In a Guangzhou Taxi

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I just returned from a linguistics conference in China. I won’t even try to compete with Victor Mair’s reports (here and here and here, for example) about the way English is fractured there, but a taxi ride in Guangzhou provided me with a few bits of interesting language information.

Several announcements in English were plastered on the back of the cab driver’s seat for the benefit, I suppose, of English speaking visitors like me. I was glad I sat in the back seat because the first sign I read said:

According to the regulation of Public Service Bureau,
only ladies and children are allowed to be seated in the

I could only try to imagine why such a regulation exists. Are gentlemen threats to the driver? If so, why would the front seat be safer? Wouldn’t the front seat be more risky in an accident than the back seat? If so, why subject ladies and children rather than men to such a fate? Do the drivers want to ogle the ladies? If so, why are children also allowed in the front seat? (I don’t even want to think about that one)

Then there was this announcement:

Please get in and out of a taxi at the permitted areas.

It was too late for me to worry about this. I had already boarded the taxi and I didn’t have a clue about whether I did so in a permitted area. This did give me some pause, however, about how I'd tell the driver where I wanted to get out. But what the heck, “take a chance”, I mumbled to myself. I was fortunate that when I gave the “stop here” hand signal, the driver graciously permitted me to exit. I must have debarked in one of those unspecified permitted areas.

I was even a bit puzzled by another notice that read:

Additional fuel: RMB 1 yuan per time.

Although far from explicit, it probably meant, “an additional charge is made for the rising cost of fuel.” But it still wasn’t clear what “per time” means. As things turned out, it didn’t really matter. I would guess that “time” meant “trip,” but it could have meant a number of other imaginable things, like per minute or per hour.

Meanwhile, my sociolinguistic consciousness was aroused at the large, colorful advertisement for something called English First. It contained a photo of a smiling Caucasian male and a smiling Asian woman, facing front with their adjoining arms raised and their wrists tied together with a rope. The only explanation was the website below the photo: The website doesn't include the photo I saw in the cab, but Ray Girvan found it for me. You can see it here.

If you care to check it out, you’ll find that this is an advertisement for a school where you can either teach or learn English. It is unclear why the male is Caucasian and the female is Asian. Or why their hands are tied together. Or, for that matter, why English should be “First.” Or why English First was founded by a Swede.

Ah, the mysteries of China!

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