Taipei MRT moves to adopt nicknumbering system

“He’s much too unreasonable,” interrupted the Mathemagician again. “Why, just last month I sent him a very friendly letter, which he never had the courtesy to answer. See for yourself.”

He handed Milo a copy of the letter, which read:

4738 1919,

667 394017 5841 62589
85371 14 39588 7190434 203
27689 57131 481206.

5864 98053,

“But maybe he doesn’t understand numbers,” said Milo, who found it a little difficult to read himself.

“NONSENSE!” bellowed the Mathemagician. “Everyone understands numbers….”

— from The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

The Taipei MRT system has announced that it may be adopting a nicknumbering system for stations within the system.

Bad idea.

And, really, it should be obvious even to city officials what a bad idea this is, given what a complete failure the city’s previous attempt at a nicknumbering system was. (The old attempt, from 2000, had Ma Ying-jeou adding things such as “4th Blvd” to road signs rather than simply fix the signs to use correct Hanyu Pinyin. But the MRT system has used Hanyu Pinyin for years, so foreigners aren’t complaining about a lack of that in 2015.)

I have, however, been complaining for many years about mistakes in the names of some MRT stations and how the MRT system has chosen some bad names. To no avail. But when a politician with no particular history that I’ve seen of giving a damn about what foreigners in Taiwan want decides to grandstand his half-cocked notion, the authorities behind the MRT system jump to implement it, no matter what the supposed beneficiaries might want. Shame on them.

Indeed, this particular politician’s history is of opposition to what foreigners want in terms of signage, as shown by his partisan remarks in favor of Tongyong Pinyin (which is widely despised by Taiwan’s foreign population) and against Hanyu Pinyin (which is almost universally preferred). So I see ample reason to question his motives here.

This new nicknumbering system, by which MRT stations will be assigned additional names (e.g., “R13” and “O11”, for one particular station) is being touted as something aimed at helping foreigners. But I know of no foreigners who have needed any great help on the MRT system — at least not since the city finally implemented Hanyu Pinyin many years ago. Certainly there has been no great outcry from foreigners for any change of this sort. Instead, the nicknumbering system is simply a bad idea that will make things worse, not better. And it will be expensive to implement — money down the drain.

Let’s look at the fragment of the nicknumbering map that the Taipei City Government included with its post.

Taipei MRT nicknumbering map fragment

Try to ignore the horrific clutter for the moment.

Note the red line (which also has a line number … that no one uses except for the MRT system itself in its announcements, something implemented in the previous bad idea from the MRT system). Anyway, along the red line, Da’an Park (which the MRT system wrongly labels “Daan Park”) is nicknumbered “R06,” Da’an as R05, and Xinyi Anhe as R04. That would make Taipei 101 / World Trade Center station R03; and Xiangshan, which is presently the terminus, would be R02. The problem here is that at least two more stations are already planned for that end of the line: Songde (松德) and Zhongpo (中坡); that would mean the final(?) station would need to be oddly nicknumbered R00, though there are no other zero stations given elsewhere. And if any stations are added after that, either the whole system would need to be renumbered or the numbers would need to head into negatives. Absurd! Such is likely also the case with other lines.

This is the sort of thing that strongly indicates that the authorities haven’t really thought this through. They’re just going forward anyway, which is foolish.

For that matter, why are there zeros marked in the numbers below ten? (For example, why “R04” rather than “R4”?) Putting zeroes next to the capital letter O (for the orange line) is certainly not going to help clarity either. For example, are people going to get “O05” right at a glance? I doubt it.

Let’s get back to the matter of clutter. This is a real problem. The more information crammed into a map, the less clear the individual elements are.

And unlike distinct station names, nicknumbers are not easy to remember. If any foreign tourist asks someone how to get to BL13, for example, people likely won’t know how to answer them. Nicknumbering is thus the opposite of helpful, which is likely part of why almost no subway system in the world uses this, other than Tokyo, whose system is much larger than Taipei’s.

Also, I can’t help but wonder how they are planning on handling this in the announcements within the cars. Those announcements are in four languages (Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English), which takes some time to get through. Adding nicknumbers in all of those languages is going to make for never-ending talking on the announcement system — and that’s without even figuring in the nicknumbers of transfer stations as well.

