Lost in translation
Hainan, 23rd April 2013
As you can see I am back in China and through travel and work commitments on arrival I was not in a position (nor state) to write my blog last night. A welcome dinner (and drinks) with the client till late compounding matters :). Over the last 2 years I have reduced my visits to China considerably after previously travelling to the country on a near monthly basis, but the issues of dealing and communicating with Chinese project teams remain the same. Today it was my turn to present our lighting concepts and design progress to the team and what would have been a 1 hour presentation basically took all morning mainly through tedious translations. Having someone translating (my colleague in this case) is one thing but knowing the technical terminology that comes with lighting design is another. Fluent Mandarin and knowledge of technical jargon do not necessarily combine….
This afternoon’s ensuing coordination meeting was much the same with the difference being that we were now filmed and interviewed as part of a documentary that is being commissioned for CCTV about the making of this project. That’s a first for me…But like all these reality programs, we just carried on with our business and the meeting continued with no one really paying attention to cameramen and sound engineers, more tomorrow.
One of the main issues with all coordination between teams is to understand where everyone is coming from. We deal with different cultures, different way of doing things and while the desired outcome is generally the same, the ways to reach there may be different from company to company, from culture to culture, even from person to person! And if we do not have these coordination meetings face to face many issues are at risk of being lost in translation! A long but very useful day!
Light Watch 4-70: One of the literal translation challenges are in the signage. In my room I did a little survey of the controls in the first place to figure out what they were for and in the second place to learn. The English translation is pretty much a reflection of what occurs in translations all the time; a one liner by me is translated with 5 minute explanation in Chinese and vice versa. On the switch it is the same, the Chinese signage seems much more elaborate than the one word description in English, which inevitably comes with its spelling mistakes…also the same English translation has different Chinese characters…hmmm… The best switch is the one saying “wait!”, which I found in the toilet. I have been told this can be pressed when someone is knocking on your door while you are in the middle of doing a number two! I wonder what the actual Chinese description is!