The North Pacific Coast Guard Forum

The Sakhalin island. The easternmost part of Russia. It changed hands many times in its history. The source of the most valuable mineral resources, oil, gas and gold. Many years ago the island was part of Hokkaido, after that was divided into two parts by the Amur river, which later on changed its course and the northern and southern parts of the island were united. Once it was a place of exile where convicted prisoners served their term and then could start a new life. The centre of the fishery industry. The city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is located in the southern part, in a valley between mountain ridges, which determines the climate. It is a marine climate: the distance to the sea in any direction is not more than 30 km. Summers are cold here (20C) and winters moderate (-5C). The city is quite small – its population amounts to about 300 thousand people. The housing is very expensive – nearly as expensive as in Moscow. Many people come here to work from Russia and abroad. Since the city has a developed fishery industry it is no wonder that there are many fish dishes in the menus in cafes and hotels – and they are very tasty indeed. On the whole, the city is very cozy: there are several parks to walk in, nice squares, in the centre there is a newly build Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Since the city is surrounded by mountains, there are, of course, ski and snowboard slopes.

Thus, my work brought me to this cozy small city. It was my first time in the Far East in general. Before that I once flew to Japan in the same direction – it is very close to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Therefore, when I was on the plane I had this funny deja vu feeling. It was the anniversary 20th North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. It brought together representatives from Coast Guards of Russia, USA, Canada, Japan, China and Korea. They spent several days on the meetings of the marine security, information exchange, emergency response, illegal drug trafficking and combined operations working groups and on the last day they had a plenary session which required conference interpreting. We had 4 interpreting booths: English (us), Chinese, Korean and Japanese. But since the Chinese, Korean and Japanese speakers decided to make their presentations in English a special responsibility lied with our booth – we had to provide the relay to other booths. It means that first we interpreted the speakers from English into Russian and then other booths interpreted from our Russian into their respective languages for the delegates who did not understand English well enough. It was my first time at an event with so many booths. I must say that it is not so easy: you have to know how to switch between channels and in case the floor language changes (for example, from English or Russian to Chinese) to switch to the relay from the respective booth (in this case, the Chinese booth). Once we messed it up. The Japanese speaker started his presentation in Japanese and we switched to the relay from the Japanese booth accordingly but then he unexpectedly started speaking English. The Japanese interpreter was caught by surprise and started to interpret from English when he should have timely vacated the Russian channel and switched to the relay from the English booth (us) since we can’t start interpreting into Russian as long as the Russian channel is occupied. We also did not understand at once what had happened and for some time my colleague interpreted from Russian back into English, which was of course very funny. However, in a couple of minutes we got everything under control and it went smoothly ever since. The other time we had to switch to relay was when the Head of Chinese delegation delivered his welcoming and closing speeches. He read out the speeches very quickly – we were very lucky that the day before the Chinese interpreters caught the Chinese delegates in the corridor and asked for the speeches and translated them in writing into Russian late at night. And it was not in vain – the Chinese speed was such that the interpreter had trouble following him even with a written translation before her eyes. The Chinese colleagues also made the life easier for everyone else by sending the translation of the speeches to all the interpreters in advance. The superb team work! In general the interpreting is a team game and you greatly depend on your partner and other booths if you have to use their relay.      

Another difficulty was that we all were sleep deprived due to the time difference between Moscow and Sakhalin – 8 hours! We skipped one night completely – the evening in Moscow was followed directly by the morning on Sakhalin. After we came there we could not rest as well: we had to attend the meetings of the working groups and then go to the venue and check the equipment. In the process we were handed in the materials – until the late evening – which we had to translate as quickly as we could. Of course, we slept in the night before work but not very well – the organism did not yet get used to the time difference. We were lucky that the plenary session ended by 1 pm since by that time the desire to sleep was getting overwhelming. Only during the 2nd night we managed to sleep well at last – just before our departure when actually it was the time to start getting used to Moscow time again. But this is the life of a vagabond-interpreter. On the other hand, so many new impressions, encounters with new people and priceless experience! It seemed like we spent there much more than 2 days.   

So what was the result of all that? Everyone understood everything and it is what matters most. The Head of the Russian Delegation highly appreciated the work of all the interpreters, which was really pleasant. May be we will all meet again on the next forums. I hope I will have a chance to visit Sakhalin and the Far East of Russia in general one more time: it was a hard and nervous job, but a very exciting one!

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