Se vende en China: The Best Chinese Translations of Spanish-Language Brands.

“Mama, I’d like some Happy Kids Grow Taller and Taller.”

“Sure, dear.”

That’s a literal translation of a conversation that could happen within a Chinese family. Happy Kids Grow Taller and Taller is a roundabout explanation of the Chinese name for a Spanish brand of chocolate powder.Cola Cao, Gao Le Gao

高樂高 (pronounced gao le gao) is the product’s Chinese name. The first and last characters, 高, mean tall. The second character 樂 means happy. The word for happy sounds like a particle that denotes the passage of time, and thus, the phrase sounds like, “happy kids grow taller and taller.” And gao le gao sounds very similar to the original product name, ColaCao.

Choosing an appealing name is an essential part of launching an imported product into the Chinese market. The Chinese language is complicated, and this creates both opportunities and risks for foreign brands. “Picking brand names in China is a business in itself,” wrote Michael Wines in an amusing New York Times article:

BEIJING — After a hard day’s labor, your average upscale Beijinger likes nothing more than to shuck his dress shoes for a pair of Enduring and Persevering, rev up his Precious Horse and head to the pub for a tall, frosty glass of Happiness Power.

Or, if he’s a teetotaler, a bottle of Tasty Fun.

To Westerners, that’s Nike, BMW, Heineken and Coca-Cola, respectively. And those who wish to snicker should feel free: the companies behind these names are laughing too — all the way to the bank.

More than many nations, China is a place where names are imbued with deep significance. Western companies looking to bring their products to China face a dilemma not unlike that of Chinese parents naming a baby boy: little Gang (“strong”) may be regarded quite differently than little Yun (“cloud”). Given that China’s market for consumer goods is growing by better than 13 percent annually — and luxury goods sales by 25 percent — an off-key name could have serious financial consequences.

The full article is packed with amusing examples and definitely worth reading (PDF attached.)

At the beginning of the localization process, marketers must decide: “Do you want to translate your name, or come up with a Chinese brand?” Monica Lee, the managing director of Beijing consultancy Brand Union told The New York Times. “If you go for phonetic sounds, everyone knows where you are from — you’re immediately identified as a foreign brand.”

The majority of Chilean wine brands use the phonetic approach.

A quick search for 智利 (Chile) on Chinese wine retailer brought me to Monarca Cabernet Sauvignon.

The brandname Monarca is translated phonetically to蒙娜卡, and pronounced meng na ka. The first character is part of Mongolia, the second is common in girls’ names and the third means card, but a Chinese person wouldn’t think of those meanings, since these characters are often used to represent foreign words. The name meng na ka simply sounds foreign.

But this phonetic approach can also backfire.

Sun Zhiyong, a patent attorney in Beijing who has studied both English and Spanish, explained to me in an email message:

I also found a brand name 阿道夫·多明格斯 “Adolfo Dominguez”, which may be a very bad name. For some Chinese, “阿道夫” Adolfo can remind them of Adolf Hitler.

Does that association fit these stylish outfits? I think not.

In search of a Spanish-language brandname whose Chinese translation contributed to the appeal of the brand, I returned to and searched again.

Arboleda caught my eye.

Instead of a phonetic translation like A bo le da, this wine carried a more poetic name: Jewel Wood Manor. This incorporates the literal meaning of the Spanish word Arboleda (park full of trees) while communicating the treasured status of this wine, which retails for about $45 USD in China. Enthusiastic about my find, I shared it with Sun Zhiyong. His response?

By the way, Arboleda “珍木庄园” may not be a good name.  The meaning of 珍 [zhēn] = Tesoro, joya, valioso is correct.  However, for many Chinese, “珍” sounds (and “is”) more or less like an old-fashioned woman name, for example, a name for a grandma.

Since imported wine is relatively new to China, and most popular among younger professionals, naming it after grandma might not contribute to its popularity.

Urban Chinese are familiar with the cosmopolitan flair of Spanish language and culture, especially due to the Spanish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai EXPO, Spain’s win in the 2010 World Cup, the prevalence of stores like Zara and Mango, and the influx of tapas bars in Beijing and Shanghai.

