Jet-Set Wedding (Part 2) – Translator by Name, not by Profession

Wedding pictures Inner Mongolia

So, finally on Monday the 9th of February we found ourselves in Hohhot with the document from the German embassy and we were in for a busy day.

After putting on my dirndl, traditional German (or to be correct, Bavarian and Austrian) attire, which I thought might be a fun thing to do when getting married in Inner Mongolia, we rushed off to the local photographer.

There we got the picture for our little red wedding booklets taken; a picture of the both of us with a red background. The end result was subjected to our critical review with the conclusion that I have a strand of hair sticking out and Mr. Li looks rather stern and serious; which I felt was rather appropriate considering he is getting married to a German (who nevertheless cannot even do her hair in the correct fashion on her wedding day).

After our session in the non-too glamorous studio, we scooted over to the translator’s office, a bleak little windowless room at the backside of an old building. This was yet another entertaining experience, as the translator, who had been recommended by the authorities as the go-to person for notarized translations in the city, was about as qualified to do the job as a loaf of bread. The good man used a template to transcribe the contents from my German document to the Chinese one, guessing which information belonged where. In the end, I sat down with him and did most of my own translation, including finding the Chinese transliteration of the town I am registered in. Since official Chinese documents still rely for the most part on Chinese characters, any city in the world has a phonetically similar Chinese name, which in our case, due to its length and complexity turned out to be 凯塞尔斯图尔山麓恩丁根.

As a former student of the translation department of the University of Vienna, this encounter really rattled me. I remember only too well the many lectures discussing the lack of regulation in the translation industry and how anyone who speaks two languages can run around calling themselves translators and be paid for it. Add to that rampant corruption as it is still present throughout China, in particular in the less central and urbanised regions such as Hohhot, on a daily basis despite Mr. Xi’s clean-up campaign, the truth of the matter is that this so-called translator quite probably paid some money in order to get his recognition as a notary translator. Said certificate was from 1998 nonetheless, which should not be concerning as such; except of course for the fact that this man could barely even use Microsoft Word. Such translation standards are indeed concerning, even more so as they are present throughout China. Even in Nanjing the standards of professional translation companies are disconcertingly low. On the other hand this might of course present a business opportunity, if one were to pass their official exam (or purchase one, after all if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, harr harr).
Anyway, with our combined efforts we got there and paid the money really just for his little red stamp than any actual translation work on his part; yet, I shouldn’t complain, as we managed to get what we needed. Really, if I want to raise the standard of translation in this country, I should probably run a translating company. Now there’s a thought…


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