Bad Water at My Doorstep

The sign on the door of my hole-in-the wall company (with holes in its walls) read Globally Empowering Language Solutions. The paint was chipped and flaking, and so was I. I’d been through a lot. I was old enough to remember when translations were done by skilled human professionals. But all of that was changed, and I’d learned to live with it. Changes come with the territory, and I was not about to buck the tide.

I arrived at the office around 10 am. I would say my desk was in serious disarray but disarray was too kind a word. The phone rang.

I managed “Sanjay Noir. What can I do for you?” while trying to shake off the lingering effects of last night’s cheap booze.

“No, I am not interested in being a part owner of an Ostrich farm.” The sound the phone made when I slammed it down echoed off the stucco walls around me.

I had moved to this location in search of cheap rents and cheap booze. I had found both, but there were downsides to deal with.

The natives outside might not have been restless, but they were certainly noisy. I closed the window to shut out the din. Just then, the computer on my desk emitted a strangely out-of-place melodious chime, announcing the arrival of an e-mail. After pondering the consequences of putting off a trip to the toilet in favor of reading the e-mail, I opted for the e-mail. That would prove to be a mistake, in more ways than one. The e-mail went something like this:

Hi! I hope you’re having a fantastic day!

I’m Ludmila Yablokova at Cosmic Megatranslations. We need to translate 10,000 pages of Japanese to English within two weeks. If you can do this work, can meet our budget requirements, and can use our standard Freelunch translation memory system, we would like to send you work immediately. Please reply as soon as possible. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day!
Ludmila Yablokova
Cosmic Megatranslations

I took a moment to consider the offer. It was sent from a gmail account and provided no clues as to Ludmila’s physical address. I did a search for the company name and immediately found it. Their website’s top page was filled with nausea-inducing animated graphics. It reminded me of a bunch of gaudy Hawaiian shirts being tossed around in a laundromat drier. Feeling a bit dizzy, I turned away. When I looked back at the screen, I saw that they had 8,000 translators and translate more than 150 languages. One of the charming parts of the Internet is that you don’t have to struggle to keep a straight face as you lie.

When I gazed back at the Cosmic Megatranslations website, it looked as if they were in Russia, but they claimed to have branches in 11 major cities around the globe. No addresses were given for any of their branches. I was in no position to complain or fret. After realizing that anyone using Google Earth can out me in seconds as being in this hole of an office, I had stopped disclosing my own physical address.

A 10,000-page job is nothing to sneeze at. It would finance just about any foolish thing I wanted to buy or do in the immediate future. I thought for a moment, a very short moment, and banged out my reply, which went something like this:

Dear Ludmila: Thank you for your inquiry. Yes we can handle your work. Please send it as soon as possible. Our rate would be 0.04 USD/word. And, yes, we are familiar with the Freelunch TM system. We use it all the time.

Sanjay Noir, President
Global Language Solutions

As I waited for Ludmilla’s reply, I began to wonder what the subject matter might be. Electronics? Mechanical? Legal? Something else? It mattered little, though. A quick post to a reverse-auction website would suck in dozens of people willing to do the translations at less than Ludmilla’s price. Some of them had been let go from call centers set up here for Japanese companies, where they had been doing bad impersonations of unhelpful Japanese call center operators. They were now being replaced by AI call center operators. They would certainly produce junk, but Ludmila was in no position to be picky, and neither was I. All the translators needed to do was churn out lots of English-like words.

Ludmilla placed the order, and the Japanese files started to arrive in a matter of minutes. Hundreds of pdf files of internal documents from Zetsurin Seiyaku, a Japanese company marketing the popular pecker-perkerupper health drink called Yoru no Teio. They were being sued for patent infringement by a US patent troll, which had engaged a tiny law firm to be their “hired mouth.” The US law firm had either gone to Ludmilla or to a US translation broker who was outsourcing to Ludmilla to translate a huge volume of discovery documents. Naturally, bad water flows downhill, and that’s how the work arrived at my doorstep. The translation brokering business works in strange ways, but it was not for me to question the system.

We found enough translators and got the translations back to Ludmilla on time. But it turned out that she claimed to be unable to pay me until her translation broker client in the US paid her. The translation broker in the US, in turn, couldn’t make payment until they received payment from their law firm client. I imagined that the law firm needed to be paid by the troll before they could send payment to the US translation broker, but I was wrong. The two-man law firm and the patent troll were actually the same outfit. As I said, bad water flows downhill, and it had reached me, Sanjay Noir, President of Globally Empowering Language Solutions.

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