Asian Games

Guangzhou plays poor game at getting it right

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 January, 2011, 12:00am

As 2011 begins, Guangzhou is enjoying a moment of peace after November's Asian Games and the Asian Para Games last month. Traffic restrictions have been lifted and security checks on the subway removed. But traces of the Games remain on the city's streets - and they are embarrassing.

Guangzhou's budget for Games projects, including stadiums, roads and subway lines, was 122.6 billion yuan (HK$144.3 billion), though many believe the real cost was double that. Already, even the official budget is roughly five times South Africa's expenditure on the soccer World Cup in June and July and a third more than London's GBP9 billion (HK$108.3 billion) budget for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Many Guangzhou residents criticised the government for going over the top with its massive construction efforts and the tight security measures it imposed to ensure a safe event.

And yet, after such astronomical spending on infrastructure upgrades, the building of state-of-the art stadiums and landmarks and streetscape beautification, officials bungled on the very basics of English translation, with the errors on display across the city.

In the lead-up to the Games, what made an online hit was a series of photographs taken by residents showing fundamental language mistakes on road signs in the rush to beat the Asian Games deadline.

Take Guangzhou East Station, a key railway hub that connects the city to Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The station's outdated facilities were upgraded a year before the Asian Games. A year on, the new direction signs continue to point passengers towards 'texis'.

Local media reported the city government spent 25 million yuan in March to upgrade more than 3,000 road signs and rid them of any unclear or misleading information. Yet, basic English translation mistakes remain common.

A road sign for 'Wei Jia Si Plaza' was translated as 'Wei Jia Think Plaza'. The third word actually does stand for 'think' in Chinese. But why was only the third word changed into English? If the person writing the sign couldn't work out the entire name of the plaza in proper English, why not just leave it in plain pinyin instead?

Another outdoor billboard, featuring the slogan 'Jiang wenming, ying Yayun', is very eye-catching. This beautifully written Chinese phase can be roughly translated into 'upholding civilisation, welcoming Asian Games'. But instead, it was translated as 'speaking civilisation, ying Asian Games'. It is really not that difficult to work out 'ying' actually translates as 'welcoming'.

Other local media reports tell of an indoor arena spelt 'Lndorr Arena' and an isolation stable spelt 'Lsoltion Stable'.

With each sign costing an average of 8,000 yuan and the city's reputation at stake, you'd think that would have been motivation enough for officials to make sure they got things right. How hard would it have been for Guangzhou, an aspiring international metropolis, to hire qualified English translators?

One mistake that defies belief sees a new road sign near Zhujiang New Town point to 'xxx Road' in English and Chinese. A clear indication of the slapdash approach taken as the Games drew near, the sign was widely ridiculed. All these pictures circulating online make Guangzhou a laughing stock on the world stage. And that's damage that no amount of fancy, opening-ceremony fireworks can undo.

The clumsiness is not limited to English translations and road signs.

The 'beautification' effort on a building on Jie Fang Nan Road just about takes the cake: the 'windows' on its sleek, grey walls are not real; they have been painted on instead.

Now that the Games are over, the traffic jams have resumed and clean and affordable sports facilities are still hard to come by. The sky is grey at times and air quality is still less than desirable. So what was all that money spent for if an Asian Games cannot change a city fundamentally? Guangzhou needs to put in more effort than the fancy show it staged.

Yes, the Games were a success, but what will ultimately improve livelihoods are good governance and accountable officials. Those things are still some way off.