$30 Translations

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I’m not by any the first person to blog about chinglish… not even close… but some people never get tired of them.

There are 3¢ translations, like the cafeteria that ran its name through an electronic translator and came out with “TRANSLATE SERVER ERROR.”  Of course they didn’t bother to check with anyone before the printed it, so their awning became pretty famous.

I was pretty shocked the first time I went Nanxiang dumplings in Shanghai’s Yu Yuan shopping mall.  The place is a landmark; there are always lines of tourists snaking around the block to get their 小笼包 xiǎolóngbāo, the porky soup dumplings steamed in little baskets.  The sign on the window says “Dumpling stuffed with The ovary and digestive glands of a crad,” which is just unfortunate.  I assumed that was another 3¢ translation, but when I asked Davidico, he said “ovary” was exactly what the Chinese said, 蟹黄.  So it’s at least a $3.00 translation.

It looks to me like 蟹黄 means “crab yellow,” which is not a surprise; in Filipino we call that part the “pula,” i.e., the “red.”  Oh yah, I hella acquired that word in context, yo, one afternoon at Honeycourt Seafood, eating scooping the stuff out of the crab shell and eating it with rice.  In English, we call that “crab fat” or “crab brains” and I’m sure it’s neither fat nor brains nor ovary, but it sure is delicious.

Anyway, I told Davidico that in English we use the word “roe” when we talk about the ovaries of seafood, which he was glad to learn.  That would be the translation you’d want if you had paid someone $30.

There’s a classic Teresa Teng song called 月亮代表我的心 “Moon Represents My Heart,” which is probably the Chinese equivalent to I Honestly Love You.  Most of the versions I saw are tragically over-produced, so here’s an acoustic version for your enjoyment.

Yes, it’s filled with cheese.  But what I want to point out is that “Moon Represents My Heart” is a $2.99 translation.  Yes, 月亮 means “moon,”  心 is “heart,” and 代表 is the standard translation for “represent.”  But didn’t it occur to anyone over the last forty years that “moon represents my heart” is an unfrozen caveman translation?

The song is about how the singer’s affections toward his/her significant other are eternal and unchanging, like the moon that follows you, solid and steady.  In other words, the title of this song is a simile.   And in English we express similes with “like” or “as.”

So I don’t know who came up with “Moon Represents My Heart” as a translation, but whoever it was, I hope they didn’t get paid $30 for that clunky translation from the planet Vulcan.  English speakers might feel a little closer to the spirit of that song with a less literal translation, something like “My Heart Is Like the Moon” or “My Heart, Steady Like the Moon.”

Maybe someone was counting syllables?  And they came up with “Moon Represents My Heart” for an English version that was as smooth as a bike with square tires.

Anyway, who knows what that’s about.  Maybe someone got the $30 translation budget, spent the $2.99 for “Moon Represents Heart” (fire bad!) and then bought pork chops with the rest of the money.

One thought on “$30 Translations

  1. Hey JP, glad you wrote about 月亮代表我的心, it’s been something that has bothered me for a while.

    I’ve discovered that all Chinese-speaking people with whom I discuss the song seem to have no problems understanding the meaning, but all ‘foreigners’ don’t really get what it’s saying – glad that you came up with a conclusion that makes sense. Here are some failed attempts I’ve tried in the past … :- 🙂

    My heart is like a new moon: dark & empty?
    My heart is like a full moon: and really hurts my eyes if gaze directly upon it?
    My heart is like the moon – not stable, just getting lighter & darker all the time?


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