Xiao Qiu has grown up and is now ready to make her way through the working world. This path that she’s on will soon make her collide with someone she’s been forcing herself to forget. But first, we’ll see how well Xiao Qiu fares in the real world.
On July 1st, I took the written translation exam of Jiu Tong’s for the first time. Jiu Tong Firm was located in the Yong Kang building in Dongcheng district. It filled the entire eleventh and twelfth floors. Behind the building was a large golf course. The air was clean and fresh, the surroundings were beautiful, and there were rarely any cars. It was the office location of my dreams. And clearly, I was not the only one who thought so. The were as many as fifty people who took the written exam with me. I heard that there were more than a hundred who applied and everyone here were chosen through the first round where human resources decided the outcome by our resumes. They actually only needed two translators, so one can imagine that the competition was intense. The written exam was particularly difficult. After the exam, many people grumbled about not being able to finish. I barely finished, but I couldn’t guarantee the quality of it. When I came out, a girl from Beijing Normal University asked me, “That ‘霜皮溜雨四十围，黛色参天两千尺’, how did you translate it?”
“The rimy bark, slippery with rain, is forty spans around. And kingfish-blue hues, high up into the sky, two thousand feet above.” I said.
She looked at me and pursed up her lips in a smile, “Why did you use kingfish-blue? Isn’t it just blackness?”
“Umber-black (黛色) is not completely black (黑色). Umber-black is a nature black (青黑), which means it’s blueblack.” [This is one out of the many places in the novel that I’m not even going to attempt to correct the author’s translation.]
“Then why don’t you use blueblack, and instead used kingfish-blue?”
I didn’t answer and chuckled.
“I understand now,” she said, “you’re showing off, right? Mmm, I more or less translated it the same as you, but I didn’t completely abide by the original lexeme.”
“The best part about classical Chinese poems is their antithesis, so I tried not to alter the lexeme as much as possible. I prefer literal translations.”
We walked down the long hallway together. She suddenly said, “Don’t you think that this exam this time was a bit strange? First, we had to translate a tender document. Then, we had to translate classical Chinese. We’re not taking an exam for a doctorate. It’s not worth it right?”
I put up my hand, “I solemnly agree. The person who came up with the exam must be a sadist. I’ve never seen such a depressing exam.”
After saying this, I saw her stealthily signal at me with her eyes and quietly coughed. I turned around and saw a young man, in a ironed suit, with a yellow tie, standing behind me. He had a file in his hands and was looking at me in a baffled way.
I said to him while chewing gum, “This student, are you also here to take the exam?”
He coldly said, “No.”
And then, he ignored me and went directly into the elevator, disappearing.
Our eyes follow him as he left. That girl made an exaggerate “wow” sound, pretending to be infatuated, “Who was that man just now. He was so cool!”
Even though the time I had with Li Chuan wasn’t very long, I had already become immune to all other handsome men. I had been so madly in love with him that I frequently turned on the lamp in the middle of the night to secretly look at his sleeping face.
The next day, the company called to notify me and nine others to participate in a one-on-one oral exam. My spoken English has always been my strong suit. When I was with Li Chuan, I would frequently get pointers from him so I became more and more strong at it. Plus, I spent several years working at the café and chatting with the foreign customers.
My written exam grade wasn’t actually that good, but Jiu Tong was very satisfied with my spoken English. Two days later, with the last three competitors, I went to see their CEO, Xiao Guan.
While I wasn’t too familiar with the translator world, but I had still heard of the name Xiao Guan. He was born into an academic family. His parents were both professors in the English Department of Beijing University. His father graduated from the University of Oxford and his mother was a older classmate of Professor Ping Jie Liang. Their names often appeared in English course books. When he was younger, Xiao Guan worked in the foreign branch of the nation’s newspaper for a long time as a translator. Afterwards, he founded a company, this one. I heard that business went smoothly and after a few years, it was built up. Of course besides translation service, with the backing of his uncle, a huge Hong Kong business man, he also stepped into real estate and other investments. Currently Jiu Tong had twenty-seven branches around the country. He had an extremely outstanding track record and was named one of the ten most outstanding “young entrepreneurs” in this city.
When I saw Xiao Guan for the first time, I became discouraged on the inside. So he was the guy who stared at me behind me yesterday. He looked to be twenty-eight. He had a sharp, calm, and elegant manner about him. He had a scholarly look about him, not like an entrepreneur. It was just as Professor Feng said, he did business in a cultured and refined way.
“You are Xie Xiao Qiu.” He said slowly while sitting in an executive chair, “Professor Feng made two calls to me to recommend you.”
I didn’t know about this. I had only told Professor Feng that I was applying for Jiu Tong in passing. As expected, he was a good old fellow, helping me take of things wordlessly.