Spain’s pavilion at the Shanghai EXPO featured a massive animatronic baby named Miguelín, whose movements captured the attention of the mostly-Chinese crowd. Visitors also saw a flamenco dancer and scenes from a soccer match, and had the opportunity to buy Mango t-shirts and Spanish olives.

Despite this cultural identification, Chinese professionals are much more likely to speak English than Spanish. Words containing characters like ñ could be challenging for a Chinese consumer to pronounce.

Thus, the ideal Chinese translation of a Spanish-language brand should successfully combines Spanish flair, English pronunciation, and Chinese values.  Which brand rises to this challenge?

Roca is a brand of high-end bathroom fixtures. Its Chinese name 乐家 (pronounced le jia) echoes the two-syllable rhythm of Roca, while emphasizing the broader benefits of using these products. Its literal translation? Happy family.

Special thanks to Sun Zhiyong, Shepherd Laughlin, and Tania Geller for their help with this article. 

Madam Tusan: Chinese Cuisine with Peruvian & Chilean Characteristics

I wrote this a few months back, right when the restaurant opened. A delicious side of modern China-Chile relations! 

Madam Tusan, a Chinese-Peruvian restaurant, opened a few months ago at Parque Arauco, an upscale mall that looks like it could be in Southern California.

We visited the restaurant after reading this tempting review in the September 30, 2011 edition of Wikén, the Friday magazine of Chile’s most prominent newspaper, El Mercurio, I translated parts of it into English. 

Chifa Cuisine Arrives in Chile: Fusion of Chinese and Peruvian Gastronomy. by Bárbara Muñoz S. 

Cebiche con wantanes? Not only is it possible, it’s delicious. The tasty mix of Peruvian and Chinese cuisine – sweet-and-sour, intense, and with an important historical weight – has just landed in Chile, in the Boulevard of Parque Arauco, by the hand of Gastón Acurio and his ultimate whim: Madam Tusan.

When he was a child, Gastón Acurio – today a super-famous chef, mega-businessman, and face of the Peruvian gastronomic revolution – asked for “una chifa” for his birthday. His parents thought he wanted to celebrate by eating at one of the many Chinese restaurants that existed in Lima, known as “chifas.” But what he had in mind was something else: he wanted to HAVE a chifa.

When I visited the restaurant, I spoke with Liliana Com, who was visiting from the main location in Lima to manage the Santiago location’s opening. Liliana is “tusan,” or Peruvian-born Chinese.

I asked Liliana about the derivation of the word “tusan.” Does it come from the familiar Chinese words for “earth” and “three”? Not directly, she explained; there are specific words for different generations of Japanese descendents – issei, nissei, sansei for first, second, and third generation, respectively – but not similar words for Chinese descendants, at least not in the Peruvian vernacular.

The first Chinese arrived in Peru around 1854, when slavery was abolished and landowners needed a new labor source.

The El Mercurio piece describes how this migration shaped Peruvian cuisine.

“Many of those Chinese stayed to live forever and never stopped eating their food. In fact, part of their payment was in rice,” explains Liliana. The combination of Chinese techniques and Peruvian ingredients gave rise to chifa cuisine. As time passed, the immigrants and their families installed themselves on Capón Street, in the center of Lima, which developed into a Chinese neighborhood. “In this time the chifas in Lima were opium dens and a kind of red-light district where the ‘madams’ reigned over the places,” tells Liliana. From that comes the name Madam Tusan.

When I pulled this newspaper clipping from my bag, Liliana pointed out that El Mercurio misquoted her. She clarified that the Chinese neighborhood was “not a place for families,” but the Chinese restaurants were NOT opium dens and brothels. She became quite animated when she said this, as it clearly touched a nerve.

So, you might be wondering, how was the food? Delicious!

My companion and I started off with fresh juice (the restaurant had yet to receive its liquor license.)

Then one of the dozens of attentive waiters (unusual in Chile – this country is not known for customer service) presented three types of chili sauce. The spiciest one featured crushed peppers from Jilin, China. The second mixed Peruvian chilies and crushed ginger. The third was hoisin con rocoto: a blend of hoisin, the sweet sauce that traditionally accompanies Peking Duck, and rocoto, a Peruvian spice paste.

