These wonderful signs of the times
For many months, near the entrance to my local shopping center in East Bangkok, there was a large green street sign that said “Entrace”, the second “n” had disappeared in use. It was a small thing and I was resigned to seeing it for years to come. However, I’m happy to report that the rogue “n” was surprisingly found and the mall now has a proper “entrance” again. Congratulations to the eagle-eyed officer who spotted the missing “n”.
It served as a reminder of Thailand’s valiant effort to get the message across in English, even if it didn’t always come across quite right. As it turns out every week, I’m still struggling with the English language and can only imagine how difficult it must be for non-native speakers.
A word that has caused problems on Thai highways over the years is “reduce”. Phuket has long had a traffic safety sign that reads “Phuket City Limits: Produce Speed”, not to be confused with a similar sign that says “Seduce speed” that pops up every now and then.
Some signs are admirable bits of English and it doesn’t matter if the words chosen aren’t quite right as we know what they mean, as in “Shape Curve Ahead” or the rather quaint “We apologize for any convenience”.
My favorite English sign on a Thai highway has no mistakes, it simply says “Welcome to the city of nice people”. This is what awaits you as you enter Ban Pong in Ratchaburi Province, about 80 km west of Bangkok. What an interesting greeting.
Ban Pong Noodles
I used to travel to the Kanchanaburi area by train occasionally in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until we reached Ban Pong that I felt like I was going anywhere. Of course there weren’t any “nice people” signs back then, but they didn’t need them because everyone was friendly.
I remember staying one night in a cheap hotel in Ban Pong with a post Office The owner’s colleague and children were so excited to have two foreigners as guests that they all got together to watch us eat pasta and practice their English conversation, which consisted of “hello” and “goodbye” amid giggles, what was a fair start.
Who knows, maybe it was one of those kids who grew up writing the “Nice People” sign.
Barks and bears
One of the most entertaining signs in Bangkok in a while was the shop sign in the Phrom Phong district, illustrated with lots of tempting buns, donuts and pastries, which advertised itself splendidly as “My Barkery”. For the curious, they didn’t have a side hustle with dog biscuits. Unfortunately, a spoilsport recently discovered the renegade “r” and the sign has since reverted to a traditional “bakery”.
I wonder if the original “Barkery” was related in any way to the “Bearkery” I passed many times on Pattanakarn Road. Maybe they hired the same sign writer who is suspected to have a wicked sense of humor.
After consuming what’s on offer in the Barkaries and Bearkaries you’ll probably want to wash it down with a drink and there are many establishments in Thailand with signs offering “Daft Beer”.
Many years ago, an international transport company in Bangkok was wondering why business was so sluggish, until someone suggested that it might be an idea to change the big logo on its trucks, which carried the message: “The Air Fright Specialist” . A Phuket hotel/apartment complex launched a newspaper campaign a few years ago offering potential buyers a “free return flight to Phuket”.
Many years ago a magnificent advertisement in the Bangkok Post Classifieds reported that someone was looking for a Thai lady who could “write and speak reverse English well”. I hope love found the way.
A few years ago, while visiting a national park in the province of Udon Thani, I came across a sign aimed at keeping people out of the garbage that read: “Think first”. Unfortunately, it came out as “Lust think first” thanks to a rogue letter, which may have confused some tourists.
Then there was the Pattaya Hotel with a sign on its swimming pool that said “Children must be accompanied by part of an adult”.
We mustn’t forget the sign outside a veterinary clinic in Chiang Mai, which perhaps could have been better expressed: “Your pets are in our care.”
All of the above examples are from Thailand, but China is arguably the world champion when it comes to bizarre English characters. A conspicuous street sign announcing “Beware of Safety” is a bit unsettling. Another safety-related sign advises tourists to “slip and fall carefully.”
Chinese menus are a treasure trove of exotic fare, including Roast Husband, Chicken Rude and Unreasonable, and the intriguing Careful Soup. Regarding the universal problem of dogs polluting sidewalks, I particularly like the Chinese warning “Please don’t leave your dog here”.
Some of the signs in China are actually an improvement over the English original. Instead of the harsh “Keep off the grass” in China it is more like “The grass is smiling at you, please detour” or the almost poetic “Do not disturb. Little grass is dreaming”.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long-time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literature Prize. He was a sports editor at the Bangkok Post for many years.
Email: [email protected]
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