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Say What??? Southeast Asia Signs

by Suzanne Fluhr on February 10, 2014 · 75 comments

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Warning: Do not read this if you are consuming a beverage which you do not want to see coming out your nose. 

Even for those of us who love to travel, getting around in countries where we don’t speak the language and often can’t even read the alphabet, can be stressful. As Southeast Asia has become a go-to tourist destination, the locals have tried to help us out by posting helpful information in English — with varying degrees of success. Usually, we can get the gist of what they are trying to communicate, but sometimes — not so much. Many times, the signs bring a smile to our lips and sometimes a full throated guffaw escapes.

Actually, I even found a few head scratcher signs in Hawaiion our last trip. Here are my favorites from our recent trip which included stops in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore.

At the main Wat (Buddhist Temple complex) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, there was this warning:

Sign at Wat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

While you are trying to figure out what this sign says (why are the guides having a playoff game?), chances are some one might have sprinted away with your property.

crossing sign in Singapore

In Singapore, you might not be allowed to chew gum, but you can get a green man — I’m not sure if other color men are available.

English is an official language in Singapore (a former British colony) and most people speak it quite well. So, wassup with this?

Pizza sign Singapore

Even my native Singaporean consultant wasn’t sure what this slogan is supposed to mean.

I’m not sure what happens if you actually do fall while waiting in line at the Manila International Airport.

Sign in Manila airport

At least they’re polite about it.

Temple sign in Luang Prabang, Laos
I realize that there is mystery in religion, but this declaration at a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, Laos still has me scratching my head. Maybe it’s a test and you can forget about Nirvana if you don’t “get it”.

We have this one courtesy of my husband (Mr. Excitement) from over the urinals in the mens’ room at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. He was very brave to risk a photo. They’re pretty strict in the Royal Palace complex — lots of gun toting soldiers and signs telling you not to take photographs. It might have been difficult to try to explain to a Thai judge (not to mention, our sons) why exactly he was taking photos — in the mens’ room.

Sign in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand

We could call it “the Anthony Weiner defense”. “But Officer, I was taking a photo in the mens’ room for my wife…..”   I think what they are trying to say is, “Our aim is to keep this bathroom clean. Your aim will help.”

In the caves at Halong Bay in northern Vietnam, they could maybe use a little help with prepositions.

Sign in cave at Halong Bay, Vietnam

In other words, leave your gang sign somewhere else — or else!

Finally, here’s my favorite from the back of the door rules and regulations at the Manichan Guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Luang Prabang, Laos guest house sign

I told Steve not to bring his prostate to Laos, but did he listen?…… I guess we could have tried the “but we weren’t making sex movies” defense.

I assure you, this is all in good fun. At least they try. I don’t recall seeing a lot of signs in Laotian or Thai at City Hall in Philadelphia.

Have you experienced any amusing language-based incidents during your travels?

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{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patti Morrow February 10, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Good grief! Your warning wasn’t dire enough! I fell off my chair laughing…. the signs were funny enough, but your translations/comments were downright hilarious. Loved it.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Thanks, Patti. I went back and added another one. This time you know what to expect!

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avatar santafetraveler February 10, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Good very- would meet the translator like.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Billie- I’m surprised your comment made it through my spam filter ;-) I think the translator might be a machine, not a person.

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avatar Patti February 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

That’s hilarious, Billie!

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avatar Jen Weaver February 10, 2014 at 7:59 pm

How funny! Thanks for sharing this post! :)

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avatar Patti February 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

These are awesome! And it’s funny that you wrote this post because one of my biggest photography regrets from our epic road trip was not catching the signs along the freeway, some were hilarious, some were off the wall and some were disturbing at best such as the giant billboard which proclaimed in HUGE letters, “Spare the rod and spoil the child!” Guess which part of the country we were in? Sadly, when you’re cruising the freeway at 75 mph you can’t STOP! to take a photo of a sign. In one small cafe in VA I was laughing so hard because the sign in the bathroom read something along the lines of, “When you are finished processing, do not flush any woman products.” When my son went to the men’s room, he said there was no sign, so it just must be women who process.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:42 pm

That’s a new euphemism for me — “processing”. I remember driving through the South as a 10 year old and seeing all the “Impeach Earl Warren” signs, courtesy of the John Birch Society.

