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Interview with Liu Yi-Chun

Chun, Liu Yi
Smith, Ben
Date of Interview: 
Cultural identification; Relationships with people and places
Yi-Chun Liu talks about differences between Taiwanese and Chinese and moving to Charlotte
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Ben Smith interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
BS (Ben Smith): ( ) Are you done playing with my cell phone?
LY (Liu Yi-Chun): Playing? I'm just curious.
BS: You were playing. Well, that's, you know, play, curious. I don't have any signal.
LY: Oh.
BS: I'll turn it off, there's no need to waste the battery.
LY: Oh.
BS: I can't get a call right now 'cause there's no-.
LY: No signal? OK.
BS: OK. But anyway.
LY: What?
BS: What? You look nervous.
LY: Why? No. I'm not. No, I just bring my pencils.
BS: So I have to ask, something I've wanted to ask you for a while is how on earth did you end up here at this school?
LY: What do you mean?
BS: How did, from, from Taiwan, // how did you-? //
LY: // How, // how did I find this school?
BS: Yes. I mean, ( ).
LY: Oh, basically [laugh] I heard my parents. They say they have a very far, there, they have, they have relatives, here, in North Carolina, but it's far far away from here [Laugh]
BS: Where at?
LY: Cary.
BS: In, // that's near Raleigh. //
LY: // Near Raleigh, // yeah, yeah, they are not in my age, so basically I just visit, visited them once.
BS: Did your parents want you to go to NC State?
LY: No. I don't know why I chose this school [laughs]. Basically, I listen to my relative, uh, suggested me to go to, to choose schools in North Carolina and Bah-, and Massachusetts, 'cause his sons, his sons study in North Carolina and Massachusetts-.
BS: OK, and-.
LY: -So basically I just chose those schools here and there. [Laugh]
BS: OK. Was there any particular reason you chose here or was it // just-?
LY: // Just // my parents felt safe if I can study here or there-.
BS: // OK. //
LY: // -Basically // here in North Carolina.
BS: OK, and your relatives here suggested this school?
LY: One of, one of the schools.
LY: What, is it long way?
BS: Eh, not really. I was just curious because, my grandmother came from Japan in the 50s, so her, just her way of telling how things were, I'm just always interested to know what it's like to move countries.
LY: Oh, I plan to learn Japanese.
BS: Really?
LY: I can speak Japanese.
BS: Really?
LY: But just greetings.
BS: Oh, OK.
LY: Basically, yeah. That's my plan. I like languages.
BS: And what are you doing to do with that?
LY: Like, interpreter.
BS: // Oh. //
LY: // Be // an interpreter. That's cool. No, basically just communicate with people, yeah 'cause my uncle, my youngest uncle, lives in Yokohama.
BS: OK, // uh. //
LY: // Yeah, // he works and lives there, so he say I can live there as long as I can, yeah.
BS: Free place to stay?
LY: Yeah, yeah, 'cause he is a single, single man. Yeah, and he has a baby face [laughs] and I live in Japan almost six months when I was a little girl. That's why I, I could speak, I can speak, some Japanese.
BS: I know something that surprised me about Taiwan-.
LY: Why?
BS: -Was the number of people speaking Japanese.
LY: Yeah, because of the history. 19 four-, fif-, four-, nine-, 40-, // five. //
BS: // Five. //
LY: Japan occupied Taiwan for 50 years, so, you know, people, Taiwan, Taiwanese had to accept Japanese education. They are taught in Japanese, so my grandparents can speak Japanese.
BS: Um, is your family from Taiwan itself or did they-.
LY: // Yeah. //
BS: // -Come // from the Chinese mainland way back?
LY: No, from Taiwan.
LY: Yeah, if, if your parents from China, probably they cannot speak Taiwanese.
LY: You say outside of-, right? Outside of Taiwan?
BS: Yes. // ( ). //
LY: // Because // I speak Taiwanese at home.
BS: OK. And you speak-.
LY: Chinese.
BS: -Chinese // out-. //
LY: // ( ) //
BS: -In public.
LY: At school, or, yeah, in public. Especially in southern part, people speak Taiwanese, but especially my parents emphasize Taiwanese is the most important language. Well, and Chinese, 'cause you can speak Chinese all the time, but, yeah, you can practice Taiwanese, ah, you can practice Chinese as, in public or at school ( ).
BS: Why do you think that Taiwanese is still prevalent in the south, more people speak Taiwanese in the south than in the north?
LY: Because, like Taipei, is the capital, is our capital. Uh, business, business city, commercial city, so-.
BS: More, more outside influences?
LY: Yeah.
BS: Because before, before I went to Taiwan, that's the only city I'd heard of, was Taipei.
LY: And you can say, um, like, um, like, if you go to Hong Kong, people speak Cantonese instead of Chinese, yeah, 'cause, yeah, and, but actually, Cantonese is a dialect, not their official language, I think.