Next we enjoyed the butifarra china, a plate of three delicate sandwiches filled with pork, cilantro, julienned vegetables and hoisin con rocoto on steamed buns.

The Pollo Bruce Lee – which came with a warning of solo para valientes – reminded me of the gong bao ji ding (chicken with peanuts, chilies, and other vegetables) that I ate so often in China.

Our most elaborate dish was camarones rellenos a la naranja, enormous shrimp stuffed with almonds, battered, fried and topped with a sweet-and-sour orange sauce and green onions. It reminded me of a dish you might find at an upscale, fusion-inspired restaurant in San Francisco.

Our final dish was a simple chaufa con pollo, fried rice with chicken and eggs. It was tasty and simple, and closer to home cooking than the complex dishes that sat beside it.

My Chilean dining companion found the food spicier than what he normally eats. (Chilean food is relatively bland: lots of bread, sandwiches, and barbecue.) But he really enjoyed the mix of flavors and the overall experience.

He also loved the design of the red leather chairs.

Overall, our experience at Madam Tusan lived up to its tantalizing review, and showed a stylish, modern, and globalized face of China in Chile.

Madam Tusan. Boulevard del Parque Arauco. Avenida Presidente Kennedy 5413, Las Condes, Santiago.  Call for reservations: 02-2190152. Lunch for two, including non-alcoholic beverages and tip: 30.000 Chilean pesos (roughly $60.)

From Corporate Copywriter in China to Emerging Entrepreneur in Chile: A Year in Review

I pretended to give a speech at EXPO CHINA, at Santiago's Estación Mapocho. Maybe next year!

If 2010 was the year I spent thinking about Chile from China, 2011 has been the year I took action on this vision. It has been a crazy year, and I am so happy about where I am right now, in the final days of 2011.

The last day of 2010 was my last day of an intense job as a copywriter for a very big Chinese client of a very big Japanese advertising agency. I had originally intended to stay for at least a year, but the combination of long hours (until 5, 6, 7, 8am at least twice a week) and corporate policies that I didn’t understand took a heavy toll on my sanity, and I decided that I could not sign a long-term contract. So New Year’s 2011 marked a new beginning.

I celebrated my 27th birthday on January 5 in Beijing, with a delicious dinner at Nice Rice and festive drinks at Mao Mao Chong. Stephanie brought balloon animals, which added special flair to the occasion.

My hairstylist (#8 - I miss him!) gave me curls and the balloons really brought life to the party.

Angie, me, Shepherd, and Sean. At Mao Mao Chong in Beijing celebrating my 27th birthday.

When I left my advertising job, I intended to write a book about careers for young foreigners in China. I created this simple website and began to brainstorm an ambitious book proposal. But I soon lost all motivation. I could hardly get out of bed. How could I write a book about the advantages of launching a career in China? My own China career hit a low point. I had plenty of freelance work — tutoring a sweet UK-bound high school student, training an upstart recruitment firm, planning a charity cycling event — but I felt overwhelmingly reactive, and was not doing my best work.

Following a sunny family vacation in Thailand and Cambodia, my brother visited me in Beijing and we visited the snow-covered Great Wall at Mutianyu. The day was pretty and not bone-chillingly cold.

In March I received an unexpected but ultimately life-changing email from a Canadian-American renewable energy entrepreneur who I’d met in Chile in 2005. She invited me to upload my resume and a full scan of my passport as part of her solar energy startup’s application to Start-Up Chile. In May we found out that we’d been accepted to the program. In June I bought a one-way ticket home. Two weeks later I packed up all my belongings, made a huge donation of clothes and shoes and random supplies to a local charity, and planned a simple farewell party at my favorite rooftop Yunnan restaurant.

I packed my stuff into these 2 suitcases and 2 bags, and hailed a cab to the airport. Zaijian Zhongguo!!

On the plane home, I wrote this: Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever.  That post meant more than anything else I wrote this year, and I received dozens of comments and emails from friends near and far.

I spent about three weeks at home in California, partying with my parents’ friends on “the Lane” and visiting my brother in Hermosa Beach for the 4th of July. This was my first time experiencing the new lives that my closest family members have built while I have been on the other side of the world.

