Teacher’s Journey

15 Jun, 2013

For Dragon Boat Festival break we went to Dalian, which is a city on the Yellow Sea known for its beautiful scenery, modern buildings, and Russian architecture (due to briefly serving as a port city for the Russian Empire). Inna was excited to go birding. Our first day there, we went to a bird park/aquarium/amusement park called Laohutan (Tiger Beach) where in the aquarium we saw beluga whales and sharks, including a whale shark! And then we went to a botanical garden. Our second day there it rained all day, but in the course of walking, busing, and taxiing our way across the peninsula we saw some beautiful scenery and found an awesome trail to the top of one of the many green-clad mountains poking up out of the city. The last day there Inna went back to the park to do some more birding and I went shopping and exploring DaLian’s downtown and harbor. DaLian is scenery-wise the most beautiful city I’ve been to in China as yet.

27 Jun, 2013

In the United States, pretty much everyone takes Spanish in high school. Everyone knows how to say hello and goodbye and some other basic words in Spanish. Now imagine for a moment that in the U.S. Spanish was considered glamorous and fashionable, and people who speak Spanish were thought to be rich and sophisticated, that many stores have their names in Spanish as well as English, or even just Spanish, even if no one there speaks Spanish and they didn’t expect any of their customers to speak Spanish rather than English, and the fanciest malls just played popular Spanish songs, and people wore teeshirts with Spanish words and slogans without having any idea what they said, and often the people printing the teeshirts and translating the store names and information plaques and instructions don’t actually know Spanish and are just going by straight-across dictionary translations or what little they remember from high school.
That’s the state of English in China.

Some mistranslations are easy to understand. For example, the word for landscape is “shanshui” which is composed of the words “mountain” and “water,” which explains the book I saw with the English title “China’s Famous Mountain Water.” Others are completely puzzling. I saw some pants that said “Zhongguo” (China) in Hanzi (Chinese characters), and then right under it said “Chana.” Twice. I’m not quite sure how they managed that. In my building, every floor’s fire extinguisher is labeled “Fire hydran,” which sounds like some kind of awesome mythical animal to me. Some things say the opposite of what I’m pretty sure they were trying to get at, such as a journal with a beautiful picture of a hot air balloon over Paris on the cover that said “I’ve seen roses damasked red and white, but no such roses see I in her cheeks.”

I knew about this so-called Chinglish before coming here, of course; there are websites and even books of photographs of these amusing, bizarre, and occasionally accidentally poetic and profound mistranslations. What I didn’t know before coming here is how incredibly common they are. In fact, finding something translated into English that’s entirely spelled correctly, uses English grammar and syntax throughout, and isn’t awkwardly stilted is so rare it’s remarkable.

Of course, in the West with the romanticization of the mysterious Far East there are shirts and tattoos of incorrect or random Chinese, or just things that look like Chinese characters but aren’t really. (I own a couple of such shirts.) At an antique shop in Virginia a few months ago I saw two decorations, one with the Chinese character for “power” and the other with the character for “marital bliss.” There were tags explaining in English what they meant, but the tags were on the wrong ones. And then there’s the notorious incident of the Max Planck Institute wanting to have a Chinese poem on the cover of their magazine, and ending up with an ad for a Chinese strip club because no one bothered to find out what the exotic words they were slapping on their periodical actually meant.

27 Jun, 2013

I mentioned several months ago that few people around here seem to wear long skirts. That was true in the winter, but now that the weather’s hot the women of the city have broken out a plethora of skirts and dresses in a wider variety of styles than you see in America. Also, fluorescent colors are in fashion. The streets are a kaleidoscope of skirts, dresses, parasols (umbrellas when it rains), hats, and silky scarves some people wrap around their entire head as protection against sun and dust (I assume).

One thing that surprised me about Shenyang when I first arrived was the astonishing number of shopping malls. A few blocks from my apartment is a street called Zhong Jie that’s the oldest shopping district in Northeast China. A few blocks in the opposite direction there’s also a street market selling clothes, shoes, and trinkets, and another street market (one close enough for me to see the entrance from my bedroom window) that sells live plants, plant food, pots and vases, pets, and tools, and just a block beyond Zhong Jie is Shenyang Road, where there are shops selling traditional Chinese dresses, tea sets, paintings, calligraphy tools, carvings, old books, and macrame decorations. And then there are the vendors selling miscellaneous items from blankets on the sidewalks, food carts, and fruit stands on carts hitched to donkeys.

Thanks to all this easy access to inexpensive commodities, I’m worried that I’m becoming a shopaholic. I now own three qipaos, two sun jackets (one turquoise, one fluorescent chartreuse), two teapots and a teacup, a book of landscape paintings by famous Chinese artists (I was excited when I saw it by being able to read every character in the title), a bamboo plant, a silver hairpin with a dragon on it, three scarves (though in my defense one was a gift), a hat, and four fans (one to carry around in my purse, one for my bedroom, one for my work desk in my living room, and one because it has all the animals of the Chinese zodiac on it). I also briefly had a denglong hua, a beautiful flower I don’t know the English name for. But alas, it needed a lot of water and didn’t recover from my trip to Dalian. I also have a little ruyi, which is one of the things I really wanted to get while in China. I bought it from a street vendor. I don’t know how old it is or what kind of stone it’s carved from, or if it’s shaped in the head of a dragon or a qilin (an auspicious deer-like creature that in ancient times was considered more powerful than a dragon, spelled “kylin” in English). It’s very small and beautiful and mysterious.

I recently discovered a complex of malls called Wuai City that is the most densely packed, labrynthine, cluttered shopping establishment I’ve ever seen. It has an entire floor called Stationery Plaza where a notebook addict should not go.

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