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this is one ugly foreigner

Every now and then, the travel sections of the newspapers publish one of those snotty stories about comical English translations on signs in Asia. This story, from the Independent, is a fantastic variant.

chinese-poem_98342tThere were red faces on the editorial board of one of Germany’s top scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, after it ran the text of a handbill for a Macau strip club on the front page of its latest journal. Editors had hoped to find an elegant Chinese poem to grace the cover of a special issue, focusing on China, of the MaxPlanckForschung journal, but instead of poetry they ran a text effectively proclaiming “Hot Housewives in action!” on the front of the third-quarter edition. Their “enchanting and coquettish performance” was highly recommended.

The use of traditional Chinese characters and references to “the northern mainland” seem to indicate the text comes from Hong Kong or Macau, and it promises burlesque acts by pretty-as-jade housewives with hot bodies for the daytime visitor.

[snip]

On anti-cnn.com, a foreigner-baiting website set up after a commentator on the US broadcaster made anti-Chinese comments following the crackdown in Tibet in March, the reaction was mostly “evil fun”. One wrote, “Next time, please find a smart Chinese graduate to check your translation”, and another said they should try writing “I am illiterate”.

[snip]

Chinese is a tonal language, which means words sounding the same can often have very different meanings depending on how they are spoken.

There are tales of drunken teenagers walking out of tattoo parlours with characters reading, “This is one ugly foreigner” or “A fool and his money are easily parted”.

Another web-user wrote: “I recently met a German girl with a Chinese tattoo on her neck which in Chinese means ‘prostitute’. I laughed so loud, I could hardly breathe.”

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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