I note that, to date, the comments in English to the city’s Facebook post on this are more than twenty to one in opposition to the new system. Is anyone in the city government paying attention? I hope that readers here will add their own comments to the city’s Facebook page on this. (I’m not on Facebook myself.)

The last time the city of Taipei implemented nicknumbering for anything, this was met with near-universal derision from those it was supposedly designed to help. Most people in Taiwan’s foreign community quickly recognized it was a terrible idea — really, really terrible — which unfortunately didn’t stop Taipei from cluttering up the city’s signage with largely useless information. I would have thought that the city would have learned its lesson by now.

Ma Ying-jeou gives a thumbs-up in front of a nicknumbering system street sign in Taipei
This photo from 2000 shows an almost perfect storm of bad ideas supposedly meant to help foreigners. Ma Ying-jeou, during his days as mayor of Taipei, gives a thumbs-up to a road sign with his new nicknumbering system. And above the sign for 4th Blvd is a street sign from Chen Shui-bian’s tenure as mayor. It’s in the much-hated Tongyong Pinyin romanization system — or what was Tongyong Pinyin until the designers of Tongyong Pinyin changed the system (e.g., zh –> jh) and made a lot of their own signs wrong. And to top it off, it employs InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion, another annoying bad idea that still infects the street signs of Taipei.

Here, Taipei City Government officials, is what most foreigners need and want: correct Hanyu Pinyin. For the most part, that’s what the MRT system already has. Don’t screw it up.


Yilan signage

Here are some signs in Yilan, which is in northeastern Taiwan.

As the examples below demonstrate, Yilan uses Hanyu Pinyin on its street signs. I saw only one old street sign in Tongyong Pinyin; this was through the window of a bus in motion, so I wasn’t able to get a photo.

????? Lane 2 ? Zhongshan Rd., Sec.5

??? Lane 180 ? Jinmei Rd.

It seems that Yilan has problems with apostrophes as well. These should, of course, read Xi’an.
??? Xian St.

??? Lane 1 ? Xian St.

In Taiwan, the vast majority of street names are two syllables long. Here’s a rare three-syllable name. I was told that the name comes from the company that constructed the irrigation channel parallel to the road. The sign — and even the name itself — is so new that it’s not in the current version of Google maps.

???? Jintongchun Rd.

Some decorative signage.

Note the use of “WC”.
bas relief wood carving of area roads, with some buildings indicated

I don’t care much for Yilan’s rainy weather; but the city does have style. These signs, for example, are interesting — much more so than a failed attempt at a decorative sign in Tongyong Pinyin in Banqiao.
asymmetrical pieces of metal with Chinese characters punched out, revealing place names

The highway signs in Yilan, however, are in Tongyong Pinyin. This is a somewhat odd situation, given that highway signs belong to the national government, which is under the control of the KMT, which supports Hanyu Pinyin. Yilan is back in the DPP camp. (The Democratic Progressive Party continues to oppose Hanyu Pinyin and support Tongyong Pinyin.) The switch of streets signs to Hanyu Pinyin was probably done under the previous magistrate, who was a member of the KMT.

I’m including this one despite the poor image quality because I want to note the awful typography (e.g., uneven baselines, capital letters too large).
Jiaosi Longtan Jhuangwei

Jiaosi Toucheng Sindian

New row about old foolishness

It appears that few things are harder to get rid of than a Taipei City Government official’s bad idea.

Four years ago I noted that city hall was sponsoring a “festival” for beef noodle soup and promoting it to foreigners through a machine-translated Chinglish Web site and the absurd use of the supposedly English “Newrow Mian” for niúròumiàn (???/???).

The city has continued to host the annual event. This year, the city appears to have moved to solve its Chinglish problem by simply failing to provide English translations — though one wonders just where the “international” part comes in without much of anything in English. Thus, useful English is lacking; but fake English like “Newrow Mian” remains.

image of logo that reads '2011 Taipei International New row Mian Festival'

This has come to the attention of the media. For example, see this video report: Niúròumiàn = New Row Mian? Shì-f? zhíyì r?yì.

