A group of middle-aged and elderly men, the youngest of whom is 50, as well as a woman, began traveling around Taiwan by train at the beginning of this year after finding inspiration in a TV documentary.
The man behind the project is Tsou Chin-fu (鄒進福), who had made a promise to his wife that he would take her around the country when he retired — a promise he made after watching the documentary movie Go Grandriders (不老騎士).
Shot in 2007, the documentary followed 17 elderly men from various backgrounds that got together to fulfill their dreams. The men in the documentary, all Asians born after World War II, were in stark contrast to the previous generation, who for the most part had been at each other’s throats. Unlike those who came before them, these baby boomers could all sit at the same table, chatting and helping each other realize their dreams.
Tsou, 62, retired six years ago, but had not been able to keep his promise because his mother has been confined to a bed for the past 28 years after suffering a stroke, and his wife had stayed home to care for her.
Tsou had been especially moved by one scene in the movie, in which a rider, who had promised his wife that if he was still alive at the age of 80, would take her on his scooter to travel around the country.
After 30 years of looking after the family, his wife more than deserved the trip, Tsou said.
After Tsou’s son gave him a stamp collection notebook released by the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) for its “Railway Travel, Happy 100” event celebrating the Republic of China’s centenary, Tsou and his wife, the only woman on the trip, called up some friends and asked them to join them on a tour of the nation’s railway stations.
Their goal is to visit more than 100 by the end of the year.
The TRA selected 100 railway stations with special characteristics from a total of 219 and commissioned artist Chen Shih-chu (陳世鉅) to hand-carve the special scenery of each of the 100 stations in Formosa red cypress, which were then made into stamps.
When Tsou returned to his mother-in-law’s place in Miaoli with his wife for Lunar New Year last year, he took the opportunity to collect the stamp from Miaoli Railway Station.
By happenstance, some relatives proposed to go to Jhunan Township (竹南) in Miaoli County to have a look at the Taiwan Lantern Festival. Once again, Tsou made sure he obtained a stamp from Jhunan Station.
“I collected three stamps just from visiting relatives in Miaoli,” Tsou said.
The group has so far visited 34 stations and the scenic views and the people in the countryside have brought back many memories for Tsou.
Tsou’s visit to Yilan at the beginning of the year also had an impact on him. He remembers asking for hot water at the station chief’s office to make coffee and using his change to buy a “Fulong lunchbox,” modeled after lunchboxes from the early days with less emphasis on variety and more on making you full.
Though the weather was a bit cold, the warm hospitality of the people filled him with great warmth, Tsou said.
From the stations they have visited to date, those along the Pingsi branch line in New Taipei City (新北市), including Pingsi (平溪), Shihfen (十分) and Jingtong (菁桐), have retained the classic simplicity of old train stations and are worth thorough exploration, especially when viewed on a panoramic scale with the surrounding scenery, he said.