It began with a seemingly innocent request to check over some English for Sports Day- next thing I knew a microphone was thrust into my hand and I was being herded onto stage to announce at the opening ceremony of the annual ‘Sports Meeting’ of our school.
I have a nasty habit of agreeing to things in Chinese when I don’t entirely understood what’s gone on. If I’m feeling energetic I’ll confirm the meaning by repeating back the instructions given, but all too often my reply of “Right right right”… “好好好”， will land me into a spot of unexpected bother, this time in front of an audience of three thousand people.
Last week one of my coworkers called me into our office to bestow my duties for the Sports Meeting (which to you and me is just a Sports Day) upon me. The part that I had paid particular attention to was “you don’t need to teach class on Tuesday or Wednesday”…Her lips continued moving as I basked in this glorious news, nodding along, whilst thinking of each one of the eleven classes I would miss during my wee break. She handed me a program of the Sports Meeting, with a detailed description of what activities the students would take part in and at what time. My eyes glazed over the many characters I didn’t recognize, and quickly landed upon my own name, written in English over one part of the program. My coworker told me; “The English part is your responsibility”. Yep, got it. I knew this already, I just have to check the English, cool. I nodded hastily, reassuring her I understood and made the scramble back to my apartment before the final bell went and the school yard became impassable with bodies of hormonally charged pre-teens.
‘The English part’ to which she was referring, was the introductory speech for each class at the opening ceremony of the Sports Meeting. I glimpsed through some of the poorly translated English, hoping that just few tweaks here and there would aid me in swiftly completing the introductions for the some sixty-five classes.
A couple of days later I got a phone call from a co-worker, telling me the practice for the opening ceremony would be held later that day. ‘Hmm…Why’s he telling me?’ I wondered to myself. He’d also told me the starting time for the real thing…’Ah I guess that’s purpose of his call.’ After finishing my bundle of classes for that day, I breathed a sigh of relief as I pictured myself face down on the couch, moving for no one. My vision was interrupted by another call, telling me to come to the sports pitch. It seemed my presence was required at the practice meeting, so I headed in that direction in bewilderment. I waited for a few moments, wondering how long I’d need to hang about, until the familiar face from the phone call arrived and handed me a microphone and the English introductions (still in pre-checking stage).
Suddenly it was all too clear to me what my role really was in all of this. Translate and announce each of the classes in English. Here’s an example of what I was working with:
After an exasperated phone call, my very amused better half arrived and resisting the urge to mock me too extensively, reassured me that no one would really be able to understand me speaking at such pace any way, and to just go for it. Some of the phrases were easily changeable on the spot. Others were not so easily remedied, and some of the English I chose to replace them was questionable, but I powered through. In addition to correcting the English as I went along, I also had limited time to say the some twenty lines prepared for each class and was told after one or two introductions (“you need to cut these down, three to four lines is enough”).
My task now required me to cut down, edit and pull together a semi-readable version of the original and announce each one with gusto, all the while listening carefully to the Chinese announcer and trying to ensure I included at least some of the parts he had mentioned. At one point I got slightly muddled and ended up finishing one of the introductions in Chinese… But my coworker reassured me that none of the three thousand observers had really noticed.
The day of this year’s annual Sports Meeting was quite the spectacle to behold and of course rife with Communism.
The entire ceremony was filmed, so my finest hour of being a sports announcer will live on digitally.
Finally the China Flag was raised over the sports pitch, or “battle field” as it was called in an introduction or two- and the children saluted .
This, matched with the enormous crowd, the children marching before the table of judges and me announcing that this class would “let their sweat scatter the sports field, let their blood boil without regret” was a bit too reminiscent.
It seems I had just taken part in the opening ceremony of The Chinese Hunger Games.