Táib?i Shìzhèngf? j?bàn niúròumiàn jié, xiànzài yào tu? w?ng guójì, buguò què y?u y?nji?n mínzhòng f?xiàn, huódòng h?ibào, b? Zh?ngwén “niúròumiàn” zhíji? y?n yìchéng Y?ngwén de “New Row Mian,” bùsh?o guówài l?kè kànle d?u t?nyán, wánquán bù d?ng shénme yìsi, zhìyí shì-f? shìbushì Y?ngwén f?nyì yòu ch?b?o, buguò shì-f? chéngq?ng, shu?shì wèile xu?nchuán “niúròumiàn” de Zh?ngwén niànf?, ràng t? xiàng shòus?, p?sà y?yàng, ràng quánshìjiè d?u zh?ozhe yuánwén niàn.

According to the brief write-up above, some people had noticed that foreigners had no idea what this “new row mian” was or even how to say it, so the municipal authorities explained that this is for the sake of publicizing the Chinese pronunciation of niúròumiàn. City authorities dream that English will take on “new row mian” as a loan term, just like sushi and pizza. (Apparently it’s important to convey to the world the Chinese-ness (with Taiwanese characteristics) of this dish, so “beef noodle soup” — which is what just about everyone in Taiwan calls this when speaking in English — just won’t do.)


Really, this isn’t that difficult. If you want to use the roman alphabet to write a Mandarin term, use Hanyu Pinyin. Although Pinyin will not be helpful in all situations to people who know nothing about the system, neither will anything else. But Hanyu Pinyin stands the best chance of working because it’s the international system for writing Mandarin in romanization. It’s also Taiwan’s official system for writing Mandarin in romanization. And it’s even the Taipei City Government’s official system for writing Mandarin in romanization, which means the city is supposed to use it rather than employing ad hoc bullshit year after year.

Anyway, the festival doesn’t start until November 17, so if you have ever wanted to “beef the world” — and who hasn’t? — now’s the time. (That this is being run by an ad agemcy agency that somehow missed getting its own name right, however, doesn’t inspire confidence.)

If anyone would like to let the city know your thoughts about this, the contact person is Ms. Yè, who can be reached at 1999 ext. 6507, or at 02-2599-2875 ext. 214 or 220. Tell them this concerns the Táib?i Guójì Niúròumiàn Jié.

Further reading:

And for still more reading, see the Taipei City Government’s massive PDF (157 MB!) for the 2008 event. This has lots of English (and Japanese!), which appears not to have been machine translated; but some parts could certaintly use improvement, such as “The regretful beef noodles have been staying in my memory.” Additionally, the romanization system employed is Tongyong Pinyin, rather than Taipei’s official Hanyu Pinyin (e.g., “Rih Pin Shan Si Dao Siao Mian” instead of “Rì P?n Sh?nx? d?oxi?omiàn” and “HONG SHIH FU SIN JHUAN” instead of Hóng Sh?fu X?n Zhuàn).

Of course, it’s not consistent even in its incorrect use of Tongyong. It also contains broken bastardized Wade-Giles (e.g., the “Kuan Tu” MRT station instead of “Guandu”) and the city’s “new row” whenever it gets the chance (e.g., HUANG ZAN NEWROW MIAN FANG instead of Huáng Zàn Niúròumiàn Fáng / ??????).

Later, all of the stores’ addresses are given in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Chongcing, Mincyuan, Jhihnan, Mujha, Singlong, Jhongsiao).

Taimali signage examples

Tai Fong Rd. ???Here are some signs in Taimali (Tàimál? / ???), Taidong County, Taiwan. In all cases of distinctive spellings, they’re in Tongyong Pinyin, even though they should have been replaced by Hanyu Pinyin years ago. When the change to Tongyong Pinyin was implemented, however, signs under national control (e.g., highway signs) were switched relatively quickly throughout the country. This, however, has not been the case with the switch to Hanyu Pinyin, especially in the south.

