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Bad Water at My Doorstep:
The Adventures of Sanjay Noir, Fearless Translation Broker

William Lise (Republished June 23, 2020)

The sign on the door of my hole-in-the wall company (with holes in its walls) read Global Language Solutions. The paint on the door 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 human professionals. But all of that was changed, and I'd learned to live with it. Changes come with the territory, and I was in no position to buck the tide.

I arrived at the office around 10 am. My desk was in serious disarray. Disarray was too kind a word. The phone rang and 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 repeatedly off the stucco walls around me.

I had moved to this location in search of cheaper rent and cheaper 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 melodious chime, telling me that an email had arrived. After pondering the consequences of putting off a trip to the toilet to read the email, I opted for the email. That would prove to be a mistake, in more ways than one. The email went something like this:

Hi! My name is Ludmila. I hope you're having a fantastic day!

We need to translate 1,000 pages of Japanese to English within two weeks. If you can do this work, can meet our budget requirements, and can use our 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 Megatranslation

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 quickly found it. Their website's top page was filled with nausea-inducing animated graphics. It reminded me of a bunch of gaudy aloha shirts being tossed around in a laundromat drier. Feeling a bit dizzy, I turned away.

When I gazed back at their website, it looked as if Cosmic Megatranslation was in Russia. They claimed to have branches in 11 major cities around the globe, but 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 stopped publicizing my own physical address years ago.

A 1,000-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 hit the reply button.

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 a reply, I began to wonder what the subject matter might be. Electronics? Mechanical? Medical? 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 the right price. Some of them had been working in call enters set up here for Japanese companies, where they had been doing bad impersonations of Japanese call center operators. They would surely 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.

Ludmila placed the order, and the Japanese files started arriving in a matter of minutes. Hundreds internal documents from Zetsurin Seiyaku came in. Zetsurin was company in Japan that markets a popular pecker-perker-upper drink called Yoru no Teio. They were being sued for US patent infringement by a US patent troll, which had apparently engaged a tiny law firm to be their “hired mouth.” The US law firm had either gone to Ludmila or to a US translation broker who was outsourcing to Ludmila to translate the huge volume of discovery documents produced by Zetsurin. 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 Ludmila on time. But she claimed to be unable to pay me until her US translation broker client paid her. The translation broker in the US, in turn, couldn't make payment until they received payment from their law firm client. I was not surprised to hear that the law firm needed to be paid by the patent troll before they could send payment. But things started to come into better focus when I discovered that the tiny 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 Global Language Solutions.