When I resided in Pingtung from mid-1977 to mid-1978 my room faced the rail line several kilometers south of the main station. There was a little country station, Guilai, not far from where I dwelt. Often at night, a local train had stopped there, I could hear the whistle blow before it started again. If the wind was in my direction, I could even hear the chug of the steam locomotive pulling out.
I left Taiwan in 1978 and spent over three years in North America before returning. I didn’t go back to Pingtung, but took up residence in Kaohsiung, where other noises drowned out the trains. I sometimes imagine that I saw some steam locomotives in use after 1982, but can’t imagine if that was fact or dream. Still, though, even a diesel or electric train leaving a station was accompanied by particular noise. A man on the platform flipped a switch that rang a bell indicating that the doors would soon close, and after they did, the train driver would toot the horn before letting loose the brakes (with a whoosh of air) and opening the throttle on the diesel.
Not so any more. Especially if one rides Taiwan’s high speed train. And not so if one rides Amtrak in America, at least, if last week’s experience can be used as a guide. We boarded in Chicago for a ride that would cross two state lines and take us home. With just a little shake the whole thing started moving, right on time. Something slowed it down during the first hour of the ride, and the hour was late. We’d been away for 4 days and wanted to be home. As it made its first stop, we wanted it to “go again already”. And when it did, again, no alarm or sound.
There’s enough noise in this world, and trains are not all that quiet when rolling down the line, whether slowly or fast, but I still think back to those trains stopping and starting in Guilai, and how their sound, especially in the middle of the night, made me imagine going somewhere. Now, far from Taiwan, I imagine them taking me home.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.