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avatar Elizabeth February 10, 2014 at 8:59 pm

This was great!

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avatar Donna Janke February 10, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Enjoyed this. It’s amusing to see some of the translations of signs and instructions into English. But you’re right – at least they try.

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avatar Neva Fels February 10, 2014 at 11:59 pm

The signs were so funny. We are still laughing about a sign in South America that loosely translated to “my donkey can beat your donkey.”

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Hmmm. I wonder what “donkey” meant in that context.

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avatar Irene S. Levine February 11, 2014 at 1:33 am

Great signs! Welcome back to the U.S.A!

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avatar Marilyn Jones February 11, 2014 at 4:28 am

Fun read!! You’re very observant to catch so many!

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avatar Nancie February 11, 2014 at 5:04 am

The signs in Asia always make me laugh and wonder, too! That first one (or some version of it) seems to be posted at most of the temples here in CM.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

But I give them credit for at least trying. In the U.S., if you don’t speak English or Spanish, you’re pretty much out of luck.

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avatar Catarina February 11, 2014 at 6:06 am

Great examples of funny signs, Suzanne. Have seen many all around the world. But it’s still great that people make an effort to be helpful even though they don’t master English. Have seen photos of the same kind of mistakes taken in the US, actually.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Catarina, that’s my feeling exactly. At least they try to inform English speakers. In the U.S., you’re pretty much on your own if you don’t speak English or Spanish.

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avatar Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) February 11, 2014 at 7:46 am

This made my morning Suzanne…hilarious, especially the commentary. If Jay Leno were still on the air, I’d suggest that you send them to him for his segment. I never thought to do this while I was in that part of the world…so happy that you did and shared them with us. Language…it can really screw us up, right???

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Thanks, Jacquie. They brought a smile to my lips on the road and I actually found them kind of touching — that at least they were trying to communicate and with a few exceptions, they mostly managed to get across the gist. I mean, I was pretty clear that they didn’t want to see “Leroy was here” on a stalagmite in the Halong Bay Cave.

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avatar bermtopia February 11, 2014 at 9:18 am

The Number One Son kept us in stitches with signs like these the four years he taught English in Japan. Then we got to experience first hand when we visited him. There is nothing quite like it. And, for future reference, whenever you need an Asian sign fix, there’s — http://engrish.com/

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm

My son introduced my to Engrish.com. That’s definitely a site to look at without hot beverages or sharp objects around.

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avatar Nancy Thompson February 11, 2014 at 11:31 am

It’s finding signs like these along the way that make travel continually fun and interesting. Thanks for sharing your finds.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

It’s definitely worth keeping one’s eyes open. I especially like finding funny signs in otherwise quite serious places — the Royal Palace, a Buddhist Temple….

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avatar Roz Warren February 11, 2014 at 11:40 am

Fabulous. Almost makes me want to start globe-trotting myself.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Roz, I think you would find that travel would provide a lot of grist for your already amusing writing.

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avatar Mike February 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

LOL this was awesome and sooooo funny, Suzanne! Look at Mr Excitement go taking pictures at such great risk…channeling his inner James Bond, no doubt. What the heck is “crambling”?? Loved this, our friend! :)

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Thanks, Mike. I’m pretty sure “crambling” is legal in your home state—Nevada—-along with “prostates”. ;-)

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avatar Darina Friedel February 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm

I went to most of same places as you did but I completely missed these signs. You have a very keen eye! +)

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Dari, maybe your husband just wasn’t willing to risk arrest in the Royal Palace mens’ room ;-)

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avatar Jeri February 11, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Those signs are too good! I always got a kick out of the signs in Yellowstone National Park that warned the tourists: “Do not molest the wildlife.”

