Saturday, December 06, 2008

Wok N Roll

Visiting with a Uighur friend who has emigrated to the U.S. author Peter Hessler steps into the Chinatown of the District of Columbia. Being bilingual Hessler can read both the English and the Chinese versions of the restaurant names on their street signs. “The jokey racism of the English names vanished in translation: in Chinese, the China Doll Restaurant blossomed into ‘Beautiful Chinese Garden,’ and the China Boy Delicatessen gained a measure of dignity (as well as an entirely different product line) with ‘Chinese Child’s Fresh Noodles.’ The Wok N Roll Restaurant transformed itself into ‘Hall of Precious Flavor.’”

But the most radical difference between English and Chinese is on “Chinatown Gifts.” The Chinese: “Service Center for Personnel Leaving the Country.”

Observes Hessler’s Uighur friend, “’On that sign, when they say “country,” they mean China. Why would anybody need any help getting out of America?’”

The Uighur are an ethnic minority in China and look more Middle Eastern or Turk than Han. Hessler even meets one blond enough to be used to impersonate a bad guy American in Chinese action pictures.

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