EAST ASIA PRACTICUM (CHINA & JAPAN)
Last October, I was privileged to be selected as one of the two Chinese interpreters accompanying a group of 22 students for a field research trip to Tokyo and Beijing (March 15-24, 2019), during which my colleague Tiffany and I provide simultaneous interpretation (Chinese to English) to the students visiting Beijing. The trip is part of the Seminar: Foreign Policy, Trade, and Security in East Asia, a GSIPM full-semester course instructed by Professor Tsuneo Akaha and Professor Wei Liang.
Experience in Japan
I have lived in Tokyo before coming to MIIS, so it felt great to come back! During the four days’ trip, we attended lectures by Japanese government officials, lawmakers, scholars, and diplomats in the National Institute for Defense Studies, Japanese Parliament, Trade Policy Bureau, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, and Foreign Ministry. Though there was no interpretation task on my part in Tokyo, I assisted two Japanese T&I colleagues Masako and Erika in their consecutive interpretation at the Parliament, because interpreters got each other’s back!
Revisiting Japanese perspective on East Asia political, economic, and security dynamics reminded me of the days when I was studying political science in Waseda University. Now looking back to my previous experience in Tokyo, I wish I had continued pursuing my master degree, as a deeper understanding of the field would be highly complimentary to my linguistic skills acquired at MIIS, and such a combination could enable me to handle the interpretation assignment more proficiently.
Experience in China
Compared to Tokyo, Beijing is bigger in size and population but smaller in per capita GDP among major indicators per capita. While this can mean longer distance to commute and more crowded trains and buses, the city’s taxi as well as public transportation charge much less, even negligible. Having said that, traveling in the mega city is not easy for a group of nearly 20 non-Chinese-speaking Americans. Thus, Chinese speakers like Professor Liang, Ellen, Jingtong, Adam, and me have played an important role in helping the others navigate in Beijing. Again, learning another language proves useful!
What else made the China part of the trip busier is our tightly scheduled visits arranged by Professor Liang, trying to let us be exposed to as many varieties of experience as possible, which indeed yielded positive results for the students as they talked to a number of leading Chinese scholars and high-level officials in their interesting research fields.
When it was the high time for the two Chinese interpreters to shine, my colleague Tiffany and I have provided the students with simultaneous interpretation into English at two prestigious Chinese universities – Peking University(PKU) and the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE).
In the 1.5-hour speech, we interpreted this senior PKU professor’s exhaustive review of China-Japan Relations dating back to the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, striving to help the U.S. graduates gain a comprehensive perspective on the two love-hate neighbors. The interpretation wouldn’t be successful without suggestions and help from Professor Liang, as she encouraged me to be familiar with Japanese Prime Ministers’ names and their China policy, and she made time to share with us the outline of the speech hours in advance in the early morning.
The two speakers in UIBE are veterans in the field of foreign trade, economic policymaking, and WTO studies. Both are extremely erudite and eloquent in Chinese, thus it was very challenging to get through not only their ideas but the underlying subtleness to the American audience. Other than that, one of the difficulties I met was to interpret a series of statistics on China’s foreign trade volume and growth in chronicle order since the Reform and Opening Up, when the speaker threw the data out of blue at the very start of his speech. It would be impossible to interpret those figures without my colleague Tiffany’s great help. Again, interpreters are each other’s keepers!
In the end, I want to express my gratitude to these lovely people for their understanding of our job and for their support extended to me throughout the entire trip, whether it’s about helping me carry the heavy interpretation equipment, or providing helpful feedback to my interpretation, or, last but not least, almost everyone was mindful of turning the interpretation receiver off to save batteries!