Saturday, April 18, 2015

Feng Shui and Translation Breakthroughs

I'm considering the similarity between understanding something in a foreign language and moving some bookshelves in my apartment.  
I'll start with the bookshelves.
I held a meeting in my office last week with the other manager and supervisors of my unit.  It was the second of the two meetings we have each week.  The topic was, as it has been quite a bit recently, "What do we do to make the goal?"  
Before the meeting started, the Associate Manager of Production, a woman from Thailand, turned around in her chair.  She looked at the stack of computer boxes and toner cartridges I had stacked there in front of the slender window that was next to the door itself.  
"You should move those."  She looked back at me as she pointed at the boxes.  "If you move them we make goal."  
"Huh?"  I looked at the boxes, which had been there for weeks, and then back at her.  "You're joking."  
"No.  It no joke.  It Feng Shui."  She was now wagging her finger at the boxes.  "You not block doors or windows.  You move the boxes, we make the goal."  
The Invoicing supervisor, a young woman from Laos, immediately agreed.  So emphatically did she agree that I had the feeling she had been wanting to say something about it for the entire time but had kept quiet.  
I looked at the two other supervisors, both men, one from Iran, the other Filipino, I think.  They were smiling at me as if they were in on the joke and had been told to keep quiet.  
"You know Feng Shui?  It..."  
"Yeah, yeah.  I know what it is.  It's that Chinese thing about how you're supposed to lay out your house to let..."  I searched my recollection for the proper terms, failed, and fell back on liberal, spiritual, babble-terms.  "Positive energy into your home."  
"And putting things before windows, they block it.  Move it.  Move it now."  She began waving at me to get up and obey.  The guys started laughing.  The supervisor from Laos nodded along with her.  The Associate Manager was the youngest of eight kids.  Her older brothers had taught her how to box, and then made money matching her in the ring with other neighborhood kids, betting on her.  
Not wanting to go toe to toe with her over something like that, and figuring I couldn't get the meeting started until I gave in, I got up and pulled the boxes from the window and made a place for them along the wall where I stored the toner cartridges for the office.  I then started the meeting, going over the numbers which seemed to be telling us that we had little chance of making the goal that day.  
But we did.  The next day, too.  
"See?  I tell you."  The Associate Manager was wagging her finger at me again as she was about to leave on Friday for a long weekend, having planned to take Monday and Friday off for her birthday.  "Feng Shui.  You unblock door or window, we make goal." 
"I don't think that Chinese mysticism had anything to do with us making the goal."  She laughed at me.  I left, thinking.  
I had another thing open up for me.  A line from an audio blog that's in Japanese.  When I take my 30 minute walk at lunch, I listen to the blog and try to translate it.  I've spent an entire week on one blog because of one line that just didn't make sense to me.  The sentence was this: 
実を言うと私にとって眠れない夜はベレー帽の似合うおスモウ取りくらいに珍しい のです。
The frustrating thing about this sentence is that I understand, or at least recognize all the different parts.  A literal, phrase by phrase translation would be: 
To say the truth, concerning me, about nights I can't sleep, a beret's looking good sumo wrestler taking about is rare. 
Uh...  Yeah.  
Thinking I had to have some word or phrase wrong, I broke down and went to the blog's website and downloaded a copy of the transcript.  I discovered that the line was from a novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, and that I had the words in Japanese more or less correct.  OK.  No help, since I hadn't known about the novel prior to getting the blog transcript.  
I finally decided to try something that almost never helps me figuring out Japanese, except for the most simple and straightforward instances.  I entered the line in Google Translate.  While good for telling me what individual kanji or short phrases might me, the program usually fails when more complicated sentences are entered.  I copied and pasted the sentence there, and this is what it told me it meant: 
Sleepless night for me to tell you the truth I unusual in much your sumo wrestler to become a beret.
Oh, Crap!  I get it!
We made the goal on Monday, while the Associate Manager was out.  We didn't on Tuesday, though.  But, that might have been because I bought some cases of bottled water.  
Monday, the water in our lunch room was out.  All day.  They had to call a plumber, who came on Tuesday.  
Tuesday I bought three cases of bottled water for the people in my department.  I'm one of those people who gets thirsty just by knowing there's no water to be had.  From the reaction of the employees I manage, there were several others like me.  
I stacked the water by the door, so they could reach in and get a bottle when they wanted one.  I pushed it so it was next to the filing cabinet near the window.  It almost fit between the cabinet and the window.  Almost.  A sliver of one edge was in front of the door.  
We didn't make the goal Tuesday. 
When the Associate Manager came back to work and saw the bottles there, she turned on me.  
"What you do?  Do you not remember what I tell you?"  
"It's not blocking the window."  Then, more honestly, "Only one edge..."  
"Even that much..."  She held her thumb and forefinger close together, peering at me between her fingers like it was a gunsight.  "Block door.  Move water.  Put under your desk or something.  We not make goal because you block window again."  
"Okay.  OK."  Since the water was working in the lunch room, I moved the bottled water under my desk.  Our incoming was bad that morning.  I didn't see it making a difference.  
We made the goal that day.  And the next.  And the one after that.  
The scary thing is that I've been thinking about my personal life in terms of this blocking doors and windows thing.  And I'm thinking of doing something based on it.  
In my apartment, there is a door leading to the back walkway.  I rarely used it.  I kept it locked all the time.  For the past couple of years, I've not used it at all.  That's because, while moving things around in my bedroom, I decided to move a set of bookshelves in front of the door.  Doing so gave me more space, and since I wasn't using the door that much anyway...
"Feng Shui!"  
Hmm...  I'm hearing the Associate Manager's voice now.  I'm blocking a door.  A door I hardly ever use.  But I don't use that window in my office to look out much either.  
Yada-yada-yada!  This is silly.  There's no scientific basis to think that a blocked door will make THAT much of a difference.  Especially if it is a door I wasn't using anyway.  
Like Google translate.  I don't use it much, for the reasons I stated.  But...  This one time...  It worked.  For some reason, when I read its gobbledygook translation, something about it pointed to what I think, I'm pretty sure, is the correct translation: 
To tell the truth, when it comes to sleepless nights, they are as rare for me as seeing a sumo wrestler looking good in a beret.  
Yeah.  That's it.  I'm pretty sure.  
And, for some reason I can't explain, I have this feeling that if I move those shelves to that wall over there, by the bed, and unblock that door, something, somehow, somewhere, will open up for me.  
Call it Feng Shui.  Call it superstition.  Call it my gut.  I can't get it out of my head.  
So...  Because, uh...  Of safety!  Yes.  Because, in case the front of my apartment catches fire I'll need an escape route (good one), I'm going to unblock that door.
Once that's done, I'll open it and step through it.  And see if another one opens up after that.  


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