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Any Chinese speakers here to help me with a food allergy card for China?

So, I'm leaving for my first trip to China in a few weeks, and as you regular readers have probably gathered by my responses over the years, I have a food allergy to corn...the serious Epi-pen kind. I know the travel routine for food allergies and it works out fine for me. But one continual "fail" I have is the food allergy cards I make and bring with me. I've tried lots of translation sites, I print my tiny cards and quite often, when I hand one over in a restaurant, the staff person has no idea what I am talking about. Really. So I find myself back at my hotel/apartment finding a new translation and writing up a new card and trying again in the next restaurant. And that's in countries where I speak a little of the language. I have no communication skills for China at this point.

For China, I would love to know I am bringing along a card that people will understand. Here's what I've come up with:

我對玉米過敏。如果我吃它,我將不得不去醫院。
Wǒ duì yùmǐ guòmǐn. Rúguǒ wǒ chī tā, wǒ jiāng bùdé bù qù yīyuàn.

Anyone know if I've chosen wisely?

Posted by
2134 posts

Hi Michael - I thought you might chime in:) I've seen their website but they want about $50+ for a card and I was hoping to avoid that. My desired card is so simple - 2 sentences and nothing else whatsoever. They're nice cards, though...maybe I'll break down and get one for China. I hate to start buying them - the corn ones are special order and at $50+ per country, I'll spend at least $300 on them in the next 12 months.

Posted by
2134 posts

@Journy - Wow! Thank you - that is awesome. So I think I've cobbled together the total of my statement with your correction. Is this right?

我對玉米過敏。如果我吃它 "我一定要去医院

Posted by
5786 posts

If all else fails, on arrival have your hotel concierge write out a note card. You would at least have a local flavor of the message allowing for regional differences. Hotels in China, at least those catering to Westerners, have staff fluent in English. You can also test out your pre-written cards with the hotel staff.

And the regions of China we visited often offered meals with corn. You will need to anticipate corn based food ingredients that are not visible (e.g. corn starch being a common thickening agent in western Chinese cook books.). It would be easy to avoid the corn fritter dishes that look like corn, but corn could be hidden in soups or corn starch used in gravy. Have a back up epi-pen.

That said, enjoy the experience and the meals.

Posted by
2353 posts

The hotel concierge suggestion is a good one as there are many Chinese dialects.

If you will not be staying places that have one then do you have a favorite Chinese restaurant? The owners/staff usually speak both English & Chinese - I would ask them for help.

Posted by
379 posts

While there are many Chinese dialects, there are only two written versions: traditional and simplified.

Go to https://translate.google.com/
Select Chinese Traditional.
Key in "I am allergic to corn products and corn starch, and absolutely cannot eat it."
Copy the Chinese translation and paste in a Word document.
Repeat with Chinese Simplified, and paste in the same Word document.

Print and carry that Word document. Or make a card at Staples.

Do the same with "I am allergic to corn products and corn starch, but ate some". In case you do and need to see a doctor :-)

Posted by
5786 posts

RE: Select Chinese Traditional.

The Taiwanese Chinese use Traditional, China uses simplified. I'm assuming that you are traveling to what we Americans refer to as Mainland China or People's Republic of China.

http://pinpinchinese.com/blog/simplified-vs-traditional-chinese-characters/

Simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China and Singapore
while Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Macau and by most overseas Chinese.

On our last trip to China one of our tour mates from LA studied Chinese from a Taiwanese tutor and tried to practice his language skills on our local guides. They had difficulty comprehending his version of Chinese.

Posted by
2134 posts

Thanks for the additional tips. I've printed my card using Traditional so I'll go back and add Simplified to it as well. We're going to Mainland China.

Posted by
31473 posts

Valerie,

One point to keep in mind with Google Translate is that it doesn't always provide a perfect translation, so I'd be reluctant to rely only on that. I've found that to be the case when trying it with native Italian, French and German speakers. They say it's "close" and often gets the meaning across, but sometimes is completely wrong.

In the same situation, I'd want it double-checked by a native speaker. Would this be an option for you.... http://www.certifiedchinesetranslation.com/Seattle/

Posted by
2353 posts

While there are many Chinese dialects, there are only two written versions: traditional and simplified.

I learn so much here!