I looked at him, knowing that the exam had definitely been written by him. So I started calculating inside how much hope I still had. I said, “I inadvertently entered through the back door.”
“Professor Feng spoke very highly of you, but he also warned me that even though you mastered the field, you had some shortcomings. What exactly those shortcomings were, he wouldn’t say. But he did say I would know after just looking at you.”
I knew that the Xiao family and the Feng family were long time friends. The two families went through the Cultural Revolution hand in hand. Feng Jing Er had been calling Xiao Guan, Ge Ge, since she was a child.
“I don’t have much shortcomings.” I said, “You will definitely be able to tolerate my shortcomings.”
He stood up from his office chair and walked to the window and sized me up, “Has anyone told you what clothes you should wear to an interview?”
I was dressed casually. In fact, I had just recently bought this most expensive set I own. It was a bit too brightly-colored. When paired with the woolen long skirt, I looked a lot like Sanmao. I thought that my outfit was in accordance with the Bohemian personality that I sought. Actually, for the past two days I had worn a normal suit. It was just that this time, since I had to compete with the final students from famous schools and my qualifications and achievements did not stand out, I purposely thought of this haphazard plan to beat out the others through surprise.
“Mr. Wang from human resources says that the main job of this position is written translation and everything is to be completed on a computer. Basically, there is no need to come face to face with clients. Plus,” I bit my lip, “I only have one suit that I wear every time. Wouldn’t you guys get tired of it if you see it everyday?”
He probably thought that my explanation was pretty true, so he dropped the subject.
“Also, why do you have so many earrings in your ear? It looks so troublesome even to me. Do you really not think them troublesome?”
Are you choosing by ability or looks? That thought rised to my throat and I had to swallow it down. My reply was brief and to the point, “Fate has been unfavorable to me in recent years. My life has been full of trouble and misfortune. So I found a fortune teller who said I was missing the metal of the five phases.” [Five phases of Chinese philosophy: Wood, fire, earth, metal, water.]
He was silent for a while. I thought that he could finally spare me. Unexpectedly, he said, “Who told you that you could chew gum during an interview.”
“I was nervous.”
“You, nervous?” He said stoically, “You were the first to turn in your exam, right?”
The comment hit upon my sore spot. The exam paper that day clearly stated that there were 120 minutes for the exam. I handed my exam in after that much time even though I knew I had many imperfect answers. To my surprise, the others all said that they weren’t done yet and refused to turn in their papers. In the end, the exam period was dragged on for more than ten minutes.
“I merely turned the test in on time.”
I hated myself. I clearly had a problem. Why did I contradict everything he said?
“Okay,” he looked at his watch and said, “besides these, what are your other shortcomings?”
“There’s no more.”
“You know,” he hesitated before saying, “the four remaining differ very little in terms of education and achievements. We can choose whichever one of you and it’ll be fine. We will naturally choose someone who is easy to associate with.”
“I’m extremely easy to associate with.” I said, “I swear, besides my odd clothes, I am loved by all.”
“Uh-huh.” He nodded, strolled back to his chair, sat down, and drew a mark on my file with a pen, “You can start work tomorrow. We have just received a few contracts recently. The English department is particularly lacking in people. Do you have an English name?”
“Every English translator who works here is required to have an English name especially those whose pinyin name contains X or Q.”
I was XXQ. (Xie Xiao Qiu)
“Xiao Qiu isn’t too hard for foreigners, is it?” I hid a subtle implication in this.
“It won’t do.” He was resolute.
“Then, please give one to me.”
“Annie, how is that?”
“Okay.” How fake sounding. He might as well have called me Annie baby (Chinese author).
My office was on the eleventh floor, number 1107, in the English department. The person who shared the room with me was another girl who came into the company at the same time as me, Tang Yu Lian. Even though there were only two of us in the office, we faced the windows. The walls were soundproof, but one side was completely glass. So no matter what you are doing, everyone outside can see.
Tang Yu Lian wasn’t too tall. Her features were very exquisite. I thought it had a bit of Annie Yi to it.
I joked with her, “Hey, are you Annie Yi’s younger sister?”
She laughed, exposing her spotless white teeth and the tiny dimples in her cheeks, “I hate Annie Yi. Everyone says I look like her. Every time I go to karaoke, I’m forced to sing her songs.”
“You’re prettier than Annie Yi.” I turned on my computer. “Really.”
“The training this morning was really exhausting. That Chief Xiao can really speak. I wanted to go to the bathroom early on, but after seeing his serious face, I was scared to go. It was really tormenting.” She complained.
“Me too. I kind of wanted to put on headphones and listen to music. After thinking about it, I didn’t dare. Oh, that’s right, that director of the English department is really pretty.”
“She is Xiao Guan’s current girlfriend. You must do well, otherwise she’ll tell on you to him.”