BS: A dialect of Chinese?
LY: Yes, Cantonese is a dialect of Chinese-.
LY: -And Taiwanese is a dialect of Chinese, too. Yeah.
LY: But why now, uh, Taiwanese, uh, not every person can speak Taiwanese because it's a long, long history, but before, our government of China, China, how do you say that? You know Chiang Kai-shek?
BS: Uh-huh.
LY: He was from China, and he, he brought people, he brought people here to Taiwan, and he forced, forced Taiwanese cannot speak Taiwanese. That's one of the reasons.
BS: He made them speak, Chinese?
LY: You have to speak Chinese, or else you will be punished, to fined one or five or 10 dollars, 80 dollars basically, if you speak Taiwanese at school, and you will be teased, // or-. //
BS: // At // school-.
LY: // Sometimes. //
BS: // -You were // fined.
LY: Yeah, I heard that, but in my age, no, um, yeah.
BS: Did, did anyone in your age try to speak Taiwanese in the school, or was it mostly Chinese?
LY: It was Chinese. But we say Taiwanese is our mother tongue, and we don't want to lose or, don't want to lose our treasure, so that's why especially my parents thought, they worry one day Taiwanese will be what, will be-.
BS: Extinct?
LY: -Extinct, yeah, so. Do you understand what I'm saying? Yeah.
BS: Not, not from experience, no, but I can, can appreciate the concern.
LY: Yeah.
BS: Yeah, I mean, culture and heritage, especially one's language.
LY: Yeah.
BS: It's, well, that's their connection to everything, and if you lose that.
LY: Yeah, 'cause, 'cause, I have a friend ask me, uh, "Is Taiwanese your official language?" I say no [laugh] and I feel bad. Yeah, it should be, yeah.
BS: Yeah // ( ). //
LY: // It // is strange, I don't know why, I mean, most parents can speak Taiwanese, but they don't speak Taiwanese to their children, so their children cannot speak Taiwanese. Recently, I found it. It's terrible.
BS: Is it that these parents don't care about Taiwanese?
LY: Or they are, they afraid, probably, your Chinese won't be a good enough, won't be good enough. That's ridiculous, really [Laugh] You should know more languages, well, and if you can speak Taiwanese, people will feel more friendly, yeah.
BS: So, so there's a, a prejudice against, I guess, inferior Chinese? If you don't speak Chinese a certain way?
LY: I think so.
BS: People treat you differently?
LY: No, no, it's better, but before, like my parents' age, probably, but in my age, no. They will feel [laugh] very special 'cause I speak Taiwanese at school [laughs] and yeah, and they said, "Are you from southern Taiwan?" I say, "Yes, yes," and I, "Do you speak Taiwanese at home?" "Yes, and I like it." I don't care [laughs]. Yeah // [Laugh] //
BS: // Happy // to say that you speak Taiwanese.
LY: Yeah, 'cause I don't want to, I don't want Chi-, Taiwanese to be extinct, yeah, or some friends, they understand Taiwanese, but they cannot speak. That's funny, right? They can understand, but they cannot speak, they cannot even translate [laughs].
BS: Well, kind of, when I took French class, and I could understand hearing it and reading it, but I couldn't-.
LY: But there's some, there's one-, another thing. Taiwanese is a oral, is an oral language, not a written language, so basically you s-, you learn Chinese. You learn how to write in Chinese, not Taiwanese, 'cause Taiwanese is a, an oral language, an oral, not a written language, so that's why it's called a dialect.
BS: So you're, OK, so is it, when you, when you say a dialect of Chinese, is it essentially two different languages, or-?
LY: Sometimes you can tell, yeah, basically, yes. And my father told me, uh, Chinese has five tones. They say I know Tai-, uh, Chinese is ve-, is very hard to learn. There are five tones, but Taiwanese has eight tones. That's a very beautiful language, and, like, like, when you are from Hong Kong and you cannot speak Cantonese, how can you explain that, explain that, you know? Yeah, and I know, in China, each province has its own dialect. If you, you are from Shanghai, you speak Shanghai dialect. Is it right? Shanghai? Or Beijing or, yeah, all the, all the other places. Each province has each dialect. Like North Carolina dialect, South Carolina dialect-.
BS: Uh-huh.
LY: -But here, just English, but in China, each province has its own dialect, but basically, people speak, can speak Mandarin Chinese.
LY: But basically they are, they speak their dialect at home, but they can understand you when you speak Chinese to them.
LY: Yeah. It's funny.
BS: You said something that Chinese has five tones, and Taiwanese has eight, and that Taiwanese is a very beautiful language.
LY: Yes.
BS: Does that mean that it's more, more so than Chinese?
