Three Exotic Assignments at Venues With Different Ethnic Cultures


I am an innately curious person that thrives on education and self-development.  My job is perfect in this respect because when you add travel, it usually implies different philosophies and forms of artistic expression at the destination.  For that reason, whenever I have had the opportunity to get some R&R before or after a job at an interesting location, I have never hesitated to seize the occasion. It is also a healthy practice because the more you enjoy your work the more productive you are; the more you know the better you are able to deliver.

Looking back, the following experiences have been among the most enjoyable in my career:

In 1994 my company took a group of 20 interpreters to Manila, Philippines to interpret at the 43rd Miss Universe Pageant.  It was my first time to Asia.  Upon arrival we enjoyed the local hospitality, cuisine and warmth of the Filipinos and set to work interpreting interviews for the judges, stage rehearsals, recording voice-overs for the broadcast, and finally we did the live show which is televised to hundreds of millions around the world. It is always challenging to manage a large group of interpreters in the stressful, time-driven environment of live television and once done, it was time to enjoy.

A group of us went first to Hong Kong which impressed me as the cube of 5th Avenue, Beverly Hills, Champs Élysées and Worth Avenue, on the high end, with many levels below that.  Delicious unique food, exotic sights like Victoria’s Peak. It was the city with the most Rolls Royces in the world at the time. A smorgasbord for the senses. Following that we went to Beijing, where at the airport we saw planes towed out by bicycle crews and then went on to the mysterious Forbidden City, which began construction during the Ming Dynasty in 1406 and is the largest, most complete ancient imperial palace in the world.  It is home to an impressive collection of cultural relics as well as precious art objects and was last occupied in 1924 by Puyi.  See the movie “The Last Emperor of China” for the fascinating and riveting  story. Then there was Tiananmen Square, Mao’s embalmed body, the Great Wall and on to the life sized Terracotta Army in Xi’an, one of the largest archeological finds ever, discovered in 1974 after being buried 2100 years with the first Qin emperor.

At the end of the nineties, a client in the payment services industry asked us to provide interpreting and equipment in Manaus, Brazil on the Amazon, at the confluence of the Negro and Solimōes rivers. What an eco-destination! From the plane we could see the awe-inspiring power of the luxuriant, verdant tropical jungle that would obviously overrun the city in the wink of an eye if not for the ever-vigilant shears of civilization.

The city was at the heart of the rubber boom in the 19th century. A historian has written  “no extravagance, however absurd deterred” the rubber barons.   Among them was the grand opera house next to the rain forest, with gilded balconies, glass and crystal from Europe. Little did we know that because the set-up involved wiring the balconies where the VIPs would sit and the structure was so ornate, we would end up on our hands and knees for several hours during the set-up, helping the tech to tape antenna wire (Those were the Sony days). For the next day and a half, we did the gig which stressed business processes, economics and the global financial climate and then it was off to nature and its resources. Brazil is famous for its gemstones so the girls were in seventh heaven.  We  rode canoes on the Amazon and saw local tribes in their daily activities as well as the flora and fauna.

Lastly, a crown-jewel among experiences, was a conference we did for a credit card company in Cusco, Peru, in 2008 to discuss the ongoing global financial crisis.  The venue was the baroque chapel of the beautiful Monasterio Hotel, originally built in 1595 as a monastery on the site of an Inca ruler’s palace. It holds paintings by local Quechua artists who were taught European painting techniques, although the best Colonial collection we saw is at the Pedro de Osma Museum in Lima.

My booth partner and I had scheduled to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, for a day, after the conference.  The altitude hit us hard and we learned from the doctor that vegetarians have less red blood cells which carry our oxygen.  The non-vegetarian Portuguese booth did not encounter this problem. Thankfully, after they brought us oxygen and herbal coca tea, we were good to go.  The doctor informed us that our trek to would be at a lower elevation, so after the conference we took the train over the mountain switchbacks and were able to meet up with our guide.

It was amazing to be walking the path to the enclave of the ruling Incas and their community. We were so high up that the Urubamba River was a ribbon in a basket of green velvet below us.  The indigenous guide skillfully informed us about the ruins, bridges, medicinal vegetation surrounding us, as well as rare blooms that only grew there.  We barely made it on time to catch the bus waiting below the Gate of the Sun at Macchu Picchu to take us to Aguas Calientes where we spent the night. The next day was spent touring Machu Picchu itself, set on a granite mountain.  It’s architectural and archeological importance is unparalleled and it exemplifies the use of raw materials to build astonishing structures appropriate to the surroundings which we explored minutely, also learning of their spiritual significance, before heading back to Lima to fly home.

Dream assignments?  But they happen, and as Calderón de la Barca, the poet and dramatist aptly put it,  “ Life is a dream and dreams are dreams”.  The lesson is: focus on your aspirations, whatever they may be, and they will start to come into your life-dream/experience on a regular basis.

Posted on June 26, 2012, in Broadcast Interpreting, consecutive interpreting, Goal setting, Interpreting, Manifesting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Georganne Weller

    Hi!
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your wonderful experiences, thanks a million!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. We must strike while the iron is hot and derive as much enjoyment from our work as possible. It then becomes a habit to see the silver lining in every experience.

  3. Hi, great post! I was wondering if you could tell me the differences between interpreting in a conference setting and in these “exotic destinations.” Do you ever interpret outside? Do you take different strategies to deal with different settings?

    • Thanks for writing. The conferences that I mentioned in this post were all assignments from regular clients in the U.S. who went to these destinations either as a perk for their attendees or because the companies had executives or interests in those countries. I usually interpret in the U.S. for the most part and the only difference in strategies is that as the owner of my company, I am ultimately responsible for the simultaneous portion of the conference, so when we travel outside of this country, I make sure that we do our homework and are familiar with other equipment alternatives at the destination, and sometimes interpreters, in case we need to use their services because something did not go according to plan.

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