‘Waiting for the train’
It’s March 1990 and behind the window of a train on its way to Hualien a small station called Houtung immediately draws my attention. First of all while a company called Taiyung Coalmine still is in full operation and in a glimpse a highly interested industrial railway reveals itself. Secondly while the place is decorated with many typical style Chinese lanterns for an outright friendly atmosphere. My thoughts are, okay, this will be the place to stay when I finished my rail tour around the isle.
A week later or so I left the train in the early evening, darkness all around. Houtung is situated in the mountains and down near the station, direct behind a tunnel entrance, there was nothing showing any activity others than the friendly red glow of the paper lamps. The main street is halfway a hill but also here no movements.
After walking around and dragging my luggage it appears to me that this was no village at all only a settlement for the workers of the coal digging company and of course no hotel or any other lodge. Here was a dilemma, what to do, waiting with my head on the bag in the open for the sunrise or find a place to stay in another village. The latter I found, on the other side of the tunnel, and called Juifang but not after I persuade some people in front of station to help me because there were no signs what so ever at least others than Chinese characters.
I am telling this only why I ended up in the filthiest room I have ever experienced in my whole life of travelling. A cheap Chinese hotel and looking back actually not inexpensive at all specially considering the comfort provided, or shall I say deprived of consolatory. Those kinds of rooms were you cannot permit to close your eyes afraid of fact that the mattress would walk away with you on top.
However, it suited for the time being and the day after I found a better lodge in the same small town. The ones where any foreigner is more than a stranger, a wonder about his whereabouts if there is a notion like that. Most Chinese do not show much signs of repentance or other interest and seems to be not aware of what happening around them unless you behave in a complete different manner.
Look again at the picture above, this is what I discovered by daylight, a grey forlornness resembling any east European country. It seems to be if the lady is waiting for the train at the town centre stop. In the distance he’s coming but as seen on the picture below not for passengers. On my request the lady stepped aside in order to make the picture pristine.
Industrial railway on a small scale, al long forgotten enterprise in the West. The East gives me a most warm welcome. In the end the twain meets.
Somewhere in the mountains there are mines and the narrow gauge (440 mm) is there to transport coal to a transhipment installation next to the tracks of the TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration) Here the dumping cars were emptied into cape gauge wagons (1067 mm) fur further transportation. Two lines existed; one in the valley beside a river and one on a higher level. As seen on the picture the valley line was a most peculiar industrial railway relict. A steep slope and the empty small dumping cars came down dangerously by gravity with a lot of noise. The brakeman on the last wagon let the rattling train stop where needed. Going upwards, trains were pulled by cable. The bridge behind the transhipment installation is for the uphill line.
An utterly joy for the moment and hardly believe in what have been discovered without any further notion. Only far away from anything familiar and not knowing if there ever will be another visit. It’s not easy to grab such a moment in full awareness because you’re still short of eyes to see what there is and trying capturing it on film. Baffled by the fact that someway or another time stands perfectly still.
The next visit came but seven years later and everything was gone. No more mining of the black gold, no longer any transhipments. Traces only, rusty memories and still vivid in my mind. By chance I found and what a change it was on two most remarkable days of my first Taiwan rail exploration.