Two Days As An Interpreter: Monday

Last week there was an Asian Festival in Kagoshima, in which groups of tourists from all over Asia came, did touring, and did performances on the weekend. All of us ALTs were asked to work as interpreters for these groups if we had the Japanese ability. In all honesty most of us were roped into it, but I think the general consensus is that after we did it, we were glad we had a few days away for this job.

The performances were on the same weekend as the Halloween party, so I didn’t have the energy to see the festival part of the Asian Festival. I suppose it would have been nice to see, but I can’t regret that now.

I started working on Monday and Tuesday. I was originally supposed to interpret for the China group, but they ended up not coming due to the current dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu island. Instead I was with a group from Bangladesh. It was really an interesting experience for me – their culture is very different from both American and Japanese culture, and most of the other cultures I’ve come into contact with. They’re also very proud of it, and very happy to explain anything you might not understand.

On Monday there were five of us “in charge” so to speak: one Japanese man from City Hall, one Japanese-fluent Korean CIR (the job I’d originally applied to), one Bangladeshi man living in Kagoshima, one Japanese interpreter who had lived in the U.S. for fifteen years and was thus effectively bilingual, and of course, me. I feel I had the least to do, seeing as I knew the least Japanese of the group. I felt a bit guilty, as much of the time it was as if I were getting special leave to be a tourist myself.

The first place we went was a scenic overlook facing the volcano, from a mountain on the far end of the city. Here, my role seemed primarily to take photos for people. I think I appeared in a few of the photos, along with the CIR. I guess Japan isn’t the only place where we’re a rarity. After this we headed off to a far-away elementary school. The Bangladesh group was going to show the dance they’d done at the festival to the kids, and the kids were going to show them a traditional Japanese dance.

My first interpreting job of the day was at this school. One of the men in the Bangladesh group runs a TV station, and so he wanted to talk to the principal. They introduced themselves, and then the Bangladeshi man asked if he could do a small interview about the Japanese education system. For the actual interview, I let the bilingual interpreter do the job. I doubt I’d have been able to come up with words about the education system while a camera is pointed at me.

Meanwhile, the dance group did their performance in front of the students – all twenty or so of them. It was a really small school, and the tourists outnumbered the kids. I enjoyed watching the performance, but I think it was lost on the kids. I suppose when I was their age, it would have been lost on me, too. The kids performed after this, and then as a group we played musical chairs. That was my second interpretation of the day. I had to explain the rules, though it turned out to be unnecessary. It turns out “musical chairs” has the same name in Bangladesh.

After this was lunch. In Bangladesh, people eat milk over rice. In Japan, this elicits looks of horror from elementary school students. Neither group is able to comprehend the others’ reaction to this way of eating, and even if I knew every word in both their languages, I doubt I’d ever be able to make them understand.

Before leaving, the people from Bangladesh gave the kids (and me) bangles and Bangladeshi money. The kids gave the visitors Japanese calligraphy they’d made.

When we left the school we headed out shopping. This was strangely one of the most interesting parts of the job. The people from Bangladesh were much more interested in shopping than they were sightseeing, it seemed. Especially when we went to the electronics store. It turns out that electronics are much cheaper than they are in Bangladesh, so they all bought as much as they could when they had the chance. Of course, things such as iPads, video/digital cameras, iPods, etc. require a significant amount of interaction with the employees. At this point in the day the only effective interpreters were me and the bilingual guy. The CIR knew only a small amount of English, though the group at large didn’t appear to realize this. So that made two and a half of us. There were 20 or so people buying things and asking questions.

On top of this, I’m going to assume that in Bangladesh bartering is an everyday thing. Very much not-so in Japan. I don’t know how many times I had to go back and forth with everyone involved that things weren’t going to be any more marked down than they already were.

Even more than this, it took the employees a while to realize I was an interpreter despite my name tag saying so. If you have the face of a foreigner, they’re going to assume you don’t speak Japanese. After telling one employee in Japanese that the Bangladeshi man was interested in buying a camera, the employee responded in Japanese, “Okay. Let me call an interpreter.” Whatever smart-ass retort I ended up uttering, it didn’t affect the guy too much – by the end of our time in the store he was asking me various friendly questions.

We were in the electronics store for more than an hour. I know we ran over the time we were supposed to be there. When we said that the bus was going to leave soon, one person shouted, “But she’s going to buy a camera!”

I was thoroughly wiped out after this. That was okay, because the last part of the day proved to be rather lax. We went to the home of the Bangladeshi man living in Kagoshima, where his wife had made tons of delicious, homemade Bangladeshi food for everyone. All of the visitors piled into the small Japanese living room and watched television while chatting and eating. I sat at the kitchen table with the man from City Hall and the CIR. It was fun. I ended up bonding with the Korean guy over spicy food, the quiz show on TV, and it turns out he has a bunch of that expensive liquor I had at my friend’s bar during Sake Matsuri in his apartment. As we happen to live in the same building, sooner or later we’re planning on having a sake party of our own.

It was nine at night when we finally boarded the bus to go back to the hotel where everyone was staying. I was very tired by this point. The moment I got home, I took a shower, then crashed on my futon. Despite this, I was really enjoying the work as an interpreter. I was looking forward to the next day.

To be continued…

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~ by megumiwasframed on October 29, 2012.

One Response to “Two Days As An Interpreter: Monday”

  1. “In Japan, this elicits looks of horror from elementary school students” LOL! And I can only imagine the extent of your eye rolling to that salesperson. :P

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