My parents' most obedient child, Max.

In mid-July, I landed in Chile. Thanks the to generous hospitality of Roberto Edwards and his team, the open doors of Start-Up Chile, the strong support from Marcelo Peralta, and so much more, Chile has given me the opportunity to bring my passions together.

For years people have been telling me that someday they envision me running my own company, but before I landed in Chile I didn’t really think I could do it. Working in a gorgeous office with entrepreneurs from all over the world, and giving speeches in Spanish to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs has shown me that yes, it is possible.

Thank you to my first clients — Trey, Chai, Luis, Victor, Juan Cristóbal, Charlotte, Adam — for believing in me and what is becoming my consulting practice, Tricontinental Advisors.

Grazie to my designer friends -- Nicoletta, who created the Tricontinental Advisors logo, and Sara, who made the Beyond Chile's Single Story banner -- for making my websites look more professional.

Thank you Joe, Fu and Yuli for helping with Chinese translation. Thank you to everyone who has taught me Spanish, particularly Nana Petra for love-filled Spanish lessons throughout the first five years of my life, the University of California Education Abroad Program that brought me to Chile in 2005, and Marcelo who continually teaches me new words and phrases.

Thank you to all the wonderful people I have met through the power of social media: AkhilaAlexis, Andrea, Dan, GiaHilaryHumbertoJacciKyle, Roxanne, Sarah, Sarah, Stacie, Susan, and so many more. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, especially the lurkers (say hi!)

Thank you Start-Up Chile and the Ministry of Economy, for shaping a new culture of global entrepreneurship in this gorgeous country of contrasts, a place that has always embodied the entrepreneurial spirit.

Thank you Grandma Ginny. Every writer should have a pen pal like you. I look forward to seeing you in a few days.

Thank you Ben. I am so excited to show you and your team the entrepreneurial side of Chile in 2012!!

Thank you to my parents for their enthusiastic support of my international adventures, and their resourceful use of frequent flier miles that enable their international adventures to coincide with mine.

This list is incomplete; I could write pages and pages more. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all!

Here’s to health, happiness, and prosperity in 2012 and beyond!

Lots of love,


La nueva triple frontera: California, China y Chile

Last night I spoke at the Meetup in Viña del Mar. The event was excellent! Here is the blurb we used to advertise it:

Leslie Forman, a California native who spent four years working in China, will speak about the new frontier of connections between California, China, and Chile (EN ESPAÑOL.) She is the daughter of two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and technology has always been a part of her life. In China she worked in many different industries, including advertising, consulting, corporate social responsibility and teaching. However, she always found herself thinking about Chile, where she had studied back in 2005.

Leslie will share several entertaining stories about the unexpected connections between California, China and Chile and give some advice for companies and individuals looking to operate in this triangle.

Here are my slides. They are in Spanish, but they’re packed with photos and the stories might be familiar to loyal readers of this blog. (Hola Grandma Ginny!)

AMENDED 10/2/11: Here is the PDF — La nueva triple frontera: California, Chile, China — feel free to share or print it. Enjoy!!

Unexpected Perk of Start-Up Chile: Mining-Specific Chinese Vocab Lessons!

This week I learned a bunch of new vocabulary in Chinese!

挖土机 [wātǔjī] = bulldozer

港口[gǎngkǒu] = port

皮卡 [píkǎ] = pick-up truck

地形 [dìxíng] = landscape, topography

Why did I need these words? I’ve recently started doing some Chinese-Spanish translation work for mining companies. In China I worked in many different industries, but mining was not one of them. And I also did not babysit any 5-year-old boys. So I never learned the word “wātǔjī.”

Until now.

Meet Joe Yu.

Joe is entering his junior year at Middlebury College, where he is majoring in Math and Economics. He is from Shanghai, and interning for PingPigeon, a Start-Up Chile company. (Here is Joe’s post on the PingPigeon blog, with his impressions of Chile.) He has been here for a month, and today he goes back to Vermont for the beginning of the new school year.

I mentioned my new freelance projects to Joe, and asked him if he could talk to me about my photos from my mine visits, as if he were talking to a 5-year-old Chinese boy who loved big machines. Joe kindly agreed to tutor me.

