Those wonderful signs of the times
For many months there had been a large green road sign near the entrance to my local mall in eastern Bangkok which read "Entrace", the second "n" having gone missing in action. It was a minor thing and I was resigned to seeing it for years to come. However, I am pleased to report the rogue "n" has surprisingly been located and now the mall has a proper "Entrance" again. Congratulations to the eagle-eyed official who spotted the missing "n".
It served as a reminder of the gallant efforts made in Thailand at getting the message across in English even if it doesn't always come out quite right. As is evident each week I am still fighting a losing battle with the English language and can only imagine how difficult it must be for non-native speakers.
One word that has caused problems on Thai highways over the years is "reduce". For a long time in Phuket a road safety sign read "Phuket City Limits: Produce Speed'', not to be confused with a similar sign "Seduce speed" that pops up every now and again.
Some signs are admirable stabs at English and it doesn't really matter if the chosen words are not quite right as we know what they mean as in "Shape Curve Ahead" or the rather quaint "We apologise for any convenience".
My favourite English sign on a Thai highway does not have any errors but simply says, "Welcome To City Of Nice People". That's what greets you when entering Ban Pong in Ratchaburi province, about 80km west of Bangkok. What an interesting greeting.
Ban Pong noodles
In the 1970s I travelled by rail to the Kanchanaburi area now and again and it wasn't until we reached Ban Pong that it felt like we were getting somewhere. Of course, they didn't have the "nice people" signs in those days, but they didn't need them as everyone was friendly.
I recall staying in a cheap hotel in Ban Pong one night with a Post colleague and the owner's children were so excited at having two foreigners as guests they all assembled to watch us eat our noodles and, amidst giggles, practise their English conversation which consisted of "hello" and "goodbye" which was a fair enough start.
Who knows, it might have been one of those kids who grew up to write the "Nice People" sign.
Barks and bears
One of the most entertaining signs for some time in Bangkok had been the shop sign in the Phrom Phong area illustrated with lots of enticing buns, donuts and pastries that advertised itself splendidly as a "My Barkery". For the curious they didn't have a side-line in dog biscuits. Alas a spoilsport recently spotted the rogue "r" and the sign has since gone back to a traditional "bakery".
I wonder if the original "Barkery" was in any way related to the "Bearkery" which I have passed many times on Pattanakarn Road. Perhaps they hired the same sign writer who one suspects has a wicked sense of humour.
After consuming what's on offer in the Barkaries and Bearkaries you will probably want to wash it down with a drink and there are plenty of establishments in Thailand with signs offering "Daft Beer".
Many years ago, an international transport company in Bangkok wondered why business was so sluggish until someone pointed out that it might be an idea to change the large logo on its trucks which bore the message:" The Air Fright Specialist." Getting in on the act a hotel/condo complex in Phuket some years ago launched a newspaper promotion offering prospective buyers a "free return fright to Phuket".
Many years ago, a splendid ad in the Bangkok Post classifieds related someone was looking for a Thai lady "well reversed in English writing and speaking". I hope love found the way.
On a visit to a national park in Udon Thani province a few years ago I came across a sign designed to stop people littering and was intended to read 'Just think first'. Unfortunately thanks to one rogue letter it came out as "Lust think first", which might have confused a few tourists.
Then there was the Pattaya hotel with a sign at its swimming pool which read: "Children must be accompanied by part of an adult".
We must not forget the sign outside a pet hospital in Chiang Mai which perhaps could have been better expressed: "Your pets are in our custodian."
All the above examples are from Thailand, but China is arguably the world champion when it comes to bizarre English signs. A prominent street sign which announces "Beware of Safety" is bit of a worry. Another safety-related sign informs tourists to "Slip and fall down carefully".
Chinese menus are a treasure trove of exotic dishes including "Roasted husband", "Chicken rude and unreasonable" and the intriguing "Careful Soup". On the universal problem of dogs fouling pavements, I particularly like the Chinese warning "Please don't empty your dog here."
Some of the signs in China are actually an improvement on the original English. Instead of the curt "Keep off the grass'' we normally experience, in China it's a case of "The grass is smiling at you, please detour" or the almost poetic "Do not disturb. Tiny grass is dreaming".
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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- English signs