Tag Archives: Chinglish

T shirt street

From our very first arrival in China, we have been fascinated by the T-shirts our students and others wear with sayings on them in something related to English.  For example, the very nice young man who made me a bowl of noodles for lunch at the Xinjiang noodle shop down the street sported this mysterious T

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We have wondered for some time where these T-shirts are acquired (other than “taobao, from whence all things come). The other day, we by chance stumbled along the answer, when we found what I know think of as T-shirt street, near Shilu, just to the West of the old city’s outer moat.


This side of town is where wedding street is, so it’s not so surprising to find a clothing-centered street.

Andy was quite tempted by this shirt


which also sported a big Statue of Liberty on the back, but it was surprisingly expensive, and even bargaining was unlikely to get it into the range we would be willing to pay.

Some shirts were surprisingly similar.

DSC03297hardcore pap 2

I have no idea whether there is a particular English phrase that these two are trying to replicate.  I suspect no-one wearing them has any clue what pap might refer to, and hardgore pap is a scary, if obscure, thought.

Urbanicteen also had several variations

goodfamilys urbanteen

Some shirts are deliberately referencing existing brand names (like the ubiquitous “Channel” hats, shirts, etc.)


Sometimes the letters are very close to random.


While at other times the words are there but the relationship between them is more obscure

bright braving

Sometimes the juxtaposition of words (and would-be words) is like poetry


In China, T-shirts are also often worn in sets for couples or for families (a trend I believe began in Korea). (If anyone can enlighten me as to the meaning of “lovers fushi,” please do)


One shop, watched over by a small pink-winged angel, carried a wide range of these (inclluding the above), many of them full outfits including pants or shorts.


leadingjoyfamily valencia

I could not convince my family of the necessity of our acquiring the cute sheep family outfits, complete with stripy shorts (seen in the window behind the angel).  But I did manage, once at least, to get us all to wear our matching family (non-T) shirts.

family shirts


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Wearing English

English letters are popular on clothes.  I say English letters (although they could be French or Spanish I suppose) because they often don’t add up to words as such, especially at the end of phrases, and it is even rarer that they add up to any understandable sense.

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Many seem almost legit, until you notice an odd misspelling or a strange phrasing




Sometimes they use a well-known phrase, but entirely out of context. I nearly bought a sweatshirt dress emblazened with “When Harry Met Sally,” and this sweater similarly puts a TV show into a very odd context.DSC01893

Some are simply puzzling


Some even poetic (the comma is what really makes me love this one)


This last example, worn by the schoolbus ayi (literally “bus auntie,” the bus aide who makes sure everyone gets on safely and wears a seatbelt), is not in English, but its combination of message and imagery makes it near the top of its class.

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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

bearing capacity

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


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.


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

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Instructional Signs

After a million meeting Monday, the best kind of post to write is short, fun, and full of pictures.  Or rather, full of signs, as there are many signs to instruct, cajole, and inform you what to do and how to act.IMG_0065

Once we have halted, we must be careful what we sketch or photograph.


We must follow the appropriate rules for experiencing the world


And if we are perceptive, we may even appreciate more than just art.

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And we can rest easy, knowing that the world is secure.



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Eating Chinese Food

It’s been a long day and the Great Firewall is making anything involving the internet tricky, so today will be a short post with a few thoughts on food (with more to follow another day).  Our diet has changed enormously since living here.  We have an ayi (maid, although literally, aunt) (more on our ayi and this whole experience on yet another day) who cooks for us  twice a week and makes so much that it takes care of 4 dinners for the adults in the family (kiddo tends to eat burritos and toasted cheese).  Between these dinners, lunch at work, and good inexpensive Chinese food in restaurants near us, the majority of our diet is Chinese.  This includes good things, like meat functioning almost as a condiment, rather than the bulk of a dish, and less good things, like a minimum of non-oiled vegetables.  It also means that a great deal of the time we have no idea what we are eating (I was less than thrilled when I found out that I had regularly been getting duck gizzard in the cafeteria; I didn’t enjoy it much).  Our puzzlement over dishes is not helped by the labels in one of the two university eating establishments, Parfait (or as kiddo calls it, Barfait)

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Our students eat, and offer to us, all sorts of interesting snack foods, including dried purple potatoes and squishy packets of something fish-based.  Stores sell snacks that we have not yet decided to try.



Popsicle flavors include chestnut and mung bean, both of which Jessica rather likes.  Bakeries offer bacon bread, red bean donuts, and the Japanese-inspired wiener donut.

wiener donut

And as we get older, there are foods made especially for us.


But there are also fantastic fruit.  Right at the moment, you can buy fresh mandarin oranges picked this morning from trees in Suzhou, near Tai Lake.  Grapes and pomegranates and loquat and wax fruit and peaches and sour cherries and more are also grown within greater Suzhou, and while apples and bananas are always available, you really experience the seasons of fruit.  I can’t wait until the spring when I can have this amazing array of fresh local fruit again.  The waxberries (to the lower left) are particularly amazing; kiddo ranks them with strawberries and raspberries in the best fruit ever.photo (52)

There are also fabulous noodles to be had for ridiculously little money (10 RMB and less), including the ones from the Xinjiang noodle shop down the street that stretches or cuts them fresh when you order them and serves them in a fragrant lamb broth with lots of coriander and as much spiciness as you like.

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A cluster of street stands near the Taoist temple in the center of Suzhou offer a wide range of choices, including spicy potatoes and sesame noodles with condiments from nearly 20 different containers.photo (76)

And for desert, you can always have some candied haw on a stick (I think haw is hawthorne berries).

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But order carefully; when I last treated myself to this indulgence, it turned out that I had asked for not candied haw, but rather candy-coated cherry tomatoes.  Cherry tomatoes are a fruit here, included in fruit salads and never in savory ones, but I am afraid my Western taste buds had a little trouble adjusting.


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