Katrin Vysokova Interviews Danny Gong about Sign Language, Deaf Culture, and Life

Katrin:  Why should everyone learn sign languages?


- Because it's easy and fun to learn

- You can can have a conversation in silence

- Communicate through glass, water or over long distances (without shouting)

- Communicate with babies before they develop the ability to form words and speak 

- Improves cognitive function 

- Improves eye-hand coordination 

- Improves understanding of spacial use and 3D mapping with your hands

- You can make more friends

- When traveling to other countries and meeting deaf people or sign language users you can easily communicate with them if you don't understand their local language


Katrin: Should kids be taught sign languages at school? Can it help their grades?

Danny: Yes, kids should be taught sign language at school. They will enjoy it more than learning a second spoken language.

There is no evidence that they can help with grades, but it can help with their focus and attention because sign Language is a visual language you must focus on the speaker. 


Katrin: Can ASL help students learn English? How can teachers use ASL in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes?

Danny:  I believe ASL can help students learn English because SL can become a mnemonic device for remembering English words. For instance the words "carpenter" or "construction worker" may not be easy for ESL students to remember.

However in ASL, the ESL student can gesture, "Holding a hammer and hammering a nail into a wall", and this may trigger the students memory for the words "carpenter or construction worker". At the very least, the listener will be able to see the gesture and understand what the ESL student wants to communicate.


Katrin: "Walk a mile in my shoes" - how can hearing people truly understand the deaf?

Danny: Wow, this is a question that is going to have a long answer!

Most hearing people may have experienced being in a room with foreigners but speak a different language or have watched a foreign movie without any subtitles. The feeling they may have is they do not have any idea what the conversations are about.

Also not being able to hear any surrounding environmental sounds; for instance, other people speaking in the distance, a fire alarm, an ambulance or police siren, someone saying excuse me from behind you (then they push you because they think you are ignoring them). 

Then imagine that your daily interactions with 99% of other people that you meet, work with or your extended family, can barely only hold a simple conversation with you, are scared to try to talk with you or don't even try to engage in a conversation with you. 

And you have to go through:

- Discrimination (more difficult for deaf people to get a job)

- Having a poor education

- Being at the low end if the economic ladder

- The need to have a sign language interpreter to communicate to hearing people (which could be easily solved if hearing people learned sign language)

- Not being well informed 

- Feeling isolated because there are few people who understand your language. 

It would be impossible for hearing people to understand deaf people's plight, unless they put on soundproof earphones and lived in a country where they didn't understand the local language. 


Katrin: If a hearing person sees a deaf person struggling with something in a store or a restaurant, what is the best way to help?


- First a friendly smile and waving your hand in a greeting way

- Pen, paper or smartphone (for typing) would also be good use for communication

- Simple and clear gesturing with a "Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down" to indicate "Ok/Good or Not Ok/Bad


Katrin: What question or action can offend deaf people?


- Suddenly grabbing or pulling them without explaining

- Any rude gestures

- Rolling your eyes and showing a bad attitude with your facial expressions

- Not having patience 


Katrin: Do deaf people watch regular TV shows or they prefer to watch programs that are subtitled or interpreted? 


- Yes most of people prefer to watch television with captions or with an interpreter onscreen. Most deaf people don't go watch movies in the theater. They prefer to wait for the DVD version or an online version with close captioning.

Surprisingly, Japanese deaf people don't watch Japanese movies because 99% of all Japanese movies do not have subtitling in Japanese (even in some DVD's fail to have subtitles in Japanese!).  However foreign movies do have subtitling in Japanese.  In most Hong Kong films, subtitling is in both Chinese and English.

There is simply no excuse for a big film to not have a budget for subtitling. For goodness sake, even low-budget independent filmmakers make subtitles available for their films. 


Katrin: What sports or activities do deaf people avoid?


- Good question. I'm not really sure... For the most part, if you take a look at the www.deaflympics.com Deaf people compete in many categories of sports. So I'm not sure of any sport which is completely dependent on sound alone.


Katrin: How do deaf people welcome a new baby in the family?


