METRO PLUS

Links through language

From Chinese to English Rose, the translator

From Chinese to English Rose, the translator  

Rose Chen translates many corporate dreams into reality

The front glass of the nondescript shoe shop in Thousand Lights announces her trade. In plain B & W it says, TRANSLATIONS, Chinese to English. There is a phone number and the single word Rose — the other name Chen Shonkyoun wasn't sweet to her ears when the Tamil tongue massacred it. A Chinese from Taiwan, Rose should be a Guinness book contender. She owes most of what she knows to the labels she reads for translation.

Hers is a quiet job, done in company stockyards, away from public gaze. And she came to it through chance. An immigrant from a generation ago, she married a Chinese Christian in what was Calcutta. In 1974 the couple moved to Chennai - "less competition for our exclusive hand-made shoes". There wasn't, till synthetic adhesives and super staplers forced her to turn what she was doing out of kindness into a companion income. For more than a decade now, she is simply known as Rose the translator.

It is an odd job in many ways but one that thrills her no end, she says. "I'm on the list of big, big manufacturing companies," she boasts in what can be labelled as functional English. One reason why she and her husband sit in their airless shoe dump is its proximity to the auto-dominated area. "Huge machinery they import, manual in Chinese. I read, translate and show how to feex. You get point?" Yes. What she does helps Chennai manufacturing move smoothly on its wheels.

Her decoding has benefited a range of brick and mortar companies. Medicines, pharma products, engineering safety systems, carbon paper, limestone, granite and marble, iron ore imported from the Chinese-speaking world come with directions in Chinese. And Rose gets her call. A well-known call centre wanted her services, "but I couldn't do early morning work." Desperate importers from all over the South have sought her Chinese cracking skills. When Far East experts were invited to share their prawn hatching technology, she went to Nellore. Accompanied a Chinese reporter to decipher historic edicts in Kochi that talk of a 600-year system of catching fish. She does the export route too. Companies pay her passage when they register their venture in China, when they have problems with their export. To be a crucial link in business expansion.

"People put crores of rupees in machinery and they are helpless. Without me they cannot do anything. Now the diamond cutting machines teach me computers. It's simple, really, I finish in very short time." She has moulded her memory to convenience. "I try not to remember everything. Need gap for other things, no?" Like the latest in Chinese argot she absorbs from film rags her sister sends from Taiwan and the newspaper she imports through Kolkata.

She wants people to know Chennai has Chinese translators. After all, she has unravelled material for a former President of India. A Taiwan official group that visited the city brought an interpreter, but she was invited to do the "translations". Chinese students do a bit of this work but they move on. No, she has no formal training in English. "I learned from my children's tutor. And from my customers. It's my talent."

She can be contacted at 98843 - 81098.

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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