“Current girlfriend?” I asked, “You’ve just gotten here, how do you know?”
“My classmate is in the French department and frequently gossips.
“Classmate Xiao Guan is both young and rich, and accomplished. He’s had countless girlfriends before, all who voluntarily threw themselves at him. Even the current one, Director Tao Xin Ru, chased after him. A few days ago Chief Xiao had stomach problems and had to be hospitalized. Even though Tao Jie Jie isn’t Cantonese, she studied how to make soup for him. Sigh, hopefully it’s not a one sided love.”
“No wonder I didn’t see you at noon for lunch. So you went to listen to gossip.” I laughed, “I have Nestle coffee. Why don’t you have a cup too.”
The educated all had a habit of taking a siesta, but Jiu Tong had a rule that there was only one hour for lunch at noon.
“Okay, okay, let’s start working.” She handed the pile of documents in her hands to me. “There are for you. You must finish them on time, otherwise we’ll be breaking a contract.”
I didn’t sit down, and instead went directly to make two cups of coffee.
When I got back, I saw Tang Yu Lian typing at lightening speed on her computer. I fished out a huge Webster Dictionary from my bag and asked her, “You don’t need a dictionary?”
“I have the newest version of Jinshan Dictionary. My computer is filled with all kinds of translation software.”
I wanted to ask her to also make me a copy. I thought about it and didn’t say anything. I shouldn’t so casually ask for help. She pointed to a usb on the table saying, “Here! It’s all in here, take it and install it. Whether you believe it or not, it’s pretty useful.”
She had a very small Sony laptop. I didn’t have a laptop. I only used the computers in the school’s computer room or at the internet cafe. My homework was always handwritten. That’s right, I was still in the era of manual labor. When I entered the company, I felt happy when I saw that everyone had a desktop and a 19 inch Dell monitor.
I opened the file and finally understood why that Xiao Guan would pose such maddening exam questions.
My main task was to translate the auctioning handbooks for several auctions. Everything on there was Chinese antiques: calligraphy, paintings, seals, furniture, jade artifacts, ancient bronze artifacts, etc. Every one of the items had a huge block of text explaining in detail the source of the object and the worth. Within the explanations, paragraphs cited strange and prominent ancient classical Chinese. It was unavoidable.
I couldn’t help but raise my head and ask, “Hey, Yu Lan, what are you translating?”
She was typing madly on her computer and without raising her head, said, “Tender documents. Engineering tender documents. You?”
“Auction handbooks. It’s so depressing.”
Tender document work was more commonly seen here. I had heard about it before, so when I was applying for the job, I especially looked over a whole bunch of engineering related vocab.
“Fortunately that work wasn’t assigned to me,” she said, “My classical Chinese is not good. I don’t even understand the Chinese, how could I translate it into English? I heard that these handbooks are first translated by the lower employees, then after that, the department director reviews them before handing them off to Chief Xiao to take another look. It’s clear how worried he is about them. All other documents, like tender documents and so on, are delivered after the director reviews them.”
I downed half a cup of coffee and took the first handbook into my hand. There were ten antique items. Bada Shanren’s drawings, Emperor Huizong’s painting of birds and flowers and so on. The first one was a set of jade seals of Emperor Qianlong. Every seal had inscriptions on all sides. I translated for a whole morning. I flipped through the original source, Hanyu Da Dictionary, Chinese classical dictionary, and the Lin Yu Tang’s online dictionary, over and over again before coming up with the translation for one part of it.
The contract said that it had to translated in 15 days. I had to finish within ten days and hand over the draft for examination.
In these ten days, I averaged only four hours of sleep. I was so strained that I didn’t even have the time to take a shower. On the morning of the tenth day, I handed over an electronic and a hardcopy version to Director Tao Xin Ru of the English department. She spent a whole day proofreading it for me and then had me make corrections before handing it over to Xiao Guan to take a final look.
Tao Xin Ru didn’t change too much. She changed a some of my adjectives to sound even more ancient. She deserved the director title. She really did have the skills.
I delivered the draft to Xiao Guan. After an hour, he sent an email back with the first page containing lots of modifications on the terms and syntax.
Xiao Guan made a phone call over, “I’m only correcting the first page. Go research what problems there are yourself. And then, fix the rest of them before sending to me again.”
I spend a whole night researching his corrections and then spent another whole day modifying the draft before sending him the third draft.
The third draft was quickly sent back. He made many changes on the second page I translated, and then said to follow the guidelines to fix the remaining pages.
I continued making changes until the day before the deadline. I had changed it five times from beginning to end before he passed my draft.
The next day, when I saw him at lunch, my face was green.
“Do you understand my standards now?” He said, idly looking at me.