- With sign language (Hands Up) Yeah!!!

- Also Deaf people don't do silly "Baby Talk" that hearing people tend to do. 

- They play "Peek-a-boo", tickle baby's feet and use a baby rattle to get the baby's attention.


Katrin: Danny, What is your strongest point?

Danny: Being creative and taking action.


Katrin: What habit would you like to get rid of?

Danny: Being forgetful.


Katrin: Why and how did you start running? 

Danny: In my adult life, I've always seen running as a chore... I didn't understand how some people claimed to have a "Runner's High" (isn't that just being out of breath?). But then, I read "Born to Run" and that changed my feeling about running.

Humans cannot compete with other animals when it comes to strength, agility, flying, swimming or even resisting extreme climate... But we can outlast any other animal when it comes to endurance-running.

Basically before, we hunted with bows & arrows (60,000+ years ago) or spears (100,000+ years ago), it seems that we hunted animals by running them to death. This is called "persistence hunting": 


And the fact that we can carry own water, while running, gives us way more of an advantage, compared to other animals.

Running long distances and why many people (even people in their late 80's!) run marathons, began to make sense to me. I believe humans have evolved to run long distances and maybe due to our modern society, we are not running enough and this is causing us to have many health problems. 


Katrin: Do you like to challenge yourself? Do you like to challenge other people?

Danny: Yes, I like to challenge myself. But I don't really like to tell people what to do, unless they ask for my advice. I really don't want to become that "Guy who gives advice when nobody is asking for it". So instead, I like to show by example. 


Katrin: Describe Danny Gong on a bad day.


- Waking up and not being motivated to do anything, or suffering from a bad hangover (then swearing not to drink that much again! Only to repeat it again a month later).

- Computer/Technical problems. Yelling and swearing at my computer seems to be a never-ending battle for me. 

- Being late for an appointment.


Katrin: Do you believe that your acting career helps your interpreting skills?

Danny: Acting has help with being not shy and with my presentation skills. But when I am interpreting, I am not thinking about it as an acting performance. I am more focused on  the speaker's message and interpreting it clearly so that the listener can understand. 


Katrin: What is your dream country?

Danny: Um... There are many countries and places in the world that I haven't been to yet, so I'm not sure. But I love nature, want to grow my own food and have a few chickens for eggs. 


Katrin: How are you going to celebrate New Year this year?

Danny: Visiting friends in the Kansai area and spending time with my family. 


Katrin: Talk about the most memorable event in 2005.

Danny: Moving to Japan and just learning about a completely different culture, making new friends and learning Japanese Sign Language. Then eventually started DeafJapan. 


Katrin: If you were offered to have your own ASL show on TV, what kind of show would it be? (seriously, consider it!)

Danny: Oh! I guess I would want to focus it on fun facts, travel and news. Because I think many Deaf people around the world want to have more access to information. Many people say they enjoy my videos on YouTube because they are learning about new information. 


Katrin: Your Top 5 favorite spicy foods?


1. Indian Curry

2. Thai Green Curry

3. Some spicy Chinese foods

4. Kimchi

5. Mentaiko Mayo Onigiri


Katrin: Talk about your worst vacation.

Danny: I don't have a "worst vacation", but I've had sucky experiences while being on vacation. 

For instance, bad weather can be a downer or having your things stolen can ruin your vacation but it's something that you can prepare for.  

It's nothing like having bad company. Someone who always complains or a group of friends who want to do something that I am not interested in doing, is a really crappy experience. 


Katrin: What sports would you never play?

Danny: Boxing. I don't like getting hit in the face or head. It makes me mad. 


Katrin: Have you ever punched anyone? 

Danny: Not on purpose, no.


Katrin: Do you drink alcohol? 

Danny: Yes, but this year I've cut back a lot, I want my stomach to get a 6-pack!!!


Katrin: What Chinese tradition do you like the most?

Danny: Taking care of your friends and family. 


Katrin: Name the actors that you admire.


- Bruce Lee

- Samuel L. Jackson

- George Takei