southwest and Macau, Zhuhai, and Zhongshan in the southeast — at least provide a taste of the variety which can be found there. The photos include Lunar New Year displays, signs, or artwork I happened to notice, most often in shopping areas, public squares, or parks. After the photos, I will share brief thoughts on how I will be handling the zodiacal challenge.

Sometimes the choice of animal is expressed in English. Some of the animals are easy to identify. Other are more challenging. One has wings.

A bit of the new year spirit in Chongqing:

Alongside the Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street

A pedestrian bridge in Yangjiaping

Inside the SML Central Square shopping center

Outside the Sunshine Mall

Above the Guanyinqiao Pedestrian Street

Door at Shenghui Plaza

At Haitang Yanyu Park

Also at Haitang Yanyu Park

Across the street from the Chongqing Zoo

Inside the SM City shopping mall

Inside the Starlight 68 Plaza shopping mall


Macau:

In Taipa Village

Also in Taipa Village

Inside the Shoppes at Venetian

At Largo do Senado (Senate Square)

At the Portas do Cerco (border crossing point with Zhuhai)

A lobby inside the Galaxy Macau resort

In Coloane Village

Also in Coloane Village


Zhuhai:

In front of Gongbei Port (border crossing point with Macau)

At the New Yuan Ming Palace

Also at the New Yuan Ming Palace

At the underground Port Plaza shopping center

Inside the Vanguard supermarket in Gongbei

In Zhongshan:

Outside Yu Yip Plaza

Outside of the Central Power Plaza shopping mall


My take? If people are using all these different animals in China, and they all count as yangs, why not just go along with it? The trick then is what to say in English. Perhaps it is time, as the earlier sentence suggests, for another loanword in English — "yang". Yes, there is already "yin and yang", but English is comfortable with homonyms, and it would help address English's "trade imbalance" with loanwords.

But if I have to choose an animal more specific than all yangs, although I am tempted by the Tibetan antelope, I have decided to go with the goat if for no other reason than I have seen several live goats recently.

Goat near a familiar-looking statue at Foreigner's Street in Chongqing

Goats at the New Yuan Ming Palace in Zhuhai

Now I just need to figure out which type of goat.