When Yang Yuan-Chih (楊永智) was a child, he and his dad often took the train from Ilan, where they lived, to Taipei Railway Station. His relatives lived next door. He remembers hot tea served in glass cups and the aroma of fried porkchops that filled the railway car. That was the 1960s.
A couple of decades later, everything changed. The 10-or-so stations from Taipei Railway Station to Danshui were razed and construction on the MRT soon began, transforming a train culture that Yang said was once rooted in warmth and friendliness into one that has become colder and more hardened.
"The architecture of the train stations and the flavor of the people are entirely different,"said Yang, a 48-year-old photojournalist, whose black-and-white photos chronicling the last few years of Taipei's pre-MRT era are on display until Wednesday at the Taiwan Visual Arts Center
The exhibition, Come Home Train Station (『車站』不見了), is a collection of about two-dozen photos focusing on how Taipei's railway and the world it cris-crossed influenced each other.
Yang's photos are a diverse bunch, including images of the Wanhua, Xin Beitou and Danshui stations, that were removed in the late 1980s, as well as the Taipei Railway Station built in 1940 during Japanese rule.
Xin Beitou Station (新北投車站), in particular, was one of the main reasons why Yang decided to hold this exhibit. The station, built in 1937, was mostly born out of necessity, in an effort to make Beitou's hot springs more accessible, Yang said.
When work began on dismantling the line, though, Xin Beitou was granted a reprieve. It was eventually presented as a gift to Changhua County (彰化縣), since Taipei City didn't have the space for it. Today it functions as a museum. Will it ever return to Taipei?
"The possiblity is very, very small," Yang said. "I live in Neihu, so I don't know. But if the people of Xin Beitou rally together and organize a movement, perhaps they can have it returned."
Mixed into Yang's exhibition are other varied snapshots of life, from school children traipsing along the rails on their way home from school, to a man splayed out on a chair, as if trying to sleep off a hangover.
"He's supposed to be collecting one dollar from each person who uses the toilet," Yang said, chuckling at the photo.
Another photo, taken in August 1986, shows a chalkboard hanging in Wanhua Station (萬華車站). A man, wearing a perplexed look, sits next to it, scratching his head. He is alone. The significance of the chalkboard (留言牌) was rooted in a time that pre-dated cellphones. It was there to leave messages. If one person wanted another to wait until 8pm, for instance, he or she could write that on the tablet.?
What's interesting about Yang's work is that a number of photos focus on the backs of subjects, rather than their faces. This reinforces the feeling that an era of Taipei railway history was indeed on the verge of extinction.
Yang is prone to wax nostalgic about Taipei's railways. He is also a realist, admitting that the old railroad had outlived its day. For one thing, it was limited in the number of destinations it reached. Buses simply became more convenient."But one thing with the railway is that you never had to worry about traffic jams," Yang said.
To be sure, there is still a railway in Taiwan that circles the island and runs into Taipei. It still serves hot tea -- in paper cups, not glass ones -- and porkchop meals, though the aroma is not as good as it once was, Yang said.