Sun, Mar 17, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Atypical Taiwanese

There's nothing extraordinary about Lin Dao-ming's tale of having completed the military service required of every Taiwanese man -- save the fact that he's white

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

You're in the army now. Lin Dao-ming during his military service.


It doesn't matter if you're tall or short, rich or poor, a PhD or high-school flunkie, if you're a Taiwanese male you will spend two years in one of the branches of the military. In the case of Lin Dao-ming (林道明) it also didn't matter that he was about as Caucasian as the American mid-west breeds them.

"Everyone would tell me `there's no way you'll have to do military service. You're a foreigner!'" said Lin, who goes by the English name T.C. "Well, they were wrong." Lin, in fact, is Taiwanese -- he has the ID card to prove it -- and as such, his name was bound to come up in the annual military service lottery, no matter what he looks like.

The letter he had anticipated but hoped would not come arrived in late 1995 ordering him to report to boot camp in Hsinchu in February the next year, where he would be issued a new identity -- Recruit Warrior A ####### (新兵戰士天A######, the number cannot be published) -- and would become arguably the most anomalous soldier in the Taiwanese army.

Three years out of the service, he has written an account of his experience in an as-yet unpublished book tentatively titled Counting Mantou: An American in the Taiwanese Army.

I'm Taiwanese. No, really!

By all appearances, Lin does not look Taiwanese at all. After all, he's white, which is natural considering his parents are white folk from Oklahoma.

He grew up in Colorado, New York and Florida, went to American schools and holds a degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia -- a waspy southern American college.

His life took a radical turn, however, when he enrolled in a Chinese-language program at Tunghai University in Taichung during his junior year of college in 1988.

"I remember immediately being struck by this place and thinking, `this is where I want to stay,'" Lin said.

After reluctantly returning to the US to finish off his degree in 1991, Lin was back to Taiwan six months later, this time living in Hsinchu with the family of his best friend and classmate Lin Yi-ping (林以平) from Tunghai University. "They took me in like I was their son," he said.

Then, three years later, he quite literally became the Lin family's newest son.

"We were trying to find a way so that I could stay here and my ganma (乾媽) brought up the possibility of adopting me. It seemed a bit far-fetched at first, but after a lot of talking about it, we decided finally to do it," Lin said. "The Lins adopted me out of the kindness of their hearts." Of course, it wasn't that easy. The adoption was legal, but bureaucratic inertia was a problem as were officials who were perplexed almost to the point of immobility by the mere thought of Lin becoming Taiwanese.

Then, there was the delay in getting the papers formally processed, during which time Lin needed to be out of the country. He spent six months jobless and bored in Hong Kong and sleeping on the couch at the home of the director of the Chunghwa Travel Service, Taiwan's de facto embassy in Hong Kong.

"For a while there I was stateless, which was weird. You normally think that only happens to refugees," he said.

Ultimately, the paperwork received the requisite chops and signatures and Lin was then issued a travel document that would allow him to return to Taiwan to live with the Lin family. He was 25 and he was no longer T.C. Locke. His new name was Lin Dao-ming.

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