Chinese communications

In the NY Times Travel section, a traveleractress Carrie Fisher and her son recount the communications challenges they encountered during their trip to Guilin, especially with Chinese signs translated into English.

Harper goes to the front desk and says, ”Checking in.” The man behind the desk looks at him blankly. Oh, man. If ”checking in” is an exotic term at the front desk, we’re in really big trouble. But somehow something is communicated when his credit card is seen.

Following our porter to our rooms, we pass the health center, which offers massage, sauna and ear cleaning. ”How dirty do your ears get here?” Harper asks.

In the rooms, there is a little sign telling us of further services that the hotel offers. I frown. ”What is nurese hair?”

”Now what?” he asks me, tipping the porter.

”Well, it says you can get ‘nurese’ hair, unless they mean nurse hair — which is a strange idea. I mean, though I frequently think people in the medical profession keep themselves well groomed, I still can’t imagine wanting ‘nurse hair.”’

The next day, we visit some nearby caves. Our guide, who speaks English, tells us that the caves were discovered by a famous cowboy. ”His name is no longer remembered, only his flute.” I consider asking a question that might further explain what he just told us, but then decide not to. It’s better as it is. His name is no longer remembered, only his flute. I love this place.

It gets funnier, especially the part about a hotel guest going for a massage and being presented with 14 prostitutes to choose from.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Yeah, like the staff in every hotel in New York speak perfect putonghua and have signs everywhere in Chinese.

Come on. You have done better than this!

March 23, 2005 @ 10:04 am | Comment

Precious few of the staff at major hotels outside of China speak Putonghua. Nearly all speak at least some English because, like it or not, English has been designated the global language, at least for now. So when you land in foreign airports or go to foreign hotels (large ones, anyway) most signs and materials will be in the native language and in English. And the staff at the front desk will at least know terms like Check in, check out, luggage, room number, key, etc.

This is not a knock on China. It’s a story from the NY Times about the travel experience of an American couple in Guilin. It made me laugh, so I linked to it. In my own recent experience in China I had no such trouble; the staff at every hotel, even in lonely Zhongdian greeted me in English (though they didn’t know I was an American; I could have been French or Italian, but English is the international language). They all knew the phrase “Check in,” so this traveler’s experience is quite different from my own. But it’s a funny article, and it’s about China and I thought some readers would enjoy it. Sorry if you’re offended.

March 23, 2005 @ 10:26 am | Comment

I believe that’s Carrie Fisher, the famous Princess Leia, from Star Wars –


March 23, 2005 @ 11:37 am | Comment

Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia, and these days, a much in demand Hollywood script-doctor.

If you read the whole piece, you’ll see that in spite of the jokes and peculiar signage, she and her son had a wonderful experience in China.

March 23, 2005 @ 12:55 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

Asia by Blog is a regular feature providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. **Note: The Daily Linklets posts will also contain links to interesting China, Asia and other …

March 24, 2005 @ 12:26 am | Comment

Having lived here too long, I too wasn’t sure about the value of this article being reproduced here, no doubt as I take such things for granted and I encounter ‘funnier’ things daily. But then I thought wait a minute: is Richard simply biased as a Star Wars fan, or is there something more sinister in a noted Democrat using the voice of one whose Beverly Hills home was where Republican media adviser R. Gregory Stevens was found dead after an overdose of cocaine and the painkiller OxyContin, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office?

March 24, 2005 @ 2:33 am | Comment

I thought the part about the flute was really funny. Coming back from Yunnan, where “engrish” signage abounds,” the article struck a chord.

March 24, 2005 @ 6:52 am | Comment

That really is brilliant, except I didn’t think it got better—’His name is no longer remembered, only his flute’ is about as good as it gets.

March 24, 2005 @ 11:55 am | Comment

Okay, Keir, you’ve officially made my head explode. I hope you’re satisfied.

Remember the flute! And don’t forget Poland…

March 24, 2005 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

‘His name is no longer remembered, only his flute’
What does it mean? why is that funny?? I don’t get the joke.

March 24, 2005 @ 11:14 pm | Comment

It’s funny because it’s absurd. He never says why his flute is remembered, but says it as though it is meaningful to everyone. In reality, it sounds like a silly nonsequitor.

March 25, 2005 @ 6:59 am | Comment

It’s not just that it’s absurd, it’s absurd but almost makes sense.

The fact that the person in question is ‘a famous cowboy’ helps, too.

March 25, 2005 @ 7:13 am | Comment

The irony is great….and it is an obvious sexual metaphor as well.

March 26, 2005 @ 3:53 am | Comment

I didn’t know Lu Di Yan was discovered by a cowboy!

March 29, 2005 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

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