Monday, January 18, 2010

Broken English

One of the joys of turning Chinglish into English as a "foreign native English speaking polisher expert" are the times when the material's garble mystically morphs into prose that could be passed off as quasi-Bob Dylan or James Joyce genius.

More often its just a soundalike vocabulary or grammar slip as in a story about a ferryboat "collusion" rather than collision Or "From a distance the village looks like a piece of silver as many stoned houses makes the village look shining far away." The writer meant "stone houses," of course.

"Cold and worm dishes offer various specialties." Although, yeah, worm vs warm may not be such a stretch given the stereotype of (particularly southern Chinese) eating everything but the table legs at a banquet). Or "The colorful cultures of ethnic groups also add lust to the city." I think the writer mean "luster." Or maybe not.

And there are the times when the writer reaches for her or his trusty Chinese-English dictionary that was last updated in the 1970s by Russian editors. Overwriting is common as in this description of a charity fund raiser, not an orgy. "The evening was characterized by vibrant atmosphere ventilating godlike excitement as guests enjoy the coming together of friends."

Some may be awkwardly phrased but, yeah, you get the point. "Some netizens hold a similar understanding that 'Happiness is the feeling a cat gets when it is eating a fish; it is the feeling a dog has when it is enjoying meat, and it is the thing Ultraman feels when beating monsters!'"

And this from a description of an "ethnic minority" dance that could pass as square dance calling with a little tweaking. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven—crash your neighbor's crotch and then going on to the music: one two three four five six seven.

"The more hard a guest of Primi minority was crashed on his crotch, the more warm welcome he received in our village. Three Primi young people dancing with their five Yi ethnic counterparts in the last program Dance of Crotch Crashing for the special performances of Guarding the Forest.

Outdated or terms so obscure that I can't tell if they are real or not often pop up as in "Venezuela has been declared territory free of analphabetism." I looked up analphabetism and found, no it has nothing to do with unusual sexual practices but is a real word that means illiteracy. How analphatbetic did I feel then?

A colleague of mine, James Palmer and I were discussing this recently and he came up with the "Is it James Joyce or Chinglish?" test Here's a sample Pick Joyce or Chinglish for each selection. No Googling allowed.

A.The creating cabin called as time tunnel. B. He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders. C. He is easily taken apart from his hometown fellows when he makes some utterance. D. Wonder what kind is swanmeat.

A and C are Chinglish. B and D are Joyce.

In that spirit I offer the Dylan (who will bestow Beijing with his Bobness on April 4, thank you jeebus!) or Chinglish? quiz.

A. With 100 eyes of 100 Hamlets, the mountain crawls under the paintbrush of 100 artists. B. His hindbrain hit by electricity as he orders four treasures. C. The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face. D. With his businesslike anger and his bloodhounds that kneel,if he needs a third eye he just grows it.

A and B are Chinglish. C and D are Zimmerman.

Them sometimes it becomes near-poetry, or perhaps inspiration for a children's book. "Now the Changsha Zoo is selling tiger's whispers which raises citizens' curiosity. Some Chinese characters written with chalk on a blackboard in the zoo says, “There are some tiger’s whispers for sale, and specially for drivers and children.”

He meant "tiger whiskers" but I think tiger whispers is much better, 'specially for drivers and children. I'll take two boxes, please.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

Worst New Year Eves ever – two in China.

1.Camp Casey, Tongduchon, South Korea, 1975. Pull frozen lonely guard duty at a 2nd Army Division ammo dump where I ring in the New Year politely defending “Freedoms Frontier” from a wizened mama-sans offer of “No 1 girl give you No 1 sucky-sucky good time.”
Resolution: Report for sick call and fake flu when assigned to guard duty on a holiday.

2.Louisville and Englewood, Colorado, 1989 Big fight about nothing in particular with soon to be ex. Displaying what can only be described as “remarkably poor judgment” I impulsively seek comfort by ingesting a dose of hallucinogenic mushrooms after domestic dispute and before we go to a party hosted by a couple I dont much care for. Spend evening ignoring wretched spouse, watching people’s faces melt and viewing MTVs Aerosmiths Rockin’ New Year with hosts’ 13-year-old son who periodically appears to catch fire.
Resolution: Get divorced before New Year. Restrict mushroom use to non-hallucinogenic salads and Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup.

3.Shenzhen, China, 2005. At 8:30 pm C impulsively decides we aren't going to a posh hotel overnight party affair for which Id already booked reservations and paid a deposit. She cites no particular reason, except “I don't have anything to wear,” switches on a Chinese TV soap opera and pouts in icy silence. I walk out without speaking and take a bus back to Hong Kong where the New Year arrives in a Wanchai bar amid forced revelry and Thai and Filipina hookers. At some point I drunkenly hit on a “lady boy,” realize my mistake and wake up guilt-ridden, depressed and alone.
Resolution: Buy C a new dress or prepare to scrutinize gorgeous flirtatious women carefully for Adams apple and stubble.

4.Beijing, China, 2010. At 1:38 am following a pleasant party sponsored by my employer at a cutting edge nightclub, my companion and I are preparing for bed at her place. My cell phone beeps with a text message alert. I open it and read New Year terms of extreme endearment from another woman of whom my gracious hostess was unaware until she “accidentally” looked over my shoulder and “accidentally” read the message. Emotional chaos and ill feelings ensue. Nobody's fault but mine. Resolution: Honesty is the best policy, especially when it comes to romance.