Century Park is the largest park in Shanghai and at 4 KM away it is the nearest park to our apartment compound. On this 4th Saturday of November , sunny and 72°, I took a bike ride to check it out. Crowds lined up at the ticket booths to purchase the ¥10 entrance tickets and then navigate the gauntlet of vendors selling candy, pancakes, balloons, kites, live bunnies and chickens (I’m assuming in case you want to have a barbeque), that had encamped in front of the gates. The uniformed parking lot attendant made it clear that my bike was not permitted inside even if I wasn’t riding it, this despite the fact that I could see people riding bikes inside the park. I’d have to leave my bike outside and rent one inside if I wanted to ride a bike in the park. I was directed to an area in the center of the parking lot to leave my bike, but there was nothing there to which I could lock it. I declined his offer.
What caught my eye was the rules posted on the fence at the far end of the parking lot, nowhere near the ticket booths, or the entrance to the park. There was nobody reading them. Inside the park there was probably nobody obeying them.
As I study Mandarin, I am coming to understand the difficulty, if not impossibility, of making a word-for-word translation between Chinese and English; In English we usually have a specific word for something, in Mandarin, there is usually a concept for something, not a single word. For example: 褔 This is the Chinese symbol fú, the character for good fortune, or luck. As explained by Fiona, my Mandarin instructor, It is comprised of two symbols, the one on the left symbolizing clothes–or, heaven sent– the one on the right (top to bottom) is a chopstick, mouth and a field, taken together, indicating a good harvest, an ancient Chinese indicator of wealth. When both symbols are combined, a person who has clothing, food and land has good fortune. So in English we’d say to someone “Good luck!” In Mandarin that would literally translate as “Clothes, food and land to you.” So you can see how something that makes perfect sense to a Chinese person literally loses something in the translation to English. That’s what makes reading Chinglish fun and, as an American living in China, challenging. Keep this in mind when you read the assembly instructions on the next Made in China product that you try to assemble.
- Rule # 1 is fairly a straightforward direction to buy a ticket and leave when the park closes. For an American, and by that I mean ignorant of the metric system, it requires a smart phone app to convert the 1.3 meter height restriction to understand that my kids over 4′ 3″ need a ticket and can’t come to the park by themselves, regardless of how old they are. I know from reading the previous “Notice to Tourists” sign that “metal patients visit the parks with guardians in company” is simply a typo and that I’m being told that people with mental disabilities are not allowed in alone (and, I get the feeling from the repeated use of this command, not really wanted.)
- Rule # 2 is something I think we can all live with. Upon my arrival in China I was impressed by the availability of garbage and recycling cans on almost every street corner and I dutifully separated my food scraps and my Starbucks coffee sleeve for disposal and recycling, but I have since been told by almost every Chinese person that I’ve asked (four) that they are just for show and that it all goes to the same place. So if you “Classify the garbage” it might not matter, but it can’t hurt to try. As for the next part, I think it seems to be directed more toward the rural migrant than to the urban Shanghinese or western tourist. I have on occasion seen a taxi driver, or truck driver, pull over to the side of the highway–there are rarely ‘shoulders’ on the highway as Americans are familiar with– and urinate right there in the right lane, and there the bus driver at the Museum of Science and Technology urinating in the flower bed, yesterday, but I have yet to see anyone defecating in public, but I’ve only lived in China for seven weeks.
- Rule # 3 is pretty self-explanatory, they key parts being the prohibition against capturing wild animals and plucking fruits. My impression is that, in China, anything edible is fair game. In fact, I rarely hear or see birds in the parks and I’ve never seen a ground animal since I’ve been here.
- Rule # 4 is pretty clear.
- Rule #5 is something I’m still trying to translate much of; I have no idea what the “garden-visiting order” is; pretty sure that “barebacked” means don’t take your shirt off; “Don’t circle activity yards” has me baffled; I can’t wait to discover what “feudalistic superstition” activities are and I wonder why they have vendors selling live, caged bunnies at the entrance to the park if they don’t want you bringing the bunnies in.
- Rule # 6 is pretty straight forward, next time I’ll leave my bike home and enter the park to see if the park goers are observing these prohibitions. And gotta wonder about the kite sellers at the entrance.
- Rule # 7 is my favorite Chinese boilerplate rule: “don’t do anything prohibited by the law and regulations.”
I’ll let you know if I spot a window of civilization.