By Wayne Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
File this under: non-earth shattering news.
I’m just about to head home after a two week-long journey to Hong Kong, Taipei, and Phuket. It’s been a great trip where I got to visit with friends and family, and sample food from different parts of the globe.
But there’s been something I’ve been wondering about since I’ve been there. Actually, it’s something I’ve always wondered about when I visit Asia.
Why do they do such an awful job with English signage?
Now, before you start writing letters or complaining that I’m a typical ugly American who thinks that the world revolves around us, just give me a chance.
What I’m talking about isn’t your typical, translated English rushed out to explain something to us clueless Americans. What I’m talking about are major business signage. Let me give you an example.
Wooderful Life — This is a boutique in Taiwan selling trinkets and wooden music boxes.
What Do You Fab — Another gift store in Taiwan, with no products remotely resembling The Beatles.
Meat Liberty — A restaurant in Bangkok.
DIKE — A speaker company, I kid you not.
Funkpeanuts Coffee — Well, it’s a coffee house.
F.A.T. — An airline, which stands for Far Eastern Air Transport.
Gift Shop: We considerate more for you! — I don’t really remember the place, but I’m guessing it’s a gift shop.
In each of these cases, the business owner came up with the name, and then presumably, decided to spend thousands of dollars on professionally produced signage above their store, in print ads, and on all their stationary. It isn’t a translated sign of a business named in their own language. These are the names of the stores. Apparently, in their brainstorming to come up with an English name, no one thought, “Hmm…maybe we should run this past a native English speaker.”
Well, what do I know? I know that there are plenty of western businesses that on first glance, seem nonsensical. I still don’t know what a “Starbucks” is supposed to represent. Maybe in the next couple of years, we’ll all be saying things like, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee at Funky P’s and talk about it.”
Maybe there’s some historic reference in Thailand related to protein and freedom. “Give me liberty or give me beef satay!” Look, I admit, I’m clueless.
The real reason I’m wondering about all this is that if I were starting up a business in the United States and decided to come up with a Chinese name for the business based on my Chinese speaking abilities, you’d better believe I’d take a moment and send out a copy to a friend or colleague and just ask, “Does this make sense?”
Why? Because I know, right now, what would happen if I didn’t. It would look something like this (Chinese translated into English, of course): Round Dough Smashed in Face with Fresh Wind. I’ve always wanted to start an artisan pizza place, and who doesn’t like the smell of oregano?
Foot wrapped with Fresh Wind: A shoe store where all the shoes are pre-scented with lavender. Who wouldn’t like that?
Puncture Hole Dough: We can always use more donut shops, am I right?
Actually, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. Look out, world! Freshly Wind, LLC — here I come!
Wayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.