Student minds the language gap in MTR station names

Passengers pulling into ‘Little Bay’ and ‘Apricot Estate’ as alternative map goes viral

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 11:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 11:53am


The next stop might be “Horse Urine” or “Oil Pond’ depending on how literal you want your MTR journey to be.

Justin Cheuk, a 20-year-old London-based university student, has created an alternative Hong Kong MTR map with station names translated literally into English that has gone viral on the internet.

“A few were quite difficult to translate. And there were a few where, once I figured out what they meant, I was quite surprised,” said Cheuk.

He decided to create the map earlier this month when it occurred to him that many English names for MTR stations were a mystery to non-Chinese speakers.

The map has attracted thousands of views to a bilingual blog that he had been using to stay in touch with friends in Hong Kong.

“A lot of the English names are just transliterations based on how the Chinese words sound. But that’s quite unhelpful for someone who does not speak Chinese because they won’t know what the words mean.” Wan Chai station, for example, is named as such in English because it is pronounced “waan zai” in Cantonese.

But in the blogger’s alternative map, the English name for Wan Chai station is “Little Bay”, Yau Tong station is “Oil Pond” station and Heng Fa Chuen station is “Apricot Estate” station.

Several MTR stations are named after public housing estates. Attempts to give auspicious names to the estates resulted in names that sound awkward when translated into English, such as “Permanent Security” for Heng On station and “Utmost Peace” for Tai Woo station, said Cheuk.

Cheuk, who is looking for help with a second improved edition of the map, said it was especially difficult to come up with a translation for Tiu Keng Leng station, which he renamed as “Tune View Ridge” but is considering changing to “Fairview Ridge”.

He is also searching for explanations of some of the stranger station names. “I’ve heard theories that Cantonese people made up rude names on purpose to [annoy] the British colonial government, but I’m not sure,” he said. Tsing Yi station is a Chinese pun for “stripping” in Chinese, while the original name of University Station was Ma Liu Shui, which may have been a pun for “Horse Urine”, he said.