Monday, August 18, 2008

Bust in translation - Taiwan edition

I've been on some long plane rides again, and rather than post about easily lampoonable SkyMall copy, this time I'm taking on easily lampoonable mistranslations. The following signage I found along my recent visit to the country of Taiwan, or the Republic of China (not to be confused with the People's Republic of China.) Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a beautiful place -- a bustling international city nestled in the middle of lush sub-tropical hills. The people are friendly, the city is clean, accessible and easily navigated, but, as happens in most places in Asia, they have a little trouble with the English.

How hard can it be to run something through a translation service? You have to wonder how people just settle on using Babel Fish or whatever to translate lines that are going to appear across a city of millions of people. So, here are a few examples that caught my eye as I was walking around:

These personal care stores were everywhere in Taipei....

Only curious women need makeup and deodorant, apparently.


Here's a sign I kept seeing on the subway (MRT) for the Chinese Christian Relief Association:

Why, exactly, is love power? I can't read Mandarin, but it's hard to imagine that statement being explained here. Also, why do the mother and daughter have books over the heads? Because love... is.... power?


This was outside an Italian restaurant...

Possibility #1: They mean "Midnight 12:00" but the "1" fell off.
Possibility #2: They mean "Midnight to 2:00," and they have really weird hours.
Possibility #3: They think "Midnight" means "2:00am," and they were misinformed.
Possibility: #4: They are crazy.


A clothing store was having a sale. This is how they advertised it:

"I *heart* final" and "I *heart* sale"?! That's the best anyone could come up with? Here's the crazy thing, originally I had thought this was your run-of-the-mill silly translation error. Then I looked this store up, it's in the US, too, and they have the same damn ads. I'd love to see someone walking around with a button that says "I *heart* final." Because, why not? That makes sense out of context, right?


And finally, straight from the Taipei 101 subway station....
The only English you see on this entire thing, which was a huge poster, is "Castrated Chicken." It may spoil it slightly to learn that's the English title of a Taiwanese play, but it's still pretty excellent. I really wanted it to be a restaurant, not a play. Or maybe a clinic.

So, Taiwan certainly has better English signage than, say, mainland China. And, in their defense, they recently switched to a different form of Romanization (Hanyu Pinyin instead of Wade-Giles), so there are about 8 different ways to spell everything. All things considered, not too bad. But, still enough craziness to amuse an American traveler/meta-critical ad blogger abroad.


Dana said...

I'll make sure to get some of these awesome translation errors when I'm in Japan next week - they are full of them.

Brian Buscher said...

That's great! I heart final-what more can I say? I've heard that Asian cultures use English strictly as a design element sometimes. They don't care what the English means, they just think it looks cool. Kind of like Americans with Chinese/Japanese character tattoos. "Yeah, I think it means 'awesome' in Chinese." "Um, actually it means 'gullible' in Chinese."