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Lost in the Translation? Not!

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Dave Lucier headed up a team of engineers installing two frame 5 gas turbines in Vietnam during the conflict. He tells this story about communications on the job.

In 1971, Dave Lucier drew the GETSCO job to install two MS5001LA package power plants in Tu Duc, South Viet Nam. The site was about 15 miles north of Saigon (now Ho Chi Mihn City) along Route 1 near the huge American airbase called Ton Su Nuc.

He was sent there with two other GE engineers: Willy Brandt (no relation to the former head of West Germany) and Mike Bradley. Willy was the mechanical TA and Mike was the electrical TA.

Communication was a big issue, as I'm sure everyone can immagine. They had a labor force that was comprised of twelve Vietnamese women and four men. It seems the expected work crew of men was off fighting a war with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. The best mechanic was eventually selected to be the lead man. Lu was Chinese, but had lived in Viet Nam for decades, particularly when the French were involved in Indochina. Lu spoke three languages, unfortunately none of them was English. The languages he spoke were Chinese, Vietnamese and French.

Willy was born in Germany before the Second World War. He and his family, however, had lived near Paris, France for decades. Willy had been in the French Foreign Legion as a young soldier and was stationed in Indochina for a while in the 1950s. He spoke three languages: German, French and some English.

Thus, this is how the communication typically went.

Dave spoke English to Willy, the German. Willy spoke French to Lu, the Chinaman. Lu, who was Chinese, spoke Vietnamese to the women workers (twelve) and other men.

Our crane operator was a Vietnamese woman. So was the welder a woman. The workers that slugged the anchor bolts were mostly women.

The team installed these two units and made electricity in just THREE MONTHS after the foundations were poured. It was a penalty job. Mechanical completion had to be by a specific date for both units. Full speed/no load (FSNL) and Peak Load operation were also penalty dates. We made every target date.

Communication problems, you ask? Not a bit!

That's because Dave spoke English to Willy who spoke French to Lu, the Chinaman, who spoke Vietnamese to the workers. So what's the problem?

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Last modified Saturday, Aug-18-2007 04:09 PM
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