Ming Dao: From Factory Worker to Chinese Translator

Ming Tao is a Chinese translator. Photo by Nhek Sreyleak

PHNOM PENH—Ming Dao, who used to work at a factory in Phnom Penh, today is a Chinese translator. Building on the limited knowledge she had of the language, she studied hard in her free time so she could become a translator and earn more to help support her family. And while still at the factory, becoming fluent in Chinese helped her solve conflicts between Cambodian workers and those of Chinese background, she said.  

Growing up in a poor family, Dao had to drop out of secondary school and get a job as a factory worker in Phnom Penh. But in her free time, she attended Chinese classes at a church.  

As Dao explained, "Because I love studying so much, I thought of choosing a language to learn…While working at the factory, I was communicating with Chinese-speaking people, and over time I learned some Chinese. I knew some, but not enough, so I went about studying more."

Chinese classes at the church were free. Dao would attend them after work which was finishing around 6 p.m. and sometimes 8 p.m. Communicating with Chinese-speaking people at the factory would also help her practice what she was studying.

Dao has now been a Chinese translator for 11 years, she said. "I am a person who didn’t get high education; but now…I can speak Chinese, which is something that makes me proud.”

In addition to helping her improve her life and increase her income, being a translator has helped her contribute to solving some problems that factory workers faced. As she explained, “[i]t has been worth it because [knowledge of the] Chinese language has helped me get a higher income, brought me respect when I worked as a regular worker and especially enabled me to help workers when there were problems with Chinese-speaking workers.”

Ming Dao, who is transgender, also mentioned that Chinese-language skills helped her be respected by other workers and people in general in society.

"Since I am a transwoman, in the context of society, there are still positive and negative things,” she said. “But, for me, because I have a good education, some people value me, and no one insults me. There is only a small group of people who use offensive words.” But this was not the case among Khmer-speaking factory workers who respected her language skills and the fact that she could help resolve conflicts or misunderstandings between them and Chinese-speaking workers, she said.

Learning Chinese was no easy task, but it has been worth the effort, Dao said. People should consider studying Chinese for everyday usage as well as a personal asset for work or everyday life, she added.  

Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Chhuon Kongieng for Cambodianess.

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