Hi blogosphere! I’ve recently just moved back to Taipei and am settling in quite nicely. Besides from running the usual errands that one has to run after being away from home for three years, I’ve also really dug into the book I’m currently translating. But I thought I would continue this three post series on my experience of freelancing in the United States. Click here to read the first post in this series.
At the beginning of May, I went on a crazy business trip to interpret at two events. A classmate of mine asked if I wanted to partner with him to interpret at Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. Berkshire Hathaway is a multinational holdings company based in Omaha, Nebraska and either wholly owns or has minority holdings in companies like GEICO, Diary Queen, See’s Candies, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo. According to Forbes, it’s the fifth largest public company in the world. The real kicker? The CEO, president, and chairman of the company is Warren Buffet.
Warren Freaking Buffet.
Did I want to partner with my friend and interpret at this event? Hell yeah, I did. There was no way I would pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The meeting was on a Saturday so we hopped on a flight to Omaha, Nebraska on Friday night. All the hotels in Omaha were already booked for the event so we had to stay in the next town over. It was almost 1am by the time we got to our hotel so we just went straight to bed. The next morning, the bus left the hotel at 6am to make the one hour drive to Omaha.
The Shareholders’ Meeting is actually a weekend-long event that takes place at the Century Link Conference Center in Omaha. Friday is usually an exhibition that features booths from all of the companies that Berkshire has shares in and shareholders are free to walk around and buy products. Since this year’s meeting was the 50th anniversary, there were also special dinners that were hosted at various restaurants around town.
Saturday was the main event: the six hour Q&A with Warren Buffet and his partner, Charlie Munger, the vice-president of Berkshire Hathaway. This was the part we were supposed to interpret. The vast majority of the shareholders sit in the main arena for this event. There are also meeting rooms scattered around the building that provide a livestream of the event for those who were not able to find seats in the main arena. There was a special meeting room reserved for the Chinese-speaking shareholders that required interpretation services.
And so, it began. And oh my goodness, it was the hardest material I have ever interpreted in my life and it will probably remain the hardest material I will ever interpret in my career. Buffet and Munger, one in his late 80’s and the other in his earlier 90’s, are still sharp as knives. Not only that, they are truly geniuses. The way their minds worked was just incredibly fast and they talked about anything and everything. So it was extremely hard on the interpreters because we had to follow their train of thought. There was much discussion on the history of the company since they wanted to look back on the past 50 years and there was so much reference to things that I had never even heard of before.
After the conference, my booth partner and I compared notes and we both found the difficulty level of this event to be even harder than ALL of the hardest materials we ever worked with while in school combined. COMBINED. That’s how utterly crazy hard the material was. But it was a wonderful learning experience and it showed me areas where I needed to work on. Just being physically present and soaking up everything that was happening around us was so exciting.
Immediately after we finished interpreting, we went straight to the airport to catch our flight back to LA. We got to LA and headed down to San Diego because we had another assignment for the next day. By the time we got to our hotel in San Diego, it was already 2am and we had gone 20 hours without sleep. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t be so bad, but we still had a full day of interpretation the next day.
The assignment we had in San Diego was the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Leadership Conference. Members from all around the world were sent by their regional chapters to attend workshops at this conference so they can learn how to expand their chapter. There were a few members of the China chapter that required interpretation, but they were in different workshops. Originally, the organizers wanted my booth partner and I to interpret separately, but we refused. Simultaneous interpretation requires us to rotate every 15-20 mins or else our brains would overload. So the organizers said we would be assigned to the workshops with the most Chinese listeners and a few of the Chinese-speaking staff members would interpret at the other workshops. I was skeptical this would work for them, but I couldn’t argue.
The material of this conference was much more straight-forward and everyday than the Berkshire material. But conference lasted two days and we were pretty exhausted by the end. We also had to deal with using portable equipment, having a hard time hearing the source, and having to interpret in noisy environments. We also experienced a speaker who spoke extremely fast and politely refused to slow down when we asked him to. At the end of the conference, the Chinese-speaking staff members that were interpreting at the other workshops came up to us and told us they didn’t realize simultaneous interpretation was this difficult until they had experienced it for themselves. I had to explain to them the rigorous graduate school training we had to complete in order to enter the field and also had to dispel the popular misconception that any bilingual individual would be able to interpret.
I personally felt that was one of the biggest achievements of the conference. Whenever we help clients realize that interpretation is truly a specialized profession and that we do more than just language conversion, we are helping the world to better understand what we do. And when clients better understand the services we provide, the more likely it is that interpreters will receive the treatment and compensation we deserve.
After three days on the road, I returned to LA exhausted but happy. I would never again be insane and book two back-to-back assignments but I was so grateful for this learning experience. Stay tuned for the third (and final) part of this series!