“Campus safety” – the joys of Chinglish pt.1

8 Sep

I’ve been a bit busy these past few days. Chinese language class started Tuesday (about which I hope to post soon) and today I toured the migrant school where I will begin teaching English next week. In case you were wondering, Yes, the school is filled with adorable little Chinese children.

In the meantime, please enjoy the photos below, from Monday’s “opening ceremony” for international students. For the first hour, it was an absolute snoozer. One by one, the head of the foreign students department, the university president, and the president of the foreign students’ union took his or her place in front of the lectern (left), then delivered a speech that, in and of itself, was reasonably concise. The problem lay to the right: three translators – English, Japanese, and Korean – who interpreted every speech through a microphone, two or three aggravating sentences at a time. It felt like I was on a cruise ship where announcements have to be repeated in five different languages.

D'Artagnan and the Three Stooges

The oratory finally concluded, it was then, to the audience’s silent chagrin, time for a “campus safety talk” with a local Public Security Bureau officer, who required a translator (thankfully just English) as he spoke only Mandarin. The following 45 minutes were, well, interesting…

Pay particular attention to the burglar illustration

Critical thinking vs. rote memorization, crystallized

A few slides were changed too quickly for me take pictures, but they included great lines like:

  • “Nowadays, the technology of stealing is advanced that may not be imagined”
  • (Regarding internet scams) “You had better choose some famous websites for your shopping on the net”
  • “The method of asking the police for help”
  • (In case of emergency) “Remember the feathers [features] of criminal and protect yourself”

As you may have noticed in the title, this post constitutes part one in an ongoing (never-ending?) series on “Chinglish,” the sublime butchering of Chinese-to-English translations. Stay tuned for more to come.


Settling in

5 Sep

The Puxi side of Shanghai, as viewed (by someone else) from the Lupu Bridge

“I see you driving ’round town with the girl I love and I’m like…”  Having departed Pudong Airport minutes earlier with a representative from my gap program, I now sat in a taxi, destined for my new home, listening to a taste of the old home: Cee-Lo Green, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson. While the rep, Jin Dan, and I made sporadic small talk in Chinese and English, the driver mercilessly fast-forwarded through his defective (and undoubtedly bootleg) CD of pop hits; he had little affection for slow ballads. But I wasn’t bothered. In fact, the up-tempo songs were a pitch-perfect match for my mood. 15 or so hours removed from America, watching low-rise apartments tinted orange by the late-afternoon sun whisk by, no amount of fatigue could dull my excitement to be in Shanghai.

After 45 minutes, the taxi abruptly pulled to the curb. I looked out the windows. Grocers, restaurants, newsstands, convenience stores, establishments of all varieties lined both sides of the wide, four-lane boulevard, Jinshajiang Road. Above the frenetic street rose apartment buildings five or six stories high. This would be home for the next three-and-a-half months.

Soon after stepping out of the car, I spotted five middle-aged Chinese women standing across the street, one of whom had to be my host mother. Sure enough, one perilous jaywalk later, I met my host-mother, the four other moms and Mason, a fellow “gapper” from San Francisco who had arrived a few days earlier. Mason took one of my bags while I carried the other up a flight of stairs to a second-floor apartment that overlooks Jinshajiang Road.

I spent a few minutes freshening up, then Mason took me on a tour of the East China Normal University (ECNU) campus, a five minute walk from my apartment. We entered at the main gate, an imposing white stone arch where a handful of policemen stood not-so-vigilantly, and through which motorized traffic passes. Beyond this edifice we walked straight, down the main campus road, as Mason identified points of interest. We ended up at the office the gap year organization, CIEE, maintains on campus, where I was introduced to the staff and teachers. In the adjacent room, I examined the small library of China-related books CIEE maintains. A sign on the cork board kindly requested that I, an international student, not show any books to Chinese students, as some of the material is banned in China.

When I returned home for dinner, around six o’clock, two new faces had arrived: my host-father and his (I think) college-age son, Dawei. I was happy to have Dawei, who speaks a little bit of English, end the uncomfortable silences that punctuated the dinner conversation whenever I had trouble unraveling what was being said or asked. My host-father, one in a long line of Chinese men to wear boxers and little else around the house, also tried to accommodate my months-dormant “Chinese brain” by talking slower and using different phrasings, but to no avail. After dinner, animatedly pantomiming how to operate the multiple doors and locks that lead into the apartment, he had more success getting the point across, though the words were still incomprehensible.

By this time, the jet lag I had so far evaded became palpable, the need for sleep overwhelming. I ventured to my bedroom, where suitcases lay on the floor untouched. The stifling Shanghai humidity as well as a desire to “do as the Romans do” compelled me to strip off extraneous clothing and slip under a single cover sheet. As I lay in the darkened room, a chorus of car horns, the rumble of mopeds, the loud jests and jubilant cries of ordinary people, the pulse of a city; they were all audible. For the first time in memory, I drifted to sleep listening not to one heart, but two.

欢迎您, Welcome! Or: You know you’re going to China when a woman is wearing a polka-dotted hat with Mickey Mouse ears

1 Sep

And so the journey begins…

Thanks for visiting the SinoFile! Over the course of my gap year, I’ll be using this space to chronicle my experiences in and observations of China: the people, the culture, the language, and more. Between now and December, I am studying Chinese at East China Normal University in Shanghai and teaching English at a school for migrant children, while living with a Chinese family. After the New Year, I will begin an internship at an English-language publication (to be determined), also in Shanghai. In addition to “sinofilic” posts, I hope to pepper in entries about current events, sports, television, and other topics. These may be tangentially related to China, or not at all.

I’ll do my best to write on a regular basis but if you have questions, comments, a seed of an idea, please let me know. Perhaps you’d fancy guest-writing a post? Let me know. To paraphrase a former Chinese teacher paraphrasing Confucius, “Isn’t it a pleasure to have friends from all over the world?”

Until next time…