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Jeri, that’s a pretty good one. I guess it depends on how you define “molest”.

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avatar Linda ~ Journey Jottings February 12, 2014 at 4:55 am

I love the image of the passengers at Manila airport falling like flies – and the thought of being able to press a button to summon little green men..
I guess having such a way with words yourself your eye is super aware of “interesting’ turns of phrase!
Loved it :)

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm

I find it helps to have a sense of humor and a well developed sense of the absurd when traveling.

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avatar Michelle Richmond February 12, 2014 at 6:35 am

You made my day with this one. Thanks for the laughs!

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 12, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it. I like to step our of my serious zone every now and then.

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avatar Michele Peterson February 12, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Oh, these are truly wild! Thanks for making my day!

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avatar Johanna February 13, 2014 at 1:11 am

Ohh, too funny Suzanne! I loved “do not inject water into the ground!” We could do a bit of water being injected into our very drought ridden Western Australian ground though – although perhaps this is also a sign that authorities here should use to get people to save water!

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr February 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Jo, maybe the Western Australia water authority could make a trade agreement with the Thai bathroom police. It would be a win-win.

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avatar Cathy Sweeney February 13, 2014 at 10:08 pm

These are hilarious! I love funny signs and translations can be the funniest kind. Kudos to Mr. Excitement for taking great risks with the urinal pic. Of course, you saved the best for last — I’m glad we didn’t have to worry about disobeying the rules.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) February 14, 2014 at 4:12 am

I didn’t say we followed the rules, but at least we didn’t get caught with a prostate in our room; -)

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avatar Katherine Belarmino February 16, 2014 at 1:25 am

These are awesome! We saw quite a few interesting translations on our recent trip to China.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 20, 2014 at 7:31 am

There’s an entire website dedicated to funny Asian sign translations: http://www.engrish.com But, I’m impressed that at least they try.

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avatar Catherine February 20, 2014 at 6:06 am

Haha, this actually had me laughing out loud, love it! Do not inject water in the ground really got me giggling :)

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 20, 2014 at 7:20 am

I’m glad these tickled your funny bone. Thanks for stopping by.

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avatar Ricardo February 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Hahahaha those are great! Fall in line!!!!

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avatar Maddy Fluhr February 27, 2014 at 11:52 am

OMG!! Really??? It’s like they asked their high school freshman son/daugher if they would mind translating their signs into English for them?? Really??? Quite hysterical. I think the Pizza one is supposed to be “What a Crack Up!” Right? I love how they distinguished bringing someone not your wife or husband into the Guesthouse to “make love” whereas later on they say you can’t bring “prostates” or anyone else in to make “sex” movies. I take that as a sign of language refinement. So much for thinking English is an “International” language. I think we’re slipping……

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

I guess they figure you can’t have a loving relationship with your “prostate”. They are only good for making sex movies ;-)

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avatar Anne @ Pretraveller March 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Suzanne, thanks for sharing some very funny signs! It is always amazing to see how things can get lost in translation…

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr March 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Yes. Google translate helped me to avoid horse meat once (I think), but it’s far from foolproof.

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avatar Becc March 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Ah, I love a good belly laugh!
I did a similar post just from our Japan trip. Oh, man they crack me up.
These countries produce some of the most intelligent people in the world, but when it comes to the English language, they really do struggle. I am kinda glad because it brings a big smile to my face when I see them :)

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr March 11, 2014 at 7:00 am

If you think they struggle with English, ask a native English speaker to write a sign in Thai or Laotian! ;-)

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avatar Tim March 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Those signs crack me up and they can be seen all over Asia. And lets not forget the menus. One other thing that makes traveling such a worthwhile pursuit; expect the unexpected. Thanks, Tim

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr March 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

My favorite menu item was in Japan. I’m not sure what it was, but the translation was “Salted fish guts of salmon’s internal organs”

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avatar kay dougherty March 21, 2014 at 10:32 pm

I loved these! My sister and I often have water (or wine) coming out of our noses and tears running down our faces from signs around the world. I hope they never get the right because that would take way too many giggles out of travel! I remember seeing “striped chicken chests” on a menu in Tuscany that for some reason still makes us laugh if one of us says it. Sometimes you have to be there and sometimes you don’t! Thanks for the laugh.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr March 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Kay, thanks for finding this post and for sharing it with your blog readers.

