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Asia Minute: Tough Job: Interpreter for U.S. Presidential Debate

Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland.

The next U.S. presidential debate is scheduled for two weeks from tonight. In the Asia Pacific, many who watched the first one are still voicing their reactions.

The U.S. presidential debate was carried live across much of the Asia Pacific — sometimes with simultaneous translation. And if you thought the moderator had some challenges, consider the interpreters.

In Vietnam, some just stopped their work — skipping sections that became too difficult to understand.

Japanese national broadcaster NHK carried the debate live — leading one viewer to tweet “Whatever those translators are paid, they deserve more.”

The South China Morning Post described the reaction of a Taiwanese anchor interpreting and summarizing highlights in Mandarin. At one point she thought there was a technical problem with her earpiece because of the shouting and interruptions — telling viewers, “I have not often come across this kind of situation! It is hard to make out what anyone’s viewpoint is.”

Sharp reaction came from rivals and allies.

The English language version of the Chinese Community Party paper the Global Times wrote the event “showed the world a divided and chaotic U.S.”

A commentary on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said “This debate told us everything about America: a broken, divided, angry society.”

And from a political science professor at Tokyo’s campus of Temple University – bewilderment. Hiromi Murakami told the South China Morning Post, “I still have no idea what they want, the policies they are planning, and where the U.S. is going.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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