Thank you Joe! Enjoy your next year of school! Glad to give you one more fun story about your time here in Chile :)

Rejected Names For My Future Company

Whoa, this has been a crazy week!

I’ve been busy helping Chinese and Chilean businessmen communicate more effectively, as a freelance Chinese-Spanish interpreter. Several well-intentioned people have suggested names for my hypothetical future China-Chile translation and consultancy business.

This photo illustrates one of the many meanings of China in Chile.

First option: ChichiSolar, as in China-Chile Solar Services, or something like that. This inspired way too many giggles, since in Spanish “chichi” is a childish word for breasts or urination. And in Chinese, the sound “chichi” brings to mind two things: sadness and Valentine’s Day. Therefore, ChichiSolar sounds like some sort of nude tanning salon or a Valentine’s Day pity party. Totally not OK for a serious business started by a young woman! (For more notes on the connotations of these sounds, check out this post by Fritinancy.)

Second option: TransLeslie. Now this one sounds like some sort of transgendered lesbian. Not that I have anything against transgender or lesbian, but the name seems to distract from the value proposition of connecting China and Chile.

Any other suggestions? :)

Also, my last post on the Top 10 Reasons Why Start-Up Chile Rocks was cross-posted on the Start-Up Chile blog and here on Oh Hey World. I mentioned that I connected my dad to Ken Seville, a Start-Up Chile entrepreneur focused on connecting military veterans with good jobs. I am happy to report that my dad responded immediately with three friends who are military veterans and MBA / tech entrepreneur types in Silicon Valley, which totally proves my point about how Start-Up Chile connects people to those inside and outside the room.

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Looks like this Chilean paper company needs a new Chinese copywriter…

The convenience store I frequent inconveniently did not have what I was looking for, but it did have something even more inspiring: pañuelos desechables (disposable handkerchiefs). Why did these inspire me? Let me count the ways…

夏 (xia), the character in the center of this side of the tissue box,  means “summer.”

And (yin), the character in the middle of this side of the box, means “sound.”

So, if we put it all together, what do we get?

The sound of summer is blowing your nose? Summer sounds better with Elite facial tissues?

To add another layer to this pun, the Spanish word for “blow your nose” is sonar — very literally, to make noise. So could it be: make noise this summer with Elite Premium facial tissues? Hmmmm….

Well Elite’s copywriter is clearly more skilled in Spanish than in Chinese. The slogan under the brand name, Maxima Suavidad, means “maximum softness,” which speaks right to the benefits of this product. And the line of text at the bottom is even better: triple hoja polisuavizados. The tissues are “three ply” and the copywriter has invented a word that seems to imply a multi-step softening process.

I discovered this box of tissues on my way to a meeting, during which I helped Chinese and Chilean businessmen understand each other. We spent many hours together on the road, which gave me plenty of time to extrapolate what this clumsy copywriting could mean for the current state of China-Chile relations. (Yes, I know, I know… there is lots and lots of Chinglish in China, and it’s inspired giggle-worthy photos like this one.)

Here in Chile, I see plenty of enthusiasm for China, in terms of business opportunities, language, and cuisine. For the Chinese, Chile is an untapped source for natural resources, wine, and specialty produce. This is well-intentioned and it’s early in the game.

So, where to go from here? Perhaps the best first step is to brainstorm a better Chinese slogan for this brand of facial tissues. I mean, if Elite is eager to use Chinese, perhaps it’s best to use the language to describe the benefits of this product. How about…

春风 (spring breeze)

幸福 (happiness)

顺利 (smooth and successful)

What would you suggest? Are the characters just there for decoration? Am I reading into this too much? It’s the sound of summer.

Seeing China in Chile: a mini-photoessay

Yesterday, Brent and I strolled through Bellavista (Santiago’s quasi-bohemian bar district) and stopped to play on these:

These practical and well-maintained pieces of exercise equipment are in just about every park and every apartment complex in China. I think the lottery funds them. Fun for kids aged 1-81 101! Edited 8/1/11 following an astute comment from my 88-year-old grandmother, who would love to play on these toys! Thanks for keeping me in line :) (Not as well-utilized in Chile as I remember in China, perhaps due to sub-optimal population density and/or weather.)

