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Title: Interview with David Lynch: Experiences in Taiwan
Project: Lakeland Oral History Project
Interviewee: Professor David Lynch
Interviewer: Dale Yurs
Interview location and date: William A. Kreuger Building, Lakeland College, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on April 15, 2008
Length of interview: 12 minutes and 39 seconds
Name Index: David Lynch, Dale Yurs, Chang Kai Chek, David's younger Brother
Abstract: Oral history interview with Lakeland College Professor David Lynch regarding his interest in Chinese language and culture, and his studies in Taiwan.
Dale Yurs: First of all how did you start speaking Chinese and start learning about the culture?
David Lynch: My younger brother and I took Tai Chi class from a guy from the Wauwatosa YMCA in Milwaukee and we liked it very much. At the end of the 6 week session we asked the young man who gave the class if he were going to continue he said, 'why would you learn from me when you could learn from my teacher.' His teacher lived in Wauwatosa but taught at a school in Milwaukee. My brother and I both went there and liked it very much. We liked our teacher decided to stay and learn more from him, but our teacher was pretty old at the time was not a native speaker of English in fact he had only been in the United states for only 4 years or so and he came here in his early 70's. So when I decided I wanted to learn more I thought why should I expect him to learn better English when in fact would not only help me communicate better with him I could also learn more about Chinese culture.
Yurs: How old were you when you got started?
Lynch: 23 or 24
Yurs: So that was after you graduated college?
Lynch: No, that was after I had left college I had not graduated, I had not been back to school since I withdrew in 1982.
Yurs: Do you have a degree in Chinese?
Lynch: My undergraduate was in Chinese from UW Madison, that was my major actually not my degree. And a masters in Chinese Language and Literature from National Cheng Chih University.
Yurs: When did you take your first trip to Taiwan?
Lynch: To Taiwan — my first trip to Taiwan was in 1987, the fall of 1987.
Yurs: How long was that trip?
Lynch: I stayed for about 9 months. I came back for part of the summer the following year I went back maybe a month later and I stayed there until 1989.
Yurs: Were you studying the entire time you were there?
Lynch: I took Chinese lesson at one of the billion schools that did that for foreigners taught Chinese to foreigners, and I also worked to pay for my tuition while I was there that is to say I taught English and just sort of not too many people spoke English there were plenty of course. Pretty much only the kids younger than me spoke any English. Because of the environment I had to learn to speak and read and all that good stuff just by doing my thing every day.
Yurs: What made you choose Taiwan over China?
Lynch: I went to mainland China in 1986 and it was pretty newly open to foreigners. None of the places I went, except for the Great Wall, in 1986 had any foreigners to speak of. While there was a university there that I actually applied to, it was quite a hassle to get in and I got very impatient waiting for them to either approve or deny my application and when I had not heard from them by the end of the summer in 1987 I decided that going to Taiwan would be faster that it was very easy to get in and out of the country, I knew that I could go to a private language school and start class more or less as soon as I got there. I did not care at that time about getting a degree from a university in mainland China, I just wanted to be able to go to school. I chose Taiwan because it was faster.
Yurs: What is the difference between Chinese and Taiwan culture, the biggest difference?
Lynch: The most obvious difference is written language. It is true the Chinese use Chinese characters. Mainland China uses simplified forms of many of the characters that are in common use because they are so hard to write. Taiwan continues to use the traditional form of all the characters and it is a lot more complicated. That actually is an indication of how the two countries sort of view their past. A lot of symbolic traditional culture from mainland China got trashed during the Cultural Revolution. Taiwan had no such event, so Taiwan remains in some ways very traditional maybe the most basic elements have always been the same which is they share philosophical heritage and in everyday life the most practical things like food for example are still identical family structure is the same. Taiwan speaks two different dialects of Chinese — Mandarin and Taiwan. Mainland China has well over a dozen dialects and that makes it very compartmentalized in terms of local traditions, but Taiwan is small and it is not easy to compartmentalize.
Yurs: Did you ever feel like an outcast while you were in Taiwan, or were they welcoming?
Lynch: I think that the Chinese in general are extremely friendly and quite good with foreigners, but it is the first time that I ever lived as a minority. There weren't many foreigners even in Taiwan that were living, working or studying there when I was there. But there were, relatively speaking, there were a lot of foreigners compared to mainland China. But the Chinese were always very good to me. It was unusual to be an outsider in that I wasn't Chinese and there weren't that many westerners. They were always very nice to me.
Yurs: Would you ever consider going back to Taiwan to live?
Lynch: Absolutely! I think about it almost every day.
Yurs: What would you do? Would you teach Chinese or English?
Lynch: Well, I am not qualified to teach Chinese I mean I am not a native speaker. My Chinese is good but I am not a native speaker. So I don't know I could teach that, but I suppose I could teach at a school that taught Chinese to foreigners. I mean at least I would by means of my experience be able to work with the local staff to find a delivery method that was effective or slightly more effective, that's not to say they don't do it well now they do. But I had to go through, if I were to do that, I would have gone through what their students, their clientele had gone through already I would be able to say yeah this work this didn't work. I don't particularly think that teaching English solely on the basis of me being a native speaker is a very good idea. It would be lucrative I am sure but I am not qualified at all to teach it because I don't understand English as a second language pedagogy. More or less I would like to sit around in an alley chew beetle nuts, drink beer, and smoke cigarettes with my Chinese friends.
Yurs: Is there anything else about Taiwan that you would like people to know about? Anything that you think is misunderstood?
Lynch: The truth is I don't know what most people think about Taiwan. I have a reasonably good handle on what many people that I know think about mainland China, but what they think about Taiwan I don't really know. I distinguish the two because they developed in two very different ways. After 1949 the Taiwanese kind of went their own way in terms of the development of the nation the whole Chang Kai Chek the whole nationalist thing which eventually led to in 1989 to a democratic election in mainland China which is still according to the press still a communist country. I know what many people think about how that appears to them that will all change in the Olympics. Taiwan is pretty rich, I don't know if this is still the case they used to have per person more Mercedes Benz than any other country. There is a lot of money technology is very high end. The one thing they lack now is space it is the size of West Virginia and Rhode Island combined or something so it is small. But I think if someone was gong to go to Asia for the first time and try to get a sense of how China is now, and now by China I am not distinguishing between Taiwan and mainland China, the easiest place for people to start would be Taiwan. There are a lot of Westerners there are a lot of things, the quality of living is higher than most places in mainland China although Beijing and Shanghai have become quite wealthy. Taiwan would be an easier way to get your toe in the water. Despite the fact that it is wealthy and advanced a good flavor for what China is like it would be a good springboard.
Yurs: Thank you very much.
Lynch: My pleasure of course.