Monday, February 16, 2004

Funny business
One of the banes of my editorial existence is "polishing" the comics every Tuesday. The Shenzhen Daily runs five comic strips that appear in a Wednesday supplement aimed primarily at Chinese middle school students who are learning English. Though I am sure foreigners, starved for the likes of Garfield, Marmaduke and Cathy, also read them. I know my son and I did when we were teaching here and we got a lot of snarky mileage out of how incredibly bad they were. Even Family Circus was looking good after three weeks.
The translations were one problem. The barbarian polishmeister who preceded me obviously hadn't changed them a whit. A typical four panel affair would go something like this:
Teacher to class: Do not dare to disobey my noble commands at severe risk for I am your revered teacher-master! Have your possessions included assigned tasks that were assigned to you?
Impish tyke: Fellow student Ji Li has promptly not completed onerous assigned task duties assigned previously to him!
Teacher: This is not suitable hearing for my ears! Ji Li, please to explain to myself, revered teacher-master, why previously assinged tasks assigned to yourself previously are not present on your person!
Ji Li: My ears are blocked like the mighty waters of the glorious Three Gorges Project for I have been laboring mightily in preparation of studies for the soon to upcoming difficult Level II Examinations! (Teacher seen flying out of panel in disbelief with only his feet visible and three "woosh" lines depicting his shocked exit.)
You get the idea. But since I've assumed comics duty it's been a mixed affair. I've successfully replaced phrases like "Explosive sound" and "Very stupid rascal bandit" with "Kaboom" and "moron" and "pushed my foot down with hard force" with "stomped." I had to argue for all three because M., the comics lady, couldn't find "kaboom", "moron" or "stomped" in her Chinese-English dictionary but wanted to keep another word "bullshit" in because it was in her dictionary.
Anyway, it all came to a head today regarding a four panel comic with a single repeated phrase.
The set-up was a car with a sign reading "Do not kiss me" on the rear. Two men walk in front of it. The car almost hits one. In the last panel he's had a "Do not kiss me" sign taped to his back by the other fellow.
Hilarious, huh? I didn't get it either.
So I sucked it up and went to "M". She's a impeccable human being with absolutely no sense of humor. She explained that "Do not kiss me" is a common sign on cars driven by student and new drivers in China. It's a cute metaphor for "Don't hit me."
I told her most westerners wouldn't understand that and suggested "Caution: Student Driver" instead.
"That is too far from the original meaning," she said primly. "I will put an explanation for the metaphor."
"If you have to explain it, it isn't funny!" I replied, my blood pressure rising.
"Yours is not funny," she retorted. "He is not a student driver and he is walking."
"That's exactly why it is funny!" I said with clenched teeth, while looking around in vain for a U.N. peacekeeper. "I know humor. It is FUNNY!"
Then I did something very mature. I stomped away muttering "moron" under my breath.
She consulted foreign barbarian coworker Jeff, who also told her it wasn't funny.
"I told her to just run another one," he said. "Told her no foreigner would understand hers and that yours is funnier.
I just got the new one.
First man: What will you do with your winnings if you win the lottery?
Second man: I will spend my winnings that I win to build a grand football training center.
First man: Yesterday you declared that you would build a welfare center!
Second man: It was yesterday that I have purchased a welfare lotteries. It is today that I have purchased a football lotteries!
(Foreign comics polisher seen flying out of panel in disbelief with only his feet visible and three "woosh" lines depicting his shocked exit.)

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