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There's a famous Chinese fable:

  Once a man wanted to go to the south, but his carriage was heading north. A passer-by asked him: "If you are going to south, why is your chariot heading north?"The man answered, "My horse is good at running, my driver is highly skilled at driving a carriage, and I have enough money." The man didin’t consider that the direction might be wrong; the better his conditions were, the further he was away from his destination.

So by and by it comes to the Chinese phrase "Destination at South, heading to North", what would be a comparable English phrase for that?

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A more fluid translation would be "Trying to go south by driving the chariot north" (source), however I do not believe there exists an analogous proverb in English.

In the sense of misdirected efforts, the phrase "barking up the wrong tree" is somewhat similar. This phrase is used to indicate that someone has pursued a false lead or focused on something which is irrelevant to their goal. (The allusion is to a hunting dog which has treed an animal, but mistakenly barks at a different tree than the one with its prey.)

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There are several stories, but I don't know if any have been condensed into an aphorism. One involves a driver going on the wrong road; someone points this out to him, and he replies "yes, but I'm making really good time". This seems most comparable to the Chinese story. Another story involves a person (sometimes portrayed as a drunk) who is looking, at night, on the sidewalk for his glasses. A passing pedestrian helpfully inquires "where were you when you think you dropped them?" to which he replies "Over there" (pointing down the block). "Then why are you looking HERE?" "Because the light is better here."

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  • I've heard a similar story amount a man on a train. When he realized that he was going in the opposite direction from his destination, he simply turned around and faced the rear of the train. – Dan Jan 2 '15 at 2:38

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