The last time I was in Chinatown, I was hungry. And I knew exactly what I was looking for: delicious, meat or seafood stuffed dumplings could solely curb this craving. I pulled out my phone and located the nearest-by joint with high reviews and let’s also filter by affordable price tags—this was just a snack I should clarify, as I had a nice and rather expensive dinner planned for later that evening.
Delicious Dim Sum was the name that came in first on my search and it met all the aforementioned requirements. I made the decent down the steep sidewalk, traversing one half block and there it was on my left. I hopped right in and gazed through the glass display at the mouthwatering options. Glistening, plump, and just a little transparent, the dim sum dumplings were just what I had in mind. “So, which are your most popular?” I asked. The lady responded but I didn’t understand her – I gathered this would be one of those point-to-what-you-want and use-theatrical-facial-expressions types of situations, though that didn’t throw me off as I happen to be decently talented in this department.
The ordering was underway, pointing and nodding in full-swing, but I really had no idea what I was filling my to-go container with. How do I know which of these dumplings swaddled succulent bits of pork, and which bundled something not-so-pleasing to my personal palate? Labels or a menu would have been helpful. Actually, labels in English, were what I was missing. There was a hand-written menu on the wall above the dumplings, but on top of not understanding spoken Chinese, I don’t know how to read it either.
Since this lovely dim sum visit, I’ve stumbled upon an app that would have made this experience a lot less like a game of Russian roulette. It’s called Waygo, and is free to download from the iPhone App Store. If you point your phone camera at any Chinese script, the app will translate the words to English, so next time I won’t accidentally order chicken feet.
Thankfully, everything turned out to be tasty and satisfying that time around, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat anything that I hadn’t had before.
But Delicious Dim Sum isn’t the only spot in Chinatown where this straightforward app would prove sidekick-worthy. There are plenty of little shops and mini-markets where I could see this app coming in handy. I remember a handful of occasions where I could have used a personal translator in my pocket. In particular, shopping in a Chinese medicinal shop trying to make sense of one label or another, eventually giving up and walking out empty handed.
Since Chinatown is a major tourist attraction in San Francisco, hosting more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge, Waygo is a practical and easy tool to add to the pack-list for those planning a trip. For those San Francisco natives, Chinatown frequenters, or those planning a vacation to China itself, all the more convenient instant translation could be.
The idea for Waygo came about as CEO & Co-founder, Ryan Rogowski, was working in China, building mobile games. While in the process of learning the language but also needing to translate quickly and easily, he conceptualized this tool that could look up characters by simply pointing a phone camera at the text. Beyond helping someone in a similar state of learning Chinese, he realized that a tool like this could help any traveler in any country see with new eyes.
Here’s more information about Waygo and downloads for iOS.