China. Let the mis-translations begin.

One of my favorite parts about traveling to other countries are the English (mis)interpretations. I always love reading road signs and store fronts with butchered English translations. Lucky for me, I didn’t even have to wait until I landed for some amusement of this sort. It began as soon as I boarded the aircraft in Seattle, next stop China.

With my transportation combo of delayed flights, layovers, and subway navigations, It took me about 20 hours to arrive in Beijing. As I boarded the plane in Seattle, I quickly took note that I was one of about four foreigners on the plane. Not that I really expected much different, but it hit me that this is how my life is going to be for the forseeable future. I was back on the road and I was once again the foreigner. Oh, the excitement! I sat down next to a young Chinese girl, and she beamed up at me while she hugged her stuffed teddy bear tightly to her chest. I settled in for my 13 hour flight and listened to the welcome annoucements and safety briefings in Mandarin. Following the Mandarin, they very graciously did an English translation for the few of us foreigners.

First up was the pilot.

And I quote, “This is your pilot. I welcome you to board the aircraft (mind you, we are seated). We will try our best to fly safe to Beijing. But… (long pause) there is very much turbulence, so we will try our best. Happy flight and good luck.” A wave of nerves were sent through my body. Try our best to get their safe? But? Good luck? Captain, maybe this sounds fine in Chinese, but the English translation needs a bit of tweaking for some much needed reassurance.

Then came the safety instructions in Mandarin, followed by the interpretation.

And I quote, “When we have emergency, please move to the forward of the plane and jump out through exit doors”. WHEN? Jump out mid-flight? Needless to say, fingers and toes were crossed and I hoped we would not run into any turbulence in which case I would be advised to jump out. This was obviously just a minor case of omission of information, but I couldn’t help but feel amused and excited for all the much more severe mis-translations that eagerly awaited me in China.

Mid-flight, the airplane ran out of toilet paper. In most parts of Asia, including China, there’s a very well-known BYOTP policy that I’m familiar with (Bring Your Own Toilet Paper), and apparently this airline was no exception. Unfortunately I didn’t get the memo and left my stash at home, so I was forced to do quite a few drip dries.

I’ve only been in China for a few days, mostly around Beijing. So far it’s been incredibly hot and muggy, confusing, entertaining, and beautifully chaotic. Everything seems to contradict itself. I’m blown away by how many amazing and interesting people I’ve met in just a few short days. Culturally, I’ve come to sense that this country will be a tough egg to crack. So much history and so much contradiction eminates through the smoggy air, hanging as thick and heavy as the humidity itself.

China also won’t be an easy place to travel through without being able to speak the language. They don’t seem to make much effort to simplify for travelers, as its hard to find anything written in English, even at the bustling train stations. But, that’s part of the adventure! It will be a challenge, but the challenging trips are the most rewarding kind. Just like the pilot, I will try my very best and cross my fingers for not too much turbulence. Good luck!



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