Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

Hong Kong MTR Map Literal Translation (2017 Sequel!)

It was April 2014 when I published my first (of two…) posts that people have actually read that led to my five minutes of fame: my literal translation of the Hong Kong MTR Map. As it whizzed around the interest, I was glad to have spurred a conversation into the city’s varied and at times hilarious history in toponymy.

That post seemed a world away now: it was before my move into this personal space (with my name on it!) Without that post, I’m not entirely sure I would have stuck to this blogging thing for this long. Clearly, I’m a sucker for attention and ego boosts.

In the almost three years since the Hong Kong MTR station has seen some of its long-term visions gradually realised. As a young rail enthusiast growing up in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island, starved of a rail connection, I have long hoped for an MTR station to be built near me. In fact, this lack of a station paved for my first anorakish interest into the railways: I remember sitting in the school computer room circa 2004, tracking the planning process of the South Island Line.

And now, it’s finally here. Even if I no longer live there. Still, a cause for celebration! So for the first project of 2017, I’ve created a sequel to my MTR translation, complete with new stations and revised names.

Translation is difficult, more so when you are not a trained linguist. Last time, for sake of preserving the literal meaning in Chinese, my translation had not been sufficiently precise, and at times ignored the original etymology. This time round, I’ve paid more attention to history in the hope for a more balanced version.

So without further ado, I present to you 2017’s MTR Map, with the explanation for the most obscure translations below:

Screenshot 2017-01-09 22.39.34

Original Name My Translation “Reasons”
Sai Ying Pun 西營盤 West Camp 營盤 is an older word for a military encampment
Sheung Wan/ Central

上環 中環

Upper Ring/ Central Ring 環 “ring” stems from 四環 (the four rings), an administrative unit stemming from the beginning of the colonial era. However, its geographical sense has long become obsolete.
Admiralty 金鐘 Admiralty Bell The literal Chinese translation is ‘Golden Bell’, which refers to a bell rung for mealtimes(!) in the barracks. The area was also the principle admiralty of Hong Kong.
Tin Hau 天后 Celestial Empress The Tin Hau here refers to Mazu the goddess. Also a word for a pop diva.
Tai Koo 太古 Most Historic The official Chinese name for the Swire Group. Legend has it that it stems from a translation error. The founder John Swire’s son, also John, once walked pass a Chinese village during New Year, and saw大吉 (“great fortune”) written on every door. He figured that it must be a nice term, great enough name for the company, but miswrote the characters and ended up with太古 (“too old”). Credit to them, they stuck with it.
Shau Kei Wan 筲箕灣 Winnow Bay The bay is named because it resembled a Shau Kei. A Shau Kei is a bamboo-made sieve or colander, and functioning as such. However, in appearance, it is much more akin to a winnow, a sieve to separate grain.
AsiaWorld-Expo 博覽館 Expo Hall Following the Singaporean example, who has an Expo station translated as 博覽. I guess this is official now since the Shanghai World Expo?
Tsing Yi 青衣 Greenclothes The name derives from the Chinese name for a blackspot tusk fish. The island is apparently so named either because it resembles the fish, or the fish was abundant in the area. However, I thought better to stick with how that Chinese name came by: the fish is green!
Yuen Long 元朗 Fertile Wetland A difficult one. Yuen 元 comes from圓, which can mean perfect or fertile. Whereas Long 朗 evolved from塱 which suggests it as a wet lowland by the river.
Kam Sheung Road 錦上路 Upper Fairfield Road The road between Upper Village 上村 and Kam Tin錦田.
Mei Foo 美孚 Gracious Confidence The Chinese name for Mobil Oil Company. When Mei Foo Sun Chuen was built, the Chinese name stuck and believe carries sufficient good luck?
Fo Tan 火炭 Firecoal Beach The name derives from the Hakka language from fire beach; whereas the modern name carries are just ‘coal’. For a good, balanced translation…
Tai Po Market 大埔墟 Greatport Market 埔 is a port, or alternatively derived from 步 ‘steps’. Legend has it that there used to be tigers in the area, and one should walk away in big steps.
Che Kung Temple 車公廟 Charioteer Temple Che Kung is a Song Dynasty general turned to god. His birthday is the second day of Chinese New Year.
Tai Shui Hang 大水坑 Great River 坑, usually meaning pit, seems to only refer to a river here.
Sham Shui Po 深水埗 Deepwater Pier 埗 is an archaic word for a pier.
Whampoa 黃埔 Yellow Embankment The Chinese name for the historic Hong Kong and Whampoa Docks company, whose Hong Kong dock now hosts Whampoa Garden. Whampoa, meaning Yellow Embankment, refers to the company’s more famous dock in Guangzhou.
Ho Man Tin 何文田 Ho Man’s Land There are two supposed roots for Ho Man Tin. Either it is the Ho Man’s land, or it is land owned by the Ho, Man and Tin clan. The former is slightly funnier, in my opinion, to put down.
Shek Kip Mei 石硤尾 Gorge End 硤 = 峽 = another word for Gorge.
Wong Tai Sin 黃大仙 Wong the Great Immortal Wong Tai Sin is a Taoist deity popular in China. Supposedly a healer.
Tiu Keng Leng 調景嶺 Adjust Ridge The area was first called 照鏡嶺 ‘Mirror-facing Ridge’, until a Canadian businessman Rennie attempted to run a flour mill in the area, hence the alternative English name of Rennie’s Mill. The business failed and he hung himself in the mill. 照鏡嶺 became吊頸嶺 (Suicide by Hanging Ridge), which is about as bad luck as it gets. When the area is finally developed for housing, the name has once again changed to調景嶺, via the phrase調整景況, ‘adjusting the situation’.
Po Lam 寶琳 Pauline The name Po Lam road, a road built to a link a sanatorium. Po Lam is a name of the wife of the sanatorium director. Wikipedia claims that her name was actually Barbara, but since I cannot verify this independently, I’ll stick with my made-up version.

And for a bonus: my just for fun and clearly inappropriate version, as promised from a long time ago. Original less-than-fortunate names, bad puns, terrible homophones and stupid references. See how many you can spot! GENTLE REMINDER: Do not take any of this seriously.

Screenshot 2017-01-09 22.34.17

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