LY: 'Cause some, some phrases or some sentences or some descriptions, you can only use Taiwanese to express it, to describe it, but in Chinese, you can't. It's very vivid. It's very vivid. You know vivid? Yes, very vivid, and it's, it's amazing.
BS: So compare Taiwanese to English. How does Taiwanese compare to English?
LY: It's hard [laugh], I think, but basically, I think Chinese is. I think for foreigners or for other speak, other foreign language speakers, they will still think, they still think Chinese is the most difficult language to learn, so I will say Taiwanese, Chinese, English, I mean, based on, um, easy, easy to pick up. Not, not by priority or not inferiority. How do you pronounce it? Inferiority?
BS: Inferiority.
LY: Again. Inferiority?
BS: Inferiority.
LY: Inferiority? Yeah. No, just based on if it's easy, based, yeah, according to-.
BS: So you're saying Taiwanese is the easiest?
LY: No.
BS: Or the hardest?
LY: Hardest.
BS: OK, so, well [pause] if English, from, from the comparison you just gave, English is the easiest to learn out of the three, maybe?
LY: Well, I'm learning English, so-
BS: // Yeah. //
LY: // -I // cannot say that [Laugh] It's very hard, yeah, I cannot come clear.
BS: English is hard. It is, especially after looking at other, you know, European languages. You know, English is very random and has some structure but-.
LY: But if you learn Chinese that will be very very challenging, so, yeah.
BS: I can imagine.
LY: Yes.
BS: In two weeks, I learned maybe a half 12 expressions-.
LY: [Laugh]
BS: -And that's it, so-.
LY: Don't worry. For native English speakers?
BS: Yes. And by your comparison, I'm assuming that you mean English is not a pretty language.
LY: No, I, no I didn't mean that. Just, you know-.
BS: It's OK, I'm not going to be offended.
LY: [Laughs] No [laugh], jump to another topic.
BS: Another topic.
LY: // [Laughs] //
BS: // OK, // well, um-.
LY: Just, yeah, 'cause I found that issue, many children don't speak Taiwanese, it's a pity.
BS: Do you think it will become extinct?
LY: Yeah, if parents don't speak Taiwanese to their children [pause] it will. Yeah, and, if you live with your grandparents, and you have more opportunities to speak Taiwanese. Almost all your grandparents will understand what you say, 'cause most grandparents, they can only speak Taiwanese.
BS: And Japanese maybe?
LY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BS: Yeah, that would be difficult.
LY: Yes.
BS: And you lose a lot of, I guess, connection between-.
LY: Yeah, that's true.
BS: -Grandparent and grandchild if they can't talk. So what do you like most about being here in America, in Charlotte?
LY: What, what have I learned?
BS: What do you like?
LY: What I like?
BS: Uh-huh. If anything.
LY: Anything? [Pause] I don't know what to describe, like first when I came here, it's a pretty city, but the campus is kind of small.
BS: Small?
LY: Campus. Small, yeah.
BS: It's growing.
LY: OK, good // [laughs]. //
BS: It's growing.
LY: Yeah, well I like my professors, yeah.
BS: Are you more excited about going home, or would you rather stay here?
LY: I would love to go home, but still, still have a lot of things to learn. Yes, I said, every day, every day has a lot of challenges, challenge? How to pronounce? Challenges?
BS: Challenges.
LY: Challenges. Yeah.
BS: How long have you been here?
LY: Two summers and one fall semester. I counted, almost one year, seven months.
BS: And you still have challenges?
LY: I mean challenges like, like I have a lot of first time experience-.
BS: Uh-huh.
LY: -Like how to fill up, fill up with the gasoline?
BS: Oh.
LY: Yeah, yeah, how to do car washing, lot of stuff.
BS: You didn't have to do that before?
LY: No.
BS: What, you had a, you had a scooter.
LY: Yeah, motorcycle.
BS: Motorcycle.
LY: Yeah, here it doesn't, it, there is a, there is a, an attendant, right? To help you.
BS: Here?
LY: Yeah.
BS: Not usually.
LY: Yeah, it's a big difference.
BS: You go to New Jersey-.
LY: Yeah, I heard that.
BS: -People ( ).
LY: Yeah. I drove it. First time, I scared, I was scared.
BS: First time what?
LY: I was scared to pump, pump it.
BS: // ( ). //
LY: // It was terrible, // scared me. I worry, will, will catch a fire?
LY: Yeah.
BS: Well, I guess-.
LY: Yeah, 'cause if you did not have any experience, you will be scared. But a lot of experiences I never tried before. Adventures, yeah.
BS: What do you think of food here?
LY: Food?
BS: Food is usually very, important to people.
LY: Hmm. I like to try many kinds of food, yeah, and recently I cook a lot. I know how to cook Thai food. It's not Taiwanese food. It's // Thailand-. //
BS: // Thaiwan. //
LY: -Thai food, Thai. You know that? I learned it, and Korean food, I know how to make, how to cook it, yeah.
