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Fashion needs dictionaries

By fashion editor Kok Wang

Posted April 29, 2012
t-shirts in hong kong that make no sense in english
What the duck? T-shirts to make you smile. © Kok Wang

Hong Kong's where it's at if you want to see some proper fashion statements. They just might not make that much sense.

Other fashion writers like to bang on about Paris and Milan, New York and London, but don't give me that old pony.

Hong Kong's the place to go for real cutting-edge fashion and in particular the street markets of Mong Kok.

It might not be all poncey and up its own arse like Paris Fashion Week but this is where you'll see some of the best T-shirt slogans ever, like "Listen beauty music", "Cheer loves star" and "I amezing" for starters.

The best one I saw, though, was this bright red T with this picture of a girl and some yellow ducks.

Genius in itself, I admit, but the real kicker was the legend: "Smile yellow dot girl".

I was going to buy it for the missus 'cos it was only about six quid but then I remembered I'd done all my cash so I got her a thousand-year egg instead.

Now don't get me wrong.

If you're some bloody Guardian reader, you probably think I'm having a pop at the locals for their bad English.

Well, I'm not.

I'm a big fan of the Cantonese and Hong Kong in general.

As a Londoner I just found their T-shirts funny, that's all.

It was like when my mate turned up in his fancy new sweatshirt with all this trendy Japanese writing on it.

He'd spunked about a ton on it so he weren't too pleased when my Japanese lodger at the time burst out laughing.

"Ah!" she screamed, pissin' herself and waking the neighbours. "You don't know what that says about your mother!"

He never wore it again.

Well, not round our gaff anyway.

The thing is, many people, regardless of where they're from or where they live, like to jazz themselves up with a bit of the foreign even though they haven't got a clue what it means.

The 'sense of the other', you see, makes them feel slightly different from the rest of the herd.

A bit chic, a bit sophisticated, a bit exclusive.

To them it's cool even if it's anything but in the home culture, like with all that trendy Hitler crap in Thailand1.

But if you're a Brit, you don't have to go to Asia to see this.

Just look at all those muppets getting tattoos without actually knowing what they say until someone who speaks the lingo starts laughing at them.

A case in point was that girl in Darlington a few years back what got a tat on her gut in Chinese.

According to those shills at the BBC2, she thought it said the name of her boyfriend.

Then she got it out in a Chinese takeaway.

Turns out she'd paid 80 nicker to have the word 'supermarket' carved into her flesh for the rest of her natural.

But she's not alone.

That David Beckham's no better with his misspelt Hindi tat on his arm.

But then, he probably couldn't spell 'Victoria' in English anyway so he's probably not that bothered.

And let's face it, 'Vihctoria' isn't that far off a proper word.

gibberish on t-shirts in hong kong china and poland david beckham misspelt tattoo
Idtuytycyutkhc: Total gibberish in Repulse Bay. © Kok Wang

Not like the nonsense on a T-shirt I clocked in Hong Kong's Repulse Bay.

Other than the words 'outstanding', 'stage' and 'door open', its 'message' just consisted of a load of random Latin letters.

However, not every T-shirt I saw out there was total gibberish.

One Cantonese bloke, for example, had one that made perfect sense, even if the punctuation was a bit sus.

In big letters it just said "F--k off w--kers".

Being a former British colony, the level of English in Hong Kong is actually a lot better than the local T-shirt manufacturers would have you believe, so I imagine he had some inkling as to what it was he was telling the world.

The same isn't true for mainland China, though, where my favourite was this bird's T-shirt that, over a picture of former England batsman Allan Lamb, announced: "I deserve the best cricket"3.

I could go on but I can't be arsed other than to say the winner so far is a T-shirt I saw not in Hong Kong or anywhere nearby but in a market in Poland.

Tiny and pink, it was clearly meant for a girl of about five or six, which perhaps explains why it proudly declared: "There's no grass on my pitch".


Kok out.

See also Angry Birds get my goat, posted 29/4/12.

Kok Wang
has driven a London black cab for 23 years, making him the world's leading authority on fashion. We are contractually obliged to state how honoured we are to be able to share his insightful take on "clothes and stuff" with you. He currently lives in Bow with his third wife Queenie and "two 'orrible sprogs", one of whom "looks like a fackin' python".


1) Have a read of the bun, why don't ya?

2) Read about it here.

3) As in the noble game.

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