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Of Severing Gordian Knots and Other Creative Solutions to Thorny Problems - Mo's Journal
May 2nd, 2007
10:47 am

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Of Severing Gordian Knots and Other Creative Solutions to Thorny Problems
This is a story I've been telling for 20 years, and the guy who told it to me had been telling it for close to 15 years when he did. It's amusing, but I think it also illustrates something applicable to lots of different situations.

I had a colleague a long time ago named Eric, whose brother worked for the State Department. After Nixon went to China and trade between the US and China started to open up, Eric's brother accompanied a bunch of American businessmen on one of the first official trade missions there. The American delegation was wined and dined all over the country, as well as shown various industrial areas.

At a banquet one evening, Eric's brother was at a table that consisted, besides him, of three American businessmen, four Chinese factory managers, and an interpreter. None of the Americans spoke any Chinese and none of the factory managers spoke any English. The interpreter was excellent and was well able to keep multiple conversations going, translate quickly, and generally make them all feel like the eight of them were really conversing with one another. Everyone at the table was so impressed with his skills.

One of the Americans, a man Eric's brother described as a Good Ol' Boy from Texas, decided to test the interpreter. "You're pretty good, buddy," he said, "but let's see if you can handle this." And then he told a joke. It was a terrible joke, both unfunny and offensive. This was a joke that was not only racist and sexist and also very specific to American culture and concerns (it was about college football). It seemed unlikely that one could translate it into Chinese, even if one wanted to.

The interpreter, though, seemed to have no misgivings. He said something in Chinese; the factory managers all laughed; the Good Ol' Boy was impressed; conversation moved on.

But Eric's brother couldn't get over it. How had the interpreter managed to not only translate that joke but even get a laugh out of those men? After the banquet he pulled the interpreter aside and asked him to please tell him how he did it.

The interpreter smiled inscrutably :-) and replied, "It was simple. I said, 'the American gentleman has just told an untranslateable joke. Please laugh.' And they did."


Sometimes the solution is easy if you just look at the problem in a slightly different way.

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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:May 2nd, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
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Haha, thanks for sharing, hon. That's priceless. :)
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
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How are you Jane? I haven't seen you online for a while (although I don't always get through my whole f-list each day).
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:May 20th, 2007 07:57 am (UTC)
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Thanks for asking, hon. I haven't been on LJ much lately, but hope to rectify that, now that life is calming down a bit. I'm still dealing with a lot of challenges with my autoimmune stuff, specifically I'm in a very bad flare with high pain levels. I'm on a new med that is meant to control the pain, but it's not doing a very good job and I may have to shelf it and look for something else.

Good news though - we thought we might have to move out of our home of the last two and a half years, just to get closer to Cam's work to reduce her travelling. We are staying put now, and we're both really happy about that. This house really is our home and sanctuary, and we couldn't find anything remotely like it.

In other great news, I have landed a new part-time job as a technical editor working at home (a dream job for me, for sure). So far I'm only managing 5-10 hours a week, but it's been many years since I've been in the workforce, and I'm loving making my own pay cheque and contributing again. My boss is a work contact of Cam's and a wonderful lady she is - very understanding of my health challenges. Even better, she may soon be employing Cam, and then we'll be working close to home and together too! You could that say things are getting better all the time!

I do hope you and yours are taking care and doing well also. Lots of love and huggles,
Jane ♥
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From:mofic
Date:May 22nd, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC)
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I am sooooo glad to hear you're working! Both for the info that you're feeling well enough to, and just because I think working is so empowering.

I do hope you can find meds that get the pain under control.
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:May 27th, 2007 05:40 am (UTC)
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Thanks so much, hon. Relief from this awful pain seems so elusive, but I DO feel empowered by my work. I think what has made all the difference was finding someone who could accept all I have to offer at the level I could offer it. It is too bad that it takes a long time to find a fit when one is disabled, but I am very content, and wish that others could find the same. I wish I could clone my boss and share her around :).

(((huggles)))
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From:musamea
Date:May 2nd, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
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Rock on. What a great story!
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:31 am (UTC)
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It is a good story. A funny thing about it - when Eric told it to me, he told me the joke that the Texan businessman told. It was short - a riddle. I found it too offensive to repeat, so I just described it as I do above. But over time I forgot it, and now I couldn't tell it if I wanted to!
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From:hitchhiker
Date:May 2nd, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)
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what a beautiful story :)
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:31 am (UTC)
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It applies to so much in life!
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From:monitorscreen
Date:May 3rd, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
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That's nice :-) I was thinking if the interpreter told the Chinese men a different joke at the expense of the Americans...
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
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Now that would have worked, too. Maybe harder to do without preparation, though?
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