Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our First Translation Project

One morning, I was sitting in the downstairs area of the guest house where we were staying in Ping'An, waiting for the rest of the gang to come out so we could begin our day of hiking in the rice terraces.

Right across the way, there is a man who makes all kinds of products out of silver by hand...Bracelets, necklaces, rings...You name it. He had come by for a little while while we were eating dinner the night before with the Liao family. He had added a lively presence to the evening, with his booming voice and laughter, cigarette smoking, and rice alcohol drinking.

This morning, he had something more mentally challenging in mind. Knowing that we can get some things done in Chinese, he scribbled some characters down on a napkin. These characters describe the kind of work he does in his little shop.

His question? "Can you translate this into English for me, so that I can make a sign and hang it in my shop?"

I told him no problem, and this quickly became a joint family venture.

Before long, we knew what all of the keys elements were. There was 银, which is the character for "silver." Also present were 手 (hand) and other characters that emphasize the idea of "craftsmanship." And the character 真, which literally means "real," but we thought of as here referring to the genuine nature of the work and products.

With all of this in place, we quickly honed in on a rough set of possibilities...

Genuine Hand-Crafted Silver

Genuine Silver Hand Crafts

Genuine Silver Handicrafts

Do we let the word "genuine" modify the silver itself or the process by which the silver is turned into little treasures?

In the end, after a little arguing back and forth, we settled on Genuine Silver Handicrafts. Returning with this answer, we informed our merchant friend that this phrase would sound interesting and authentic to English-speaking passersby. (No Chinglish from the Balla family!)

Our feeling of satisfaction, of playing a small role in helping a local entrepreneur connect with travelers from around the world, was short-lived. The woman at the adjacent stall, apparently impressed with our effort, quickly came and brought us her business card. Our current task? Translate the whole thing, so she can print up an English version.

Wish us luck! We need it with this one!

~Steve

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