Category Archives: China

Shantang Street

As I mentioned in the last post, Tiger Hill is a very old site.  In 825 CE, it was connected to the city of Suzhou by a new canal, the Shantang Canal, which was paralleled by a new street, Shantang Street (these parallel streets and canals constitute the traditional Suzhou “double chessboard” pattern, two interlocked grids, one of water and one on land). The end of Shantang Street nearest to the city has been turned into an official tourist attraction old street, combining historic buildings with cafés, silk shops, tea, Shanghai Lady cosmetics, paper cuts, and various other Chinoiserie.

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However, Shantang Street is 7 li (2.2 miles) long and most of it, while protected, has not been turned into a tourist playground.

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There are a few grander buildings on Shantang Street near Tiger Hill that have been fixed up and opened to visitors. As I was walking down the street, a few tourists came to visit these in cars with drivers and tour guides, but visitors were few.

Pufu Temple, on Shantang Street

Pufu Temple, on Shantang Street

Inside, there is a garden, a nice surprise.  No one was here except me and a groundsman.

Inside, there is a garden, a nice surprise. No one was here except me and a groundsman.

I do not know the story of this sculpture, inside the garden, but am interested to learn, if any readers know more about it.

I do not know the story of this sculpture, inside the garden, but am interested to learn, if any readers know more about it.

The corner of another temple, painted Buddhist yellow.

The corner of another temple, painted Buddhist yellow.

Most of Shantang Street is residential.  A few small shops and businesses (I saw a barber chair or two) serve locals.  When I went into a shop for a water, the proprietor was working on embellishing a wedding dress.  It was more workshop than shop.

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I just can't resist mops; they are treated with such care.

I just can't resist mops.  They are treated with such care.

I just can’t resist mops. They are treated with such care.

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I saw very few people along most of Shantang Street, and those I saw were mostly elderly, enjoying the sun on a very mild January day.

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Chairs waiting in the sun.

Chairs waiting in the sun.

Even in January, some signs of spring

Even in January, some signs of spring

A few residents enjoyed the sun in front of this large, newer-looking public building.

A few residents enjoyed the sun in front of this large, newer-looking public building.

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As I walked farther along Shantang Street, to the section not near either tourist pole, many buildings were empty and in worse repair.

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Rather than fully renovated historic buildings, this middle stretch saw the traces of old, grand structures fully integrated into ordinary life.

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Just before the tourist stretch of Shantang Street, the street suddenly gets much busier.

Lighting a brazier which sits just outside the door, boiling water without adding smoke to the house.  This one was burning scrap wood, but many use charcoal.

Lighting a brazier which sits just outside the door, boiling water without adding smoke to the house. This one was burning scrap wood, but many use charcoal.

The street becomes a very lively market

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There are a few tourist items, especially stone beads, but mostly this is where people do their daily shopping.

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And if things aren’t too busy, it’s a good place to play a hand of cards or to kibbitz.

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If you search for pictures of Shantang Street, most won’t look anything like these, but the Shantang Street of laundry, handwork, and shopping is probably much more true to its nearly 1200 years of history than the historical fairyland with café latte that most people visit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Translation

Translating is necessary to everyday life.  I have multiple apps on my phone to help me get by (CamDictionary to translate characters; Waygo to translate menus more accurately; Pieco dictionary and Jibbigo, which I don’t use as much, plus Google translate on the computer).  But translation is always difficult, and translating between languages that are as different as Chinese and English is particularly difficult, leading to what is popularly known as Chinglish (I wonder whether there is an equivalent Englese for botched English-Chinese translations).

Chinglish can be created by machines as well as people, as anyone who has used google translate to shop on taobao knows well

google translate of a taobao shop.  All items on taobao translate as "babies"

google translate of a taobao shop. 

In addition to the vomiting price and the wire (yarn) presented here, all items on taobao are curiously translated as “babies” by google translate, making all transactions feel like illegal adoptions.

Most examples of Chinglish, however, although they may have been created by machine translation, are used only after vetting by humans.  The label on this mosquito netting is not untypical, and I suspect is a literal translation that, as you can see, fails utterly.  All I get from this is that it might be fancy since the word palace is there.

What may be too literal a translation, describing a mosquito curtain for a queen bed.

What may be too literal a translation, describing a mosquito curtain for a queen bed.

Some are in part curious concepts, like this sign on Pingjiang Lu

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Aside from the interesting idea of instant utmost bearing capacity, which I think I’ve hit once or twice in the last week, these are astonishingly high numbers.  I think this sign is saying that 40 million people could visit Pingjiang Road in one day, which is hard to imagine, even after experiencing Shanghai during October golden week.

Many seem to have to do with creating positive associations, although I am really not sure whether blond supermarkets have more fun

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Sometimes the associations go entirely haywire, however.

Rather a nice fruity tisane, although I do wonder when I drink it whether this means I have given up on my hopes and aspirations.

Rather a nice fruity tisane, although I do wonder when I drink it whether this means I have given up on my hopes and aspirations.

Some of the most spectacular Chinglish are examples of malapropisms, of the sort you can find posted in any country. Someone who kind of knows English tries using a slightly fancy word but accidentally uses a different one, just like Mrs. Malaprop, a character in the 1775 play The Rivals.  I do believe this one we found at a foreign food grocery last spring outdoes anything Mrs. Malaprop ever says, however.

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Because of course, nothing makes you have to pee quite as much as a closed grocery store.

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