Fun with mistranslation, cont.

This follows the earlier "Chinglish" discussion here and here.

1) The previous posts explored the puzzle of why Chinese organizations so cavalierly put English words on banners, menus, placards, annual reports, etc, without the slightest effort to find out whether the translations make sense.

Many people have written in to point out that it's not just a one-way process. The main counter-illustration comes from the Westerners, often athletes, who adorn themselves with Chinese-character tattoos that are often meaningless, garbled, backwards and upside down, or unintentionally hilarious. The site Hanzi Smatter is devoted exclusively to such cases.

Possible mitigating factor: the Chinese-character tattoos are generally used the way English is often used on Japanese T-shirts or backpacks. That is, as pure art and decoration, with no intention whatsoever of conveying meaning to native speakers. That's different from the Chinese case, where the worst errors come in translations made explicitly for foreigners to read. For example....

2) On the bus yesterday to the Olympic Rowing Site at Shunyi, far outside Beijing. Neither the driver nor the conductor on the bus spoke any English -- fair enough, this is China.  The scrolling sign at the front of the bus showed the destination in Chinese characters, which was fine for my purposes, and then in this English "translation":

That's just part of a scrolling transliteration about twice as long as could fit on the screen at one time. It's a phonetic (pinyin) rendering of the original Chinese characters, linked end to end into one Germanic-style foot-long word. (The parts we're seeing are equivalent to "..lympic on-water pa...")  An actual translation, meant to be read by foreigners, would simply have said "Shunyi Olympic Rowing Center."  Or, "Rowing and Canoeing Center," etc.

Again, no complaint about signs within China being rendered in Chinese. That's part of the fun and satisfaction of living here. But I could tell that a number of the Brit, New Zealand, Aussie, Italian, German, and other Olympic visitors on the bus with us had no idea where it was going, and no one to ask... except us, which is really scraping the barrel. (Plus an English-speaking Chinese woman who was also aboard.)