The mayor of Taichung has called on Mormon missionaries to assist with a project aimed at helping his city (pop. 1 million) become an inviting location for international business and tourism.
“To be an international city we must have accurate English signs,” says Jason C. Hu, mayor of Taiwan’s third-largest city. While most of Taichung’s business, public and government buildings and locations are marked by signs in both Chinese and English, the English translation of the Chinese is sometimes awkwardly worded for a native English speaker.
That’s where the missionaries come in. Mayor Hu became acquainted earlier with Michael Hoer, who is serving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as mission president of the Taiwan Taichung Mission. As such Hoer supervises the work of 150 missionaries in Taichung and several surrounding counties.
Mayor Hu had often seen the Mormon missionaries riding throughout the city on their bicycles and developed an idea he shared with Hoer. “Many of your missionaries are from North America and other English-speaking countries. Why couldn’t they take note of incorrect signs and offer suggestions for better English,” Hu suggested. The mayor even offered to pay the Church for such a service.
Hoer quickly replied that the Church’s missionaries are encouraged to provide voluntary service to the communities in which they serve and that the sign correction project would be a service the missionaries could perform at no cost to the city.
Now dozens of missionaries serving in Taichung take note of any unusual English renderings on signs as they go about their routine mission work.
“We just keep an eye out for wrong English,” says Elder Ryan Weese of River Heights, Utah. Adds his missionary companion, Elder Royce De le Cruz Jr. of Manila, Philippines: “When I see a sign that doesn’t make sense I slam on my brakes. It’s a service we can offer and it’s kind of fun too.”
Once a less-than-accurate English sign is noted, the missionaries report its location to President Hoer. He then forwards the information to the mayor’s office, along with a suggestion for a more understandable translation.
One recent example: English warning signs at a baseball field declared “Game that attention to flying out-of-bounds.” The missionaries translated the English to read “Pay attention to foul balls.”
Another: On the grounds of a Confucian temple a sign read “Please keep orderliness solemnly silent.” The modification turned in by the missionaries is “Please be silent and respectful.”
Elder Bill Bonner and his wife, Ruth, Church volunteers from Richland, Washington, made this observation, “We sometimes think the incorrect English signs are charming, but the mayor doesn’t want charming, he wants correct.”
President Hoer explains that he and his missionaries have a responsibility to serve the people of Taiwan. “In fact, we find that encouragement in the official Missionary Handbook carried by all of the Church’s missionaries throughout the world,” he points out.
He continually gives this direction to the missionaries from the handbook: “You should seek opportunities for service projects in the community each week.”
In Taichung, Taiwan, that missionary service has become one small step toward helping Mayor Jason C. Hu put out a correct English welcome mat for his international city.