Then we hiked up the Cerro San Cristobal.

We tasted Mote Con Huesillos, one of Chile’s most typical snacks. It’s made of whole, rehydrated peaches soaked in a sweet syrup with cooked grains. It would have been even more refreshing on a warmer day.

Next to the statue of the virgin, I spotted a Chinese TV crew: the first Chinese people I’ve seen so far in Santiago. They explained to me that they are from Fujian Province, the home of many entrepreneurs that have moved to Latin America (and Europe) and they are making a cultural program about the Fujianese in Latin America. I was interviewed on camera in Chinese.

As we walked down a different trail, I spotted some red flowers, and posed next to them like a Chinese girl would.

That photo was taken shortly before it started to rain. Brrrrr…..

Also on the topic of China-Chile connections, I found this YouTube video of Tania, my roommate from when I studied in Chile in 2005, talking about China.

Her father was a diplomat, and she lived in China for many years as a child. She attended a Chinese elementary school, and says that this school system creates independent children. This is not the conclusion I drew from my experiences with Chinese education, but I also didn’t go to elementary school there. Her mom didn’t speak Chinese, and she needed to figure things out on her own. In the video she also talks about scholarship opportunities for Chilean students in China.

My world – California, China, Chile, and beyond – converges before my eyes, all the time. I am so lucky to be able to say this.

On Apples, White Collars, and China-Chile Cooperation

I ate this Chilean apple in the taxi on the way to the airport, as I left Beijing. It cost 7 RMB (slightly more than one dollar). It tasted decent — not amazingly crisp and juicy, but also not too mealy and gross. I probably should have peeled it.

This is just one of the fruits of this increasingly important bilateral relationship (pun intended).

Here is a good description of the recent developments in China-Chile relations, as summarized by Pacific Trek, a “a transpacific consulting, research, and training enterprise focused on establishing transpacific links between both East Asia and Latin America with strong networks in both regions.”

China-Chile Cooperation

by Bernardita Gonzalez

In recent months there has been a tremendous increase in cooperation between Chile and China, which has emerged as a consequence of years of bilateral friendship and later partnership.

According to ECLAC, China and Latin America’s economic exchange grew more than 1000% between 2000 and 2010.

Chinese interest in Latin American markets is on the rise; Chile aims to become a platform from which china could access Latin America generally and the southern cone region specifically.

In November 2005, Chile became the first Latin American country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with China. Since then, China has become the first destination for Chilean exports, as of 2010.

Today, China is increasingly seen as one of the major world powers with the economic potential to overtake the United States in the next few years. This is the time to tighten the ties between the Chinese and the Chilean economies.

Recently, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Chile in a gesture intended to increase cooperation between the two countries. Mr. Xi stated an expectation that “Strategic cooperation” between China and Chile in various areas would enhance trade and partnership.

Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera and Vice President Xi Jinping signed nine agreements in different areas, including banking and telecommunications, in order to increase specific agreements and cooperation.  Chile’s state mining company Codelco signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Minmetals Corp, which will boost cooperation in that area.

One of the most interesting announcements was a cooperation agreement between Banco Estado (Chile’s State Bank) and Development Bank of China.

Overall, this seems to be a good year for Chileans interested in investing in China and for Chinese entrepreneurs interested in broadening their market by opening branches in Chile and Latin America. The road is paved to increase and strengthen economic cooperation.

I first encountered evidence of China-Chile relations in an elevator in Shanghai in 2007:

After spotting this sign in the elevator, I did some research. ProChile, the government agency that focuses on export promotion, sponsored a campaign from 2005-2007 to introduce white-collar Chinese to Chile. I found a fascinating presentation from a company called BraiNet Communications, that showed the results of its research on how the Chinese viewed Chile. Here’s my favorite slide:

Apparently Chile seems more like like a “Mature Male, Mid-aged” than “an outspoken young man full of vitality.”

Call in the nation branding makeover team!?  Or do you think a mature, middle-aged male of a country could make some reliably good wine, the kind you’d love to buy at one of those fancy downstairs-in-a-mall supermarkets in Beijing?  Curious to hear what you think.