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Of Asian Delicacies and the Idiom Tedium

16 Mar

by Roger White

My mother-in-law loves authentic Chinese food, so when we treat her to dinner, she almost invariably chooses First Chinese Barbecue, way up on North Lamar in far North Austin. It’s so far north you’re practically in Waco. You can’t get much more dead ducksauthentic than First Chinese Barbecue; as you walk in you’re greeted by rows of dead, naked ducks hanging like John Wilkes Booth’s gang at execution. The aroma of spices and meats is practically intoxicating, and the menu’s mostly in what I presume is Chinese, with some hints about what you’re ordering in English. I’m never quite sure if I’m ingesting a pig, a chicken, or some other roasted creature, but I must say it is all quite scrumptious.

No, First Chinese Barbecue did not cut some sort of free-meal deal with me to write this, but I will tell you that the dried fresh squid with black bean sauce is out of this world. (Is that good, Mr. Run?) Again, that’s First Chinese Barbecue. Far North Lamar. Ask for the Oldspouse Special.

Anyway, the dinner is only half of the evening for our Bubbie. Dear mom-in-law then likes to head next door to the MT Supermarket. This store, if you’ve never been, is the Asian version of a Walmart Supercenter. It’s a 100,000-square-foot bastion of the most amazing and unbelievable foodstuffs any Texan has ever seen. I presume these yummyitems are foodstuffs. In this era of PC politeness and easily hurt feelings, I’m trying to tread lightly here, OK, but not in my wildest imagination can I conjure a gastronomical use for, say, pork rectum, pork uterus, or fresh chicken feet.

And on just about every aisle you’ll find small armies of robotically waving ceramic cats. Quite unsure of what a robotically waving ceramic cat has to do with Asian groceries, I looked it up and found that these are actually a Japanese thing. Called maneki-neko (which sort of translates into “beckoning cat”) these oddly friendly felines are considered good luck talismans. I don’t know. I have a real cat, and whenever he starts to wave at me like that it usually indicates an impending ambush.

There are also rows upon rows of sweets, too, both prepackaged and freshly made. These aren’t your typical kitty hellocandies and cakes, mind you. You have chocolate and strawberry Pocky Sticks, Green Bean Ice Bars, Purple Mochi Balls, and all sorts of squishy treats with names like Lychee Jelly Cup and Poo Poo Variety. Keeping the freshly rendered pork rectum in mind, I opted to pass on the Poo Poo Variety.

With this less-than-appetizing terminology stuck in my cranium, I got to thinking. How many other marketing words and slogans—perfectly appropriate and appealing in their native tongue—somehow fail to translate? So I hopped on my google horse, and here’s what I found:

  • It seems that the Pepsi slogan of some years back—“Come Alive!”—actually translated in a certain Chinese dialect into “Make Your Ancestors Come Out of the Grave!” That Pepsi packs a punch.
  • Coors once used the motto “Turn It Loose!” to ramp up sales, but apparently this hip saying translated into “Suffer from Diarrhea!” in some Spanish markets.
  • Pee ColaWhen good ol’ Coke was introduced overseas, some Chinese dialects rendered “Ke-kou-ke-la,” which was about as close to Coca-Cola as they could get, into “Bite the Wax Tadpole.” Yum.
  • When Kentucky Fried Chicken made the leap across the big pond, their slogan “Finger-lickin’ Good” came through in Chinese as “Eat Your Fingers Off.” Ouch.
  • The American Dairy Association, pleased with the hugely popular “Got Milk?” campaign, was flabbergasted to find when it exported the saying to Mexico, its initial translation appeared as “Are You Lactating?”
  • If Green Giant brand foods wondered why their first forays into the Arab markets didn’t go as planned, it may have been that the Arabic terminology for naughty soup“In the Valley of the Jolly, ho ho ho, Green Giant!” came across as “This is the Land of the Intimidating, uh uh uh, Green Ogre!” No Ogre Brand Peas for me, thank you.
  • Ah, and here’s a classic, from the days of the Ford Pinto. Seems that the braintrust of the Henry Ford folks couldn’t understand why they failed to move any of their hot, new Pintos in Brazil when they first put them on the market. Only after the fact did they discover that the word “pinto” is Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Yoiks. The Ford guys quickly and as discreetly as possible switched the car’s moniker in their Brazilian dealerships to Corcel, which means “Horse.”

