Friday, March 2, 2012

9. LOST IN TRANSLATION


My daughter Kate is a Linguist.  She has college degrees in Linguistics, International Studies and Chinese. During her undergraduate years she took 18 months off and served a mission for our church.  Kate was a home-body, rather shy and very much devoted to her family.  So her decision to submit herself to a mission call was an indicator of her great faith.  In our church you submit your name for consideration, having made yourself worthy of serving in this particular way, and then you receive a “call” in the mail telling you when and where you will serve.  Kate, like all good missionaries, was willing to go wherever the Lord called her.  But her secret desire was to go somewhere where it wasn’t hot.  Maybe Siberia or something.

So we got the envelope in the mail and we all gathered around and she opened it. She was called to Hong Kong.

Faithful girl that she is, she went, and she suffered through the heat and humidity, and she fell in love with the people and the place.  Funny how serving people does that to you.

Hong Kong is very, very, very far away from Farmington, Utah. It was a test of this mother’s faith to let her go!  I wrote to her every week, sometimes more.  And we emailed once a week as well. And sent packages.  But other than that, it is the church policy that we  don’t communicate with home when we are serving missions. We have telephone conversations at Christmas and on Mothers or Father’s Day. My husband has served a mission in Italy, my son in England and Wales, my sons-in-law in Argentina and Brazil, and my daughter in Hong Kong.  They will all tell you that the policy to communicate in a limited way is a blessing, because the focus is on serving the Lord and our fellow man, and homesickness sort of gets in the way of that dedication.  There is something about the voice communicating that creates a strong energy and makes it hard to stay focused. 

And of course I did not want to make my girl homesick!  Looking back on it, this time in her life was pivotal in her development.  She is strong and confident and dedicated and loving; sure of herself when she is sure of her God.  So I have nothing but good things to say about missions!

Occasionally we sent packages to Kate, for her birthday or holidays, or for no reason but love.  One time I found some very cool looking paper at the Chinese store we frequent in Salt Lake City.  It was nice thick paper, printed with deep red ink and shiny gold and silver patches.  So lovely.  I decided to wrap her birthday package in this pretty Chinese paper.  So I glued it on and then wrapped the whole thing in clear tape.  It looked just dandy.  I wish I had taken a picture to show you.

Months later, when Kate was done with her mission and we went to Hong Kong to retrieve her, we met the missionaries working in the mission office. They were all so friendly and welcoming.  We stood there across the desk from a few of them when one of them began to giggle and talk about that package we had sent.  They all joined in, getting good belly laughs by the time the story unfolded. Apparently the paper I had used to wrap Kate’s package is called Joss paper.  Later that week we would visit a Buddhist temple and watch as people from all walks of life knelt before a shrine and made burnt offerings in the names of their ancestors.  Offerings of burnt Joss paper. 

Here’s a definition of Joss paper:


Joss paper

 jīnzhǐ; literally "gold paper", also known as ghost money, are sheets of paper and/or paper-crafts made into burnt offerings which are common in traditional Chinese religious practices including the veneration of the deceased on holidays and special occasions. Joss paper, as well as other papier-mâché items, are also burned in traditional Chinese funerals, to ensure that the spirit of the deceased has lots of good things in the afterlife. Cash monies are given to newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown. Gold spirit money (jin) is given to both the deceased and higher gods such as the Jade Emperor. Silver spirit money (yin) is given exclusively to ancestral spirits as well as spirits of local deities. River money is given to unrelated ghosts. These distinctions between the three categories of spirit money must be followed precisely to prevent confusion or insult of the spirits.
I guess when the package finally arrived the post person told the missionaries in the mission office that no one wanted to touch the package for fear that it would bring bad luck; or even worse, that the package contained human remains. 

I think it contained a pair of shoes, actually.
That poor delivery man drew the short straw and had to deliver it.

I feel bad for not knowing that this paper I used was something more than pretty.   I don’t know what it is about the world of translation between Chinese and English, but there is definitely a disconnect.  And for sure there are some pretty humorous things that happen in that space of translation.



I wonder if the angels in heaven hear our prayers and translate them for God?  I suspect this doesn’t happen.  I’m pretty sure God can understand all of us just fine.  But thinking about it kinda makes me giggle. 

2 comments:

  1. Love the whole thing. But I didn't giggle. I told G about it and started laughing. Then coughing. I mean, really coughing. Translate THAT! I had to print out little line drawings of Mary the mother of Jesus to paste on my Murphy's packages; our mail guy had a companion whose mother sent him a fancy jacket (same mission long ago), but it never "got there." Next time they went to the post after they were told that, they saw a guy in the back wearing it. Murphy never lost a thing. sending packages to England was different. Not sure it would be absolutely safe, but pasting religious symbols on such a thing wouldn't have any effect there at all.

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