I need a break copying my written journal to a word document to I decided to shake it up a little bit.
Over the last few classes, I have compiled a few anecdotes about the joys of being an American in China and getting lost in translation. Please enjoy, but excuse all of the potty humor:
A SIT student asks the manager of a guesthouse in Chinese, “Can I sleep here?”
The manager is shocked. He shakes his head repeatedly. “Bu keyi?”
The student looks around and sees plenty of rooms open. “zai na ge fangjian keyi shui jiao ma?” or “can I sleep in that room?”
“Bu keyi,” or, “No, you can’t.” The manager shook his hands and ushered the student out of the place.
The direct translation of “shui jiao,” is to sleep, but when in a guest house, this is commonly associated with prostitution. The student was accidentally asking for a prostitute. Yikes
A SIT student returns late at night from clubbing. The dorm that we stay in has a gate. He is a little bit intoxicated, and so he does not want to climb and hurt himself, so he calls for the guard of the gate, “gang men!” he yells. “Gang men!”
“Gang Men!” He yelled in frustration. He yells some more as he rattles the gate to get the guard to wake. After about five minutes of this, a police car arrives and arrests the poor student.
He calls our assistant program director from jail and Charles arrives to pick him up. Charles asks why the boy was arrested. Despite having too much fun at the clubs, he had not broken the law.
The police explained that the student had been screaming obscenities.
While the words “gang men,” when said with the correct tones can mean “open the gate,” it can also be said with different tones to mean “open the anus.” Yikes. What a rude way to wake up a guard, and apparently an entire neighborhood.
A SIT student needed to buy a sleeping bag, and so she went to an outdoor store. She explained that she needed things for sleeping. That she wanted to sleep outside. The employee shook his head nervously saying, “bu keyi.”
The girl knew they had sleeping bags, so she tried a new tactic. “What can I use to gesticulate a sleeping bag?” She must have pondered. She looked down at her sweatshirt, which had a zipper. “Kan, kan,” she said. “Zhi ge donxi!” She furiously unzipped and zipped her jacket. “Look, this thing!” The employee still shook his head uncomfortably. Frustrated, she left.
Charles returned to the same place later that day. He asked why the employee had not helped one of his students buy a sleeping bag. A light bulb illuminated above the employees head. The girl had been lost in the same phrase from story 1 that means both sleep and sleep with. She had been telling him that she needed sleeping things… use your imagination. Then she said she wanted to sleep with. The she played with her zipper, saying I want this. Yikes.
A Few Mistranslated Phrases:
- A yellow sign with a person falling, which should read, “Slippery floor,” is translated to “Watch out! Landslide.”
- A dangerous cliff has a sign that should say, “Watch your step,” reads, “Check Here!” American tourist’s flocked to it to see what the fuss what about.
- “Be careful” becomes “Bareful.”
- “Tiny edible mushrooms,” becomes “Tiny edible microphones.” Not the most appetizing name for a dish.
- “Walk Slowly,” becomes, “Tourists Stop Here!” My friends thought it would be funny to freeze in place when they saw it. Pictures were taken.
- Not sure what they were going for, but a word had gone from English to Chinese and then back to English and so a restaurant sign read, “Fucked Food.”
- A trendy t-shirt company in Kunming release a new t-shirt with a “fancy French word.” The shirt was very popular amongst foreigners. Some even bought 2 or 3. The fancy French word was “douchebag.”
- A place that was used for refilling propane tanks has a sign that reads, “Spirit Redemption Station.” Imagine the religious confusion that must occur in that hardware store. They must have had quite a few sinners seeking resolution. Eventually they changed it to: “Change you spirit into others.” Much better. That way they only had to deal with confused Buddhists. Much easier than angry sinners.