This is more writing related to research that I’m working on – I think I might also be including more posts like this here. I’ll tag them appropriately so if you’re interested in other aspects of my life instead, you can skip them.
Originally, my goal going into this section of research was simply to learn about some fundamental aspects of the organic food industry in Taiwan. How much agricultural production is classified as organic? What is required in order to be classified as organic? Is organic production continuing to grow? Is the growth coming from conversion of “traditional” methods to organic or cultivation of new lands?
I have spent a lot of time in the past week on Taiwanese websites in an attempt to answer these questions. During that time, I have noticed several features – such as more animated gifs than I would find on many US government websites, and that it’s common practice to introduce very clearly the qualifications and specialties of the head of that department. More importantly, I have noticed that almost all government websites include an English translation. Initially, this excited me. English translations, even if they were a little poor, would surely make my life easier when trying to cruise through these websites for helpful information. Although I can read some Chinese characters, the going is comparatively slow and difficult compared to English (something about years of practice reading a language does that, I think…) However, the more time I spend navigating these websites, the more I think the English translations are only going to make my life more complicated.
For a small subset of these websites, the English translation is a mirror image of the Chinese version that has been haphazardly switched into English (by Google translate or some person with only a moderate grasp on the English language). To be honest, I am excited when I see pages like this because I can use the English translation as I had hoped – for faster navigation to aspects that I am interested in and for skim reading. Then I can take a look more closely at the Chinese in case the translation was truly botched.
I am far less excited when I try clicking on a little button for “English” and end up on an entirely different website. (For example, original:http://www.afa.gov.tw/organicAgriculture.asp ; English version: http://www.afa.gov.tw/ii_en.asp?a=2&pcatid=1&ycatid=1&lcatid=370) It’s not just that the colors of the banner have changed – no, everything has changed. Main navigation links have changed, organization has changed. Aside from the most basic information page, it can sometimes be impossible to find corresponding pages.
I do not want to immediately attribute the occurrence of two non-identical websites for the different language readers (and thus difference audiences) to evil intentions. But through most of my cursory glances, they seem to carry different information and different interpretations. There are many ways to present a single truth, and here I am facing down a very clear pair of dueling presentations. And thus I am intrigued by this phenomenon and find myself with some choices to make.
Should I simply read the English translation, as that would be the easiest for me? If I can’t find what I’m looking for, move on and don’t worry about it?
Should I simply get on my thinking cap, and my hover-over dictionary (thanks Zhongwen!) and read the Chinese version? This will be harder, but probably have more information and more likely to have what I’m looking for.
Should I try to read both sets of information? And if I do that, should I try to analyze the differences between them (in the interests of myself? in the interests in others who might be looking for this information? in the interests of the government that might want to know that people looking for this information are confused and frustrated?) And of course, what would I do with such an analysis, should I complete it? This is clearly the most time-consuming possibility.
I admit that I have been moderately paralyzed with this realization and have yet to commit to any of the choices as the difference in time and effort that they imply are huge.