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July 8, 2008

Filed under: culture»asia»china»mandarin

Adventures in Translation: Snapple Edition

Snapple, beverage company known for its Real Facts That Aren't, has launched a new line of green tea, which touts its health benefits on the label, including the following sentences:

It's loaded with a natural antioxidant and boosts your metabolism. Scientists call it EGCG, tea farmers call it 茶, you'll just call it another reason to pop open a bottle of Snapple Green Tea.
Really? Farmers call it 茶? Sounds exotic--those wise Chinese tea farmers and their traditional knowledge of antioxidants. Wonder what that translates to?

As it turns out, that's just the character for "tea" (pronounced "cha" with a rising intonation).

Personally, I'm torn. "Scientists call it EGCG, tea farmers call it 'tea'" is most likely a mistake in the marketing department akin to bad hanzi tattoos (or, I don't know, a set of bottle caps spreading false trivia). But there's also a chance that it's a sly joke at the label's own inflated antioxidant pitch, in which case I applaud their self-awareness.

Either way, sadly, the tea itself is pretty awful.

September 18, 2006

Filed under: culture»asia»china»mandarin

Missed Opportunities

I know I shouldn't be expecting much when watching SciFi Channel movies, but when the old "Crisis is danger and opportunity in Chinese" chestnut came up during Painkiller Jane, I was reminded of just how ridiculous that myth is. Not only is it completely false, but it's commonly used by cultural sub-literates like Tom Friedman to, say, relate their taxi-driver's support for globalization.

And here's what really got me: they didn't even use the right character. Instead of weiji, they wrote the hanzi for yi, which means "easy." Then the actor pointed at the top half--that's danger, he said, and the bottom half is opportunity. Well, no. According to, yi is a pictogram meant to resemble a lizard. The top half is a radical that usually stands in for the sun and signifies a day (ri), and the bottom can be a negative command (wu).

Is it really that hard to find a single Mandarin-speaking Chinese-American and run this kind of thing by them before you put it on TV? Especially when you're filming in Vancouver?

June 5, 2005

Filed under: culture»asia»china»mandarin

Already worth the link

Quote of the day, taken from's readings ("Why Chinese Is So Damned Hard"):

One could say that Chinese is phonetic in the way that sex is aerobic: technically so, but in practical use not the most salient thing about it.

The readings at the site really are excellent. I'm skeptical about them (most of them are criticisms of the Chinese writing system) but only because I try to be skeptical of everything I read--they're very convincing. More research is obviously required. But the above article will produce grins and nods from any student or former student of Mandarin Chinese.

Future - Present - Past