Category Archives: Humor

Dancing Octopus Legs

I have mentioned in passing some of the odd foods available here, and there are some doozies, but the weirdest dishes passed my palate while living in Korea. There was the ever-popular street food—silkworm pupae. I came to quite enjoy a cup of worms as I strolled around window shopping. The taste and smell are not the best, but when you bite into one there is an initial crunchiness followed by a spurt of goo. Very satisfying. Then there was Korean dog soup, a favorite on cold winter days. The meat is dark, tangy, and shockingly delicious. It reminds me a bit of moose. I only ever had it one time. I was hungry when I first tucked into the bowl and well-able to power through, but as I ate, I became less hungry, until eventually every time I raised the spoon to my mouth I thought: “This is dog. This is dog. This is dog.” And, that was the end of that. Still, by far the weirdest food that I’ve eaten came in a high-end Korean sushi joint.

Now, personally, I can pretty much choke down anything. I may not enjoy it, but I get it done. It is one of the social graces I’ve developed living in Asia. If you’re invited to have dinner with a friend’s family, you should suck down your lightly boiled pig’s intestine, roasted pork fat, and under cooked chicken—and smile. This is the story of a newbie to Korea, who lacked my gustatory disposition, and a formal dinner party we attended together.

Tammy was a fresh graduate from an Ontario university. She was about 22 years old, and spending a year teaching in Korea was to be her first big international experience. It all seems romantic and wonderful when you’re young and sitting in Canada, and then you get here. Tammy arrived in my little corner of Hell—living in rural Korea thirty years ago really was a horror—a giggling mass of excitement and good intentions. The school director was happy to see her as he was short-staffed. I was happy to see her because I’d been living as the lone white guy in that Korean fishing village for months and I was going stark raving mad.

To celebrate Mr. Lee took the entire staff out for a nice Korean dinner. At that time in Yeosu (여수) if you wanted to go out for a decent meal you had two choices, sushi or Korean barbecue. Mr. Lee chose sushi. Yeosu’s sushi was hardcore, as you’d expect from a Korean fishing village. There were slabs of raw fish, uncooked mollusks and sea urchin, which if you’ve never tried is really tough to get down—there was none of this California Sushi Roll shit.

So, off we went to a restaurant. As we were a group of perhaps a dozen, we were able to get our own little private room, that had one of those tables with the legs cut short so that you could sit cross-legged on the floor while eating, Japanese style. The table ran parallel to the back wall of the room, so nearly half the people sat against the back wall, with the table in front of them. Tammy, as the guest of honor, was seated in the center of the table, with her back against the wall. There were at least two or three people on either side of her. On her left sat the boss, Mr. Lee, and on her right sat Mrs. Lee. The rest of us were randomly gathered around Tammy, who was the evening’s focal point.

As I’m telling this story, you have to bear in mind that this was 25+ years ago, and the availability of different types of food around the world has increased exponentially since then (The WTO and My Waistline). This was a time when not every gas station in Canada was serving sushi rolls. Most small- and medium-sized cities had no sushi. For the adventurous western Canadian, you could go to Vancouver and try it. Probably Toronto had sushi restaurants too.

So, this was a new experience for our girl Tammy. She bore up under the strain pretty well. It was very obvious to me, watching her face, that she was not enjoying the meal, but she managed to put on a reasonable show. You know, smiling, nodding, joining the conversation, complimenting the food, having a bit of Soju, and just generally holding her end socially. Neither the boss, nor any of the other Korean staff seemed to suspect just what a difficult time she was having choking down the food. Of course they wouldn’t. It was a really fine, high-end, dining experience—they weren’t looking for signs of dietary distress or nausea.

But, Tammy was showing all the classic signs. She was barely touching her food, while doing her best to appear to be enjoying the meal with all the fake gustatory verve she could muster.  But, a slightly closer look revealed she was green around the gills. Whenever she put some raw seafood in her mouth you could see that it wasn’t going anywhere. She would chew, and chew, and chew, trying to get it down, but it just stuck there. Inevitably she’d have to take a drink, and try to swallow it like a pill.

I’m not as fully evolved as I appear, I’m definitely capable of enjoying a bit of schadenfreude from time to time. I especially enjoy watching people suffer through culture shock, I suppose because I’ve spent so much of my life doing the same. I was seated opposite Tammy, and had a terrific view of the whole spectacle.

The meal was coming to an end, and Tammy, realizing the ordeal was ending, was visibly beginning to relax. I was proud of her. Then the final dish arrived. The table hushed in anticipation as the server came from the kitchen carrying the pièce de résistance. I knew something was wrong when I saw Tammy turning from sickly green to pale white. I looked over my shoulder to see the waitress carrying a large platter of slimy looking things—and they were moving. I had never seen the likes before. It looked like a heaping platter of wet writhing worms.

I turned my head back to the table, just in time to see Tammy, who was trapped between Mr. and Mrs. Lee, move her head to the left, and forcefully puke down Mr. Lee’s side, from ear to waist. Such a pity, she had done so well.

But, on the plus side, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Mr. Lee was an ass—it was awesome.

What had been delivered to our table turned out to be Korean-style Dancing Octopus Legs (video here). According to Wikipedia San-nakji (산낙지) is a raw long armed octopus (Octopus minor), a small octopus species. They are killed before being cut into small pieces and served. The octopus’ complex nervous system, with two-third of its neurons in the tentacle’s nerve cords, allows the octopus to exhibit a variety of reflex actions without brain activity. In other words, the tentacles move on the plate posthumously.

As a meal, the San-nakji was tough to stomach, but as dinner entertainment, it put on one hell of a show.

 

 

 

Arachnophuuuucckkk!!!

Arachnophobia—the irrational fear of spiders—is not always so irrational.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I shared an apartment with two other teachers. One day I came stumbling home from work, late at night, exhausted, and tripped through the darkness into the bathroom. As I closed the door and switched on the lights, something ran across my foot. It was hairy and had mass. I assumed it was a small rat.

I was quickly disabused of that notion when I spotted a spider the size of my head clinging to the tile wall over the tub. He apparently was trying to avoid being noticed. Small chance of that—it’s hard not to notice every twitch and muscle spasm of a spider the size of a human baby when you’re locked in a space little bigger than a closet with him.

I freaked.

I made an effort to fight down my fear, channel my coureur de bois ancestry, and do something to rid our domicile of this eight-eyed hairy invader. Actually, I don’t know if he was really hairy, but in my mind he had a full Fu Manchu. I desperately searched the bathroom for a weapon. When my eyes lit upon the toilet brush in the corner, I hastily grabbed it, armed and ready to join the battle, I screwed my eyes shut and waved the brush in the general vicinity of the spider like a spastic preteen majorette trying to swat an epileptic fly with her baton.

That’s when I realized the spider was fast. It jumped off the wall and started racing around the room like Speedy Gonzales on bennies. It ran across the wall, and then somehow jumped and skittered across my midriff, all the while I was banging the toilet brush in its wake. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve been heartened to realize that anything that fast would not be poisonous. However, the frenetic speed of the spider was disconcerting. He ran to the left, zigged to the right, deked left, deked right, and jumped about five feet into the air, bringing us face-to-face. We looked each other in the eyes, he let out a terrified squeak, at least I assume he did, as I couldn’t hear it above my own girly cries, and then we both took off in opposite directions, leaving nothing but a pair of vapor trails.

I slammed the bathroom door behind me and quickly locked myself in the bedroom, hoping that the spider wouldn’t come a hunting. Who needs a bathroom anyway? I cowered in my room, contemplating leaving the house to the spider and finding new digs. When my roommates arrived home I was still in the bedroom, fear and laziness battling to see whether I was distressed enough to actually pack, a chore I despise.

As soon as I heard the front lock open, I ran out of my bedroom and excitedly told my roommates of the eight-legged behemoth currently making use of the facilities. I could almost see it, perched over the bowl, idly leafing through that month’s Penthouse while smoking a cigarette.

My roommates—big, strong, healthy young men both—were gratifyingly dainty in their reaction, and join me in a trembling group as far from the bathroom as possible. We huddled together and in quick nattering voices discussed what to do. None of us had a plan beyond avoiding the bathroom’s vicinity.

Into that cringeworthy huddle of masculinity strode one of the guy’s Taiwanese girlfriend, a cute little slip of a thing saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it”. She marched past us, picking up a broom on her way to the bathroom. She quickly slipped into the bathroom, locking the door behind. From the bathroom there came grunts, some excited yells, and the sounds of banging and thrashing, while we three men excitedly clutched each other outside the door and chattered about what might be going on inside.

Suddenly the bathroom door burst open, we collectively jumped back, and out she strode—triumphant—with one hand holding the broom over her shoulder like a shotgun, while holding the dead spider, dangling by one leg, in her other hand. Our hero.

I was a little disappointed to see that the spider was not really as big as my head. It was only it’s long legs which made it appear so large. The body was big, perhaps a little smaller than a ping pong ball. Someone later told me it was a banana spider, disconcertingly fast, but ultimately harmless.

Profound Musings

This week I haven’t got a post. Life got in the way. However, I do have this decidedly off topic piece I prepared to celebrate passing my first half-century. It was my birthday this weekend. Here’s what I’ve learned from 50 years of living. I hope you enjoy it.

50 Years of Wisdom with Darren

1. Never fall in love with a stripper. If you fall in love with a stripper, don’t buy her new boobs. If you buy her new boobs, make sure you have touching privileges.

2. Scotch from China is not Scotch.

3. Never answer when your wife asks, “How does my _______ look in these ______ ?”

4. Always buy a couch that’s long enough to sleep on.

5. Karaoke is never a good idea. If you can’t avoid it, then own it. Sing loud, proud and off key.

6. That hot Thai chick with the Adam’s apple is a dude.

7. Go to 2nd base. She’s likely the most beautiful woman you’ll ever get, but avoid 3rd base – it’s frightful.

8. Middle aged white men can’t twerk.

9. Writing your name in the snow looks better after taking your vitamins.

10. 18-24 year old Asian girls really are better.

11. Don’t play sports – there’s no upside.

12. Hone a vacant disposition. It’ll serve you well in all your endeavors.

13. Spare no sympathy for vegetarians. It’s their own damn fault.

14. Don’t piss into the wind. (Same advice goes for puking).

15. Your ultra-healthy friend is just as likely to die as you, probably over their post-workout non-fat, no foam, chai soy latte. That’s no way to go.

16. Any penis worth its salt deserves a cool nickname.

17. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re doing the wrong thing.

18. Perfectionism is an inability to prioritize.

19. Bacon is good on everything.

20. Alcohol is a temporary solution only if you stop drinking.

21. Marry a woman who makes less money than you. There’s less pressure to compensate in the bedroom.

22. My wife did not settle. She compromised. It’s different.

23. I’ve never met a happy couple where the husband is smarter than the wife.

24. Edible panties are best eaten straight out of the package.

25. Telling your love that her eyes are deep and piercing like two piss-holes in the snow (high-romance in Canada) does not translate well into Chinese.

26. When you get married don’t let your wife throw away all her g-strings. (She’ll want to).

27. Don’t stop your friend if he is about to unwittingly pee on an electric fence. (High-quality free entertainment is hard to find). Don’t stand behind him.

28. The problem with being a conservative is that you’re always on the wrong side of history. Time never flows backwards.

29. Single ply toilet paper builds character.

30. Salad is not food. It’s what food eats.

31. Men, don’t be embarrassed about your cleavage.

32. Men have difficulty expressing their emotions in words. Say it with interpretive dance. Chicks love that.

33. I once dated a Vogue model. There’s no deeper meaning to this entry. I just want everyone to know.

34. Skirts are best for car sex. Bing, bang, boom, and you’re back at the mall.

35. The problem with women is they always think you have potential. Potential for what?!?

36. If you find yourself shopping for vegetarian cookbooks as part of a grand scheme to get into some hottie’s pants, just walk away. It’s not worth it.

37. It takes a lot of time to do nothing.

38. Listen to no sense; speak no sense; anything less would be wasting the privilege of being old.

39. Strive to be just slightly above average in all that you do. Under-performing brings stress. Over-performing brings more [unpaid and under-appreciated] responsibilities, work, and stress. Just slightly better than average – that’s your sweet spot.

40. Women like it sweet; men like it dirty; and never the twain shall meet.

41. Don’t try to sit on a squat toilet.

42. Date pessimists – they don’t expect much.

43. Never give the object of your affection a romantic gift basket of deodorant. It seems no different than soap, bath oil, and perfume – yet it is (apparently).

44. When flying, always ask the head stewardess where and when that plane’s chapter of The Mile High Club is meeting, because you just never know.

45. Trans fats are the best fats.

46. The squeaky wheel is annoying.

47. If I could travel back to 1978, I’d kiss Wendy Hayes right on the playground. If she beat the crap out of me – so be it.

48. Smooth is good; honest is better.

49. Kissing was invented to prevent guys from saying something stupid right when they have the most to lose.

50. When you’re married, hotel sex is the closest thing you can get to the excitement of a new partner – doing it on a different bed, in front of a strange chair, while looking deeply into a mirror you’ve never seen before.

51. Peeing in the woods – macho good times. Pooping in the woods – just plain disgusting.

52. A great head of hair can hide most other social failings. Always use conditioner (f*ck Pert+, a separate conditioner – condition like a millionaire).

53. Never argue with a women, instead patiently explain to her why you’re right. That’s chivalry.

54. At formal functions, business meetings, PTA gatherings, job interviews, etc. follow church rules (i.e. put your booze in a thermos).

55. “That’s what she said,” is not witty repartee when talking to the female judge hearing your case.

56. Despite what your mother says, all the cool kids do not wear bedazzled slacks to high school.

57. When ending a long term relationship always put a puppy with heart eyes emoji at the end of the text. That’s class!

58. Only sleep with people crazier than you. I’m not sure this is really good advice, but it always seems to work out that way, so you may as well embrace it and try to enjoy the ride.

59. If everything seems to be going well at work, you’re out of the loop.

60. Should you find yourself at a hair waxing salon, in a curious/adventurous/metrosexual mood – do not try the “Between the Cheeks” special.

61. If you do, have Johnny Cash’s cd queued up. The lyrics to Burning Ring of Fire will never be more personally meaningful.

62. A full Brazilian will not make your penis look larger.

63. Paradoxically, Brazilian barbecue makes it look like you have more meat.

64. Your parent’s stupidity is inversely proportional to your maturity.

65. Look upon the world with wry humor in your heart and a smirk on your face, for then the world will never disappoint you.

66. Yogi Bear 3D is the movie of our generation.

67. The advantage to dating young women (besides the obvious) is they can’t tell the difference between intriguing and fucked up.

68. Black and white is for the young, when you get older you find only hard and harder decisions.

69. Skidmark is not as cool a nickname as it sounds.

70. If life hands you lemons, buy salt and tequila.

71. Even people who are total shits may have an underlying good; even a turd can contain a kernel of corn.

72. The microbial flora in your intestines has more to do with happiness than your bank account.

73. A baculum might be nice.

74. When one has a penis such as mine, one does not do dishes.

75. When you reach 50 you can no longer distinguish between the hip trends and the ones that are just stupid. Frankly, it’s a relief.

76. Young children are an unending source of joy and wonder for fifteen minutes.

77. You realize how insignificant you are when you pee in the ocean.

78. You can’t ruin a friendship with sex, that’s like trying to ruin ice cream with chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

79. Moody self-obsession is only attractive in men who can play guitar.

80. You can lead your mother to the dough, but you can’t make her pinch perogies.

81. Never throw away (delete for you young whipper snappers) porn.

82. I haven’t got a problem with God, it’s his fans that annoy me.

83. Men don’t like taking instructions unless it involves really complex lingerie.

84. If you forget your wife’s birthday – don’t panic. You can make a romantic handcrafted gift from easily available household items. With just a pair of her old panties and scissors you can create a lovely pair of crotchless panties.

85. Whatever happens in Bangkok doesn’t count.

86. The best way out is by going through.

87. Faster horses; younger women; older whisky; and more money. That’s what it’s all about.

88. I don’t care what you’re excuse is – grandma panties are never okay.

89. At least once in your life you need to rock a unitard.

90. Believe or don’t believe; you can only follow the path your senses reveal to you.

91. If a woman is dressed in such a way as to expose half her boobs and I look – I’m the pervert. If I expose myself and a woman looks – I’m the pervert.

92. Marriage brings many positive changes if you keep an open mind. For example, when we got married my wife insisted that we buy a second towel. I thought she was crazy. Now I like it – very opulent. It’s nicer than using the bath mat.

93. Never regret the stupid things you’ve done; regret the stupid things you could have done.

94. Rum is a natural laxative. Do with that what you may.

95. It’s only kinky the first time.

96. Never make snow angels in a dog park.

97. You get all the greens you need from grass fed beef.

98. Everything in life truly worth doing can be done in the shower.

99. Never take two steps when one will do. If that leaves surplus free time, that’s why God invented sofas.

100. Never miss the chance to do something nice for your fellow man in a really dickish way. Doing good pleases the soul. Being a dick thrills the id.

101. All I know is there’s more than I know.

Couth, Foreigners, and Table Manners

Table manners in a Chinese cultural environment are pretty loose. They exist and are different from the West, but are not too onerous. The priority is enjoying your food. The rules are designed not to interfere with gustatory pleasure. It is still possible for unsuspecting foreigners to unintentionally run afoul of propriety.

I once watched a group of newly arrived foreigners unknowingly set flame to a business banquet. There was a group of ten of us sitting around the typical circular table at a Chinese banquet. The conversation and Kaoliang were flowing, and as is typical the hosts were talking up the restaurant’s speciality—the pièce de résistance—whetting the guest’s appetite for the best and most expensive dish, a crustacean they called mini-lobster. (I think it was crayfish). The collected foreigners had been so primed by the mouthwatering descriptions that when the host twirled the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table to present the honored foreign guests with first choice, they loaded their plates full of lobster. The platter didn’t get past the third foreigner before being stripped bare. My foreign colleagues were stunningly oblivious. Chowing down on the meal’s highlight while offering compliments to the host around partially eaten mouthfuls. The Taiwanese stared on with their jaws scraping dust mites off the floor. Even the most obtuse traveler should have been a bit more savvy. Don’t help yourself to a giant serving from the communal plate. If it is countable, just take one. Sometimes the problem is be a bit more subtle.

Long ago I traveled to see a girlfriend in Hong Kong. While I was there, her mother invited me to come to their house for dinner. I managed to thoroughly botch the evening, though—thankfully—I was the only injured party.

Her mother offered to cook anything, and asked what type of Chinese food I’d like to try. I asked for hot pot. (I know! What was I thinking? My only excuse is I was young and foolish). When I arrived at their home a veritable feast was laid out across every available surface; tidbits just waiting to be dipped into the hot pot’s broth. I was excited. After a bit of preliminary conversation, mostly translated into Cantonese by my friend, and mute smiling and head bowing from the rest of us, the meal began.

Each member of the family was given a fairly standard sized rice bowl. They in turn began preparing their dipping sauces and cooking their food. When it was my turn I was given a giant bowl. It was not a rice bowl; not even a soup bowl—it was a whacking great bowl, something that might have been used to make bread dough for a Hutterite family. In the finest tradition of Chinese hostesses everywhere, my friend’s mother had preloaded the bowl with soup and a myriad of delicacies she’d already boiled. Let me reiterate—it was a big bowl, and it was pretty much full.

I sat at the table, almost completely hidden behind my prodigious bowl, occasionally glimpsing over its top—or around its side—to join in the dinner talk. Slowly I ate my way through that entire bowl. I was full, but not nauseated. Satisfied. Content. It had been a great meal, and I looked forward to spending a bit of time digesting and enjoying a tête-à-tête with my friend’s family.

It was not to be.

The mother, upon seeing my empty bowl, made a face I couldn’t decipher and refilled it. Now, I have always been a polite boy, and my mother, in the grand tradition of Ukrainian babas everywhere, had taught me to always clean my plate, especially when eating at someone else’s home. It’s polite.

I didn’t particularly want to eat the second bowl. But, I had traveled all the way from Canada to Hong Kong to see my girlfriend. Her family had graciously cooked for me. I was damn well going to be courteous.

So I started eating, more slowly this time. I ate, and I ate, and I ate. It was a ginormous bowl full of fine Chinese edibles. I was past the point of appreciating the food. What once had been sublime cuisine turned to ash in my mouth as I tried to power my way through the entire second bowl. I finish it all—such was my commitment to etiquette, politeness, grace, and gentility.

My girlfriend’s mother saw the bowl was empty again, gasped, made yet another inexplicable face, and proceeded to refill the bowl. I was sick. I didn’t know what to do. I was sure I couldn’t choke down another mouthful. But, I wanted to make my mother proud. So I picked up the bowl and started eating again. I ate the bowl inchmeal, morsel by choked down spoonful.

Finally I finished the whole bowl—bowl number three—and these were titanic basins of food. I proudly put the empty bowl on the table—propriety served. I leaned back in the chair, unbuttoned my pants, and began moaning like every father after Christmas dinner. I was stuffed to the gills and felt gross, but beneath that gut-churning vomitous feeling was also pride. My mother had raised a good boy—so well-mannered.

My girlfriend’s mom spotted my empty bowl, gasped, said something in Cantonese under her breath, patted me on the shoulder, and, of course, filled my bowl again. I wanted to cry.

Unable even to contemplate another mouthful, I finally sobbed to my girlfriend, “Why? Why does your mother hate me so?!?” She giggled and told me to just stop eating.

I’m not sure my girlfriend really understood the subtext of that meal. Probably, like myself and her family, she didn’t really know what was happening. From my [Western] perspective, the proper thing to do when invited to someone’s house to dine was to eat all the food on your plate. It shows that you enjoyed the food, are satiated, and appreciate the host’s efforts. For my Taiwanese friends, that’s why if you’re invited to someone’s home in the West normally they will ask you to serve yourself, or just put a token bit of each dish on your plate. They know that whatever is on your plate you’ll have to finish. Many of my Asian friends have been disconcerted by this Western manner of serving; it seems borderline impolite, or at least lacking warmth.

Chinese table manners are almost the opposite. It is acceptable—indeed polite—to leave some food on the communal serving dish or your personal bowl at the end of the meal. It shows that there was enough food and that you’re full and satisfied. (Rice is the exception, you should eat all the rice in your bowl). Placing food into someone else’s bowl is a gesture of affection. The exact feeling varies a bit with context. My girlfriend’s mother was acting the perfect Chinese hostess. My pain came from my own lack of cultural awareness.

Say Whaa…?!?

I’ve talked before about the oddness of English personal names in Taiwan (here). Honestly, that’s natural. Usually it is people with very limited English trying to come up with an English name—totally forgivable. What is less excusable is when large companies come up with screwed up English names for their products or services.

Kymco, a Taiwanese scooter manufacturer, makes the Dink 125 scooter.  I can’t help marveling at the possible permutations of mistranslation between Chinese and common English usage that led them to the erroneous conclusion that this would be a good name for a scooter.  I can imagine groups of marketing people and upper-level management huddled together in brainstorming sessions, when suddenly someone declares, “Zoinks, I’ve got it!  We will call the new scooter ‘Dink’.”  Bizarrely no one thought to check a Chinese-English dictionary to see how appropriate this might be.  So it is now possible to see many Dinks riding around the streets of Taipei.

Dink has a few definitions, none of them very good. I suppose the most commonly known meaning is idiot or dumbass. It also has a verbal association with dinky, meaning tiny. But, where I come from dink was children’s speak for penis. That is still the association that I make with the word.

Kymco makes a 150cc version of the same scooter that I think is extraordinarily well named—the Grand Dink 150.  The best way I can think of to describe it is if you took a Honda Gold Wing and shrunk it for midgets.  Taiwanese law and tariffs make ownership of motorcycles larger than 150cc difficult.  Men who are trying to look cool, tough or macho have certain credibility problems when they climb aboard their scooters. After all, the scooter’s primary use in other parts of the world is to allow drunken Shriners to ride around in circles without killing themselves.  What is an aspiring tuff to do?  Especially when so many of the scooters are so obviously marketed to young—one might even think pre-adolescent—women, with such blood-stirring names as the Hello Kitty 90, an all pink bike featuring the popular Asian teddy bear/cartoon character of the same name.  Pretty hard to be macho bestriding that.

Into this void steps the Grand Dink 150.  It has a plethora of do-dads including a large fairing, stepped seat, backrest, etc. that make the Grand Dink a phallic symbol in the greatest automotive tradition.  Just don’t mention that the engine is the same size as your vacuum cleaner back home.  Now Taiwanese men with inadequacy issues can ride a giant, well, relatively speaking, phallic symbol like their American and Western European counterparts.  For this purpose I think that the bike’s name is unusually candid.  I mean none of this talk about wild horses or mythical creatures.  It just gets straight to the crux of the matter.  I personally ride one, and let me tell you the girls just “ooh” and “ahh” when you pull up straddling your Grand Penis.

If these types of mistakes can be made by large corporations, like Kymco, with researchers and market analysts whose only job is to come up with names and advertisements, you can imagine the mistakes made by smaller companies with fewer resources.  One extremely visible area where English mistakes can really make you stop and take notice is shop signs.   I’m sympathetic to shop-owners, who may have little formal academic education, but find themselves having to design a shop sign and wanting to add English for a bit of sophistication.  English use on sign frontage is common throughout much of Asia.  Nonetheless, I do feel compelled to lampoon some of the English signs I’ve noticed around Taiwan. (I wish I’d kept a record of the funnier signs from the last couple decades. There have been some doozies, most of them now forgotten). Still…

I used to work in TaoYuan, about an hour drive outside Taipei, and I often puzzled over a fairly enigmatic sign on the way there that simply said, “ASS”.  I’m not sure if it was an advertisement or an indictment.  If it was an advertisement—what were they selling?  If it was an indictment—was it aimed at me personally?  After passing this same sign for about a half year I finally went into the shop and inquired as to its exact meaning.  An exchange that mostly involved me pointing at the shop, the sign, and my own posterior and making shrugging gestures while repeating the Chinese word for the old vertical smile, pigu (屁股).  The proprietor not liking the quality of his shop impugned by an ignorant foreigner engaged me in a loud tirade of Taiwanese that clarified nothing.  If my Chinese is abysmal, my Taiwanese is nonexistent, with the exception of a few nasty words that I did recognize sprinkled into the conversation.  Finally after much gesticulating I was able to make him understand that I wanted to know the meaning of the sign in front of his shop.    The sign turns out to have a wholly benign meaning—Authorized Service Shop—a bit of a let-down really.

Another sign that gave me pause when I first arrived was the “Come in Back of the Bus” sign. It was one of those signs where a light behind the message turned on when it was the correct time to deliver the command—Come Now. Very intimidating. I spent a good number of years contemplating that sign, and considering giving it a go. For those not fluent in Chinglish, of course the meaning is that you should board the bus at the rear.  I don’t ride the bus much anymore and haven’t noticed this sign in a long time. Maybe the bus companies have fixed them, or I’ve become desensitized.

I used to work as an English teacher at the downtown Taipei YMCA.  In the wake of the devastating earthquake of Sept. 21, 1999, that YMCA established a daycare to take care of children while their parents were involved in the various tasks associated with rebuilding.  The downtown Taipei YMCA is the national headquarters of the YMCA and as such proudly hung a banner on the front of their building announcing that they were running the “Establishing Destruction Daycare.”  A sign that amused us English teachers to no end.  Knowing the basic nature of Taiwanese children the sign was oddly fitting.

Most of the previous examples were brought to you by large corporations, government offices, or in the case of the YMCA, an English language center. You would expect them to get it at least close to right. When it comes to small shopkeepers it is perfectly logical that things can get funky.