Wednesday, January 25, 2006


In honour of Chinese new year:

Despite the fact that my Mandarin is piss-poor and my Cantonese isn't that much better, I know enough about Chinese to order in a restaurant and to know when family members are talking ill of me. Sadly, despite years upon years of Chinese language training, I haven't quite gotten past phrases in Mandarin such as shi hui jiu yi hao ("Socialism is Good") and wo bu zhi dao ("I don't know") and Cantonese phrases such as lei yiu muht yea ("what do you want") .

However, repeated viewings of John Woo's Lashou Shentan ("Hard-Boiled") have taught me all sorts of great phrases such as mo yook ("Don't move"), mo yup lei ah ("Don't come in"), and pok gai (what you say when you are an undercover cop named Allan and you and another cop named Tequila have been running through the corridors of a hospital armed with semi-automatic weapons, shooting everything that moves, and then you come to a realization that the last guy you shot three times at point-blank range was actually a cop).

The introduction of Asian culture into North America has had its ups, whether it be the proliferation of Chinese restaurants, the explosion in popularity of Japanese animation (or anime), and Quentin Tarantino's influences from Japanese and Hong Kong cinema (as seen in Kill Bill parts 1 and 2).

And then there are the downsides, whether it be the fetishization of Asian women (appropriately named "yellow fever"), phoney martial arts acadmies (widely discussed in the website,, and people developing an interest in Asian culture for the completely wrong reasons.

And then we have stuff like this.

One enterprising eBay seller from Australia is selling framed his-and-hers prints of people's names "translated" into Chinese. That is, they take the closest syllable sound in Mandarin or Cantonese, regardless of what it means. The end result is an ugly mish-mash of random characters that makes no sense to a native Chinese speaker.

Despite the fact that my understanding of Chinese is minimal, even I know that this does not translate into "Benjamin." Best I could come up with is ben-zhi-ming. Broken down per character: ben: measure word, used between a numerical value and a noun (eg: yi-ben shu: one book). ming: prefix, has no meaning without following word (eg: mingbai - understand; mingnian - next year). I'm not sure what the middle symbol means.

This isn't as bad as getting tattoos, though. There are many horror stories about people with a passing interest in Asian culture who get tattoos of Asian characters (whether it be Chinese hanzi characters or Japanese katana characters), but have no idea what they mean, or get a really mean spirited translator or tattoo artist. At least having a print with a mistranslated Chinese phrase doesn't require expensive and painful surgery to remove. deconstructs many of these tattoos to hilarious effect, whether it be a person who has glaring grammatical errors in Chinese, reversed characters, or just plain bad translations. Among the more embarassing ones: "Abusive Husband Pimps Me Out" and "Crazy Diarrhea."

The best take on the matter is courtesy of the boys at The prankster managed to convince a female coworker that the Chinese character tattoo on her arm was actaully taken from a Chinese take-out menu.

I decided to get in on the fun myself, with my webcomic, Major Studio Production. In my latest strip, I researched four Chinese tattoos that would look really ridiculous if a person decided to go ahead and get them permanently etched on their skin. I have consulted with the webmaster of and with his suggestions, the characters should be accurate.

And by the way, gung hei fat choy.

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