A Chinese tattoo in Canada

Saw a lot of Chinese tattoos during our two months in North America this summer. Some were good, some were legible but obviously drawn by a non-Chinese, some were wrong but guessable.

This is the tattoo of one of the kids’ nature program instructors at the provincial park we camped at in B.C. (super nice guy, taught our daughter about climate change and bears). Can anyone help me out with the middle character?


He said it’s supposed to be “courage” 勇气 (勇氣), “achievement” 芸, and “peace of mind” or “comfort” 安心,but all I can find for 芸 is that it’s a Japanese variant of 艺 (skill, art). Anyone got any better ideas?

This Chinese preschool’s Chinglish is getting out of hand

The Top (read: Bottom) Three Chinglish Offenses from this last semester.


lipstick saved me
Really: How does this stuff end up on children’s clothes in China?


money cash hoes
I actually explained this one to his Chinese teachers, and told them they need to tell his parents. They didn’t. +1 for spelling, though.

You should be thinking: what could possibly be better/worse than “HOES”?

Well, I’ll show you…


queen of effing everything
The Queen of Effing Everything, aka “‘Connie’, the sweet, five year old Chinese girl.”

I know I know — technically none of these are Chinglish because they’re all proper English. I’m using a better definition of “Chinglish”, O.K.?

After a while, the Chinglish can wear on your mind. Daily your landscape is populated with combinations of letters or words that look like real words or sentences — you know, the kind that mean something. Only they’re utter gibberish, and it’s impossible to tell what, if anything, they were originally meant to say. Probably the majority of t-shirt Chinglish is this way, at least in this preschool. Sure you learn to ignore it. But it still draws your eye, fires some back corner synapses in your brain because you naturally, automatically try to read it, only to discover it’s meaningless. It’s almost like a form of brainwashing, as if they were trying to unlearn your ability to read by showing you large volumes of nonsense every day for years.

But Chinglish takes many forms: random phrases, cultural debris lifted directly from English media and advertising, and often deployed in places you wouldn’t expect. Or apparently misremembered, misspelled words or phrases that you can still make out what they are meant to say. Or stuff that’s obviously translated out of Chinese that just sounds stupid, but occasionally funny (we have a “Comfortable Breast” rice bowl that we save for first-time Western guests). Or stuff that was obviously written by someone with English as their second language — grammar mistakes and word-choice problems. My favourite is a tie between the signage in Licun Park (see #1 in this Top 5 list, if you don’t mind swear words! ;) ) and this exceptional Bible story.

It’s not that I expect people to do better (can you imagine if every other North American business tried to produce their own Chinese signage?), and it’d be nice if they’d pay me as a consultant. But the sheer volume you’re exposed to here can be mind-numbing after a while…

Bible story Chinglish

My favourite Sunday school Chinglish ever: The Parable of the Prodigal Son like you’ve never experienced it before. From our friend Lindy in Tianjin.

Bible Chinglish
“He…lived a wild life wasting his money on beers and women skittles and other skittles.”

Funny video: Pronouncing English with Chinese syllables

It’s fun when you can get a joke in another language, even if it is middle school potty humour. I’ve come across this joke before, and it’s a funny demonstration of the pronunciation differences between Chinese and English.

The dialogue in English and Chinese (with mouseover pinyin) is below the video clip:

Kid: [Mouth] 猫屎! Cat poo!
Teacher: 对! Correct!
Kid: [Earth] 耳屎! Earwax!
Teacher: 好! Good!
Kid: [Bees] 鼻屎! Snot!
Teacher: 最后一个! Last one!
Kid: [Last] 拉屎! Go poo!
Teacher: 全答对了! 拉完屎之后呢……? All answered correctly! And after going poo…?
Kid: [Yes] 爷死! Grandpa dies!
Kid: [Nice] 奶死! Grandma dies!
Teacher: OK!
Kid: [Bus] 爸死! Dad dies!
Teacher: 哦,好! Oh, great!
Kid: [Knees] 你死! You die!
Teacher: å—¯ Mmm-hmm.
Kid: [Was] 我死! I die!
Teacher: 好!
Kid: [Does] 都死! All die!
Teacher: 都死之后? After everybody dies?
Kid: [One dollar] 完蛋了! (We’re) doomed! [lit. “The egg is done”; fig. “We’re done for/doomed/finished/toast”.]
Teacher: 全答对了! All answered correctly!

Chinese “compliments” — English student edition

Chinese ways of showing interest, care or concern for someone often take the form of unsolicited advice about things foreigners consider very personal, usually with humourous (if the foreigners are well-adjusted) or tearful (if they’re not) results. Here’s what one of my bald coworkers received in a Chinese Valentine’s Day card from one of our students:

I had an experience of touching your head. It was not slipped as I imagined. but it was nice. At last, I have a suggestion: lose some weight! You’ll more handsome, no the most handsome if you lose your weight!

Have a baby soon.

For more about this quirky (to us) Chinese way of showing interest, care or concern see:

Merry Chinese Christmas… text message style

It’s custom in China to send people wishes via text message on the biggest holidays, sort of like what Christmas cards used to be in North America. Here’s one I received on Christmas Day from a friend:

Joel! Merry Christmas to you and Jessica and L! Including yours friends and your parents, brother sisters! Merry Christmas to every Americans and Canadians!

And, for the second day of Christmas, here’s a song of hope by Over the Rhine:

[audio:03 White Horse.mp3]

See more about Christmas in China here: