There I was in the thick of things in Beijing in May 1989 and then back in Kunming as the events unfolded in the capital. Work as a Mandarin Interpreter has delivered some exciting moments since, but back in 1989 with my career just starting out, it was dramatic and scary.
Let’s backtrack a bit. As one of the top graduates in my year at Yunda (Yunnan University) and hailing from a regional city in the Yunnan countryside, I was considered very lucky to secure a prized position in the local education department for the province – working as an interpreter and translator. Life was very different back then – graduates had jobs allocated and dormitory accommodation and canteens were part of the ‘iron rice bowl’, however I was fortunate not to be sent back to the regional centre and to remain in the capital city – Kunming.
At that time overseas travel was a rarity, yet I was chosen to accompany my vice minister and a couple of university vice chancellors on a trip to the UK as their interpreter and to explore the education system in the UK. An enduring memory of delicious baked beans is still with me today! Anyway, that’s when I found myself back in Beijing laden with some goodies from the trip – mainly electronics that we were allowed to purchase on an overseas trip, plus some goodies (including baked beans) from the Friendship Store, for foreign friends back in Kunming, which I had to have permission to procure.
With the dramatic student protests escalating, I was glad to get on the plane back on the day when martial law was declared. Students were protesting in Kunming too but nothing like what we saw in Beijing. When I mention these events to Chinese staff and children of friends living in Australia, today many of them know nothing of the Tian’anmen ‘Incident’.
My career as an Interpreter/Translator and later promotion to Section Chief saw me in charge of Foreign Affairs (foreign teachers and overseas students in the province) and despatched to various parts of China for regular meetings and on trips with foreigners to exotic destinations like Xishuangbanna and Lijiang. On my trusty Flying Pigeon off to a university for a welcome to foreign experts, or interpreting for a presentation dinner to a visiting group of foreigners, little did I know where my translating career would take me.
Having graduated with a degree in English Language and Literature (including translation training), working as a Translator and Interpreter was highly regarded and afforded many opportunities. I later migrated to Australia and assumed that this career would also be easy to pursue! Not so – not to mention that there wasn’t much interest in China or Chinese Language back then. I had thought about teaching, but when the Victorian Department of Education approved my application to teach English, I questioned my employment prospects and my dream turned to translation. It seemed that without any training in Australia, with little knowledge of Australian circumstances, and with no NAATI (translation/interpreting) qualifications, I needed to pursue more study. Still on the treadly, I enrolled at Victoria College (now Deakin Uni) and completed a postgrad Dip in T/I and the requisite NAATI qualifications to launch my Australian career in the field.
Still on the treadly, I pedalled around to frequent interpreting assignments in police stations, courts, tribunals and meetings; the opportunity to teach Chinese and offer cross-cultural training in response to growing interest in China helped my clients on many fronts. Chin Communications was established in 1992 and 30 years later we are still delivering training services while the interpreting and translating has taken me to every continent on earth (except Antarctica – I’m open to offers though!)
Nothing as dramatic as the events of Beijing nearly 30 years ago. As a Mandarin Interpreter and Translator the work has offered some wonderful highlights – from the Andes Mountains to the Parthenon , more baked beans in Capetown and even on the China breakfast buffet these days.