Taimu starts his long soliloquy about this party, this award, the culmination of twenty years of tireless research. Lulan listens to him and wonders why he wants to talk about his work on immune cells, which she can’t understand at all. At intervals, Taimu even pauses a second or two, expecting her to insert some intelligent questions. Lulan did her best to entertain Taimu’s wishes while secretly wishing him to come to an end.
At length, Taimu stops and hands over his speech draft, which is very long–two pieces of paper torn from a lab notebook filled up with his scribbles on all sides. It is clearly divided into five parts as if this is an experimental procedure. Lulan wonders why with so much passion for his work, Taimu is not able to express that passion in his draft, which is logical, reasonable, and dry.
Lulan, in her ultra efficient way, starts to type it out in the word processor while speaking to Taimu in her usual blunt way. Ivy has always advised Lulan to be gentle and diplomatic when dealing with clients, but Lulan often forgets her advice.
First she suggests that he cut it down to less than five hundred words, which Taimu readily agrees; then she recommends that he add some descriptions of what he feels, towards which Taimu happily obliges. Actually he starts to write on a new piece of paper about his current joy and previous frustrations with his lab results.
However it is what Lulan says next that completely throws Taimu off.
“You are praising your work too much. This will not do.” Lulan says.
“What do you mean? I can’t praise my work too much. No praise is too much for all the efforts…” Taimu is so utterly surprised that he starts to stammer.
“It’s the cultural difference. English is a funny language. When you praise something too highly for too long in English, it feels like a parody. Or worse, it makes the speaker look like a narcissistic fool. Many other cultures are exactly the opposite–you are encouraged to blow your own trumpet in the most exaggerated way possible in a ceremony. Yes, in many other cultures, if you don’t praise yourself to the sky or showing your delirious ego, you are not really enjoying yourself. However in English, you have to do self praise in a self deprecating humor.” Lulan says.
“I can’t believe this.” Taimu casts a doubtful glance at Lulan.
“Have you been to other award parties before? Have you noticed how other people speak?” Lulan asks.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to the language. Probably you are right, but still it feels like…. Well, deprecating means disapproval, right? It’s so weird that you want me to disapprove myself in a party that’s supposed to celebrate and to approve.” Taimu says, unconvinced.
“Wait, look here. You are practically laughing at the rival group. You are gloating that they did this wrong and did that wrong, which make them unsuccessful in the same experiment that you did successfully.” Lulan says.
“Of course. I win this round and I have to laugh as loud as possible. This is my only opportunity since I may lose the next round. Do you know that science is a competition? A serious competition. And we are supposed to rally our strength and taunting our opponents.” Taimu says.
“Yes, that’s true. However in English, you can only taunt your opponents in veiled attacks. You can’t gloat too openly.” Lulan says.
“Oh, come on. If everybody knows about the competition and the attack, is it still veiled? Isn’t the veil unnecessary? What is a veiled attack anyway? Is it an attack wrapped up as a praise?” Taimu is losing his good humor at this point.
“Wait, and look here. You even include a victory poem. Did you translate this poem yourself from Mongolian or did you do a google search and find a translation?” Lulan says.
“Well, I did a google search. Isn’t that great? It fits in so well in my speech. I would enjoy such a victorious moment. This poem is the highlight of my speech.” Taimu says, and smiles.
“No, you can’t use it. English has very distinct aesthetics about poems. Translated poems are often considered corny. Seriously. This is why translated poems are not popular here, except Rumi. I mean even with Rumi, I bet the translator changed the original rhyme and sound to make it more acceptable to the English ear.” Lulan says.
“What? What are you saying? I can’t praise myself, I can’t taunt my rival, and I can’t even recite a victory poem. What kind of ceremony is this? I don’t believe you. I don’t believe English speaking people behave like what you just said. I bet they don’t. You are a non-native speaker yourself. What do you know? Tell you what, I should give my draft to my colleagues to let them judge it. I was thinking of giving it to you first to help me brush up my English first before I show it to my colleagues. Now I guess you are just too negative on me. Too negative.” Taimu is getting very upset.
Ivy comes over. The training center is entirely empty now except for these three remaining. Ivy smiles at Taimu and says, “You are our most valued customer, Taimu. Don’t be upset. Congratulations on the two biggest achievements of your life–the award and the promotion. You are such a brilliant scientist and we are so proud of you.”
The compliments immediately produce the desired effect and Taimu regains his equilibrium. To make Taimu feel even better, Ivy continues her flattery,
“Don’t listen to Lulan. She’s an unemployed anthropologist and of course she’s negative and bitter. However she’s a person who has a sharp-knife tongue and a soft-tofu heart. Don’t you get angry with her. And if she had your promotion and your award, she would be singing the most corny song imaginable to the United Nation’s assembly in New York for the whole world to hear.” Ivy says.
“What are you talking about?” Lulan protests.
“Oh, shut up, will you? I am very angry with you for offending the Director. He deserves all our respect.” Ivy gives Lulan a significant look to let her know that she’s handling a customer service crisis here and then continues to speak with Taimu.
“Look, I totally agree with you, Director Ochir.” After years of calling him by his first name Taimu, Ivy swiftly changes to call him by his last name. “I want you to thoroughly enjoy yourself. Praise your hard work, taunt your rival, recite your poem. This is the high point of your life and celebrate it in your own way.”
“Thank you, Ivy. Thank you. You are so kind. Now I feel so much better and I will do exactly as you said–celebrate it in my own way. And you Lulan. You are such a killjoy, just like my wife.” Taimu says and grabs his draft. The next moment, he’s gone.