Saturday, September 03, 2005

Glimpses of Shoko Part 4: Motorcycle Manuel

One of Shoko’s close friends has a father who is a motorcycle enthusiast. The father is so into his motorcycles that he special ordered a special piece of equipment from America. It came without any Japanese instructions.

The friend, aware that Shoko had a foreign boyfriend, asked Shoko to translate the instruction manual for her father. Shoko agreed.

“You think we can translate this together sometime?” Shoko asked me.

“Sure, sure,” I answered, without even bothering to look at it. “Now, will you hurry up and get ready? We’re going to be late again.”

“Sometime” became later and later, until suddenly it was the end of summer. “We have to do this,” Shoko said. “I promised my friend I would, and now I’ve kept her waiting for 3 weeks.”

So we sat down to do some translating. I was beginning to regret promising to do this. It would be a lot of work, and I didn’t even know the person we were doing this for. I had kind of been hoping Shoko would forget about it, but she didn’t.

The instruction kit was a nightmare. It was filled with techno-speak like, “Slide the wicket past the fork mount and turn the screw 3 threads in” or something like that.

“Shoko,” I said at the beginning, “to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think we’ll be able to translate this. This is beyond our abilities.” She ignored the initial warning. I didn’t argue the point, as I was confident she would come to the same conclusion once she actually got into the thing.

Like a lot of Japanese people, Shoko’s ability to read English is a lot better than her ability to understand it when spoken. She was actually able to get through a fair amount of it. At first we were translating it together, and then she gradually she took over more and more of it, until I was just lying on the couch next to her and watching TV. She would consult me ever time she had a question, which was mostly about technical terms or English idioms. The idioms I could help her with. The technical terms I just had to shrug off. “I don’t know Shoko. It’s motorcycle terminology. I know nothing about motorcycles.”

As I got more and more into the TV, I became increasingly annoyed whenever she had a question. I had also expected her to give up a couple sentences into it, and was annoyed that she was still working on it two hours later.

“You should stop,” I said. “You’re just going to strain your eyes. And I told you that you won’t be able to do that anyway.”

“Well then why didn’t you tell me that before I started on it.”

“I did. Right when we were on the first sentence I told you we weren’t going to be able to translate this.”

“No, I mean why didn’t you tell me that when I first accepted it from my friend? Now I’ve had it for 3 weeks, and her father has been waiting all this time for me.”

“Because I didn’t look at it carefully.”

“Well, now I have to translate it first before returning it.”

“Look, Shoko, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. You can have all the best intentions in the world, but if you can’t do it, there’s no point in wasting time on this.”

“Fine. If you think we can’t do it, then I’ll do it myself,” she said, and went back to her work. I went back to my television watching.

Naturally, after 5 minutes or so I began feeling guilty, and asked her how she was coming along. Then I said, “Look, Shoko, you’re acting like a child. You’re angry at me because I said you couldn’t do it, so now you’re trying to prove me wrong, and you’re not thinking this through rationally. That’s how a child acts.”

“Well, think about the way you’re acting,” Shoko said. “You’re just lying there on the couch doing nothing but saying ‘You can’t do it. You can’t do it.’ Have you thought about how that makes me feel?”

“But you can’t do it,” I said. “Look at this! I’m an American, and I don’t even understand half the stuff in these instructions.” It was on the tip of my tongue to add, “and besides your English isn’t really that good,” but I decided against it.

Instead I said, “People who translate technical manuals like this are professional translators who have translating licenses, and preferable some knowledge of the subject matter in question. And they get a lot of money for doing it.”

“That’s my point,” Shoko said. “My friend doesn’t come from a rich family, and her father already paid a lot of money for this to be shipped from overseas. Do you realize how much money he would have to pay to get this translated in addition?”

In the end, the desire not to get in a big fight right before I left for Gifu overwhelmed my desire to prove I was right. I made Shoko promise to be careful and not to strain her eyes too much. She decided to stop for the day, but planned to finish translating throughout the week. I told her I would be glad to help her whenever she had a question, and that she could ask me questions even after I had returned to Gifu.

Link of the Day
Wasting time on i-film:
If you like watching old stuff, like I do, check out these vintage newsreels from the world War II.
Interesting how they used the word "Jap" not only in collequial language, but even in the news back then.

And, along similar lines, check out this now banned Popeye film: "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap"

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