Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scandalous T-shirts

In China, English is not only a mandatory study subject, it's fashionable. It doesn't always matter how correct the English is or what it even means. I've seen wedding photo albums covered in sickeningly sweet, grammatically incorrect English phrases, and even in Zhangye many stores opt for an English sign. Clothing fashion is no exception, and students in particular like shirts covered in (often meaningless or totally confusing) English phrases. It is always news to my students if I point out that the English on their shirt is wrong ("Wild Bider" on a Harley-esque design, or a picture of Nirvana's late singer labeled "Kurt Codain," who the student had never heard of in the first place). Ramones t-shirts are surprisingly popular, though no one has any idea who they are, and likewise with shirts that say in big letters "Spy Who Loved Me." At least one of my t-shirt purchases was inspired by the Chinese English on the front (seen in picture).

Most of the odd English-adorned shirts can be chalked up to the generally abysmal level of English in the Chinese manufacturing world. However, there are those that turn my head and make me wonder if a mischievous laowai (foreigner) wasn't behind it. For example, today I saw a shirt that said in large letters "Peace is Good." That seemed harmless and superficial enough, but then I noticed the smaller letters "Sex is Better" in the bottom corner. Yesterday I saw a female student on campus with the large letters "Wanted: A Meaningful One-Night Relationship" on her shirt. And I remember my friend David from my training course in Thailand mentioning a similar phenomenon where he taught in South Korea, his example being a shirt that said "last night a world class surfer got off in me." One of the most popular t-shirt series amongst girls here is a brand that advertises "Relax: Choose Juicy," whatever that means. And lately one of my students has taken to wearing her new t-shirt which says "Baby Drink Beer." But one of the most noticeable was a shirt I saw on the street that said in unmissable block letters on the back "FUCKING CANADIAN." Apparently a freshman girl in the English department also has this shirt.

This reminds me of an article I read in 21st century, a newspaper for English students in China, about Westerners with tattoos of Chinese characters. Apparently many of them are incorrect or completely ridiculous. The only example I can remember was an unfortunate Western guy who had a tattoo that said "crazy diarrhea" in Chinese. So fair warning to anyone who gets a Chinese tattoo: beware the smirk on the tattoo artist's face.

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