Archive for the ‘explanation’ Category

explanation of “when ID cards are a thing long forgotten”

Walking down a city street, walking up the stairwell of every apartment building more than a few months old, you can see stickers and stamps reading “办证刻章” all over.   “Ban zheng” means to process documentation, and “ke zhang” means to carve an official stamp or seal.

Such stamps and stickers advertise the illegal services of producing fake documentation such as licenses, student IDs, certifications, diplomas, and so forth.  They also produce seals and stamps that are supposed to be the official marks of businesses on things like receipts and contracts.

There are all sorts of not so nice reasons that people have such documents produced.  But there are some relatively harmless reasons as well.  Especially in areas with schools, some people will have fake student IDs produced so that they can get good prices at local businesses and restaurants that offer discounts to students.


explanation of “your TV miraculously fixes itself”

From 7:00 to 7:30 PM, the vast majority of channels nationwide in China broadcast the exact same news program.  The foreigner, not knowing this, assumes his TV is actually not switching channels, but the Chinese neighbor knows this is not the case, and he will once again be able to see a variety of programming come 7:30.

explanation of “peeing in six easy steps”

The only thing to note about this joke is that it’s almost certainly not originally a Chinese joke.  I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered it on the web elsewhere before seeing it on the Chinese internet, and chances are that our protagonist, Little Qiang, was originally Little Johnny or something to that effect.

explanation of “A surprise brother”

The joke itself doesn’t need any real explanation, but there are some notes about translation.  First, the Chinese version of the joke consistently refers to the older woman in the story as “the wife” (妻子) whereas in English, it feels awkward to write “the wife said to the daughter,” so we changed it to “mother” in most cases.  The phrase “小女儿的想法更酷” is a little funny too.  We can’t write “The daughter’s ideas were cooler.”  It doesn’t make sense.  This really means, “The daughter had an even better (cooler, more awesome) idea [than what the mother just suggested].”

explanation of “the perils of textbook language learning”

The student has studied English language dialogues in textbooks so well that even in a life-or-death situation, the immediate response to “How are you?” is “I’m fine, thank you!” This unfortunate conditioning leads to the student’s demise.

explanation of “our house’s rat”

This joke doesn’t seem funny in English at all, and after thinking about it for quite a while, I’m not sure there is any way to both properly translate it while keeping it funny.  Translating it any way that allows the reader to quickly understand also cuts down the humor simply because nobody likes having a joke spelled out for them (which is also why our explanatory posts are rarely funny).

Getting back to the joke itself, all you have to keep in mind is that the 药 in 老鼠药, on its own is usually translated as “medicine”.  The child, not knowing that 老鼠药 is actually rat poison, assumes that the mother is trying to cure the rat of some disease by giving it this “medicine”.

explanation of “How much for the whole night?”

Creative solutions to common problems.  Though this joke might at first glance seem to be about prostitutes, it’s really about how much trouble Chinese people sometimes go through to buy train tickets. Waiting outside a train station overnight to buy tickets is by no means unheard of.

Train tickets are usually only released for sale to the public between 10 and 20 days before their departure date.  Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many tour companies are given access to these tickets first, and sometimes buy up multiple train cars.  Likewise, 票贩子, ticket scalpers, often try to purchase the more desirable tickets for high-demand trains.

Especially around major holiday periods like Spring Festival, train tickets are sought after like new iPhones in the US.  People form lines that snake around entire city blocks just to get their hands on one. Even doing so, they may find the train sold out before they reach the ticket window, or otherwise, there might only be left 站票, standing tickets.  The unfortunate folks who purchase standing tickets may end up without a seat (usually sitting on their own luggage) for 10, 20, even 40 hours on a long-distance train.


票贩子, piao fanzi- ticket scalper

站票, zhan piao- standing ticket

explanation of “losing your stuffing”

There’s one thing to keep in mind while reading this joke.  Baozi (meat-stuffed buns) have filling, and mantou (steamed buns) don’t.  That is, mantou are basically baozi without the stuffing.  Illustrations below!







explanation of “Intel inside (probably 宅男 outside) “

First things first, I’m complicating stuff by putting some  untranslated Chinese in the title of the post.  So I’ll start there.  That 宅男 (zhai nan) stuff just refers to a very bookish boy.  nciku defines it as otaku… I’m no expert there (unfortunately!), so I’ll just point it out and let others figure out whether it’s accurate.  Anyway, zhainan is apt here, since this is a very nerdy joke.

So, if you’re fairly nerdy, or if you pay attention to advertising, you might know that Intel has used a particular jingle for years and years.  It’s a series of atmospheric melodic dinging sounds.  Here’s a youtube video of it in all its glory:

Now that you’ve got that in mind, let’s think about what the Chinese for “The light! Wait for the light! Wait for the light!” sounds like.  It’s literally,  “Deng! Dengdeng, dengdeng.”  With tones (deng1 deng3deng1 deng3deng1), it could seriously start to sound like the Intel jingle. The 1 tone is flat and slightly above natural register, and the 3 tone is a kind of froggy low tone that’s much lower than the 1 tone.

Finally, I should mention that I’ve taken some license in translating the friend’s response to the “dengdeng.”  Even though “就你有英特尔啊” should be something like “It’s you who have Intel!”, I’ve decided to go with the well-known Intel slogan, “Intel inside,” since it’s clearly supposed to refer to some such phrase.  Anyway, I’m interested if anyone knows whether this is actually a common advertising slogan for Intel in the China market.

explanation of “so lucky you could die”

Just like in the US, many brands hold promotional contests to win free products, among other amazing prizes.  Probably best known for doing this are producers of bottled soft drinks like coke, sprite, iced green tea, and iced black (or lemon) tea.  Some producers use the tag line “zai lai yi ping” to announce the promotion, which is also the phrase they print on the inside of bottle caps to indicate that the bottle is a winner.