I’ve not been interested in learning mandarin. This isn’t to say that the motivation may not hit me later (when I discover some truly excellent Chinese music), but as of right now I am not compelled to do so. But that being said, there are a handful of things I would really love to learn to say, and at the top of the list is “can I take your picture?” Is this because I have seen so many oriental beauties out in the wilds and I want to immortalize them. Hardly. It is because I have seen so many laughably baffling things written on clothing here, and I would just love to share them with people. I don’t have the stones to just take someone’s picture without asking (yet… This is subject to change, China), and so I am left with the desire to learn this one particular phrase.
One particularly vexing example is the young lady I found behind me in line at a grocery store with a hat that read “Breakbeat dumbass”. Having once been a kid with a fascination with the written word, I immediately began attempting to extrapolate meaning from this and recalled that I too am a breakbeat dumbass, as I actually only have a passing idea as to what a breakbeat is. This hat isn’t too troublesome, as one can imagine some Chinese guy somewhere with a list of ‘cool’ English words, and putting two together haphazardly. You could almost forgive this one as the person who made it maybe didn’t speak English, or knew his audience wouldn’t, or simply didn’t care.
Or you may find yourself walking around when suddenly you see someone wearing a shirt that says “Please don’t disturb”. You feel uncomfortable about it, so you take another look and realize the shirt actually says “Please don’t dLsturb”. This one is far my troubling in that I cannot imagine how it came to be. I have no idea exactly how people make t-shirts, but if I have learned anything from those mall kiosks it’s that the process is mostly automated; there is a computer terminal where you input the text and then another machines puts it onto a shirt by processes unknown. One would think that the shirt maker knew enough English to distinguish an I from an L. Or if they didn’t, how did they manage to get the rest of it right, not reducing the “please don’t” part to sheer unintelligible nonsense? Most importantly, why the hell didn’t they just copy and paste is from a bank of words somewhere on their computer or the internet. The irritation from this one stems from the fact that I could be a T-short printer making shirts for a language I didn’t understand and with a little bit of effort I could see myself not fucking it up.
And then there are those shirts that are truly haunting. The winner among these was a simple black shirt, the front of which listed colors; ie ‘black, white , red, blue etc’. The only problem with this shirt is that somewhere between beigeand grey is the word strve. When I first encountered this my first reaction was of course to blame myself; that day I skipped in kindergarten was finally coming back to haunt me, as I was now the only person in the world unfamiliar with the color ‘strve’. Then it hit me that it was probably nonsense. As with the last point, how the hell did this even happen? Where two guys at the shirt designing office one day, the first diligently working on a shirt that listed colors when the second chimmed in with “Hey, don’t forget about that strve color”.
“Huh? Never heard of it.”
“Oh yea it’s a thing”
At which point the first guy never bothers to look it up. If the person knew the colors well enough to get all the rest of them correct, then where in the world does ‘strve’ even come from? I am hoping, praying even , that this shirt is just a troll, in which case Bravo China, Bravo .
And there are of course hundreds of stupid examples in between. Notably, I have seen a large number of people where shirts that say “aeroplane of idiots”. The shirt features a rather crude drawing of and airplane. I’ve been led to believe that it is a band shirt. Still, it looks stupid.
 Formatting is important for this anecdote, and frankly I do not recall if the shirt read “PLEASE DON’T DLSTURB” or “Please don’t dLsturb”. I think it was the latter, as the capital ‘L’ struck me as being very prominent.