November 10, 2010

One of my favorite things about living in Asia is finding examples of badly mangled English at every turn: t-shirts, warning signs, product labels, advertisements, menus, you name it. Over the years, I have catalogued numerous examples, documented with pictures; if you have a look through early posts of this blog, you’ll find several along these lines: “No Smorking” (so I didn’t smoke, but I did smirk); “Beware of Tourism” (always good advice); “I really don’t know how to apologize to you; please move to another cash register” (abject apology at the checkout line); “Reisure and Lest” (that old L/R issue again); “Attention: because I do not have a tissue always ready in this rest room, please buy used one.” (some things are just not meant to be recycled).

While I was in Japan last year, I read a newspaper article about preparations for the upcoming Shanghai Expo. It seems that the Chinese authorities in charge of signage had been dispatched upon a mission to eliminate every example of mangled English they could find, and they were bringing in native English speakers to aid in the cause. According to the article, platoons of these folks were to be dispatched throughout Shanghai, armed with clipboards, indelible markers, and citations (that is “citations” in the sense of a traffic ticket, as opposed to a civic award). Presumably these folks would have to go out in groups of at least two, one of whom was fluent in English, the other in Chinese, as the possibilities for miscommunication would be manifold otherwise. Several of my friends suggested that I should apply, given my extensive credentials both in English and in Manglish, but there were two problems I could foresee: 1) there would be quite a number of signs that would be so good, I would really hate to see them go away; and 2) the warugaki (mischievous child) in me might well choose to “improve” some signs to maximize their humor potential. In the event, I didn’t wind up applying, and the cleanup program (or pogrom) took place without me. Happily, it made not one whit of difference, as I can personally attest that the signage in Shanghai is as bad (or good) as ever, for which all Anglophone expats (or at least those with a warped sense of humor) can heave a collective sigh of relief.

As it happens, there is a website whose entire raison d’etre is the cataloguing of such things: www.engrish.com. Don’t even go there: 1) if you have fewer than two hours to spend meandering your way through the site; 2) if you have just had surgery, and belly laughter will cause your stitches to burst; and 3) if you will be offended by unintentional Asian lapses into what Americans might call bad words (like the delightful menu offering “Fried Horse Crap with Lime”). There are sections on business establishments (how about the food stand that offers “Fried Needles”?), menus (“The Palace Oil Explodes the Duck”), greeting cards (“Hey HO! It’s Christmas Time!), labels (“THIS IS NOT A TOY AND SHOULD BE KEPT AWAY FROM CHILDREN MADE IN CHINA”), warning signs (“Fall into the water carefully”), and so much more. There are oodles of pictures, of which I have included a couple as teasers. Truly, one of the do-not-miss sites of the internet!


Go-Kekkon Omedeeto Gozaimasu!

November 10, 2010

It is a big time for weddings among my Asian friends, it would seem. No fewer than three are tying the knot in fairly short order. I would normally offer the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that it was something in the water, but the strange fact is that one of the weddings will be happening in Japan, one in Korea, and one in Germany, assuming that I have all my facts straight from my none-too-accurate translation program.

Kil-sun, a Korean woman I have mentioned in these pages on a couple of occasions, just sent me an invitation to her wedding in Suwon, a city an hour’s ride south of Seoul. There are pics of Kil-sun in earlier posts of this blog, the ones dealing with my shivery travels to Korea in the dead of this past winter. We’ve been friends for several years, having met in Canada where she was “WWoofing” (working for room and board through the auspices of World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at a restaurant operated by a friend of mine. She, Saki and I braved the mosquitoes and the downpours to go to our first Stan Rogers festival together, where Kil-sun discovered in herself quite an appreciation for English folk-rock music, particularly a band called the Strawbs. I thought it showed remarkably good taste on her part, as I have been a Strawbs fan for almost as long as she has been alive.

On a couple of occasions thus far, I have visited her family home, partaken of the best Korean food I have ever eaten (hand prepared by Kil-sun and her mom), and been thoroughly stymied by a traditional card game in which the cards have geometric and floral designs rather than numbers. I suspect that quite a lot of the evening’s laughter was at my expense, but if that was the case, everyone was much too polite to let on.

My friend Masumi, whose picture you can see in an earlier Mysterious Orientations post called Japanese Women on Walkabout, has either just gotten married or is just about to, depending on which translation program one uses. She is in Germany, studying German, and marrying a German man. I met her when she was a cashier at Inageya, the grocery store closest to my house in Japan. I was going through her checkout line at a slow time of the day, and she asked me a tentative question or two in English. Her English was not great then, but it has improved over the time I have known her (rather more than my Japanese has, I’m afraid).  Anyway, she managed to convey that she would like to be friends, a notion with which I wholeheartedly concurred, and we have met and exchanged emails numerous times since.

Then there is Akiko. Of the three, she is the one I know the least well, but two things drew us together early on: first off, her English is really excellent, not just vocabulary but also nuance. It is a rare occasion when we have to pause in a conversation to explain or regroup. Secondly, we are both serious cinema fans, and we spent numerous evenings at my house in Prince Edward Island watching movies both in English and Japanese, then discussing and critiquing them afterward (once a critic, always a critic, I guess).

Akiko, more than any other woman I know in Japan, really does not like the work-centric lifestyle of the Japanese. In fact, she would much prefer to live abroad. Oddly, her German boyfriend is in Japan nowadays (as is she), working at a language school, I believe. She has spent quite some time in Germany over the time I have known her, though, and she sent me a most excellent postcard featuring a color photo of a classic BMW, for which I was most appreciative. I am not sure when her wedding is set for, but I think it is in the near future. And I imagine that if Akiko gets a say in where the newlyweds will live, it could be anywhere at all, so long as it’s not Japan.

So, I would like to offer my congratulations to these three wonderful women, and wishes for long and happy lives together with their significant others. In Japanese, that would be rendered as: “Go-kekkon omedeeto gozaimasu!” (assuming of course that the translation program can be believed…)

PS, to my other friends of marriageable age (Ayaka, Kazuko, Hitomi, Noriko, Miho, and Shiho jump to mind), if any of you are getting married or have gotten married, or have done something else wild and wonderful, I am eagerly awaiting an update!