|Norwegian-American with rare railway photos publishes book in Taiwan|
| [13.09.2011, 03:45pm, Tue. GMT]|
He also received various railway-related gifts from the railroad’s top management. Afterwards, he went on tour around Taiwan - by train - to promote the book.
Loren Aandahl, born of Norwegian parents, grew up as the child of missionaries in Taiwan. He has recently released a book in Taiwan, publishing unique photos that were considered illegal during his upbringing. The 176-page book weighs a solid 1.3 kg. The railway administration on Taiwan was so grateful for the documentation from this period, as they have few of their own pictures, so they arranged a press conference for Aandahl to promote his book.
Q - Aandahl, the public was unable to photograph railways during your childhood years in Taiwan?
- Yes, Taiwan was then in a state under martial law due to the conflict with the communist government of mainland China. Railway stations, bridges and tunnels were considered military areas as they could be targeted. So the authorities forbid these to be photographed. There were guards at the ends of all major tunnels and bridges and policemen in every station. I exercised great caution. Every time I saw a soldier or a policeman, I hid the camera and greeted them nicely. If they asked what I was doing, I answered in English and pretended I could not speak Chinese. Had I been native, I would have been in dire straits.
Q - How come you lived in Taiwan?
- Both my parents are the children of Norwegian immigrants and spoke Norwegian. My father's family comes from Romsdalen, my mother’s from Jæren. My grandfather went to China as a missionary for an American mission when my father Eilot was 2 years old. But my father as my grandfather became a Lutheran pastor as well and reported for duty as a missionary for the American mission. He could speak Chinese, but mainland China was closed to foreigners. We therefore went by an American boat from the U.S. across the Pacific to the port city of Keelung in northern Taiwan. We arrived January 10th 1954 when I was 1 1 / 2 years old. Besides me and my father were my mother and two of my three sisters.
We settled in Hsinchu, a city just south of Taipei.
Q - How was your childhood in Taiwan?
- With many unemployed refugees who came from China in 1949, there was cheap labor in the 1950s and 1960s. It was common for missionaries to have maids for cooking and child care help.
My parents employed Mrs. Chou, who had fled in haste with a soldier from China. She did not manage to bring her four children and never saw them again. She was, however, fond of me as her own son. We laughed a lot together, so I called her Mrs. Haha.
Q - You became interested in railways?
My father told me I showed interest already riding the train from Keelung to Hsinchu when I was one and a half years old. Next to the residence in Hsinchu was a large railway junction. Mrs. Haha brought me there, I sat and admired the trains going to and from the capital Taipei – We would sit up to 6 hours each day. I was just a child, but this interest has followed me since.
Q - Did you attend boarding school as other foreign children?
- Yes, in the autumn of 1959 I started at an American boarding school 9 miles south of the city of Taichung. On the journey home every other weekend and for the next 11 years until I graduated from high school in 1970, I took the train If I did not like my time so well at the boarding school, at least I liked the train ride!
Q - When did you shoot your pictures?
- From 1966 on. When I started high school, I was given a camera by my father. As an American citizen, he was called in to part-time service as a military priest for U.S. forces around Taiwan. I often participated in trips. The railway was, of course, a favorite subject, both back and forth between home and school and on trips with my father.
But in September 1969, police discovered my photography. They were not gentle when visiting my mother and father several times to have the pictures turned over. My father refused each time. For safety's sake, he hid the pictures in other places in Taiwan, I do not know where. The images were thus saved. The United States were among the few countries that supported Taiwan. Because my father was employed by the U.S. military, the Taiwan police did not dare to arrest us.
- The book shows that the images have been given eternal life.
- 17 years old in 1970 I returned to the U.S. with my 1000 photos from Taiwan and have taken good care of them all these 40 years. Only few people had cameras in Taiwan in my youth, and color film was not for sale. But my father got hold of slide film through the U.S. military or through Hong Kong.
Later, I put some pictures on the Internet and got in touch with Taiwanese railway enthusiasts and others. They helped me locate both the train driver and others who were depicted. This story was published in several newspapers in Taiwan. And the government is now very positive about these pictures, because they do not have such pictures.The photos show not only the railway's history, but also the culture. The book is a gift to the Taiwanese people.
Q - What was it like to travel by train in Taiwan?
- I was always impressed with the tea ceremony on the express trains between major cities. There were two tea glasses with a cover under the window at each double seat. A waiter put a few tea leaves in each glass, another came with freshly boiled water, lifted the glass with one hand and used a finger to ease the cap off. In the other hand he poured boiling water into the glass without spilling or burning himself.
Q - You said on Facebook that Hsinchu is your hometown?
- I now live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but I lived 16 years in Taiwan from 1954 to 1970. So I assume, therefore, that Hsinchu is my hometown.
- You have also been to Norway?
Yes. My wife is a doctor and made some studies in Bergen last year. Then our son and I came with. The three of us used the weekends to seek my roots in Romsdal and in Jæren. It was fun to meet relatives.
Q - And now you are the author's own imprint?
- I have said that my photos from my high school years (1966-1970) are unique and should be shared with the people of Taiwan. Many other people agreed with me. I have therefore selected 200 of my own photos, as well as 35 from my parents and other sources and prepared a book for printing with the assistance of an art director. Then on my own I contacted printing houses in Taiwan. I was impressed with one company to that had printed the Chinese edition of National Geographic Magazine. They printed the book for me with high quality.
Now I have met many nice people on my tour to promote the book. There has been a great response in the media, and the Government Information Office was also thrilled and grateful for the book. The book is not only unique to Taiwan's railways, but also about Taiwan under martial law, which lasted from 1949 to 1987. The railway historians had only written material about it, but now they could visualize it with color images.
Q - Perhaps Norwegian will buy the book?
- The book is written in English and has sold mainly in Taiwan. I have also received many orders from the U.S. and other places in the world, both from railway enthusiasts and from people who have lived in Taiwan. A Norwegian I went to boarding school with, Frank Fotland, can be contacted in Oslo (Tel. 46786007). He has a few copies for sale in Norway.
Also, the National Libraries in Oslo and in Mo i Rana have bought the book, and it can be read there.
- The book shows a lot of detailed knowledge about locomotives and the rail system in Taiwan. I think both young and old will enjoy reading the book, not the least by looking at all the great pictures. It is impressive that you have the date and place on all the pictures as well.
- Thanks, the thought of writing the book started ten years ago. I am so pleased that it has turned out to be such a high quality book and that it has been so well received.
(Geir Yeh Fotland and Nadarajah Sethurupan)