Sour Apples – Part II
After months of searching and spending my free time being Japan’s first house husband, I began work at my new, non-English teaching job in January 2007. The position I applied for and originally worked was that of customer service – answering emails from customers about the various products on our site (“no ma’am, even if you tell me how big your breasts are in centimeters I cannot tell you what bra size you should order…”). Eventually, I transitioned from that to translation checking.
We had a fairly large amount of translation to be done. We sent out the majority of it to freelance translators; we’d give them a certain amount and a deadline, they would turn it in, and then someone would have to look over the translations to make sure that they were correct, fix any possible errors, and try to unify these translations we got from several different people into the site’s standard. When I first started working, the site didn’t really have a standard – I don’t know if I was the first native English speaker to work there, but at the time I joined the English Team was composed of two other employees – a Japanese lady (U-san), and a lady from Hong Kong (A-san). I suppose the Japanese lady could speak English…but in the however many months that we worked together, I never heard her speak English, not even once. Even just looking around the site, at products or even informational pages, it was easy to tell that the English hadn’t been written by a native English speaker. Lots of spelling and grammatical errors, and a few things that would have made a worthy addition to Engrish.com.
Most of our outsource translators were Japanese – not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but these particular translators…their English translation level just wasn’t that good. When checking translations, aside from being grammatically odd, there were plenty of times when I just didn’t understand what was being said in English. I had to re-write much of the translations, and in some cases, I had to re-translate it from scratch. It occurred to me that the time I spent checking and correcting the outsource translations was just as much, if not more than the time it would take me to just translate the file myself. So I asked my supervisor, who at the time was in charge of the English outsource translations, and subsequently our company president, to stop using the vast majority of our freelance translators. While we looked for more competent translators, I would pick up the slack on my end.
I suppose I could have settled for “just good enough.” Just worry about catching spelling mistakes or bad translations, and let the non-native feel and unnatural grammar slide. That certainly would have been a lot easier. But, I had a lot of pride in my job and the company, and professionally I didn’t want to put that out there. Japan is known for broken English, and we foreigners love to laugh at all the mistakes and wonder why they couldn’t just drag even one foreigner off the street and ask “Hey, is this English OK?” This company did have a native English speaker, so there was no reason why they should be publishing mistaken English. I didn’t want to let that happen.
In an ideal situation, my vision might have worked. In an ideal situation. Of course, reality always proves to be very far from the ideal. Our English Team went from 3 members to 2 as U-san quit just a few months after I’d joined the company. She cited “not agreeing with the company’s policies” or something like that as her reasons – at the time, I didn’t really understand why she was quitting. Although the lady from Hong Kong, A-san, was still there, she could only work until 3:30, 4PM at the latest. She had two young daughters – 6 and 4 years old, and she had to go home to pick them up from nursery school and take care of them. These were the conditions that she was hired on, and I certainly couldn’t find any fault with that – she was a mother before anything else, and one day when I have kids of my own I plan to be a father before anything else as well. However, with A-san leaving early, it meant that anything and everything else English related fell on my shoulders. As she put it, “the English Team is at 1.5 members right now.”
Sometime around November/December-ish, we got the translation data for the spring fashion lines. I guess spring and fall are the major new clothes seasons, so there was a lot of data. As we only had one or two freelance translators who could be trusted to not write broken English, I assumed responsibility for the vast majority of it. It was a volume that, ideally, would have been divided up among 5-6 translators. Despite the daunting amount, I should have been able to do it all with no problems. What I forgot to take into account however, was that I was now responsible for almost everything English within the company. This included a lot of internal translation as well – it was common to have people literally lining up at my desk to tell me about the English translation they needed to have done as soon as possible. As a result, I didn’t have nearly as much time as I’d calculated to work on the product translations during normal working hours.
So I ended up having to do overtime. Lots of it. Only after other people started to go home could I actually work on a project uninterrupted. More than that, I just didn’t have the time. My working hours officially ended at 6PM, but I often stayed until 8, 9, 10, and even past 11PM, catching the last train home. I brought translations home, and would wake up in the middle of the night after my wife had fallen asleep in order to make progress. I worked on them on the weekends, and even went to work on the weekend a few times. I had become the dreaded Japanese salaryman – I spent more time in front of my work computer than anywhere else.
Amazingly enough, I was actually okay with this. The long hours were tough, sure, but I actually liked my job. I was glad to no longer be an English teacher anymore – I felt like I’d broken the mold and was inching closer to the adult world. I was being entrusted with these tasks, so I wanted to succeed and reward the trust that had been placed in me. I also still liked my co-workers, including my supervisor and the company president, I liked the goals of the company, and I wanted to see them – I wanted to see us – succeed. I also assumed that this was not a permanent thing – the president promised that as soon as the storm of activity passed we’d start hiring new freelance translators, and hopefully someone to work in-house as well.
So, I weathered the storm, and in January things seemed to clear up. There were a lot of bumps and bruises and a few missed deadlines here and there, but I got all the projects done. As he said he would, the president gave me the OK to put out ads for translators. I was able to add some really skilled individuals to our list of freelance translators. And we got another native English speaker to work in-house – an Australian guy who’d come all the way from Hokkaido to work here. The president, my supervisor, and everyone else seemed really appreciative of everything I’d done – I got a pay raise, and became the “English Division Director.” Things were definitely looking up.
Little did I know, the worst was yet to come…
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