Wherever you glance in China, you enter the through-the-mirror world of Chinglish. You may at first be confused by a sign that says 'Be Seated Defecate', but it's just a way of saying that the loo you're about to use isn't a squat version. 'Deformed Man Toilet' may sound like something from the David Lynch cutting- room floor, but it's merely a toilet for the disabled.

'The green grass is afraid of your foot' is simply a cryptic way of saying 'Keep off the Grass'. Upstanding Shànghǎi speakers of Chinglish are regularly reminded: 'Don't expectoration everywhere. Don't attaint public property. Don't destroy virescence. Don't random through street. Don't say four-letter word.' Welcome to the compelling world of Chinglish.

A shop sign advertises itself as 'OC SLOOT YTUAEB & GNISSERDRIAH', which at first glance resembles some kind of outlandish code. Reading from right to left exposes the true gist, although the lettering is not mirror-writing; each letter faces the right way, but in a reverse sequence.

It's all part of a growing linguistic empire, and with a potential 1.3 billion speakers, it's a force to be reckoned with. It won't be long before you have a small armoury of Chinglish phrases of your own. Before you know it, you'll know without thinking that 'Be Careful not to Be Stolen' is a warning against thieves; that 'Shoplifters Will Be Fined 10 Times' means shoplifting is not a good idea in China; that 'Don't Stroke the Works' (generally found in museums) means 'No Touching', and that 'Slip Carefully' means the floor could be wet.

Supporters of Chinglish see it as an English patois in its own right and worthy of protection. It's easy to grow addicted to its quaint formality and back-to-front poetry. Chinglish, for very long life may you!

Rather wow the locals with some actual Mandarin? Download our Mandarin audio phrasebook from the iTunes store.

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