Saturday, September 19, 2009

Black, White, and Red all over (GET IT???)

One of the many perks of being a teacher here (in addition to school on Saturdays, free firewall-ed internet, and health insurance which Lisa has emphasized pays out only in the case of "serious injury or death") is that we get a copy of the China Daily ("The National English Language Newspaper") delivered to our mailbox every morning. I make a point of picking it up every day because it is definitely the worst paper I've ever read that's not called "The USA Today".

I guess it's not actually that bad. The English is pretty good most of the time, and it does (sort of) cover international affairs in some detail. But you can still tell sometimes that it's written by people whose English is not quite perfect (though still slightly better than the English possessed by staff writers for "The USA Today"). It's hard for me to tell, though, because I feel like I'm an increasingly poor judge of what normal English sounds like. Several times, I've ended explanations to my class by saying, "It's that way." The only reason I say that is because I have an urge to say (the very natural Chinese phrase) "是这样", but then I remember that I am teaching English and have to switch to the English translation at the last minute. Sorry, school, that's what you get for hiring a math major right out of college for RMB 4000 a month.

I think China Daily's biggest problem is with the headlines, which often don't sound quite right to me. "Economic crisis' crunch on art sales yet to ease": do crunches ease? "Thief sleeps in car he was about to steal, held": my instinct is to parse "held" in parallel with "steal" somehow rather than as a modifier for thief. "Spunky little Kia Forte is as fun as you like": just kidding, this one's from "The USA Today".

Sometimes there are headlines which don't make much sense at all until you read the story, which seems like the opposite of what should happen in the newspaper. E.g. on Tuesday's front page: "Cleaner fighting to clear name also battles tumor". It turns out that this a story about an airport worker who found an unattended box full of jewelry (later discovered to have belonged to a man named Wang) and then took it home, and then got a uterine tumor. After being detained for nine months without trial. A super fun story.

Anyway, this whole thing seems a little fishy. Like who is this Wang and why was he leaving gold jewelry at airports? Or as commenter "LovingChina 0909D" on the China Daily website puts it,

Could be like a strange animal, wang, said he/she left a box full of goodies in the airport while it seems hours went past without this wang calling for Airport Help or police, or did he do so?

Did he do so? Did he? DID HE??? I'd want to get in there and find some answers.

Also, China Daily stories about Taiwan are really fantastic because they are Very Focused on making sure that you do not forget that Taiwan is a part of China, which is why they're forced to use an amusingly large number of scare quotes in any story about Taiwanese politics:

"I have completed my duties at this phase," said Liu, who had held the post of "premier" since Ma took office in May 2008. Liu's move sets the stage for the rest of the "Cabinet" to resign....Wu, 61, is the KMT secretary-general and a "legislator"....Taiwan's low-profile "vice-premier" Paul Chiu also resigned Monday. (article)

As far as the China Daily people are concerned, they might as well be writing fanfics about a fantasy government which awards real-sounding titles like "premier" and "vice-premier" to the unicorns with the silkiest manes.

Finally, finally, there's a section of the paper which has little English lessons. Today it was offering colloquial translations of the Chinese "天气热死了" (lit. "the weather is so hot it kills"; compare to English "I'm starving" to express hunger).

One of the proposed translations was "It's not just hot, it's Africa hot!" I was about to make fun of this ridiculous American slang, but then I searched online and it looks like people actually do say this. It's even on urban dictionary:
Africa Hot: When the temperature is so unbearably hot that is turn you black. [sic]
So I guess China Daily knows America better than I do. Great.

(By the way, for anyone looking to get Callie a birthday present, urban dictionary will let you have this printed on a mug.)