Posted by
379 posts

The Chinese translations of my suggested sentences at https://translate.google.com/ are precise and accurate.

Here are some examples of how traditional characters are simplified. Note that there can be multiple variations of simplification of a character. The safe bet is to have both traditional and simplified side by side on the card, even in Mainland China.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore_Chinese_characters

And if you are really interested, here's the history and the on going debate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debate_on_traditional_and_simplified_Chinese_characters

Not to be out done by the Chinese, EU is attempting to simplify English. From an unidentified source.

A NEW ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby
English will be the official language of the EU rather than German
which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her
Majesty's Government conceded that English spelling had some room for
improvement and has accepted a 5 year phase-in plan that would be
known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will
make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in
favour of the"k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan
have 1 less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the
troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like
"fotograf" 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be
ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are
possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters,
which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre
that the horible mes of the silent "e"s in the language is
disgraseful, and they should go away.

By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing
"th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords
kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer
kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be
no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand
ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru!

Posted by
2134 posts

@Ken - Ain't that the truth about Google Translate!! I've taken allergy cards on previous trips that were a total bust. My card for Turkey in 2014 was really bad and I had to try again. There was a response to my post from and @Jounry that was deleted by the Webmaster because clicking on @Journy took you to an offer to plan travel. But @Journy replied to a few posts that day before he/she was yanked off the site and it was clearly an actual person...who happened to speak Chinese. He/she checked my statement over and said it was ok. And Staynsavor's suggestion for Google matches what I used.

I'm going to use the additional suggestion of taking my card to a local Chinese restaurant and seeing what they think. I've put more effort into this card than I usually do. It even has a picture of a Chinese box of corn starch and two ears of corn that I have crossed out with red circles.

In the end though, I'm expecting this trip to be harder, eating-wise, than my European trips and my baseline eating plan is (do not laugh at me here) to maximize my visits to Pizza Hut and Starbucks etc. Better safe than sorry and I don't travel for the food experiences...I know some people do, but I just find eating out when I travel to be a stressful event.

Posted by
2353 posts

I think & I hope that you will have better luck in China than you are planning. I think you will be able to find many dishes that are not laden with corn starch thickened sauces.

Please let us know how it goes.

Posted by
95 posts

Staynsavor,
It is interesting what you posted regarding simplifying English, but you must surely be joking. That is exactly how I felt when traditional Chinese became simplified Chinese, it was very hard to read the characters. Not only were most characters simplified, but some were totally replaced by totally different, albeit homophonic characters. I needed a dictionary ( yes, there are dictionaries for Sim plified to Traditional Chinese) to read those new characters.

Although there are many dialects, it is true that the written language is in simplified or traditional format. However, in the Cantonese dialect, which is spoken in Kuantong, a southern province, and in Hong Kong , they have different words that are not found in the regular Chinese language, and so they have "created" their own characters. I once was given a Hong Kong magazine, and even though I could read it, I could not make sense of what was being read. So, to make it short, being able to recognize the character, may not mean what you think it conveys . Oftentimes they also use a western word (because there is no chinese equivalent) and just transcribe it into characters that sound like that word. Foreign names are mostly transcribed that way. However, I have come across words like "apartment" and "fans" that are also given characters that sound like the western word, but the characters themselves do not mean them. Confusing, right?

As to the original poster, the translations you have posted are adequate to convey the message you need to tell others. There are different ways of saying your phrase, but they all say you will need to go to the hospital if you eat corn. Better to add cornstarch because that is a commonly used thickener, more so than corn, and more unidentifiable

Corn is not commonly used in Chinese dishes. However, there may be occasional use of young babycorn as a vegetable. Not all Chinese cooks use cornstarch as a thickening agent in sauces. Tapioca flour, potato flour, or arrowroot flour can also be used. In America cornstarch is more widely available, and cheaper, so it is most commonly used. In Asia, it might be more common to use tapioca flour, so you may be lucky enough and be able to avoid contact with cornstarch in sauces. However, another caution is there may be cornstarch in fried foods with starchy coatings, like tempura. Anything deep fried and crunchy, or coated, you must ask if there is cornstarch.

One last thing. I don't know if your list would include corn syrup? I am not sure if Chinese bakeries use that ingredient, but it could be a cheap substitute for sugar. You might want to add that to your list.

