Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lost in translation

The last place I worked required the occasional use of simultaneous language translation. The people that performed that feat of intellectual strength were true professionals - able to shift among several languages at leisure and without pause, provide an accurate translation of both the literal and figurative content of the speech, and maintain a rapid clip for hours at a time.

Over the last two days I have been taking a course, taught only in Portuguese, that is required before I am allowed access to the Brazilian off-shore oil rigs where I will be working for several weeks over the next few months. Fortunately, my American colleague and I were provided the services of a professional translator to accompany us throughout the training. Unfortunately, I have come to realize that not all translators are created equally, and apparently the ones I had grown accustomed to were a few shades better than my new Brazilian friend.

Imagine watching a Portuguese safety film on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but replace the wise cracking human in the audience with Alex Trebec. That basically summarizes my last 2 days of training. Our interpreter doesn’t want to bother us with any of the unnecessary details; however, he is happy to provide his own personal running commentary, which may or may not be related to the ongoing discussion of the class. He does ask the teacher questions. He responds to questions as well. While he has apparently deemed those particular areas of discussion to be worthy of his own personal inquiry and/or response, they nonetheless fail to rise to the level of details that might be of importance to us.

Why Alex Trebec, you may be wondering? Have you noticed how Alex will condescendingly give the correct question to an answer that one of the Jeopardy contestants has incorrectly posed? Have you noticed the tacit implication that he actually knew the answer himself, and that the card he read it from was simply a reminder of the obvious? Well, our translator occasionally quizzes us with questions based on what the instructor has just presented in Portuguese, in a very Trebecian manner, as if the instructor had just reminded him of his recent treatise on the why fire burns. Handy.

However, the crowning moment was this morning. This morning was firefighter training. We learned to fight fires. Real fires – the kind that are burning nearby and quite hot. It was probably bad enough that we didn’t understand any of the words spoken by the instructors that were telling us how to fight fires. But at least we could watch, make some assumptions, and learn reasonably well by example. Then we had an exercise where we were in a small, enclosed room – that was on fire – and had to put the fire out. Small enclosed rooms on fire are very smoky. Consequently, we learned a three person protocol for quenching the fire by crawling under the smoke and hitting it with an extinguisher. Our team was me, my American colleague, and our esteemed translator. We gave him the bitch job – hand us the fire extinguisher when we call for it. So, the room is set on fire, I carefully open the door after checking for heat, then check for backdraft or explosion, crawl on my stomach around the door to note the location of the fire, and crawl ¾ of my body length into the room under the smoke. My colleague crawls ¾ into the room on the floor facing me, and then calls for the fire extinguisher. Then waits. Then swears loudly (we can swear loudly and freely, since we do so in English). Moments later, as I was trying to suck oxygen from the 5 mm of clean air still hovering above the floor, the translator pops his head around the corner and asks if we need the extinguisher yet. More obscenities ensue, coupled with what I hope was a clearly communicated message that it was indeed an excellent time to hand us the extinguisher. Several seconds later the fire was extinguished, in English, and I finished sucking the residual oxygen out of the dead space in my shirt.

Oh, and a shout out to Trout for providing the soundtrack to this trip so far. I mentioned recently that my aged music collection was growing stale. He burned me a half dozen mix CDs which I then proceeded to rip directly onto my MP3 player and have played linearly, upon need, since my arrival. Each track is a mystery – all aptly named Track X, where X is as number between 1 and whatever – but the quality of the music has been uniformly exceptional, and has always been oddly fitting to whatever situation I’ve been in while listening.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Macae' out my hotel window

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Copacabana Beach

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Thank you I'll take 3!

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