Not just singing and dancing

They’ve been keeping me busy with lots of different tasks at work lately. I once complained that foreign teachers in China are expected to play the role of “singing dancing game-playing clown entertainers.” Working in Shanghai was supposed to get me out of that role and into more serious work where I could use Chinese. Ironically, while it has succeeded in that respect, it has also simultaneously brought me closer than ever to the “singing dancing game-playing clown entertainer” role.

My work today was an interesting combination of mind-numbing drudgery and light-hearted fun work. The fun part was doing the voice dubbing for a cartoon in which I play the bilingual role of a pig character. Originally they had me playing some rascally racoon, but I had trouble saying my Chinese lines quickly in character (i.e. altering my voice) and with proper feeling, so I got switched to the slow-witted pig. That’s fine by me. My lines are way easier, and they really liked my pig voice. (Those that wanted to hear me speaking Chinese may soon get their wish, if this animation goes public.)

Then after that I had to join in on a small group singing the chorus for a children’s song. Anyone who knows me knows I hate singing in public (especially karaoke!), so to have my singing actually recorded is a nightmare. But in a group it actually went OK.

When I’m part of a team giving 6-hour seminars to Chinese kindergarten teachers, presentation is key. I have to use mostly Chinese when I’m in the spotlight (unless I’m specifically covering pronunciation), but I also have to keep it lively and entertaining. Games, smiles, jokes. Education with a heavy dose of entertainment.

Today’s fun was balanced with translation work. I’m helping the parent company in Taiwan with one of its new products. Apparently in Taiwan there’s a lot of immigrant labor (from Vietnam, Thailand, the Phillipines, etc.) filling the demand for maids, and “mail-order bride” type situations as well. I have to leave out the details, but this product aims to alleviate the multi-lingual problems posed by the situation. A small sample of what I’ve been translating into English:

  • Yesterday grandpa went to the hospital for a stool test.
  • Do you want white bread or wheat bread?
  • International calls are expensive. It’s best if you write a letter.
  • I want to send this month’s salary home to my husband in Vietnam.
  • I don’t understand when you speak fast, but I will study hard.
  • Your soup is really not bad! It’s sour but tastes good, with that Vietnamese flavor.
  • If that’s how it is, A-Fang, I’m sorry, but I must send you home.

OK, so they’re not all this mean and depressing, but it’s not fun work. I don’t blame the company at all, either; it’s just responding to a situation.

On the upside, I’m learning a lot of interesting/crazy Taiwanese terminology. [Does anyone know of any definitive list of Taiwanese/Mainland vocabulary discrepancies?]

Anyway, work remains engrossing. Now, back to that translation….


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Wow, very interesting post. It’s difficult to smile and cringe at the same time though.

  2. Very interesting indeed; espeically the translation project for maids and others. You’re right, migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere are a rapidly growing population in Taiwan. There’s an interesting paper by Anne Loveband called “Positioning the Product: Indonesian Migrant Women Workers in Contemporary Taiwan” on the SEARC web site( – it’s #43). I remember Anne showing me some booklets put out by the government that did what your company is doing but in a less professional manner I presume.

    Sending countries like Indonesia actually make a half-hearted attempt at teaching migrants some basic Mandarin before shipping them off, but in the main they go with limited language skills at best. Although if Chinese-language schools are any indication, lots of Thais should be able to communicate pretty well in Taiwan these days.

    I’d be very interested in seeing the final product, and I know Anne would too. I understand you can’t spill the beans while it’s in process, but could let me know when it’s published?

  3. No parts for a deranged woodchuck?

  4. Da Xiangchang Says: April 15, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Dubbing for a pig?! Interesting. Is this cartoon on the internet? I got to see (and hear) it. Also, do you participate in the script-writing? If the script’s too boring, you can always make up stuff like Robin Williams at the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire. Ha, ha.

  5. Weirdest Taiwanese phrase that I’ve heard: In Yilan county, there is a bar called Aluba. I assumed that it was just a misspelling of Aruba, but then I was told (and am not sure whether to believe) that Aluba is actually Taiwanese for the act of picking up a guy by two legs and ramming his crotch into a pole.

    Yeah, the TV ads for Vietmanese mail order brides are completely surreal. “Act now and we’ll throw in a free virginity test!”

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