I was psyched, nervous, excited–it was my first, real “professional” interpretation job. I was to take a train to Suzhou and meet all the bigwig corporate CEOs for a Japanese and American company and help them talk to each other. I got the “go” signal from the office in Japan and it was the day before my duty. I was reviewing difficult business Japanese and doing practice exercises through simultaneous interpretation of Nikkei business video clips when I felt it.
I was shivering all night. My body was 100+ degrees. I tried to sleep at 10, setting my alarm clock for 5 AM, but I was shaking with chills so violently all I could do was toss and turn all night. I woke up at 3 AM to throw up. I’d fall asleep for 10 minute intervals and have nightmares about where I suddenly forgot how to speak Japanese. I can’t do this, I thought. They booked me a month in advance, and I was so excited for my first ever real job as an interpreter and–I get a fever hotter than the seven hells itself. I could fry an egg on my forehead. I barely have enough energy to take a crap. I’m doomed.
I dragged myself out of bed at 5 AM and took a cab to honqiao railway station where I took the earliest train out of Shanghai. I landed in Suzhou around 8 AM, but while waiting for a taxi to pick me up I felt faint. Was I going to pass out? I was still shaking violently and my fever didn’t break. I threw up in a bathroom and got back in line. Just do it, Mary.
I made it to the Marriot Hotel in Suzhou where I met with my clients. No one knew who I really was, just the lone interpreter. The organizer gave me the best news of my life: “We don’t start interpreting for another four hours. Go back to your room and get yourself a copy of Rosetta Stone to prep yourself.” He slapped me on the back with a chuckle and went about his way, preparing for the Japanese clients to arrive from the China factory.
I went to KFC because I knew they were reliable and probably safer than street food. I ordered a rice dish there (yes, you can get rice dishes at KFC in China), scarfed it down, then dragged myself to the hotel room for two hours of sleep. I tossed and turned and slammed 4 capsules of Advil. You can get through this, Mary. I told myself. You can do it. I took a shower, napped, and woke up in a pool of sweat. I did it, I thought, I broke the fever.
Still feeling like shit and with my nerves raw, I went to greet the Japanese clients. They weren’t expecting someone so young and white looking, I imagine, and they gave me their compliments of “wow your Japanese is amazing” which quickly disappeared as soon as the interpretation began.
We were in a long conference hall, me in the center. I was the bridge between two worlds, the google translate that broke their language barrier, the girl who was going to tell it all about…
Welding, recycling, melting, heating, re-arranging, disposing, marketing, security–you name it, I translated it. No one gave me a vocabulary list to review, and I was dealing with names of metals I’ve never even heard of. I constantly forgot the names of the Japanese clients, calling them Nakajima instead of Nakamura or Higurashi became Higashi, yet they smiled and forgave me all the same. I interpreted about condensed metal liquid and felt it coming on again. The fever. Oh god. The Chinese person speaking English next to me starts talking about more strange metals. More melding. More shipping. The movement of factories.
The meeting ends and it’s time to interview IT. Virus security, purchased software, license issues, password, headquarters, connecting branches communication systems–it’s just the tip of the ice berg. It ends in one hour, and I got to the bathroom to heave.
One last interview, they tell me. Law interview.
I feel myself sweating mid-interview, but not because I’m nervous: My fever broke again. It comes and goes and breaks and starts and I sweat and excuse myself and throw up–but I don’t give up. Three hours later and the law portion is successfully done with the help of dictionary.
After six hours of nonstop interviews, I spent 20 minutes finding an ATM so that I could spend another 20 minutes to find a cab and get to my hotel and went to my hotel room to take more advil and sob. The most stressful day of my life came to a close.
But if I thought that day was bad, I was ill-prepared for the next day.
I woke up by simultaneously throwing up and diarrhea-ing my ass off from 6AM forward. I didn’t know what to do. The fever was back. How could I get food poisoning and the flu at the same time? God hates me, I thought, as I sat my ass on the toilet for the 34th consecutive time that morning. How could this happen?
I should have known better. I slapped myself on the forehead.
I told my organizer that due to nonstop shitting and puking (of course, expressed in a much more refined matter) I would be one hour late to the second and final day of interpretation. I reviewed words and vocabulary sent to me via e-mail while camping out on the toilet, then around 9AM felt the worst had passed. I took a cab back to the conference hall and it was go time.
The first meeting was about HR, which was the easiest to cover. The HR meeting went so smoothly I felt pretty damn good about myself: Not only can I hold back my desire to use the toilet, but I can interpret company human resource policy. Awesome. Fever comes back and they tell that we need to prep for the next meeting. Prep for what meeting, praytell? Well, the answer almost has me cry.
Finance and Accounting.
I’m a Japanese and Public Relations major that learned all I know about finance and accounting from my one year at a consulting firm. Financial and accounting jargon was definitely out of my league. They told me all of the questions they were going to ask and half of them I couldn’t understand so well in English. The entire finance team was Chinese people that had a good ability of English, but if it weren’t for the one native speaker there to translate their “textbook English” into everyday spoken English, completing a financial interpretation with one hour prep would have been impossible.
During my interpretation, a man from a very famous Japanese investment bank was there to help consult with the Japanese clients. Luckily for me, he sat in on every single meeting and he could understand the specialized vocabulary of finance, accounting and customs. I was fluent in Japanese and he was a specialized accounting dictionary–when our powers combined, we somehow managed to say an idea.
Believe me or not, the financial meeting when on for five hours. The English speaking Chinese were, no offensive, unbearable. Imagine a textbook on international custom and law talking to you word by word, page by page. Well, that was this session of five hour questions. Some questions were so detailed even the Japanese were stunned, and by the fourth hour the Japanese and I were about ready to riot. Finally the Japanese CEO looked at me in the eyes and said:
“How much longer are we going to have to do this, Mary-san? I don’t think I can go on.”
Oh, how I empathized.
I managed to reach a truce with the Chinese accountants, and they promised to save their detail oriented questions until later and send it via e-mail. Still, I never took advanced accounting 3040, so hearing them talk and looking to Japanese Investment Banker man as my savior from the 専門用語 was all I could do.
After the five hour meeting came to a finish, the law people burst in and said: “We still have unfinished business.” When I translated this to the Japanese clients, they looked like a beaten down war battalion. We were haggard. Nonstop meeting and interpretation from 8AM to until 8PM and we didn’t even have the energy to blink. The client looked at me. I think he was going to cry.
One hour later, we finished. I thought I did a terrible job in some places, but really awesome in others. The financial meeting was like going to hell and back, especially with food poisoning rocking through me. There were moments where I had absolutely no idea how to translate what was being said, mostly because I wasn’t sure WHAT was being said. The Chinese would talk, I would have a native English speaker but it into simple and easy to understand English, then I would finally be able to relay it in Japanese. It was intense. There were moments where none of us even knew how to translate a word, and even three dictionaries came up blank. It was strenuous.
But when the final meeting came to a close, all the Japanese clients looked at me and bowed as low as possible.
The American clients (also present in the room), nudged me on the shoulder and said,
“You did amazing. I hope we’re paying you enough for all the hell we put you through today.”
Although I thought I did a bit of a shit job, everyone was happy with me. And I was glad.
I walked out of there and thought to myself: “I really liked that. I really, really liked it. And I feel damn good, despite the diarrhea.”