Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lost in translation (but gained in sympathy)

How would you feel if you opened up your paycheck only to find a BILL from your employer saying that you owed money? Perhaps that could come close to explaining how Mom must have felt when Dad destroyed, rather than gave, her flowers on Mother's Day! To Dad's credit, it was a completely innocent mistake - he had just bought a new commercial-grade, zero-turn mower and came flying out of the garage. As Mom dove to the side and Joo watched aghast, Dad tried in a mounting panic to stop the mower (but unfortunately only accelerated it until it had smashed through a collection of flower arrangements Mom had just finished designing.) Of course no one could blame him when he freely offered the newfangled controls to any other member of the family who felt motived to mow the lawn in his stead.

The next day, Wes came through on his recent road trip to the East Coast... he always brings a unique flavor to life and this time it was in the form of pizza. Using a blend of fancy cheeses, sauces, and organic vegetables, we assembled a single homemade pizza that must have cost over $40 and was 3 to 4 inches high at various points (hence its name "Everest"). Wes, ever a devotee of nature, spent a great deal of time simply laying out in the sun in an apparent attempt to prove that the hype over the sun causing skin cancer was simply an overblown reaction serving only to rob of us one of our most primal bonds with nature. Mother Sun promptly repaid with his devotion with a burnt face by the end of the day.

Nevertheless, we had some solid family conference time (although I strategically positioned myself in the shade) wherein we discussed many noble truths and a few relational dynamics. He brought up a relational psychologist named David Deida who, according to Wikipedia, teaches on spiritual practice, nondual sexuality, and sociocultural evolution (I haven't listened to any of his stuff yet, but when I do so, perhaps I can share some less generic thoughts here in the blog).

Speaking of relationships, we seem to have a pair of romantic serpents who have settled their abode mere steps away from our front door. Dad claims to have brought them (Hermy and Cindy, as he refers endearingly to them) for Mom, perhaps in compensation for the flowers that were destroyed on Mother's Day.
Our plants are continuing to grow in our beloved garden, although we had to undergo the painful process of thinning this week. We had become rather attached to our plants, checking on them several times a day and even refering to them as our children. Even pulling the weeds around them was a true pleasure. But imagine our horror when we realized that we had to pull up some of our own children so that the others could thrive! (these are some lettuce plants that we are growing in a non-linear fashion upon suggestion from Mom)
We faced a disaster of even greater potential days later when, two days after the "No Frost Date," the weather channel called for freezing temperatures that night. As Mom scoured containers from around the house and Dad barked out advice on what to cover and what not to cover, Joo and I frantically raced back and forth to the garden as the chilly blanket of night descended upon us. Thankfully, there were no casualties. :)

For some reason though, and perhaps it stemmed from my recent reading of "Three Cups of Tea" (A book about an American mountain-climber who stumbled into a remote Pakistani village and was inspired to embark upon a lifetime of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan; as you might imagine, his endeavors grew hairy after 9-11), as I held my breath upon approaching the garden the next morning to see if our plants had survived, I suddenly thought about how people in certain war-ravaged parts of the globe might be doing the same thing, but with their family members rather than their plants. Then, I thought about the Digals, the tribal family I had lived with in the Indian mountains, and about how they had just experienced such horrors only a few months ago.
But, for better or worse, as it's hard to grasp thoughts like these for very long when they're so disconnected with this reality, my thoughts soon turned to other matters like how my sprouts were doing...
When I returned from Guatemala as a university student, I felt that it was overly shallow and somehow morally negligent to enjoy the comforts of my American life, but after some time of guilt and frustration, I wondered, what are the alternatives? I could be like the guy in Three Cups of Tea and dedicate the rest of my life to living in such areas but I definitely don't want to do that. It seems like it must be better somehow to be aware of those situations, but how does that really help them other than perhaps sending an occasional donation their way? I guess that's where prayer comes in, but that kind of prayer never really resonated much with me even in my most evangelical periods. I had virtually no faith that it was effective and, to be honest, I didn't even know what to pray for assuming it would be effective. My heart certainly wasn't in it. On the other hand, my "discussion-type, stream-of-consciousness" prayers felt highly meaningful but didn't involve any requests for myself or others, certainly not people on the other side of the globe. Even now, having traveled to several areas where conflicts frequently surface, and having names and faces to pair up with the impersonal AP news reports, I can't really feel that my compassion makes any difference.

Thankfully, none of that applies to my immediate surroundings where I can strongly feel the ebb and flow of relationships, the benefits of love, and the importance of empathy. That said, outside of my parents and John, Joo and I haven't been overly social since we returned to West Liberty last December. One group of people I have enjoyed introducing her to has been the Bethel community. As she had no equivalent of a community like that in Korea, it has been interesting to see how she reacts to sharing in intimate occasions of an intergenerational melange of a very diverse group of people. This past Sunday evening we attended a graduation tea for the high school graduates, which was emceed by the ever-popular comedian, Jerry Landes; here he is planning some of his "spontaneous" jokes...

That's all for now. Oh, one more interesting event that transpired... Joo and I had our first "translation rejection." In one and a half years of translating, we've often had to revamp our translations in a second or third draft until a customer was fully satisfied, but we had never had someone outright deny a translation. Then, last Saturday, that is precisely what happened. The man responded to our first translation by saying, "Why don't you think before you translate? Everyone could see this is wrong." Joo, who tends to feel very personal about her translations did her best to restrain her emotions and calmly revised the paper with me and politely returned it. He wrote back, claiming the English was unnatural (which was ironic since I had proofread it myself and it sounded quite natural) and that he wanted a refund. As this was one of her first jobs for this particular translation company and reputation tends to be very important in securing jobs, Joo begrudgingly informed her boss to refund the customer's money. And we assumed that was the unhappy end to an unfortunate incident.
But perhaps the four-leaf clover I had found in our garden and given to Joo had some magic left to work... since all of our correspondence with customers is online in a forum visible for everyone, other translators began reading about what had happened. The company president sent copies of the original and Joo's translation to all of his best translators to discern the level of the translation. Despite technically being Joo's competitors for employment, the translators unanimously agreed that the translation had been solid and were irate towards the customer who it seemed had been trying to take advantage of Joo to get a free translation and had never intended to pay from the beginning. The postings compiled and grew more and more detail, with each one giving support and sympathy to Joo (and some even urging her or the company to take legal action). Ultimately, the company president deleted the customer's account and apologized profusely to Joo, who was overwelmed with all the support from her fellow community of translators who she has never met - to her, that was worth much more than the money that was lost in translation.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading about your adventures, joys and challenges in West Liberty. Jerry Landes is really a comedian first, all other roles second. I keep trying to remember the bed-time story "Pee Wee and the town of Urine" that he would tell us occasionally when we spent the night. Glad to hear that Joo was redeemed by her fellow translators and company. Go gardening! We have four different plots in various stages around our house right now.