Knowing all this—and understanding that the term in question surely means something delectable in the Asian world—I still can’t picture myself biting into anything of the Poo Poo variety.

Fart BarRoger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

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The Morbid Tale of the Marlboro Man–And Others

20 Nov

by Roger White

A moment of silence, please, for Mr. Eric Lawson. Mr. Lawson, 72, died earlier this year from respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The real cause: smoking. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll certainly know him by his professional moniker. Eric Lawson was the Marlboro Man. You remember? The rugged cowboy dude rode the range, ten-gallon hat on his head and a smooth Marlboro in his hand, in those iconic cigarette ads of the 1970s.

The MMGet this: Lawson was the latest in a string of Marlboro Men to expire due to “hazards of the job.” Before him, aspiring actor David Millar, who did TV spots for the cigarette company in the 1950s, smoked for four decades before dying of emphysema in 1987. Former stuntman Wayne McLaren, another Marlboro male, died of lung cancer in 1992 at age 51. Western TV actor David McLean, who appeared in such shows as Bonanza and Gunsmoke, played the MM in print and television ads—he kicked the bucket in 1995 after 30 years of lighting up. His widow sued Phillip Morris, claiming the company made him smoke five packs per ad; she lost when the suit was dismissed. And then there was Richard Hammer, a firefighter-turned-actor who died of lung cancer in 1999 after his reign as the smoking cowboy. Talk about a risky profession.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many sordid stories of TV and magazine pitch men who’ve succumbed through the years, overwhelmed by their corporate personas. It’s the sort of thing that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have conspired to keep quiet, fearing the backlash of negative publicity. Here are just a few I’ve become privy to:

ow!Did you know, for example, that the original Pillsbury Dough Boy, young Timothy Yeastley of Bakersfield, California, died of peritonitis after being poked in the belly 417 times during a marathon attempt at a particular TV commercial? “The director was never satisfied,” one stagehand remembered. “We kept shooting it over and over. It was gruesome. Timothy gamely tried to carry on, even laughing that silly laugh to the very end. But by the 400th take or so, he was black and blue.” Outtakes have apparently cropped up on Youtube; don’t watch them unless you have a strong stomach. So to speak.

Or how about the sad tale of Gunther Sauber, otherwise known in TV land as Mr. Clean? Poor Gunther became so consumed by his on-air identity that he died of OCD in 1977. Near the end, he spent all his time cleaning, polishing, spit-shining, mopping, shaving his head. They found Gunther, dead of a heart attack, in the Flatbush Avenue Subway Terminal in New York. He was Mr Cdressed all in white, a bottle of cleaner in one hand, a filthy rag in the other. Notes found in his apartment indicated he intended to degrease the entire New York City subway system.

Then there was Lee David Squibny of Hastings, Nebraska—the original Kool-Aid Man. Although Lee went violently—he died of repeated blunt-force trauma after crashing through 46 walls during a grueling TV ad taping session—an autopsy revealed early onset of diabetes. An unsettling side note: All of Lee’s internal organs were stained a hideous grape purple.

And let’s not forget ill-fated Ike Lipshitz, the original Jack of Jack in the Box fame. Mr. Lipshitz, apparently obsessed with staying in character, met a ghastly fate when his bulbous Jack in the Box head became stuck in an elevator door on his way to his fiancée’s apartment. When the elevator Jack is Badarrived at the fiancée’s floor, she was horrified to find only the giant Jack head inside, and a bag of tacos.

I could go on. I would, for instance, tell you about the fate of the first two Mr. Peanuts, but you’d never look at a jar of peanut butter the same way. Or of the original Jolly Green Giant—oh, the endless skin grafts… Suffice it to say, it’s not all glamour and glitz.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.