“Your standard is perfect.” I answered listlessly.
“Your classical Chinese foundation is pretty good. Were you in the Chinese Department?”
“My father studied in the Chinese Department of Fudan University.”
“So that means, you were taught at home?”
“Not really, maybe just a little.”
He gazed at me and eventually said a relatively gentle thing, “I’ll give you a day of vacation. Go home and rest.”
“Will I still be paid.”
“There’s even a bonus.” He patted my shoulder unexpectedly, “Well done, Annie.”
I translated auction handbooks for a whole two months. Each time, I had to change the drafts several times. It felt like I was nearly on the brink of madness. The hardest was ceramics. To my surprise, inside, there was a lengthy introduction of the process of firing porcelain in the Song dynasty. I didn’t dare refuse to do them, but I was secretly grumbling to myself for days. Every time I met with a difficult translation, I gloomily went downstairs to the trash bin by the back door to smoke.
When I turned my head, I would see Yu Lan still smoothly and easily translating tender documents, contracts, and other routine documents. It was quick and good, her hands continuously typed on the keyboard. The sound traveled to my ears.
After two months, things finally changed for the better for me. I also started translating tender documents and contracts. These documents pertained to law and the requirement for the quality of translations were extremely high. Every detail had to be accurate. I translated it for two months and became considerably familiar with the vocabulary. One day, Tao Xin Ru suddenly called me to go to her office.
“Annie,” she indicated for me to sit and said, “you’ve been doing very well in your job. Yesterday, Chief Xiao personally suggested to make you full-time in advance. Starting from now, you are no longer on the trial period. Instead, you will receive all the benefits of a full-time employee.”
I said, “Thank you for looking after me, director.”
She hesitated before saying, “Chief Xiao has recently been discussing a large contract. A company needs to take a few of our translators to work in-house. The employee will still belong to Jiu Tong, but the salary will be paid by them. They need people urgently and gave us a high price. Of course, their standards for translators are very high. The reward given is equivalently impressive. Of course, we didn’t want to let our people go, so we suggested that, in a five day work week, three days will be over there and two days will be back here at headquarters. They didn’t agree because there were many trade secrets involved in the documents that need to be translated. So they suggested that the translators stay with them for two years and are also required to sign a nondisclosure agreement.”
“Chief Xiao recommended you from the English department.” She said insipidly, “I really hate to do this, but the company doesn’t want to ruin it’s reputation. Are you willing to go?”
“The pay over there is 1.7 times more than here. You’ll have all the benefits the employees there have. Free lunches, expensed taxis, medical insurance, and ten days of vacation a year.”
For a young person who had just started working, Jiu Tong’s treatment was already really good. They were really attractive conditions.
I was just about to say something before Tao Xin Ru continue, “Of course, we hope that, if you have time, you will also take care of some work here. We might have some urgent translations that we’ll trouble you to do. There won’t be much. We’ll pay double the compensation. After all, you are still our employee. After two years, you don’t have to worry about your position, you can come back at any time.”
I thought about it. I had just come. Even if I was extremely outstanding, I couldn’t already be at the point where I could represent the company. It was a cushy job and not one where one has to suffer. Everyone would compete for it. Why did the one to be seat have to be me?
“Are you willing to go?”
I nodded, “I am willing to comply with the headquarters’ arrangement.”
And then, I suddenly remembered a crucial question. How could I have not asked? “Oh, that’s right, what company is it?”
“A Swiss architecture company, CGP Architects. Their original English translator got married and went aboard with an F2 visa. Now the position is empty.”
I didn’t know if my face had any color left. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t get it out, “CGP Architects?”
“You’ve probably heard of it. CGP and four other architectural firms are all currently in the process of competing for a huge construction project in C city of Wenzhou. It involves planning for three vacation resorts, ten housing projects, and five villas.
“The boss of CGP is a foreigner?” I felt that my tone was trembling.
“It’s not.” Tao Xin Ru looked a little annoyed. Because I clearly appeared to be not too happy, she said, “The chairman is name Jian Hao Tian.”
“Then it’s settled. I will report back to Chief Xiao in a bit and you can come over to sign the contract.” She suddenly looked at me in a meaningful way, “I heard that Chief Xiao invited you to eat dinner at Fu Gui Villa last weekend?”
“Because of the auction handbooks matter. He said that I did pretty well. It opened up a good relationship. As a result of it the auction company signed a long term contract with Jiu Tong. He hoped that I would continue to put effort into things regarding the auction company.”
That day, Xiao Guan invited me to a meal alone. After a few drinks, he said a few things he shouldn’t have that I played a deaf-mute to and dodged. Therefore, it was definitely cannot be said that Xiao Guan “strongly recommended” me to enter CGP.
“Mmm.” She looked at her watch and said, “You can leave.”