Note that the “Taimali” in the sign for the Taimali Railway Station is on a sticker rather than on the original sign. This is a bit odd, given that this is spelled exactly the same in all of the romanization systems commonly seen in Taiwan: Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin, MPS2, and bastardized Wade-Giles. So maybe what’s under the sticker was just an error. Taiwan’s signs certainly have their share of typos too. (Sometimes the authorities will even use a sticker to “correct” the right spelling with something else.)

Click any of the images below for a larger version.

two signs reading Taimali Railway Station ?????? / Jinjhen Mountain ???

closeup of two signs reading Taimali Railway Station ?????? / Jinjhen Mountain ???

directional highway signs reading ?? Jhiben / ??? Dawu

street signs reading ??? Rih Sheng Rd. / ??? Min Cyuan Rd.

street signs reading ??? Rih Sheng Rd. / ??? Tai Fong Rd.

shot of the Taimali Railway Station, showing jinzhen flowers drying on the road

DPP position on romanization

(BTW, this is my 7 KB JPG version of the 442 KB(!) BMP(!) file used on the DPP's site.)With Taiwan’s presidential election less than six months away and various position papers being issued, perhaps it’s time to take a look at where the opposition stands on romanization.

Sure, various politicians rant from time to time. But they may or may not be taken seriously. What about the party itself and its candidate?

Google doesn’t find any instances of “??” (“p?ny?n”) on the official Web site of the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Y?ngwén / ???). But searching for “??” on the DPP’s official Web site does yield at least a few results. (See the “sources” at the end of this piece.) It’s probably no surprise that none of them contain anything but bad news for those who support Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin.

Typical is the “e-paper” piece from 2008 that states the change to Hanyu Pinyin will cost NT$7 billion (about US$240 million). (If the DPP candidate wins, will the DPP follow its own assertions and logic and say that it would be far too expensive for Taiwan to change from the existing Hanyu Pinyin to Tongyong Pinyin?) I have no more faith in that inflated figure than I have in the other claims there, such as that the use of Hanyu Pinyin would not be convenient for foreigners and that there is no relationship between internationalization and using the world’s one and only significant romanization system for Mandarin (Hanyu Pinyin).

Then there’s the delicious irony that the image of a Tongyong Pinyin street sign the DPP chose to use in that anti-Hanyu Pinyin message has a typo! The sign, shown at top right, should read Guancian, not Guanciao. (In Hanyu Pinyin it would be “Guanqian.”) That’s right: The DPP says Taiwan needs to use Tongyong — but the supposed expert who put together that very argument apparently doesn’t know the difference between Tongyong Pinyin and a hole in the wall..

That document is a few years old, though. What about something more recent? Just three months ago the DPP spokesman, Chen Qimai (Chen Chi-mai / ???), complained that the Ma Ying-jeou administration had replaced Tongyong Pinyin with Hanyu Pinyin, calling this an example of removing Taiwan culture and abandoning Taiwan’s sovereignty. So there’s nothing to indicate a change in position over time.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of blame to go around for the inconsistencies and sloppiness that characterize Taiwan’s romanization situation. Historically speaking, the KMT is certainly responsible for much of the mess. And the Ma administration’s willingness to go along with “New Taipei City” instead of “Xinbei,” “Tamsui” instead of “Danshui,” and “Lukang” instead of “Lugang” demonstrates that it is OK with cutting back its own policy in favor of Hanyu Pinyin. Nevertheless, it’s now the DPP — or at least some very loud and opinionated people within it — that represents the main force for screwing up perfectly good signage, etc.

Back when I was more often around DPP politicians, I would occasionally ask them privately about their opinions of Hanyu Pinyin. For the most part, they had no opposition to Taiwan’s use of it, regarding this as simply a practical matter. But they would not say so publicly because President Chen Shui-bian’s dumping of Ovid Tzeng made it clear what fate would meet those who opposed Chen on this issue.

Even though Chen is no longer in the picture, I fear that many in the DPP have come to believe their own propaganda on this issue.

I urge individuals (esp. those with known pro-green sentiments) and organizations (Hey, ECCT and AmCham: that means you especially!) that want to avoid a return to the national embarrassment that is Tongyong Pinyin to tell Cai Yingwen and the DPP now that Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin is simply good policy and is supported by the vast majority of the foreign community here, including pro-green foreigners.


