Posted by: travelrat | June 23, 2014

Signs and Symbols: Chinese Trivia

Regrettably, after three weeks in China, I was only able to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you!’ and ‘Excuse me!’ in Chinese. The difficulty was, of course, that Chinese signs and things aren’t in an alphabet we’d recognise. You really need to learn the characters, so you can absorb a little of the language through reading the signs.

Luckily, many of the more important ones are in English as well … and some of the English is pretty fractured; some claim it’s a whole language of its own, called ‘Chinglish’. Of course, the signwriter’s English (or Chinglish!) is a lot better than my Chinese, but some, you just have to laugh at.


Out of the bus window, I saw the ‘How Wei Restaurant’ … unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with my camera; that would have gone down really well in Newcastle!

Many of the souvenirs you buy have Chinese writing on them. I was just about to buy a T-shirt, when Linda came past. I asked her what the characters on the shirt meant, and she said it was something about a dragon jumping into the sea. I didn’t pay too much attention to the story; all I was really concerned with was to ensure it didn’t say something like ‘I am a stupid tourist, and I paid far too much for this crappy shirt’

I also learnt about Chinese names. Among Chinese people, it’s the custom that the family name is the first name … for instance, the Master of the Yangtze 2, Yang Xue Tao is ‘Captain Yang’, not ‘Captain Tao’. A better known example is ‘Chairman Mao’ … Mao Zedong, or Mao Tse Tung.

The reason for the two different spellings is that, over the last few years, the preferred method of transliteration has become pinyin, replacing the older Wade-Giles system. So, Tsingtao became Qingdao, Szechuan became Sichuan … and Peking became Beijing.

Which, back in the 80s, had one newspaper editor fooled; when something happened in Beijing:

‘Have we got anyone on the ground in Beijing?’
‘Yes, Sir’
‘This looks like it might be big. How about we send someone from the Peking office to give a hand?’


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