Sunday, August 14, 2011

Translator Wanted.

Sometimes I run into a stumbling block. It happened last night.

I was down below a dam checking fishermen when I come across two men who were fishing with a small stick with line wrapped around it. As soon as they saw me, one of the men tried to hide his stick under a rock. Too late- I saw it.
So I approach them and ask to see some fishing licenses. Blank stares. I ask again. More blank stares...and then "No Ingles! No Ingles". The men were clearly of Asian descent and I have run into this problem before. Luckily I was prepared, I pull out my handy dandy cards I had a Chinese professor from the local university translate for me. One of the cards says, "Do you have a fishing license?" So, I point to the sentence in chinese characters and one of the men excitedly says, "Oooh! Yes! License!" And he nods furiously. I point to his bag and try to play charades to ask if his license is in his bag. After several rounds of charades I give up, and pick up his bag and mime my way through getting consent to search its contents. Nothing. Not even an i.d.

When I show the second man the same sentence he furiously waves his hand around in the air like he is saying "Bye Bye", leaving me a bit confused as to whether he means, 'No, I don't have a license" or
'Man this place reeks of dead fish'.

So I turn back to the first guy and ask (in a loud voice, because it is hard not to do, even though I know he isn't deaf), "License?" I make a motion with my hands indicated that I need to see it with my eyes. I point to my eyes then point to the sentence asking about a fishing license. The man again shakes his head madly and starts saying, "Highway! Highway!" while he is pointing up in the sky. Huh?

"Your license is at the highway?"

"Highway! Yes! Highway!"

I point in the direction of the nearest highway and say questioningly, "Highway? Highway 6?"

Suddenly he starts making a shape in the air of a box and pokes his fingers into the box, "Highway!"

I point towards his bike and begin the pedal mime. I'm standing on the edge of the river running in place with my hands on imaginary handlebars, pumping away and saying very loudly, "Go to highway? Ride your bike to highway? License at highway?"

The Chinese man begins laughing at me.

I turn back to the other man and he merely begins his wild goodbye wave.

So, I take my fishing license from my pocket and pretend like I am handing it to an imaginary game warden. Then I switch places and become the imaginary game warden. I take the license from the imaginary me and look at the license admiringly, then give the imaginary me a giant thumbs up, in a desperate attempt to show that they need to show the game warden the fishing license.

The man laughs more. Apparently I'm putting on quite a show. More fisherman are beginning to watch my little one woman act.

Finally I pull out my pad of paper so I can attempt to get the man's name. I give him the paper and a pen, then pull out my flashcards. I find the one that says, "Please write your name."

The man smiles grandly, happy that he can finally do something that I'm asking him to do. He grabs the paper and scratches out what appears to be about 15 Chinese characters. I'm fairly certain that the Clerk of Court won't accept a citation written in chinese characters, so I begin belting out the abc's song. The men look at eachother and begin clapping along.

I give up.

I wave my hands back and forth, meaning "NO", then I pretend to reel in a fish, meaning "FISHING". NO MORE FISHING UNTIL YOU SHOW ME A LICENSE!

"Highway! Tomorrow!" He points to the river, "Tomorrow!"

"No," I say, shaking my head, "No more fishing!"

The men laugh and begin clapping some more. "Sank you, Sank you!" they say happily.

Just as I turn to walk in shame back to my truck, the men pick up their sticks and throw the line back into the water.

Mission accomplished. Or not.


  1. Funny story. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

  2. You are one heck of a Fish Cop! What a funny story. I had never gave any thought to what you would have to do in a situation like this. You have gained my admiration once again.

  3. I got a good laugh out of this. I lived in the far east for 11 years, compliments of the Air Force so I could empathise with your situation. I was pulled over once in Japan for incorrect lane usage. I knew perfectly well what I'd done wrong and was prepared to pay the penalty, expensive as I knew it would be. The policeman who pulled me over let me go because, even though I understtod him, he didn't have a translator.I got a good laugh out of this. I lived in the far east for 11 years, compliments of the Air Force so I could empathise with your situation. I was pulled over once in Japan for incorrect lane usage. I knew perfectly well what I'd done wrong and was prepared to pay the penalty, expensive as I knew it would be. The policeman who pulled me over let me go because, even though I understtod him, he didn't have a translator.

  4. haha man that was funny. I bet one of those guys spoke perfect English.

  5. A good test for that is to say, "Anyone wearing blue shoes is going to go to jail." And I know that anyone who looks down knows English good enough. These guys passed the test though.

  6. Hey fish cop. Can you try this shoes. I think you are wearing a this type shoes then you are sharing your idea.

  7. Maybe breaking out the handcuffs would've helped?

  8. Priceless, you hung in there longer than I would have.

  9. Wow, what a story! Too bad you couldn't get through to these guys. I'd like to think that if I were to live in a foreign country, I'd at least have the courtesy of learning the language first.

    Glad they enjoyed the show though.

  10. Honestly I'm not so sure I like the way this ended. In my much younger years I was caught red handed fishing without a lic. I knew better and fully came clean with the officer. It still cost me 45.00 plus court cost and a year suspension of my privlege to fish. I guess I should have acted like I didn't understand and went back to fishing. Sorry if this comes across as me being an Ass. It just seems to me they got away with it.

  11. I hear you Kevin. I felt the same way. Sometimes I walk away from a situation and wish that A. I'd done something different, or B. Had more tools to get the job done right. I guess the only other option I would have had would have been to take these two guys to jail and contact INS. It is one thing if they are faking that they don't understand, and another thing when there is a true language barrier. The court system really won't take a citation that is written in Chinese characters and there is no way for me to explain the citation in the first place. It is very frustrating and I certainly don't always make the right decision. If it makes you feel better though, I contacted them again as they were walking back to the water to mime again that they couldn't fish.

    PS- I can't believe your privileges were revoked for a year just for a ticket for no license! You must have some hard core laws in your state!

  12. Hilarious!
    Hand signals always clear up communication, don't they?

    Also: thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I don't think I ever thanked you for that.

  13. sank you, sank you very much for some great stories and writing. I would have loved to see you pretending to ride your bike. That would have been priceless.

    It is amazing how easy it is to hide behind the language barrier. I bet I would have gotten a ticket if I tried that in another country.

    SANKS for everything you do and keep them coming.

  14. The chances are very good that anyone you meat out fishing is either going to be another type of ethnicity than Chinese, or speak English. Probably they were Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese, or Cambodian. I haven't figured out which state you are in yet. I'd lose the flash cards in any case. The only Chinese who don't speak English tend to stay hidden, no reason to risk deportation over fishing.

    Laughing might well translate as "I'm nervous and I think this cop will shoot me" or it might well mean, "we've got this one bamboozled", laughter can mean someone is extremely uncomfortable, or fearful. I've seen medical Q+As written in the 15 most common Asian languages. Of course many older people come from ethnicities that don't even have a written language.

    I'd shine it on. Fishing with a stick isn't highway robbery.