Bing Maps for Taiwan

The maps of Taiwan put out by GooGle are plagued with errors in their use of Pinyin. But what about that other big company with deep pockets? You know: Microsoft. How good a job does Microsoft’s Bing do with its maps of Taiwan?
map of Taiwan from Bing, showing Wade-Giles place names

I won’t keep y’all waiting: After examining Bing’s maps of Taiwan the two words that came first to mind were incompetent and atrocious.

The country-level map is odd, offering Wade-Giles. And although the use of the hyphen is irregular, I will give Bing points for getting at least Wade-Giles’ apostrophes right. So, although some place names on the map are decades out of date (e.g., Hsin-chuang, Chungli, Chunan, Kuang-fu), at least they’re not horribly misspelled within that system.

It’s at the street level that Bing’s weirdness becomes most apparent. For example, below is part of Bing’s map of Banqiao.

I added the highlighting.

click for larger map

This tiny but representative fragment of the map has not one but four romanization systems:

  • MPS2: Gung Guang, Min Chiuan, Shin Fu (Even within MPS2, none of those should have spaces or extra capital letters.)
  • Hanyu Pinyin: Banqiao (This is the only properly written place name on this map fragment.)
  • Tongyong Pinyin: Jhancian, Sianmin, Sin Jhan
  • Gwoyeu Romatzyh(!): Shinjann (This is the same road as the one marked “Sin Jhan”. In Hanyu Pinyin, which is what officially should be used here, this is written “Xinzhan”.)

A few more points about this small fragment of the map:

  • Wen Hua could be either MPS2 or Hanyu Pinyin, but not Tongyong Pinyin. And it should be Wenhua.
  • Minan is missing an apostrophe. (It should be Min’an.)
  • Banchiao is just wrong, regardless of the system. They were probably going for MPS2 but erroneously used an o instead of a u: Banchiau.
  • Sec 1 Rd should be Rd Sec. 1.
  • Mrt should be MRT.

So that’s four systems, plus additional errors.

There’s much, much more that’s wrong with this than is right. That’s even more evident on a larger map — and that’s without me bothering to mark orthographic problems in the Pinyin (e.g., Wen Hua instead of the correct Wenhua).
click for larger view

Here bastardized Wade-Giles (e.g., “Mrt-Hsinpu” at top, center — and, FWIW, in the wrong location) has been added to the mix, making a total of five different romanization systems, as well as some weird spellings, e.g., U Nung, Win De, Bah De, Ying Sh — and that’s without including my favorite, JRLE, because that one is correct in MPS2 (“Zhile” in Hanyu Pinyin).

The main point is that vast majority of names are spelled wrong. And among the few that are spelled correctly, those that are written with correct orthography can be counted on one hand. So, to the words above (incompetent and atrocious) let me add FUBAR.

The copyright statement lists not only Microsoft but also Navteq. The Taiwan maps on the latter company’s site, however, are different from those on Bing. Navteq’s are generally in Hanyu Pinyin, though almost invariably improperly written (e.g., Tai bei Shi, Ban Qiao Shi). And despite the prevalence of Hanyu Pinyin, they still contain other romanization systems (e.g., Jhong Shan) and outright errors (e.g., Shin Jahn).

So an update from Navteq wouldn’t be nearly enough to fix Bing’s problems, which are fundamental.

Banqiao — the Xinbei ways

Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei County and now officially bearing the atrocious English name of “New Taipei City,” has made available an online map of its territory.

Interestingly, the map is available not just in Mandarin with traditional Chinese characters and English with Hanyu Pinyin (most of the time — but more on that soon) but also in Mandarin with simplified Chinese characters. A Japanese interface is also available.

The interface for all versions opens to a map centered on Xinbei City Hall. What struck me upon seeing this for the first time was that, in just one small section, Banqiao is spelled four different ways:

  • Banqiao (Hanyu Pinyin)
  • Panchiao (bastardized Wade-Giles)
  • Ban-Chiau (MPS2, with an added hyphen)
  • Banciao (Tongyong Pinyin)

Click the map to see an enlargement.
click for larger version

I want to stress that these are not typos. These are the result of an inattention to detail that is all too common here.

