There was a time that I thought I might be able to earn a comfortable living by translating and proofreading. The idea was that when I had gained enough contracts and had a reliable clientele list, I would no longer be confined to bricks and mortar. I would be able to work anywhere so long as I had my MacBook Pro and a good Internet connection, say in Beirut’s Centré Ville, or in a kneipe in Hamburg, on even a lanai overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii.
For a while it worked. Whenever I traveled, I could still do some translation work. While I was in Rome visiting a sister, I would bang out a page of translation, do some writing, then around lunchtime go out and wander the city. I did it again while in Oregon for a month-long visit with family. But then, the novelty wore off, and though I was not confined to a cubicle, like a broiler hen, I was still tethered to a master, many of them, who were demanding and selfish. They would take their time getting a draught off to you, only to request that it be returned within a few days’ time. Before long, I was working through weekends. I was working late into the night nearly every night after my day job finished. And worst, because the deadlines forced me to prioritize the translation work, I seldom got my own writing done.
And so, after a year of translating, I threw in the towel.
Today, I only translate things in which I have a personal interest or jobs, which come to me from friends or students, people to whom I can’t easily say “No”.
One of the funny things about the work is that I often get the same job from different people. Fukuoka City Hall will renew its homepage, say, and ask a local translator to do the translation. Even though the changes will be relatively minor, they will have the whole thing redone all the same, and because rules are rules, they are obliged to ask a different translator to do the work regardless the translator’s ability as a Japanese to English translator. And because I teach many of the translators and interpreters working in this city, the job of proofreading invariably falls to me.
Let me note that I don’t merely proofread these translations; I do an major overhaul of the text, editing and rewriting it to such an extent that the finished product often bares little resemblance to what had been handed over to me. More often than not, the translation is so awful that I am obliged to request the original Japanese text and translate it myself. Needless to say, it can be time-consuming and poorly compensated work. Hence, my desire to distance myself from these jobs.
Sometimes, however, I just can’t say, “No”.
A month ago, I reluctantly accepted a proofreading job which quickly morphed into a translation job. We were putting together a book for foreign residents living in the city of Yanagawa. It instructed foreigners on how to register their domicile, what documents are needed when getting married, how to open a bank account, and so on.
The work was seemingly endless and needed so much re-working that the woman who had asked for my help was guilt-ridden by the time we completed the translation. As an act of contrition she paid me handsomely for the work and gave me an exceptionally good bottle of shōchū.
“I don’t drink myself,” she said meekly, “so I asked the clerk at the department store to recommend a bottle.”
One sip of Satsuma Fuji and all was forgiven.
薩摩富士 (Satsuma Fuji)