BS: So there, there are differences between those-.
LY: // Yeah. //
BS: // -Because // I bet if you ask most people here, they wouldn't think there was much difference between Chinese and Korean and Thai.
LY: Oh, because the typical food is, not typical, I mean, Korean food is very spicy. That's their typical flavor. And Thai? I don't know. Probably sour? No, I'm not sure, but it's different.
BS: Something I noticed was how, I think I noticed it more after I came back from Taiwan is that eating the Chinese food here is [pause] there's a lot of flavor, almost too much.
LY: Here?
BS: Here.
LY: Here?
BS: It's like they, they put so much salt and sugar and-.
LY: // Really? //
BS: // -Everything // to make it more flavorful compared to what I ate in Taiwan.
LY: Uh-huh.
BS: Have you noticed that, or is that just me?
LY: I think we have more food in Taiwan.
BS: Really?
LY: But I don't like it, I don't like food here. Yeah, I like sticky rice, and it's too, too expensive here. Usually, usually, it cost five, more than five dollars, but in Taiwan, you can or-, you can order more than one entree, one entree, like, uh, like fried rice? That's the most, cheapest, food, fried rice, everybody can make it-.
BS: // Uh-huh. //
LY: // -Can // cook it. Here, it cost 4.95 or 5.95 or, including tax, oh, that's a lot.
BS: [Laugh]
LY: But in Taiwan, it's cheap, two, two dollars.
BS: That really was more of a shock coming back and getting used to how expensive food was here.
LY: That's too expensive. I can cook more delicious food than theirs.
BS: For cheaper.
LY: 'Cause I learned how to cook // here. //
BS: // Here? [Laughs] //
LY: // Before, // I just knew how to cook fried rice, but here, I learned a lot of dishes.
BS: So you didn't know how to cook before you came here?
LY: Basically, basically [Laugh]
BS: So you had to learn here.
LY: Yeah, I learned a lot, a lot of skills, cooking-.
BS: Did you live at home before you came here, or were you on your own?
LY: At college?
BS: Yes.
LY: I live in Taipei-.
LY: -Yeah, so I live at home, live at home, so, so.
BS: Well, food there is cheaper so you can afford to, maybe, go buy it more often.
LY: Taipei?
BS: Well, no, Taipei is expensive.
LY: Very, very expensive, but I learn at lot as well. When you don't live at home, you learn more, and you are more independent, yeah, so when I came here, I did not have any problems getting used to life or, yeah.
BS: You look tired.
LY: No.
BS: No?
LY: No, not exactly, just sometimes [laugh] I feel that I still have grammatical errors.
BS: Like what?
LY: I still make grammatical errors. Like what?
BS: Uh-huh, for example.
LY: Mm-hmm. For example? [Pause] Like, cannot, meet, meet somebody, or meet with somebody? How do you say that? Meet or meet with somebody?
BS: It depends on how you use it.
LY: Yeah. [Laugh] My English is not, uh, yeah, doesn't reach to idiom-, idiomatic English.
BS: OK. Idiomatic?
LY: So.
BS: Oh, // OK. //
LY: // Yeah, // I'm still learning, yeah.
BS: Well, it's, it's not easy.
LY: // Really? //
BS: // A // lot of times, I, I mess up, too.
LY: [Laughs] You are native English speaker.
BS: I know, and I still mess up.
LY: Really?
BS: Yeah. It depends on the context in which you're speaking, and I, you know, sometimes just mess up.
LY: Really?
BS: Yeah, it happens.
BS: I've been talking to, um, you remember Annie? Shi-bor?
LY: Annie?
BS: Uh-huh.
LY: Who?
BS: She was a student at Shu-Te?
LY: Uh-huh, // yes. //
BS: // You // remember her?
LY: Yeah.
BS: I've been talking to her online.
LY: Really? She took us to Kaohsiung harbor, uh, Chin-chin?
BS: Uh-huh.
LY: Chin-chin. She is a graduate student or doctoral?
BS: I think she just started her Master's-.
BS: -Program in English, and she is, she's always saying how she wants to move to America so she can speak better English. I don't know. I think that people who spoke English in Taiwan were just fine.
LY: Really? You need to find, find cho-, find opportunities.
BS: Where?
LY: Where? 'Cause you don't speak, you don't have many chance, chances to, to talk with foreigners, just to practice your English.
BS: I miss that about college, being here all the time, because where I'm working now, everybody's just like me.
LY: What do you mean?
BS: They're white, middle class, rural, from the country, and, you know, I'm almost more uncomfortable in that situation, actually, I am more uncomfortable in that environment.
LY: You don't like middle school, high school environment.
BS: It's not that. It's such a homogenous group, everybody's the same, whereas here, on campus, there's such diversity, culturally, ethnically, that I'm more-.