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Published: November 26th 2007
When I first arrived in Beijing I had about 550 Euros, (which is around 800 US dollars and 6,000 RMB). This was to get me through two months of living and traveling in China, pay my credit card bill (about $300 dollars’ worth of skype credit and a plane ticket), and buy my flight home to NC. Not to mention needing money to buy xmas presents for friends, family, etc…… needless to say it was not going to be enough, and I needed to get some kind of work to make ends meet.
I had been banking on the fact that there would be a teaching position available at New Channel School, my brother's English school here in Beijing. This was not the case, and so I found myself 'scrambling' to find work.
My first job was an english recording job with Max Sacks International, an international firm based here in Beijing.
This recording gig was quite funny. New Channel, John’s company, does some corporate training for businesses, I think it is language training of sorts, and often those clients need various things recorded in English. Often it is John who does the recording, but on this particular day John was not available.
John asked me to fill in, saying that I would be paid and that in all likelihood there would be only a small phrase or two that I would need to speak in Chinese, and that I could just 'wing it' if I had to.
I I took a cab with Amy, a New Channel employee, to Max Sacks' office for the recording. When we arrived they served me chocolates and hot tea and we began discussing what needed to be recorded.
It turned out what they wanted me to record was two separate voicemail messages, in both English and Chinese, back to back. In fact it was two similar but separate message boxes that needed to be recorded. They showed me the text, which was four sentences (in English and Chinese).
Four sentences does not sound like a lot, but imagine looking at a text in a language you have never spoken before, a tonal language, and being expected to speak fluidly, fluently, and flawlessly from beginning to end. I felt like I was staring at a state of the Union Address and was standing in front of Congress about to deliver it. To be more precise, I felt like I was a con man and Max Sacks International would call my bluff the moment I opened my mouth and attempted to speak Chinese.
It took me about 40 minutes to memorize the tonal text, and get to the point where I could say the whole thing without the client cringing. After a few more dry runs, I was feeling pretty confident.
The trick , though, was that we were not in a recording studio. There is no editing, no overdubbing, no recording over rough patches. Their voicemail was just like yours or mine at home or on our cell phones, where you record the message, hear it played back, and either keep it or erase it and try again. We recorded the message five or six times and each time I had one or two mistakes or blips which made us record it again. Finally on the 7th time, I nailed it! I mean, I really nailed it. I got authentic ‘good job’'s from them, visibly different from the half-assed ‘that was good, but let’s try it one more time’ they had been giving me up to this point. The client pressed a series of buttons so that we could hear the playback, and somewhere in the series instead of pressing ‘replay’ he pressed the ‘erase’ button.
It was gone. My gem of a recording had been deleted forever.
We did it two more times and on the second time I got it right. I didn’t nail it, but I got it right.
They decided to do the following recording, a bit longer and also in Chinese and English, with myself doing the English part and then another employee jumping in to say the Chinese part immediately after. This to me was a very logical idea--‘hey, lets have a native speaker do the Chinese recording instead of a non-native speaker’--I am surprised they had not thought of this sooner. After four tries, we got it recorded.
Amy and the client went into another room for a few moments (I think to discuss how much I would get paid for this work); when she returned we shook hands with the client and went on our way.
I phoned Max Sacks International the other day to check if they indeed kept the recording or had decided to record over it. Sure enough, they had kept (to my surprise). It sounds pretty good!
PS-if you have skypeout and want to call to hear my recording, Max Sacks Int's # is: 00-(86) 10-82512608
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