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avatar Corinne March 25, 2014 at 5:02 am

Suzanne, I love these…I used to love reading the wheel covers in Japan. They always had the funniest poems, sayings, etc.

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avatar Jess @UsedYorkCity March 25, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Inject water into the ground?! Haha, I LOVE these! This was seriously one of my favorite parts of traveling in Southeast Asia…I mean, this and the wonderful people, of course;-)

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avatar wendy April 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

I lived in HK for 26 years and recall, with great affection, some of the clangers I saw there. My favourite? A t-shirt which read, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have lost at all”. Profound, right? :-)
Thanks for sharing these, I really enjoyed them.

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avatar Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com April 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Hi Suzanne! I just came over from your link on the Midlife Boulevard Facebook page. GREAT signs and certainly worthy of a laugh this morning. Thanks for sharing them. ~Kathy

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avatar Haralee April 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Very funny. The last one from the hotel is great. I understand the pizza, and assume the green man is our white man on cross walks?

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 11, 2014 at 2:41 am

He is indeed our white man, but I’ve never seen a sign that says, “push here for white man.”

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avatar Alyson July 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

Love it! Nice work Suzanne!

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avatar Meg @ Mapping Megan July 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

LOL love these! I especially love the “do not inject water into the ground”!! We’ve just been through South America and there were a few similar experiences. We saw one sign in a hotel which said there was “no whoring allowed”. Noted!!

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avatar Irene @ Freelancers on the Road July 25, 2014 at 4:53 pm

LOL these are hilarious! The last one had me laughing out loud. A Thai restaurant we ate at last year had “Chili Crap” on its menu – don’t know if that got ordered a lot ;-)

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avatar Dana @ Karon Beach Resort Phuket September 5, 2014 at 6:31 am

These were hilarious! Translator – Fail.

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avatar Jazza - NOMADasaurus September 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm

No sex movies with prostates? I’m not staying in that hotel! Haha.

We’ve been in SE Asia for 8 months now, and although we try not to poke fun at their gallant efforts at translating into our language, you do come across some hilarious interpretations!

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avatar Sabina @GirlvsGlobe September 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm

This was absolutely hilarious, thanks so much for sharing!!! :D

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avatar Lisa Goodmurphy September 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Fortunately, I heeded your warning and put down my coffee before reading – those were hilarious!!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr September 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I included the warning because I just hate when coffee comes spewing out of my nose ;-)

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avatar Margaret Blank December 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm

These are wonderful. We have giggles on our travels around Europe, although I think id have trouble getting the loved one to take photos in the gents’ lavatories! We have had quite few Lamp Chops over the years and menus generally have been a source, not only of wonderful meals, but of entertainment too.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr December 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm

I didn’t ask Mr. Excitement to take the photo in the men’s room—because I had never been in the men’s room in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, so I had no idea about that sign. I was really quite shocked (and pleased) that he took the photo. Menus are a source of amusement and sometimes, concern. We didn’t order the “salted fish guts of salmon’s internal organs” in a restaurant in Japan.

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avatar Dorita December 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

These are hilarious! My son has been living in Taiwan for the past two years and has passed on some pretty funny observations too. Check out the book he sent us that collects these gems:
http://www.amazon.com/Chinglish-Translation-Oliver-Lutz-Radtke/dp/1423603354
I only shudder to think what the Chinese characters I see on T-shirts here in the states actually mean ;)

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