Eleven-year-old Lai Chun-yen (賴鈞彥), who suffers from autism, wants to become a train conductor when he grows up.
“I want to become a handsome train conductor because I was good at geography, but I need to be aware of passenger safety and I can’t just press any button, or otherwise the train would have problems,” Lai said. “So I have to learn how to operate a train by heart so I can pass the test.”
Lai moved one step closer to his dream yesterday when he was given the chance to operate a train simulator at the Taiwan Railway Administration’s (TRA) mechanical department in Hsinchu. Not only did he receive personal instructions from TRA staff, he also got a taste of what is like to be a conductor when he sat in the cabin of a parked train.
Lai was one of 30 people with mental and physical handicaps participating in a project organized by the League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled, which aims to help the participants pursue their unfulfilled dreams.
Lai was born prematurely in the 28th week of pregnancy. Soon after he was born, he was diagnosed as severely diabetic and underwent heart surgery.
As a child, Lai liked to study highway maps and would tell his father what the next interchange was whenever they were driving. He also memorized the names of train stations throughout the country.
Chu Yung-cheng (朱永正), head of the TRA’s mechanical engineering department in Hsinchu, said this was the first time the department had allowed a civilian to operate the simulator.
“It would probably be very difficult for him to pass all the tests and become a real train driver when he grows up,” Chu said. “I am happy that he can partially fulfill his dream today. At least he now has a fond memory.”
For Lai’s mother, seeing her son at the helm of a train was an emotional experience. She said that her son has many toy trains and the family takes him on train rides during summer and winter vacations.
League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled secretary-general Wang Yu-ling (王幼玲) said the participants in the project had various dreams they hoped to accomplish, from riding a motorcycle, to becoming a basketball coach or being a bride.
She said the league had also arranged a professional photographer to take photos of the participants when their dreams came true, which will be put on display at an exhibition at the end of this year.