This blog is a bit of a melange - a pu pu platter post.  I put it together over three different sessions, so it has a bit of everything.  It starts with some humor, shares an observation, makes fun of our family, shows you a little of Xi’an and has the mandatory cute baby pictures.

Trouble with Translations

I know that I will never learn Mandarin, Cantonese or any form of Chinese.  I also respect people who learn multiple languages, especially when the tongues are as different as Chinese and our own.

I also realize that it is perhaps a little too easy to point out mistakes in translations.

But that is not going to stop me.

In this blog, I will share a few of the better ones that we have seen in the last few days.

This is a repeat from yesterday, but both Wiley and Susie told me that I missed the most amusing aspect of the label on the Abercrombie and Fitch shirt.   I focused on the “Lumble Dry”, but they both loved “Only Now – Chlorine Bleach”.

I saw this massive sign next to the largest square in Xi’an, next to the Big Goose Pagoda.

A tree obscures the language a bit, but it reads “Modern life fashion meeting place for pushers!”  I think they are taking niche marketing a little too far, but I am guess it is nice for the pushers to have a modern life fashion meeting place and not just condemned buildings.

Another poster provides this cryptic phrase: “Joyous dance out, and wonderful life!”  I am at a loss to even guess what this is shooting for.

We bought some wasabi peas for our overnight train ride to Shanghai.  Some snacks are content to have you eat them.  Not this bag.  It strives to connect on a much deeper level.  [I feel a need to write in in verse form as it appears on the bag.]

“May the breeze

bring you the

tenderness and warmth from me

yet still you are here.  At the

bottom of my heat.”

How do I even begin to comment on this poem/slogan/marriage proposal?

  • I know adult men that have never said anything this sensitive to their spouses or loved other ones.
  • Where does the breeze come in?  The bag is in my hand and requires no breeze for delivery.  The Wu-Mart [yes, the Wu-Mart] brought the bag and me together in a completely breeze-free environment.  Heck the AC was not even on.
  • “Tenderness and warmth from me”?!?!  Really?  Does this mean what it seems to mean? I am not sure I am old enough to read this part.
  • “Yet you are still here.”  A brief blast of the obvious or a subtle existential statement?  Dissertations in Philosophy are written with less depth than this statement seems to suggest.  Or not.  What is the sound of one wasabi pea clapping?
  • What is “the bottom of my heat?’  Once again, it sounds like something that should not come up in mixed company.  Does my poetic wasabi pea bag really mean its ‘heat’, or its ‘heart’?  It has the latter, but the former makes more sense.  Note that I do not say that it actually makes sense, just that it makes more sense than the alternative.

A final collection comes from a woman we met in Beijing; She found a menu that is so bizarre that I almost think that someone is pulling my leg.  This is from their “Zenglish” menu.  (She showed us her photos.) Each of these lines describes a food item.  Picture yourself starving in a restaurant and you must choose from the following. Which one would you go for?

  • Cowshed mountain competitive product
  • Knife liquor
  • The elbows spends sauce
  • Six golden fortune a bit
  • Do the ball flying vegetable
  • The self-sufficient and strategically located region burns the incense fish head
  • First rank hangs roast chicken
  • Irritable duck treasure (I am stuck with the visual picture of the bird selection process – “put that one down, she is too mellow.  Go grab that edgy guy over there; he looks irritable”)
  • Drunk fish of grandmother duck
  • And, (the kids favorite) “crispy, no longer crispy pine nut chicken”

So you think the drunk fish and the irritable duck spend time together in the self-sufficient and strategically located region?  I hope so.

Moving to the Cities

This is a brief addendum made possible by a late arriving sleeper train.  We thought our arrival was at 6:50, but we will not get to Shanghai until 8:00.  We are looking out the window at a never ending sea of new construction.  The massive Chinese population is abandoning rural life in droves and looking to improve their lives in the cities.  Through the magic of centralized planning, the government is putting up massive complexes of identical housing.  I am looking at a site with 16 buildings that are over 30 stories high all in identical stages of construction. And we are still 40 minutes outside of Shanghai.

We saw the same in Beijing and Xi’an.  These cities have 19.6 million and 8 million, respectively, and growing daily.  Shanghai, at 23 million is the most populous on earth.  To give you an idea, NYC has 8 million and Houston has just 2 million.  Shanghai is 11.5 times more populous than Houston.  I cannot wrap my mind around this.

It reminds me of the Industrial Revolution in Britain that Charles Dickens wrote about.  The people moved form the farms into the cities in pursuit of economic opportunity.  Once they arrived, they found squalor and terrible hygiene.

Now the Chinese are coming to the city and finding air pollution that is only getting worse.  I also worry about their contentment.  In the cities, western-style advertisements for status and luxury items are everywhere.  I wonder about the family that leaves their subsistence farms to come to Xi’an.  They will make about $1000 per year.  Everywhere that they look, they will see mobile phone stores and ads for Audi and Kenneth Cole.  Eventually, their descendants will live more prosperously, but I suspect that they are trading down.


Buffoons on the Bus

I leave you with a visual image.  In order to get from our hostel to the train station, we needed to take a public bus.  The busses are slightly smaller than the ones we are used to. perhaps 5-10% smaller.  Normally, a mid-size family like ours would not notice, but we are weighed down with excessive backpacks, making us about 3 feet wider (front to back) than normal.  Put 6 of us in a bus and things get crowded quick.

Susie faced an additional challenge.  While I took on extra weight, she took on extra height.  We have purchased a sword (remember, we have teenage boys) and a piece of art that is rolled up and put into a long box.  Both are strapped to the side of her backpack.  With it, she is almost a full foot taller than normal (see the photo).

As she walked into the bus, her extra length proved more than the bus was expecting and her two packages were ramming into its top. She had to crouch down and walk like a duck. She got stuck. “Mom looks like a bumper car with the antenna connected to the ceiling!”  They kids laughed.  The Chinese passengers laughed. Susie, alas, could not laugh until later.

As I left the bus, my sleeping bag strap caught on a seat, making my departure a physical impossibility.  I kept thrusting myself through the door only to be pulled back like a dog on a lease. More amusement for the Chinese passengers.

Our fellow riders were all remarkably understanding of our travails and helped both of us out into the open. I am just glad we were not in New York!  While I love the Big Apple, I doubt we would have been treated with as much kindness.


Big Goose Pagoda Square

We had a shortened day before our train ride, so we slept in and spent the afternoon visiting the Big Goose Pagoda area.  The pagoda itself is impressive, but the square was remarkable.  We arrived as the hourly fountain show was in full swing.  With speakers blaring music ranging from the William Tell Overture to serene Chinese guitars, thousands of fountains coordinated with the music.

The fountains themselves are one of the most massive on earth and the biggest in Asia.  I have certainly not seen anything close.  It is 375 yards long - between 3 and 4 football fields.

Around the fountain are children playing, adults strolling, venders hawking, kites flying and general park happiness.  Statues highlight the esplanade.  Here are four of the better ones, three with Baskin children and one with a super cute local.

While we walked, we saw some fun families who were all so proud of their little ones that the almost encouraged us to take pictures.  I add this point so that you will not picture Susie as prowling the parks taking sneak photos.  Instead, there is a happy exchange - we take shots of their babies while they take shots of our army o’ children.

Let me leave you with verse.  I also want to say that I have clearly not been connecting with you as much as I should.  Have I been open, sincere or poetic enough?  Clearly, not as much as a Chinese snack food.


May the ocean

Waves  carry you to ports exotic

My love will never fade.

Love of a salty snack blooms

in my pancreas.

Steve Sir


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