For my American readers who might not have crossed a border except by car—to dip into Mexico for cheap alcohol or take a spin up to The Falls for the more exotic “Canada side”—the Arrival Card is a throwback to the era of old world travel. The process involves small pieces of paper, pens, lines at immigration desks, the memorization of a series of numbers, rubber stamps, and filing. Most countries in Asia require filing out of the Arrival Card.
This week I went to Beijing and was once again faced with the perplexing task presented by China’s Arrival Card. With so much of the world’s power seemingly within the country’s grasp and large pockets of young native English speakers eager to make quick money when the teaching day is done, one would think there is enough translation resource to get it right.
Why, then, is there still so much Chinglish? Chinglish seems as rooted in Chinese culture as chopsticks and red envelopes, and one of my favorite examples is the official government bilingual document, the China Arrival Card, which raises far more questions than it answers.
Listed on the China Arrival Card are the nine reasons one might enter:
□ Conference / Business
□ Visiting friends
□ Return home
□ Settle down
□ Sightseeing / in leisure
When I travel, clearly I am there for #1, Conference / Business but I can’t seem to help passing that up for the less obvious.
For example, what is the difference between ‘Visiting friends’ and ‘Visit’? Is the more general ‘Visit’ meant for people who are not friends and also not business associates, perhaps therefore for family?
Clearly ‘Visit’ does not mean visiting landmarks as that is so straightforwardly covered in ‘Sightseeing / in leisure.’ Thank you, China, for reminding me to take it all in stride.
Does ‘Visit’ imply a temporary stay? Otherwise you might be coming for something long term, maybe ‘Study’ or ‘Employment’ and not yet ready for the more committed, ‘Settle down.’
This raises another question. Is ‘Settle down’ meant for foreigners only? If you are native Chinese it seems you would tick, ‘Return home,’ but could you be both ‘Return home’ and also ‘Business’? ‘Return home’ and ‘Study?’ What about ‘Return home’ and ‘Settle down.’ Now that would make a statement.
And finally, in the off chance that your intentions are not covered by the first eight, thankfully there is the last ditch catch-all box, ‘others.’ China is a large and varied place. There are so many reasons one might come. Perhaps you would rather not be so specific.
As of the year 2000 there were an estimated 10 million English ‘users’ in China and the Chinese are learning English at a rapid rate. Some studies predict that by 2025 China will have more speakers of English within its borders than the total number the world over. Maybe I am alone in this, but passing through immigration will be far less entertaining if all the force of that language ability is ever put behind rewriting the China Arrival Card.