Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Engrish.com has a huge gallery of adventures in mistranslation. Despite the fact that Asian education standards are much higher than that of North American schools (especially in Japan and Hong Kong), much of the English written on products for general consumption are very poorly translated. This is partly because they don't necessarily intend for their products to be used outside of their country of origin, but also because they can't be bothered to hire a native English translator. The results are funny, to say the least. Hence, you get products such as "Pocari Sweat" (which is available in North American stores that cater to Asians, such as T&T Supermarket) and t-shirts that read "Toilet Love" (this is available for sale on the website).

There is a flipside to this, all of which is the indirect result of the mainstreaming of Asian culture. Because of free trade and immigration, Asian culture is becoming very prevalent in North America. Japanese cartoons are routinely translated into English for Saturday morning, and have even become more popular than domestic product. The Chinese martial arts film "Hero" (aka Ying Xiong) is the current box-office draw. And, get dropped off in the middle of nowhere and you will find an Asian restaurant within walking distance. Heck, in my neighbourhood alone, there are three places you can get sushi, all on opposite street corners. And yes, I have eaten at all three of them.

Being a multicultural society, it is only fitting that most non-Asians person partake in the many facets of Asian culture, whether it be dining at an authentic Chinese restaurant (and not just ordering what can be best termed as Gwai-Lo Chinese food -- lemon chicken, egg foo yung, chicken chow mein), studying Tae-Kwon Do, or watching Rahsomon.

And then there are those who take it a little bit further. Too bad that they're taking it in the wrong direction.

One non-Asian guy I met at the gym had a particular Chinese character tattooed on his shoulder. Despite growing up in a Chinese household, my knowledge of the Chinese language is best described as weak, most of which I know being learned from repeated viewings of John Woo's "Hard-Boiled" (for example, if you point a gun at someone's head, you're supposed to say "mo yook", which means "don't move." That's good to know). But, I do know a couple other things about the written parts of Chinese. The conversation went as follows:

"So, you know what that character means, right?"
"Yeah, it's the year I was born."
(me shaking my head) "Uh...no."
"Yeah, man. It's the year I was born."
"Uh...no it's not."
(slightly desperate this time) "Yeah, man, it's the year I was born."
"Uh...that's only one character. The year you were born should have at least four characters."
"It's the year I was born."
"Dude it could say JACKASS for all you know."
"But it's the..."
"It just says "YEAR." That's all it says."

This is essentially the opposite of what they feature on Engrish.com. Somehow, I get the feeling that there is probably someone in Asia collecting photos of the poorly translated tattoos acquired by baka gai-jin (that's Japanese for "Stupid Foreigner").

Methinks he either thought it was cool looking and decided to go for it, or he's trying to pick up Chinese girls at the clubs (the epidemic of so-called "Yellow Fever" -- fetishization of Asian females -- is another negative aspect of mainstreaming of Asian culture). Word of advice, my gwai-lo friend. If you want to get something Chinese permanently scarred on your skin, do your research. Ask a Chinese person who actually speaks and writes Chinese. Then get a second, third, and fourth opinion.

This is when Asian culture is not so much as being mainstreamed as it's being white-washed.

Stuff like this shouldn't really bother me this much, although it's generally not expected of me anyway -- I don't look that much Chinese (today, another person had no clue as to my nationality). But, it dilution of culture is a shame in just about any culture.

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