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Mama, don't let your children grow up to be translators.

Pulling an all-nighter on a truly awful tour guide to Dali. Rush job for a woman who claims to be SL’s friend; SL told me about the job like this: “That bitch I used to work with? She has two books she wants translated, and asked me to ask you, but don’t do it, OK? She’s a real bitch, and she won’t pay you well, and she won’t give you any time to get things done.”
“Sounds great!” I said.

Well, I need the money.

Not that it’s good money. The Lijiang book was about 32,000 characters, for which I will be paid RMB 8000. I did the work in about 12 hours, but that’s just because I work very quickly; on an hourly rate it’s pretty good, but given that the standard bare minimum that I try to charge for translation is RMB 300 per 1000 characters, and that I usually ask for RMB 500 per 1000, the pay’s really shit. Especially since she then added 2000 characters and had me do it for free.

(I am bad at saying no.)

The Dali book? 22,000 characters. For which I will be paid RMB 4,000. Do the math yourselves. I was given 3 days to do it, but since I have been working on other freelance stuff all week, such that I haven’t gotten more than about 5 hours’ sleep per night for the last 10 days, I didn’t get to start on it until tonight. Nothing hard about the language, but this woman’s writing is fucking atrocious, and she has literary pretensions, and I can feel my brain turning to jelly.

This, combined with the insultingly low pay, is not really doing much to motivate me to finish the thing by the noon Friday deadline, but I suppose I will. Though really, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t feel anything even approaching bad, considering that I (a) am only barely conscious at this point, despite having drunk about 9 cups of strong coffee today, (b) have already told this woman, several times, that she could have work that was good, fast, or cheap, but not all three, and stressed that, no matter how much she acts as if she’s my or SL’s friend, the fact remains that I’m translating garbage text for garbage pay, and doing it in an unrealistic and unprofessional timeframe.

Now back to translating descriptions of shitty dance shows and commodified minority culture. (The Dai people love to sing and dance all day. (So do the Naxi. (So do the Mosuo. (It’s taking all of my willpower not to insert things into the translated text that would hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.))))

Anyone out there know of work that would pay something not totally insulting? I’m very good, very fast, and very desperate.

Update: The worst thing is translating little restaurant writeups and having to be cheery. A sample, so you see what I’m up against:

百乐柠檬装修很简单:临街的落地窗前,藤制双人靠椅,大朵牡丹花餐桌布。窗前不时有背着竹篓的老伯或担着青菜的大嫂走过。老板娘每天早晨都会削出几大盆的土豆,做成的炸薯条新鲜营养,味道不逊于肯德基。五元钱一小竹筐,配着蕃茄酱和大理的辣椒粉,勾人食欲。三元一杯的果汁,或是四五元钱一份的宾治、冰激淋,重回学生时代。9

Bai Le Ningmeng is decorated simply: full-length windows looking onto the street, rattan tables, and peony-embroidered tablecloths. Sometimes you’ll see the owners coming back from market with ingredients. The owner’s wife makes french fries every morning, and they’re just as tasty and nutritious as KFC’s and – at RMB5 a basket – a great and cheap way to relive your student days. 9

(Elisions are necessary since the English has to have the same line-count as the Chinese. [In Word, if not on LJ]) (Also, the miniature devil that sits on my right shoulder tried to get me to translate the names of the restaurants literally — I’ma go eat at Hundred-Happiness Lemons! — but the miniature angel on my left shoulder won out. For now.)

The one upside: catching a reference to a Du Mu poem in the name of one of the restaurants. On the one hand, it’s nice to know that I didn’t study Tang poetry in vain; on the other hand, this is such a fucking mountain of toss that it kind of cancels out whatever joy I got from that.

Also: I am whining, people, which means that you’re all supposed to post sympathetic comments. Jesus, I have to spell everything out.

2 Comments

  1. the Admiral wrote:

    Don’t worry. Be strong. Everything will be okay. :)

    Does that count as sympathy?

    Nice blog.

    Cheers.

    Friday, July 28, 2006 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  2. lumberjack wrote:

    hey, cheer up. Sometimes translation work IS a drudgery. And the insultingly low pay can never make up for your loss of sleep. But we need money. The market price for English-Chinese translation never goes up like China’s GDP growth. Maybe there are too many tranlators, but I do believe you are one of the few who are really qualified. I am wondering if you feel like doing some editing job for publishing houses. Please contact me for details. lumberjack_china@hotmail.com. Thanks in advance!

    Monday, August 21, 2006 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

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