The spelling for the city, er, district is also wrong in the interface, with Tongyong used. Since Banqiao is the seat of the Xinbei City Government and has more than half a million inhabitants,*, it’s not exactly so obscure that spelling its name correctly should be much of a challenge. Tongyong and other systems also crop up in some other names outside the interface.

It should be admitted, however, that the Xinbei map’s romanization is still better overall than the error-filled mess issued by GooGle.

*: including me

Going south with official Taiwan map

In the past, when I found romanization errors in official government documents I often contacted the agencies in charge so they could make improvements. But as those who live in Taiwan may have noted, this practice has had limited success. And in the process I’ve built up a great deal of bile from encountering bureaucratic roadblocks to fixing mistakes. So is it any wonder that when I see things like this map, I often think, “Wǒ hǎo xiǎng tù.” Maybe now it’s time to start going with that feeling — metaphorically speaking. And what could be more appropriate, given that we are about to have a tùnián? (I know, I know: That pun’s probably not going to make any of the New Year cards.)

So today I’ll post in public about one such mess. I recently looked over a map of southern Taiwan issued by Taiwan’s official Tourism Bureau and was not surprised to find errors — a lot of errors. (This particular map was published in June 2010 and is, as far as I know, the most recent edition.)

Most of the errors are cases of remnants of Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Cingshuei for what is written Qingshui in Hanyu Pinyin). Oddly, on this map Tongyong Pinyin is often seen in only part of a name (e.g., what is written 豐丘 in Chinese characters is given as Fengciou, which has Hanyu Pinyin’s Feng rather than Tongyong’s Fong but Tongyong’s ciou rather than Hanyu’s qiu).

What at first glance would appear to be another example of this mixing is Xizih, a bay next to Gaoxiong. There being no xi in Tongyong Pinyin and no zih in Hanyu Pinyin, one might guess this should be Xizi. But in fact this should be Sizi (written Sihzih in Tongyong). Or is also a typo in the Chinese characters (四子灣) and thus should be something else?

Other errors are even more mysterious, such as Tainan’s “Eternal For Cves” for 億載金城 (yì zǎi jīnchéng). I suspect they were going for “Eternal Fortress” but got lost somewhere along the way.

I estimate the map has about 100 errors. Of course, here I’m referring to just the map side itself and not the text on the reverse, which is filled with similar mistakes. Also, it’s just for southern Taiwan. The other two or three maps needed to cover most of the country likely each have just as many mistakes or more.

Turning back to the map at hand, here are some errors in just the area covering the southern tip of Taiwan (map sections C8 and C9).

On the map Should be
Haikau Desert Haikou Desert
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area Kending National Forest Recreation Area
Kenting National Park Kending National Park
Kenting National Park Administration Kending National Park Administration
Natural Center Nature Center
Ping-e Ping’e
(Shizih) (Shizi)
Shuangliou Shuangliu
Sihchongxi Sichongxi
Sihchong River Sichong River
Sihchongxi Hot Springs Sichongxi Hot Springs
Syuhai Xuhai
Syuhai Hot Springs Xuhai Hot Springs
Syuhai Prairie Xuhai Prairie

Keep in mind that more than half of the area in sections above is water and thus lacking in any place names that could be misspelled.

I should note that Kenting for what should be Kending appears to be what might be labeled an official error — another case of the government mistakenly believing that using old, misleading spellings from the days of bastardized Wade-Giles is necessary lest foreigners be confused. (The worst examples of this are the names of counties and many cities, such as Taichung rather than Taizhong, Pingtung rather than Pingdong, Hualien rather than Hualian, and Chiayi rather than Jiayi.) But if Kenting somehow ended up being official, then the map is still wrong, because the correct Hanyu Pinyin spelling “Kending” (which is also the correct spelling in Tongyong Pinyin) is also seen.

In short, this map is, regrettably, another example of the Taiwan government’s failure to maintain quality control in its use of romanization. It’s been said before but perhaps it needs to be said again: It’s a sad state of affairs when a country can’t manage even the simple task of correctly spelling the names of its own towns and special attractions on its own maps — not that anyone else has managed to get their maps of Taiwan correct either; and some that should be good remain awful. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, GooGle.)