It’s a story as old as gas-lit Broadway. Opening night, the diva takes a dive, but the show must go on. What to do? The producer is pulling his hair out. The sponsors are as pale as ghosts. But there’s a young hoofer from the sticks, pulled from the chorus line. Can she stand in? Sure, she’s got the look, she knows the lines, but can she carry it off before an expectant crowd in their pearls and tails who paid good money to see the headliner, now down and out?
The curtain rises; the only sound in the whole theater is the thunk as the stage manager throws the klieg light switch on to spotlight this young kid from nowhere. For a moment, silence…and then the show begins.
Cut to final curtain, a standing ovation, she brings the house down. Later that night, back in the empty newsroom, Walter Winchel, unlit cigar hanging from his lips, whiskey bottle by his Remington typewriter, bangs away for the bulldog edition, “Tonight on Broadway, a star is born.”
It happened last week in our show business: Chinese=English simultaneous interpreter Zhang Lu became a translation celebrity.
It wasn’t Winchell reporting this time, but Sky Canaves at the Wall Street Journal, who brought this Chinese interpretation sensation to the attention of us English speakers last week:
“On Monday, the hottest topic on China’s Internet was this young woman behind the fluent English voice of Premier Wen Jiabao’s annual press conference. Zhang Lu, who translated at the two-hour press conference Sunday morning, made her first appearance at Wen’s side at the annual event this year. Internet fans praised Zhang’s work and complemented her personal style, a short bob and elegant tailored suits, and posted an assortment of photos of Zhang at work. ‘Her appearance and voice are extremely refined,’ commented one Web user. ‘Talent and style, she’s got both in spades,’ wrote another.”
I love it. Professionally, it’s more appropriate for folks in our trade to keep a low profile. At 1-800-Translate, as at any professional service, interpreters are the silent service, transparent vehicles for policy and all that jazz. When our interpreters do head-of-state stuff here at the UN, the last thing we want is for them to make headlines. But I’m glad she’s made such a splash.
And I guess I should also disclose that Zhang is no bright-eyed kid from nowhere, but a highly-trained professional from the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing, with a degree in international law. Currently, she serves as deputy director of the English Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ translation office, and acts as chief interpreter for both Wen and Chinese President Hu Jintao. I understand that she has extensive knowledge of Chinese classical literature and that her ability to render it into English is both accomplished and elegant.
But let’s get back to Broadway. After her next number, I’ll be waiting by the stage door, with top hat and cane, accompanied by my chauffeur, carrying an enormous bouquet of flowers. Perhaps a champagne nightcap, Ms. Zhang?
I think it’s great to see a translator get some credit in the press. A nice change from the usual mentions, where interpreters generally only make headlines when they are collateral damage in some bullet-ridden tragedy.