Kallang literally means ‘colder’ in Chinese

From ‘Keep it in English or all four languages’, 7 Dec 2012, ST Forum, and ‘Chinese tourists need Mandarin station names’, 3 Dec 2012, Voices, Today.

(Kimberly Lim): I BECAME aware of the Mandarin in-train MRT service announcements on Monday. I have reservations against this for two reasons. First, it gives the impression that Mandarin takes precedent over the other official languages.

Second, the translation appears to have been a hasty job. For example, “Kallang” is translated literally to mean “colder”. Translating the name to one that sounds similar to a station’s English name would make it easier for commuters to identify the stations, but it would risk ridicule among Mandarin-speaking foreigners.

SMRT should make such announcements in English only or use all four official languages.

(Elaine Luo): …Recently, two Chinese tourists asked me for directions to “Duo mei ge” station, referring to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. When I said that they must take a train to City Hall MRT station and transfer to the North-South line, they gave me a blank look.

I did not know at the time how to translate “City Hall” into Mandarin. Granted, they could have used the brochures and asked for directions using the station numbers instead, but they were tourists trying to navigate their way around a new place. They probably thought that Chinese-Singaporeans would be able to assist them with the translation. However, we in Singapore are so accustomed to using English that many of us do not see the need to know the station names in another language.

I believe that most Indonesian tourists here, even if they have difficulty understanding English, are probably better able to read and pronounce the station names, as Bahasa and English use the same alphabet. This is not the case for the Chinese language. English and Mandarin words are dissimilar and translating the words may be more of a necessity.

Chinese station names have been confusing and tickling Chinese-speaking Singaporeans for years, although they were intended to aid the elderly according to a recent SMRT explanation. Commuters in the past have complained that the translations never made sense, whether it’s Somerset’s ‘Rope Beauty Stuffing’, Buona Vista’s meaningless and hyper-syllabic phonetic translation, or the confusion between Woodlands and Woodleigh. But even without additional languages, the selection of English names alone can be bewildering to many.

Take Farrer Road and Farrer Park. I was once asked by a stranger if the Circle Line went to Farrer Road, and had to double-check because at the back of my mind I knew there was a Farrer PARK served by NEL. So even if I had bothered to memorise every station name in Chinese, chances are I could have still sent a tourist on a wild goose chase. Imagine if I had to recall what Farrer Park was in Chinese, differentiate it from the other Farrer station, before giving the right answer. If a Chinese tourist asked me if I knew how to get to ‘Hai Jun Bu’ (Admiralty), I’d give a blank stare too, and wonder what someone from China would want with our Navy headquarters.

Thank God I’d only need to describe the Circle Line as ‘Orange Line’, rather than ‘Yuan Quan (圆圈) Line’ (some would argue it’s not even in a loop). Then again, even SMRT can mess up the colour coding sometimes. First conceived in the eighties, colour coding was meant for the ‘less-educated’. Today, if SMRT went ahead to approve the use of all 4 official languages, they may apply to EVERYONE. Also, you’d have people complaining about announcements being too noisy, or zealous Good Samaritans accusing SMRT of not doing enough for the deaf, blind, colour-blind, dyslexics or people inflicted with a neurological disease where they can only read words backwards and not forwards.

It took SMRT more than 20 years to decide on Mandarin station announcements. In 1985, the MRT Corporation was blasted by the public for using only English station signs. Four years later, there were calls to include Mandarin announcements to ‘familiarise commuters with station names in Mandarin’, as well as cater to China and Taiwan tourists. 20 years would have been more than enough time to figure out if Mandarin announcements were really necessary, whether the elderly prefer to say ‘Buona Vista’ instead of the mouthful ‘Bo Na Wei Si Da’. And yet, critics today continue to hound SMRT despite them responding to customer feedback from the eighties, some arguing that it’s unfair to single out Chinese among the other languages, others ranting about the pandering to PRCs, or those suddenly realising that some of the Chinese translations are nonsensical when they have been there all along.

Sure you can’t please everyone, but at least attempt to convince us that spending money on voiceovers actually  makes a difference rather than tarring the elderly and uneducated with the same brush. Just don’t let this be another excuse for ‘fare adjustments’.  Wait, they have the China worker strikes for that already.


One Response

  1. […] Everything Also Complain: Kallang literally means ‘colder’ in Chinese – Sgpolitics.net: The issue of active aging in […]

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