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Translation Editing to Make Money to Travel

In an odd but necessary move I go in for mundane work — and it got me where I wanted to go.

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This post is from over a year ago — a time when I was coming up with new ways to make the additional money that I needed to finish the travels for my book on China’s ghost cities.

So I was broke again and back on Craigslist. I was looking for something — anything that could get me some money. There was a nude modeling gig in Shanghai, a private instructor posting for a “famous actor” in Xiamen, an excessive amount of English teachi — I don’t do that shit, an editing job . . . .

There. That was it.

My skill set is based in words. I’ve run magazines, websites, and was working on completing a book. Although I’m hesitant to admit it in boastful conversation I’ve also worked as a copy editor before.

It wasn’t going to get any better than that.

I read the job description:

Edit English translations consulting the original Chinese source for the NBA2K basketball computer game.

I could do that. I sent an email expressing interest and a CV. I received a reply saying that I got the job. US$1,500 for two or three weeks of work. Not bad.

It ended up being two and a half weeks of absolutely mindless, robot work. Although I only had to invest around three hours per day and only did five day weeks. I checked English translations against the original Chinese to make sure it was correct and then patched them up. It was thousands upon thousands of basketball related phrases, terms, and sentences like:

“Pass the ball”

“Jump shot”

“Lebron James has two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, two NBA Finals MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year award.”

“With Kobe’s mad dunking skills you can smash your opponents.”

“To the right.”

“To the left”

“3 pointer!”

“Slam dunk”

“Shaq is a beast under the hoop, all opponents shudder when he steps on the court.”

Have my years of writing and my degree in journalism been reduced to this?

The money, the money, the money. I was traveling across China more readily than usual, covering farther distances, going to more places, in less time. This is the most costly way to travel — and I needed more money than the usual stream could carry in.

Midway through the project my supervisor emailed me saying that there was the potential for the project to be larger than they at first thought so they were going to switch me over to a price per word payment rate rather than the fixed US$1,500. They made it seem as if this would be for my benefit. Fair enough.

Then a week later the project came to an end — on time, with no extra work. According to the new payment system I was now only privy to US$1,100. I was railroaded out of $400. I complained, but only halfheartedly. As I found this job through Craigslist I was still skeptical as to whether I’d be paid anything at all — and to be honest I was grasping for anything I could get. Eleven hundred could easily have been nothing.

I’m a work snob — I don’t normally just work for the money. There are a few things that I do in China that could make what’s called “real money” if I scaled them, but I don’t. You usually need to spend time to make money, and that time to me is often more valuable than the chit coming in. I like to spend my days researching stories and writing stories, and I usually don’t have to break this routine. If I do take a job outside of this I generally make sure that it’s something interesting that will put me in contact with fascinating people in fascinated circumstances and provide me with something to write about — not work that consists of sitting in a room alone on a laptop which could never, ever be interesting enough to . . .

As it turned out, that eleven hundred got the book done.


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Filed under: China, Make Money for Travel, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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