Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The travelling translator ...reporting from Kuching, Malaysia

This week, the travelling translator is taking us to Kuching, East Malaysia with Hans Breuer, a translator and interpreter for English, German and Mandarin Chinese.

Hans, talk to us briefly about your life before you moved to Kuching, Malaysia.

Blue-eyed angle-headed lizard
During my Chinese studies at Bochum Ruhr University (Germany), I went to a Taipei university (Furen Uni) in 1989 for a conversation course. After two years of that, I realized that I wanted to become a translator and interpreter rather than an academic, and jobs in this field were aplenty in Taiwan. I had also fallen in love with my host country – its food, its natural beauty, and its pleasant inhabitants – so I decided to stay. I stayed for twenty-two years, during which I married a local lady, started a family, and eventually also started a localization company for video games – S&H Entertainment Localization. I whiled away my free time hiking, growing tropical pitcher plants (genus Nepenthes), and, during the last seven years, searching for, photographing, and giving talks in schools on snakes. Oh, and I wrote a book about my adventures as an amateur herpetologist in Taiwan. 

Why Kuching of all places and how long have you been living there already?
Cloud Ocean
I’ve been here two years now. I visited Kuching for the first time in 2007 for a conference on pitcher plants and liked it immensely. Not only does it provide easy and fast access to various patches of rainforest – a paradise for any naturalist, in particular those dabbling in reptiles and carnivorous plants – but also an international school that costs ten times less than what I would have to pay in Taipei. Our two boys, whose mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese, attended and graduated from a Taiwanese (Mandarin-speaking) elementary school. We also speak Mandarin at home, thus our kids never learned to speak either English or German properly, so we decided to enroll them in an international school for their secondary education. And since English is the lingua franca in East Malaysia anyway, their English education is not limited to the classroom. Plus, a large part of Kuching is of Chinese ancestry, so the kids won’t forget their ancestral language.   

How would you describe Malaysia in three words?
Biodiversity. Lingodiversity. Winterless.

What languages do you speak and what made you become a translator and set up an agency?
I speak, read and write German, English and Mandarin Chinese. Since I can remember, I've liked languages, dabbled in a variety of them and eventually settled on Mandarin as my main passion. I started the game localization agency because I was (a) a gamer, and (b) sick of translating motherboard manuals for Taiwanese companies. 

Describe a typical day in your life.
Hose Mountains
I get up at 0700, kick our two teen-aged boys out of bed, drive them to school, return home, have breakfast, read my mail, and then my wife and I head for one of the national parks in the Kuching area for a walk (always in the hope to see some freaky critters to photograph). We have lunch, I take a siesta, and at 3 pm local time I start to work. Most of our clients are in Europe, so I synch my office time with theirs. Around six, we cook and eat dinner, and about 9 or 10 pm I close shop. If the weather is nice, I may take a short walk in one of the nearby forests (it’s even better if it’s not nice: the snakes like to come out after the rain :-))

What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Malaysia and how do they affect your life and your translation business?

Harlequin Frog
As a German boy from the suburbs, moving to an Asian metropolis at the age of 25 was exhilarating, to say the least. Taipei, KL, Tokyo, they’re all vibrant, pulsating megalopolises that never sleep and never slow down. But later in life, especially when my love for nature began to take up all my free time, I began to dislike the crowds, the air pollution, the traffic, and the concrete. Eventually we moved to the Taiwanese countryside to provide a better environment for the kids, and emigrating to a sleepy Bornean town amidst the world’s oldest rainforest system was just a continuation of this trend.
I’ve never lived in Mainland (West) Malaysia, and I don’t plan to. East Malaysia (the states Sarawak and Sabah on Borneo Island) and the Malaysian Peninsula are as different as Finland and Sicily, when you look at the ethnicities, the lifestyle, the history, and many other factors. The rather evenly-distributed ethnic diversity in East Malaysia ensures that no race has a chance to lord it over the others. 

Jungle Mood
As to the disadvantages of living here – I haven’t found too many yet, except that I can’t get shoes my size here. The country is very foreigner-friendly, you can buy a house, register a car, and even obtain a Malaysian driver’s license on a tourist visa. The food is quite nice (although they’re a bit stingy with the chili peppers over here, as opposed to West Malaysia), it’s never colder than 26 C°, there are no typhoons or earthquakes…..the only wish I have is that Subway opens a branch here.

Where do the majority of your clients come from?
The majority of our clients are from Europe and the US. We have no Malaysian clients.
Male Orang-utan
What is your advice to anyone wishing to earn a living as a travelling translator?  
In my experience, the most important thing is to find out everything about the legal circumstances before you move to Paradise. Do you need a work visa? If so, do you need a college degree for it? What do you need to do/be/have to open a company? All other concerns are secondary. Today’s connectivity options allow you to do business with anyone on the planet, and to stay in touch with your friends and family back home on a daily basis. French bread and German beer are readily available in even the remotest places…and thanks to the Internet, whatever the shops there do not carry, you can order online.

Hans Breuer  is a translator and interpreter for English, German and Mandarin Chinese, (target languages English and German) and owns S&H Entertainment Localization, a translation agency specializing in localizing video games.

Photos: Hans Breuer, http://gingerinsingapore.wordpress.com

Would you like to share your story on my blog? Contact me at natali.lekka@gmail.com

Previous stories : 

1) The travelling translator reporting from the exotic island of Reunion

2) The travelling translator reporting from Bangkok, Thailand 
3) The travelling translator reporting from Brisbane, Australia 

1 comment:

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