Sunday, May 09, 2004


Growing up, my parents used to bring my sister and I clothing back from Taiwan. Our opinion at the time (and I've seen no compelling reason to revise it) was that the fashions were incredibly tacky, or at least, out of step with American tastes. My mom always argued, "Taiwan follows European style and European style is ahead of America," but I never did see baggy-wasited, stretch-band jeans make a big splash State-side.

Logos were always the most incongruous as designers would try to incorporate American slang or idioms into their clothing but inevitably, something would go lost in translation. I wish I could remember some of the funnier examples, but this is a topic that has been discussed thoroughly elsewhere. On my recent trip to Shanghai, I was interested in finding examples of cross-linguistic/cultural curiosities in this grand city which is very much modeled on the West but doesn't always get the translation right. However, this project was as much about challenging my own impressions and cultural biases as it was to find humor in the "accidents" of language that I saw in China. In other words, I'm not trying to poke fun so much as point out the gaps between intention and comprehension and how things that make perfect sense in Shanghai may not always translate to American eyes. While some of the examples I provide are certainly on the "ha ha, look at how they mispelled this word/phrase," others have something more poignant to say about the distance (close and far) between these two societies and cultures. Take from these images what you will.

The Sign Language Photo Album.