When you’re dealing with two languages as different as Chinese and English, it’s inevitable that some things get lost in translation. Handicapped bathrooms are occasionally referred to as “Deformed Man End Places.” In Dongda, the proctology center used to be known as the Anus Hospital. But some bizarre titles are exactly what they sound like. Case in point: the Beijing Museum of Tap Water.
The history of Beijing’s tap water dates back to 1908, when the Empress Dowager Cixi supported a plan to build a water system for Beijing. The museum, however, is a recent addition — it’s the result of a 2001 edict requiring that 150 new museums open in Beijing by 2008. As any curator can attest, 150 is an awful lot of new museums to build in seven years. The result: in addition to tap water, Beijing also now has museums devoted to honeybees, red sandalwood, and goldfish.
Housed in a former pump house, the tap water museum starts with the founding of Beijing’s first water company — the Jingshi Tap Water Co. — and features artifacts like vintage water coupons and a stethoscope used to listen for water leaks. It also boasts not just 130 “real objects,” but 110 pictures, 40 models, and a miniature tap water filtration system. Step aside, Forbidden City.
The weirdest thing about museum, though, is that the substance it’s meant to commemorate — clean tap water in Beijing — doesn’t actually exist. Yes, in 2007 Beijing was the first Chinese city whose water officially passed a test for 106 contaminants. But thanks to the condition of the pipes transporting it from stations to people’s taps, it’s still unsafe to drink.