T-Shirts and Lost in Translation

Even though I have been to China and Beijing a dozen times, I still felt lost three weeks into my four month stay in the capital city. My language skills were frustratingly limited. And all of the things which as adults we take for granted were just out of my reach. Every day I set myself a list of tasks to accomplish and returned home having failed to accomplish most of them. I felt like a 5 year old. I could walk and talk, but irritatingly unable to fend for myself on a basic level. Setting up a Chinese phone? Nope. Buying a subway pass? Think again. Depositing money in the bank? Only if you fill out these forms, correctly, and even then, probably a hard Failure. Purchasing a rug? Still haven’t accomplished that one! Adding to the challenges of setting up a living situation in China was that everywhere things seemed so foreign-so alien. Even something as familiar as T-Shirts often didn’t make sense. So I decided to document my “lost in translation” moments by photographing the various shirts walking past me on the street or sitting across the subway aisle. The funny thing is that looking over these shots they actually do make some sense now! So maybe it’s just that the feeling of misunderstanding between cultures is a period of adjustment rather than something fixed and always. Maybe it just takes a bit of time living together for people to understand each other. My father always used to me when I was young, ” Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Well, I’m revising his statement slightly by changing the article of clothing but the sentiment is the same. Enjoy.

This is a box of napkins. Totally befuddled by this one.

6 thoughts on “T-Shirts and Lost in Translation

  1. As long as you don’t eat the tissues thinking you’ll taste happiness, you’ll be fine! Good luck with the rug. Sending love from Vermont. Look forward to reading your next post.

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  2. So most of the tshirts that you show us have slogans in English. Did you self-edit for this audience or is that the majority? Are there tshirt slogans in other languages?

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  3. Hi David, Thinking about you, so I checked out your blog.

    Glad to see you are doing well….improving your Chinese as well as your mindfulness.

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    1. Charlie, I’ve been missing our conversations and good practice at Nan Lao Shu. I’ve been learning an old form of tai chi originating in Wu Dang Mountains. Please say hello to Elise and all of the Saturday morning crowd. Best, David

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  4. One of the first things that I noticed when I moved to China was the number of English-language t-shirts. Most didn’t make any sense. My theory was that having a t-shirt with English on it was a prestige thing, so it did’t matter what it said. When we had Jake and Ben I noticed that their t-shirts didn’t make any sense either.

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