I just finished my first translation of the memoir into Korean, and I’ve come to realize just how awful my Korean is, even after living in Korea for 10 more years. The translation is pretty embarrassing as it is, and if the Korean writer who said he’d the edit the book doesn’t get back to me, there’s no way I’ll find a publisher for this crap. I had to take out a lot of descriptions because I couldn’t figure out how to express them, my spelling is awful even with MS Word helping me out, and although there wasn’t too much to begin with, I had to take out a lot of the humor because I’m still unsure what counts as humor in Korea. It’s a hot, steaming pile of garbage, but I did my best and am at least happy that I was able to finish it so quickly.
I wish I had known that it would only take two months to do it last summer, when the Korean writer was still interested in the book. He responded promptly up until the last few weeks, and I hope that the lack of contact is because he is so immersed in what I’ve sent him or at least busy trying to figure out just what the hell I wrote. If he doesn’t get back to me, I’ll have to try to find a cheap editor or a publisher who will provide an editor for me.
As I was translating the book, I also discovered a lot of mistakes. For example, the Professor’s name wasn’t Hyeon-seok but Koh Hyeon-seop. It’s not a major error, only the first one that comes to mind. I discovered this particular error because I don’t remember anyone’s full name—only first names or trainee numbers for conscripts and last names or positions for officers—and at least for the dialogue in Korean, it’s necessary. So I had to go through all my old notes and notebooks and hope I had written them down somewhere. Unfortunately, I had only written down full names for when I was first in Daegu because I had so much trouble remembering Korean names. I still do, but it was almost impossible for me back then.
I also had to dig up a copy of the field manual I stole as I was getting discharged and rely heavily on the internet for Korean terms because I don’t remember them, either. I’m happy I could remember what I did and find what I didn’t, but there are still some terms I’m pretty sure are slightly off or different from the particular brand of jargon we used in Daegu and Afghanistan.
It’s a crazy thought, but I sometimes wonder if I should just leave it as it is because it really shows how bad my Korean still is. But there are parts that I’m sure are travesties to Korean grammar and some that are completely unintelligible, and as the director at my first hagwon job in Korea used to say when I tried to speak Korean to my kindergartners, I would just make people stupider for hearing it.