A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend with "Is China Ready for the 2008 Olympics?" written in the subject line. The message contained a series of photos showing amusing Chinese-to-English translations - or rather, mistranslations - on signs in public places: "Handbasin for child only do not beat" over what looks like a bathroom sink, "Toilets of Man" indicating what I assume is a men's restroom, and "The Tourist Halts" on a door that most likely leads to someone's home or office.
It didn't really occur to me that such translations would impact the Olympics until I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in mid-June and found, on a kiosk full of informative scientific papers on training methods, two entertaining articles from http://www.chinadaily.com/ on how China is trying to fix these bad English translations before the Olympics begin.
One article entitled "China Wants to Stamp Out Embarrassing ‘Chinglish,'" and written in October 2006, lists some of the more amusing translations once found on public signs: At the Beijing airport, an emergency exit read, "No entry on peacetime," and on a road sign on Beijing's Avenue of Eternal Peace, "To Take Notice of Safe; The Slippery are Very Crafty" (leading me to believe that trolls might leap out and make drivers crash).
The second article, "Beijing to dent bad English translations," written in April 2007, said that traffic signs and those on public facilities (like hopefully, the one over that handbasin) in Beijing were mostly re-translated, and that the next challenge would be fixing restaurant menus.
The article indicated that a diner in any number of Chinese restaurants could select from enticing entrees such as "cow bowel in sauce" and "corrugated iron beef."
For more laughs, I searched for "English translations" on chinadaily.com and found 270 articles do****enting this issue, the most recent saying that China has already retranslated over 13,900 signs in public places and that as of February 2008, the Beijing Municipal Tourism Bureau has reportedly provided restaurants with a set of fixed English translations for menus.
"Misleading, and often hilarious, translations such as ‘chicken without sexual life,' ‘husband and wife's lung slice' or even ‘bean curd made by a pock-marked woman' have been replaced with ‘Spring chicken,' ‘pork lungs in chili sauce' and ‘stir-fried tofu in hot sauce,'" says one article, published January 13, 2008.
Although these translations will make ordering a meal less dicey, I hope they've missed a few. What fun is travel without signs that make you double over laughing? Signs that make you write home to say you survived eating sexless chicken, or that you declined to see a doctor at the "shortsighted treatment hospital."
I for one wouldn't mind discovering what "corrugated iron beef" really is. Then again, it sounds like something I would cook.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.