Outlook tells me I have a new email. In the preview pane I can see that it’s written entirely in Chinese, so I open Google Translate and copy and paste the characters into the box.

“Colleagues: Will take away my gas torch (seat), please call us soon, thank you”

I have yet to meet Shrek.

The life of a foreigner working in an office setting abroad is an interesting one. My new job started on Monday; I’m a technical writer for a telecommunications firm in Hsinchu. I help them with writing and editing marketing materials, manuals, product packaging, and with their website, which hasn’t had a makeover since 2003.

For my ID, the photographer told me I couldn't smile and made me push my hair behind my ears. I couldn't NOT smile, so I smirked. This is the least-flattering ID photo I've ever taken, and that includes my orange face in my UT ID photo.
Look! Freebie calendars with my Wholly Unflattering Mugshot!
The first eight people to request one of these photos will get it in the mail. These are collector's items, folks.

Instead of standing in front of wild-eyed Taiwanese children, I sit in front of a monitor, deciphering emails like the one above and trying to make sense of technical jargon that flies over my head.

Polly on the left, Yvonne on the right, my shiny forehead in the foreground.

I sit at my desk in a large cubicle that I share with two young Taiwanese women, Polly and Yvonne, and stare at a Word document. How do I make sense of what I’m reading when I don’t understand half the terminology? Within minutes I have multiple tabs open in Internet Explorer, each explaining some aspect of what I’m trying to rewrite. I flip back to Word and reread the sentence. Ponder. Type a couple of words. Ponder. Shake my head and delete the entire sentence. Click back to Wikipedia or HowStuffWorks or whichever website best writes for the layman. Ponder. Change the song on my iPod. Jam out for a minute. Ponder.

I could type in Chinese. Like that's ever going to happen.

Usually after several minutes I’ll come up with the word I’ve been trying to recall or will figure out how I want to reword the section. Then my fingers will fly across the keyboard and I’ll make up for my pondering time. At times I’ll use Google to find a thesaurus online so I can figure out just the right word.

On Wednesday the word was “disassemble”. I was updating product packaging, my first assignment, and with every panel of the box I realized just how much the company needed me to save them from Chinglish. The sentence I was working on read:

“The product should not be affected with damp or opens the shell arbitrarily”

In true Mandy form, the first time I read that, I snorted.

I’ve already introduced my supervisor to my fairly obnoxious attention to detail. There needs to be a space after this bullet. This bullet is smaller than the bullet before it. The wrong dash is used here. A dash is missing here. These colors would hurt the Easter Bunny’s feelings. This font is ugly. That chart looks like something a kid with a crayon would make. This chart looks like the crayon box vomited. Who decided this design was a good idea?

Of course, I say everything much more positively and helpfully. “Comic Sans was out of date before it was even created,” becomes “If we use Arial it will be much easier to read.” Upon seeing the diagram that would be used on the product packaging, instead of saying, “Using stock photos from the 1990s makes this diagram worse than it already is,” I say, “Would you like me to update the diagram for you?”

Job security.

And that’s where I get myself into trouble yesterday, and I’m paying for it today. First, I’m not a graphic designer. Second, to make the diagram I have to use two programs, Visio and Photoshop, neither of which I know how to use. I struggle enough with Microsoft Paint.

Google, here I come.