I showed my picture with the strange English to someone who reads Chinese, and here’s the explanation: the characters spell out keshi duijiang which is best translated as video talkback or video communications and the panel is for the video phone in my apartment where someone can buzz me from downstairs and I can see who is there. The characters taken individually can indeed be translated as can see right speak but Chinese characters can’t really ever be taken individually. Apparently even Chinese people forget this.
My favorite example is xiaoxin (careful). It is written using Chinese characters that taken individually mean small and heart and if you translate it that way you will be completely wrong. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of symbolic rationales to explain why small heart means careful but if you do, you’re wasting your time. Xiaoxin (the spoken sounds) means careful, and the Chinese characters are as arbitrary as the alphabet we use for English.
Anyway, the exciting news is that the Chinese classes promised by my employer will finally be starting this week. We’ll have two hours each on Tuesday and Thursday every week. My brain hurts already!