Lost in Translation

There are some aspects of life in China that even after half a year here I still find extremely odd. A lot of quirks in the culture that just don’t really translate into something we would have back home.

One thing I’ve gotten used to but still occasionally throws me when I see extreme examples is the Asian preference for all things cute. Clothes, toys, phones etc all come with extra frills and prints of cartoon characters like Hello Kitty (and Dear Daniel, the male version). I was shopping with a Chinese friend recently who just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want cartoon characters on my clothes or why I would choose a dark coloured top when there were multi-coloured polka dot versions available. The highlight of cuteness in Shanghai though has to be the dogs. They’re rarely any bigger than a Chihuahua and are pretty much always dressed up in a little outfit (I’ve seen quite a few dressed as bumble bees with little wings!).

It's even wearing socks!

It’s even wearing socks!

Less cute and more disturbing though, are some of the food choices. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the abundance of chicken feet in every restaurant but the other day I found something far more unsettling: pig faces. Whole pig faces cut away from the head and spread out into plastic wrapping. It’s like a Halloween mask straight from your nightmares. Who in their right mind would buy that and take it home to their family?!

Whole pig faces for sale, eyes and all

Whole pig faces for sale, eyes and all

Then, of course, there are the standard mistranslations of signs or on menus. Thankfully most of the restaurants here have photos of the food next to the names so you can try to guess what you’re ordering, but even then when you’re choosing something labelled “Cowboy Leg” or “Carbon burns fresh particularly must” it’s still a bit of a gamble. You have to think of every meal like opening Christmas presents from your parents: you have a good idea of what you asked for but you can’t be certain that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Even if you know what the dish is you can’t be sure it’ll be the same every time. There’s a local noodle place near the dorms I go to for lunch sometimes and I picked a random dish because it looked like a standard chicken and vegetables with noodles kind of thing but when it arrived it was beef rather than chicken. Still very tasty though so I ordered the same thing the next time and there was no beef; this time it came with mixed seafood. Fortunately I’m not a fussy eater and love most Chinese food (with the exception of pig faces and chicken feet) so I was still happy with it.

Some serious mistranslations here

Some serious mistranslations here

Finally, I think things here get lost in translation even when there is no language involved. Chinese people live entirely by their own rules and like to ignore little things like traffic lights, “no parking” zones and the need for registration plates.

Because who needs a license plate anyway right?

Because who needs a license plate anyway right?

After a while though you start to really enjoy the chaotic side of things here and I think it’ll seem a bit dull when I move back to the UK and know I can cross the road when the pedestrian light is green without having to weave in and out of cars, mopeds and bicycles all going in different directions at different speeds. Where’s the fun in that??

Katie.

Leave A Comment

Copyright Sci@StAnd 2013