The MRT Will Be Joining Us for Dinner Tonight, Dear

The Taipei MRT used to have a competition. If you could find three grammar mistakes or examples of Chinglish in their signage, they'd pay you NT$1500 (around US$50). I thought it would be easier to figure out who was responsible for the mistakes and then fire that person for incompetence. But who listens to me?

I took the above shot at the Chungshiao-Dunhua (忠孝-敦化) MRT Station yesterday. I think I know what's going on here. Someone with high-level position either signed off on the "It's so wonderful having Taipei Metro with us" slogan or coined it her/himself and the people working under her/him were too afraid or embarrassed to say it was Chinglish. You might be wondering how someone who doesn't speak English could be managing an advertising or PR company or department that makes English signs. Well, in Taiwan, there's a saying: "The dead wood floats to the top." Simply put, you get promoted for staying in a company for a long time, not because you're any good. Loyalty is valued over competence. In all my time in Taiwan, I can't remember seeing a single Taiwanese person fired for incompetence from a Taiwanese-run company. I have seen "foreigners" fired for sucking, but that's another topic. Taiwanese people get fired for the following: a.) Arguing with a superior b.) Making unwanted passes at a colleague c.) Being a good scapegoat when one is needed.

Getting back to the sign. I think what the ad or PR company or department is trying to express with the "it's so wonderful having Taipei Metro with us" is that the MRT has improved the quality of life in Taipei. I agree with that. If you think Taipei's streets are clogged with traffic, you should have seen them in the 1990s. A friend who lives out in Hsin Tien told me it used to take her up to two hours (on a bad day) to get to work. Now, thanks to the MRT, she can get there in 25 minutes. I remember walking to Chinese class when I lived in Yonghe (永和). It took around 45 minutes as I had to cross Zhong Cheng (中正) Bridge. The reason I walked was I knew how long it was going to take me. With the bus, it could be 20 minutes or it could be an hour and 20 minutes. The MRT allows us to time our commute. And it's cheap; riding to work costs me NT$20 (US$0.60).

BTW, there are some interesting stats for ridership at the Taipei Metro Web site. Ridership is up around 50 percent in the past five years: http://english.trtc.com.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1056489&ctNode=11767&mp=122032


EyeDoc said...


Mayor How probably designed the slogan himself. It still beats "Having Taipei Metro is truly great", though. As Anon 23/8/10 has pointed out, a certain personal touch is poking through.

Having ridden in MRTs in Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, San Francisco, Boston, etc, Taipei Metro is still the best, in many more ways than just the time saved.

Think of Chinglish as the Taiwanese's attempt to tame the English language. You must know that "long time no see" and "people mountain people sea" are now both widely accepted. Wait a few years and the slogan in question may show up elsewhere, e.g., "It's so wonderful having Boston T with us", etc.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Think of Chinglish as the Taiwanese's attempt to tame the English language."

My tax dollars are being used to make the signs, which is fine as some of them have a good message (see the ones encouraging people to line up for public transportation, to wait for people to get off public transportation before pushing on, not to take children on scooters and to fasten the straps on their helmet when riding scooters). The problem is this: more of our tax dollars are being spent to clean up the Chinglish. This wouldn't be necessary if they'd just get it right in the first place. Plus it's giving visitors a view of our city that it is goofy. On the other hand, the signs' Chinglish could be viewed as a constant source of amusement.

I agree about Taipei MRT - absolutely. I also think the HSR has really improved the quality of life here. There are politicians / media in Taiwan that disparage both though.

EyeDoc said...

Disparaging Taipei Metro and the HSR is a national pastime. The politicians and the media simply play it up - or they would have nothing better to do. And of course, saving wasted tax money is always the battle cry.

Hmm...Patrick, you have definitely been assimilated.

Anonymous said...

The subway system in Moscow was supposed to be one of the best in the world--according to whom, I don't know. I bet the person has never ridden Taipei's user-friendly MRT, though!