Well, it’s happened again. After returning from my trip to Cambodia and settling back into my Lijiang routine, I’ve managed to neglect my blog for…well…about a whole month. What better way to conquer my lethargy and revive my blog than with a collection of hilariously mis-translated signs?

As some of you may remember, I wrote a post several months ago about the Chinese shop owners and restaurateurs of Lijiang who try to appeal to cosmopolitan customers by putting English on their signs. Unfortunately, these people 1) speak not a word of English, and 2) clearly lack access to anybody with any experience in the language. The results are sometimes confusing, sometimes surreal, and always highly entertaining. Luckily, Lijiang has so many glorious translationisms (so named because they can occur between any two languages, not just Chinese and English) that I’m writing a Part Two. Enjoy!

1. Freshpot of somebodyelse

chinglish freshpot

Chinese: 鲜锅人家

A better translation: Fresh Hotpot Family Restaurant

If you’re going to eat someone, you probably shouldn’t eat your best friend—put somebody else in the pot instead. I’m still not entirely sure what 鲜锅 (literally, “fresh pot”) refers to, but I’m assuming it’s some kind of dish served in a pot, similar to hotpot. As for the “somebody else,” this is the definition of 人家as used in casual speech. In the name of a restaurant, however, “ somebody else” makes no sense…leading me to translate 人家 as “family” instead.

2. Should be a good hotel

chinglish should be good hotel

Chinese: 宜良饭店

A better translation: Yiliang Hotel

Should be, yes, but somehow those barred windows don’t look particularly promising. This sign is a lovely example of over-translating. The Chinese name “宜良” is actually a proper noun (Yiliang), referring to a county within the jurisdiction of Kunming. But instead of leaving the name alone, the translator went ahead and translated each individual character—宜 as “should be,” and 良 as “good.”

3. The Guiyang characteristic skin records the old shop to bake the shop

chinglish guiyang

Chinese: 贵阳特色皮记老字号烧烤店

A better translation: Pi’s Guiyang Specialty Barbecue

This one’s quite a mouthful, so let’s unpack it word by word. Like most of the awkward English translations I’ve seen, this one was probably plugged into Baidu Translate, which spit out a very literal context-free translation of each Chinese character. Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou Province, made it through unscathed. 特色means “characteristic” or “specialty,” so that’s not too bad. 皮() literally means “skin,” but my coworkers have informed me that it’s also a Chinese surname. I then learned that adding记 (literally “record”) after a surname is common in restaurant names owned by that family—in this case, the Pi family. This explains “skin records.” As for “the old shop,” this comes from 老字号, which means something like “time-honored brand.” In my own, improved translation of this sign, I would choose to leave this out completely. Finally, 烧烤 has been mis-translated as “bake” instead of “barbecue.” Whew!

4. Spider-Man Liability service center

chinglish spiderman

Chinese: 蜘蛛人清洁服务中心

A better translation: Spiderman Cleaning Service Center

The only real error here is that “清洁” means “cleaning,” not “liability” (as far as I know). What really struck me about this glorious little shop was the non-sequitor reference to Spiderman, complete with translation into Naxi Dongba characters. I mean, hey, don’t cleaning products sound much more exciting when they’re associated with Spiderman? Even if the association goes no further than a dusty blue sign?

5. Arrow Meatbait

Chinglish arrow meatbait

Chinese: 火巴肉饵丝米线店

A better translation: Soft Meat with Rice Noodles

I love the name Arrow Meatbait. It sounds so fierce, like the sort of shop Khal Drogo might go to for his daily noodle fix. Unpacking the translation of this sign has given me quite a lot of trouble, even after enlisting the help of my Chinese coworkers. This is partly because the first character isn’t a standardized character; no dictionary contains it, and it can only be typed by separating it into its two halves: 火and巴。The character comes from Sichuan dialect, sounds like pa, and apparently means something like “soft.” None of us in the office have any idea where the word “Arrow” came from. Maybe someone just thought it sounded badass? As for “bait,” this is an alternate translation (not incorrect, but obviously wrong in this context) of 饵, which is a type of sticky rice cake/noodle popular throughout Yunnan. Arrow Meatbait—there you go.

6. 18 strange well-filled roasted piece of bait

chinglish 18 strange

Chinese: 十八怪;鼓鼓香炒饵快

A better translation: Stuffed Roasted Rice Cakes—One of the 18 Oddities of Yunnan!

The Chinese language is filled with set phrases and idioms that enumerate various objects or categories. You’ve got the Three Furnaces of China (Chongqing, Wuhan, and Nanjing); you’ve got the Four Modernizations of Deng-era reformation (science, industry, agriculture, and defense); you’ve got the Three Evils of modern Chinese politics (terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism). Yunnan Province, similarly, is known for its “18 Oddities.” These include things like “girls wear flowers in all four seasons” and “grannies climb mountains faster than monkeys.” They also include a type of rice cake, 饵快, which is a specialty found throughout the province. Without any explanation in the translation, simply saying “18 strange” makes no sense at all! Besides that, they’ve once again translated 饵as “bait.” Mmm…bait.

7. An Inn

chinglish an inn

Chinese: 安之若宿

A better translation: Peaceful Inn

Welcome to the most generic inn in China! It isn’t even the inn…it’s just an inn. In Chinese, the name of this guesthouse is a play on the idiom 安之若素, meaning something like “grace in the face of hardship.” The character 素 sounds just like 宿, which means “inn” or “lodging.” Realizing that such nuances would be impossible to convey in English, the translator simply chose the most pertinent character for the English name—安,meaning “peaceful.” Unfortunately, 安written in pinyin happens to be ān.

8. Please don’t put toilet paper thrown into the pit; Shit here is forbiden

chinglish shit

Chinese: 请不要把同纸扔进坑里;禁止大便

A better translation: Please do not put paper in the toilet; No solid waste please!

This unfortunate sign was found in one of Old Town Lijiang’s fancier western-style cafes. The plumbing situation certainly isn’t their fault…but surely they could have found a more elegant translation! The first sign is a very literal translation of the Chinese, where the grammatical particle 把 (roughly similar to English “put”) must be used together with a verb, in this case 扔 (to throw). The second sign is admittedly very hard to translate. How do you politely tell people not to poop in the toilet? To someone unfamiliar with English, the millions of synonyms for “solid waste” would seem highly overwhelming. You can poop, defecate, drop a deuce, go #2, have a bowel movement, crap, dump, shit…I know, I’ll pick shit!

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