Monday, August 30, 2004


Interpreter Candy Choi stands outside the Federal Building in Honolulu where much of her work takes place.

Helping people

Kit Yee "Candy" Choi graduated from the University of Hawaii with a finance degree in 1989, but since 1990 has worked as an interpreter, specializing in Mandarin and Cantonese. The 36-year-old former Hong Kong resident works both for herself and the nonprofit Helping Hands Hawaii, whose Bilingual Access Line has about 80 interpreters on call conducting about 1,500 translation jobs a month in 18 languages.

Question: If your degree was in finance, how did you become an interpreter?

Kit Yee "Candy" Choi

Title: Language interpreter

Job: Helps people who can't speak English deal with local health and human services providers.

Answer: It was a referral. I was looking for a job and it happened that I could use my language skills. So I started working as an interpreter and I liked it, instead of going into the bank.

Q: How long have you been doing this?

A: Since 1990. I started working part time and I love it, so I built up my clientele. I have now about 500 clients. I really like it that I can use my language skills to help the new people, the immigrants, merge into American society and adapt into the culture.

Q: How do you charge?

A: I charge hourly, per case and per client. There's different rates for legal and medical. Legal is more intense -- you're like talking for 60 minutes in court or for a deposition. In medical, there's a lot of waiting time, so the charges are different.

Q: What was one of your most difficult jobs?

A: A rape case. It was a couple years ago. The police called me, once they'd picked up the client, and I had to rush to the hospital in five to 10 minutes.

Q: How do clients find you?

A: There was a law passed several years ago that says if any federal or state agency has a client that doesn't speak English, they are required to hire a translator. So the agencies call Bilingual Access Line (536-7234). I'm on call to all the emergency sites, like the hospital, the prison, all the federal agencies, Immigration, the FBI. And then I do translations on my own, too. Like when hospitals pass out flyers to the community, those need to be translated. I also do voice-overs for some commercials, like one I did recently in Chinese for Mercedes Benz.

Q: What channel was that on?

A: I don't know. I don't watch TV much. I don't have time to watch TV. (Laughter). I work long hours. I start at 6 o'clock and work late. We're on call 24 hours. But I love my job.

Q: Are you married?

A: No. I think if I was married, I'd be divorced because my work is so intense.

"Hawaii at Work" features people telling us what they do for a living. This interview was conducted by Star-Bulletin reporter Mark Coleman. Send suggestions to business@starbulletin.com



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