I hope this helps a bit. Hope you have a good trip and hope you enjoy the food.

Posted by
27759 posts

What a kind and helpful post, sskfh31.

That should really help Valerie.

Posted by
95 posts

Valerie, i just sent you a msg. I can't write Chinese characters on my tablet, but can on my iphone ....

Posted by
2134 posts

Thanks! I sent you a PM back.

And, yes, Nigel, this is why the RS site is the only one I invest time posting on...best community out there:)

Posted by
5786 posts

RE: I'm going to use the additional suggestion of taking my card to a local Chinese restaurant and seeing what they think.

You will need to check for Mandarin speakers, preferably new comers from northern China. Older generation Chinese tended to immigrate from southern China/Hong Kong, speak Cantonese and write in Traditional. BC immigrants from China are most commonly from Hong Kong.

Posted by
38 posts

hi Valerie!

(Full disclosure: I am sskfh31's daughter... helping out with the tech side of things here).
[My mom, aka sskfh31] has translated and typed out for you a translation to take and asked me to post it up here on the forum.

I am allergic to corn, cornstarch, corn syrup and other corn products. If I eat those products, I must go to the hospital

Traditional Chinese:

我對玉米,玉米澱粉,玉米糖漿和玉米製品有過敏。如果我吃這些產品,我必須去醫院

Simplified Chinese:

我对玉米,玉米殿粉,玉米糖浆和玉米制品 有过 敏。 如果我 吃 这些產品,我必须去医院

Posted by
2134 posts

@kwidprokuo - Thank you! I love it that you're helping your mom's post! I got my daughter to create an account here recently and send in her first post. I wish I could find a way to take a picture of the card I have so far and attach it to a post for all to see but I can't.

Posted by
95 posts

Yes, forgot to add that some Chinese soups , savory or sweet, are thickened with cornstarch (tapioca flour, potato starch, arrowroot starch, etc), examples are hot and sour soup, egg drop soup which are savory, and sweet bean soup which is sweet. Basically, if the soup is not watery, then it must have been thickened. You will have to watch out for these. Chicken soup is usually safe.

Posted by
5786 posts

Chicken soup is usually safe.

Ironically non-Chinese speaking Oregon friends did a Lonely Planet style self-guided trip to China. One is allergic to chicken and had his card advising restaurants of that allergy. His interesting anecdote is that he order presenting the allergy card to the wait person. Shortly after their dishes arrived, the manager came to the table and ripped the food out from under their chop sticks explaining that the kitchen misunderstood and one of the dishes did include chicken or sorts. Probably chicken broth.

As others mention, while corn may not be viable, it could be a "hidden" ingredient.

Posted by
2134 posts

Thanks to all of you. Yes, corn is often hidden....that's what makes it such a fun allergy! However, corn syrup contains no corn protein to activate an Ig-E response so it's not that big a deal. Corn starch contains a little and, if eaten in large amounts, can cause a smallish problem. I focus most of my efforts to corn in its original form, where there is a significant amount of protein. I do other stuff too...a daily Zyrtec helps provide a little buffer...and I eat a lot lot lot lot of pizza when I travel:)

Posted by
95 posts

Edgar,
I meant watery chicken soup is not thickened with cornstarch and therefore safe to consume by those allergic to corn,not those allergic to chicken. Likewise many Chinese dishes are flavored with chicken broth because it has umami, instead of MSG. But, usually homecooks use the chicken broth, restaurants just use the MSG.

Posted by
95 posts

Valerie,

I don't know where you are going in China, but I imagine the bigger cities will have pizza shops, not the rural towns. And, I presume the prices will be higher than in the US, since it is western fast food. Anything Western is probably more costly, but I guess better be safe than sorry.

I don't know where one of above the posters went in China, where he said they were served corn. I am assuming it must have been western China. Normally Chinese cuisine does not use corn in its dishes, unless it is a fusion type of dish. There is a corn chowder type of soup, but it is a western adaptation. Or you see corn kernels as added color, or as a filler. They DO use tiny baby corn as a vegetable in stir fry dishes, but it is infrequent. Cornmeal is not normally used to make tortilla-like pancake wraps because it is coarse. They are usually made with wheat flour. I don't know if western Chinese provinces use corn for their dishes.