Chen Huizhi 2018-12-11
A premature baby, Yao Wubin suffered brain damage when he almost suffocated in an infant incubator.
Now aged 26, cerebral palsy has defined Yao’s whole life, but his first translation work, an Italian chef’s book about mushrooms, is to be published early next year.
Cerebral palsy comes in many forms. Generally, sufferers have impaired muscle control, causing difficulties in walking, swallowing and in speech. Steven Hawking suffered from motor neuron disease, and the effects of cerebral palsy are very similar.
The condition rarely affects the sufferer’s intellectual capacity. Like Yao, a fine mind if often trapped inside a disobedient body.
Yao’s mother, Wu Yuzhen, recounts how her son showed great interest in English from his earliest years and started to learn the language at the age of 3.
“Three tape recorders eventually wear out because he played the language tapes so much,” Wu said.
Yao is blessed with a capacious and voracious memory. He has always enjoyed reading books.
“To live is to learn,” he said. “Even though I’m a disabled man, I’m entitled to all the knowledge of this world.”
After graduating from high school, he had to put his studies on hold. His father suffered a serious stroke and has never fully regained his ability to speak. Wu Yuzhen, crippled from childhood polio, found it hard to cope.
Despite the difficulties at home, Yao enrolled in Shanghai Open University and earned a bachelor’s degree in English last year.
His ambition had always been to be a professional translator.
At a charity event six years ago, he met Fan Fan, 59, an entrepreneur and former teacher, and doors swung open.
“His English was very good, but that doesn’t automatically qualify you as a good translator,” she said.
Five years ago, he started to translate “The Complete Mushroom Book: Savory Recipes for Wild and Cultivated Varieties,” by popular chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio, who died last year.
Fan, who is in the mushroom business herself, gave Yao the book just to try his hand at translation and helped him along the way.
“Progress was slow. Yao had had very little contact with foreign countries and cultures,” she said. “My role was to explain to him what he wasn’t able to see for himself.”
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
Wu Yuzhen helps Yao Wubin, her son, get up from a chair.
Assistance also came from other quarters. Chai Mingjiong, dean of the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University, stepped in along with his colleagues and students, to offer consultation and editing for the translation. An expert from the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences helped vet technical terms in the book.
The book which is soon to hit the shops is very different from Yao’s first attempt, which speaks to the hard work still ahead of him if he wants to make translation his profession. Fan said the university will soon send a Ph.D candidate to instruct Yao.
“Our goal is to help him get on his feet and become a competent translator so that he can support himself,” she said.
Yao has plenty of role models to inspire him.
Zhang Keping, 56, paralyzed from the neck down in an accident when he was 17 years old, is the translator of Stephen Hawking’s biography. Wang Zhichong, 83, unable to walk since he was 15 because of a spinal disease, taught himself Russian and became a celebrated Russian translator.
Yao has been teaching himself other languages: French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish.
Normally quite reticent, his eyes light up whenever he speaks a foreign language.
The Shanghai Disabled People’s Federation, in a statement to Shanghai Daily, expressed gratitude to all who helped Yao in his maiden translation, calling it an example of the kindness of Shanghai’s people.
“While most disabled people in Shanghai lead lives of dignity, we want them become more confident and happier,” the organization said. “They have yet to open up to society and vice versa, but we see great efforts on both sides.”