From Eccentric Flower



Why, here's GARDEN again already.


You may not be able to make out this sign very well - I couldn't get any closer for a good photo - so here are the three large characters again, from the printed menu. The smaller characters on the sign are not so important (even though most of the page is about them!)


The last one, as noted, is GARDEN. (Notice how "calligraphic" the one on the menu is. I warned you that you'll see a lot of variation here.) The other two characters don't really need translating (they mean "capital" and "offer," though), since the restaurant's English name makes it pretty clear that they're being treated as sounds (i.e. literally "King Fung") and not ideas.


However: the first character - "king" or "ging" in Cantonese - is "jing" in putonghua (Mandarin), and is one half of the name for the "Northern capital": Bei-jing. You'll see it again as part of that phrase.

(By the by, Cantonese does continue to prevail in America, for historical reasons, though putonghua is gaining ground. This means that, unfortunately, when you see English spellings of Chinese sounds - "romanization" - it is likely to not be as standardized as if it were putonghua. See the notes for more if you're interested.)

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The first two characters in the small print on this sign, when taken together, mean "economical." But only when taken together.

And when they form this phrase, they should not be interpreted separately or literally. Their individual meanings have nothing to do with economy. Until I bought the right books - and stumbled across the phrase - I didn't know how to put them together.

This is one of the hidden pitfalls of Chinese - or of any other language, for that matter: Alien idiom. Once in a while, you are going to come across a combination of symbols that just plain doesn't make sense unless you happen to have learned the phrase. What can you do? Shrug and live with it ... and remember that English, too, has a whole slew of phrases that are wholly cryptic to foreigners.


The latter two small characters offer "small food" - which we've discussed, but this time "food" is the EAT radical, not the VEGETABLE character. EAT is the radical that forms the left half of PASTRY, RESTAURANT, and FOOD (cooked rice).

As I noted before, in picking a single gloss for each of these characters, I have to make some compromises. Do I call this one EAT or FOOD? I can't call the "cooked rice" character MEAL, which is what it really should be, because there's another character later that only ever means "meal." I can't call it RICE, because then when you see the character/radical for raw rice, which is pretty important, we'll have nothing to use for it.

The best thing I can do is stress that each of these is pretty flexible, within a certain range, and hope you get the idea. After all, "eat" and "food" are closely linked concepts!

Unlike the other kind of "small food," I believe these four characters together - "economical small food" - mean "cheap lunches" (even though this isn't the usual way of saying "lunch"). The restaurant makes much of its lunch specials, as I recall.


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