Travel Back in Time—American Teacher Visiting the Land of Memory after 47 Years

Places that we have been to provide our lives with nutrients and connect with us in a way that is impossible to break. Tom Johnston, an American who taught in Hsinchu in the 1970s when he was 25 years old, visited Taiwan again with his daughter. Unexpectedly, this journey shed light on a story that has been forgotten for 47 years.

At first, Johnston simply told our travel consultant Vivi that he used to teach at National Hsinchu Senior High School and would really love to walk the Dongshan Street nearby again. Other than that, nothing much else was revealed. However, when Clint, a tour guide from Hsinchu, learned about this serendipity, he decided to do everything he could to put Johnston in contact with the past. Therefore, Clint contacted the school and hoped that they could provide some information and photos about Johnston so that he could relive the past.

The people at Hsinchu High School searched the yearbooks in the 70s, but couldn’t find anything related to Johnston; not even in the teachers’ photo. This made the school people wonder if Johnston’s memory was wrong or there was data missing from the School History Room. As a result, Vivi obtained more information from Johnston. Here are some of the key words, including the 1970s, foreigner teacher for two years, taught advanced English grammar, and the fact that in order to hire Johnston, the school specifically ask for Chiang Kai-shek’s permission.

All the mystery was solved after Johnston’s visit in person.

Under the political background at that time, foreigners couldn’t teach at school, so the principal of Hsinchu High School got a way to get the former president Chiang Kai-shek’s permission to let Johnston teach at this school under the Chinese name of “Chang Shih Tun.”(章時敦) Because this was a secret recruitment, the Personnel Office didn’t have his record. For his signature beard, most students called him “the bearded teacher.” Someone even remembered that his father, who was also a fellow teacher, once invited the bearded teacher to their house. The fellow teacher asked why Johnston left home at such a young age. Johnston said that his father believed that living home, eating and using everything he provided meant that Johnston should also be under his control. That’s why he chose to leave. It’s amazing to learn that there were already westerners chose Taiwan as their destination for the Grand Tour over 40 years ago.

When talking about the students that he had taught in Hsinchu High School, Johnston mentioned the name “Chang Yung Ching”(張永青) without any hesitance. Besides having good grades, Chang spent three weeks to bike around Taiwan with Johnston and the other classmate. At that time when there were only fixed gear bikes and the concept of circling the island was not so popular, it was extremely difficult for three poor guys to finish the task with only a tent for shelter. You could say they were the pioneers of traveling round the island!

“I wish to see him again,” Johnston said. But no one can say for sure. Since the time was limited, the alumni association of Hsinchu High School did their best to search for Chang through the Internet and the contact info. After 5 days, despite of the difficulties, Chang and Johnston were miraculously once again in touch.

The bicycles they rode 47 years ago continued to spin through time and space and finally stopped at where we are today. Although everything has changed, Johnston’s visit and reunion with old friend opened up a portal connecting the past and present. Amazingly, tour guide Clint and consultant Vivi completed Johnston’s journey and allowed this amazing story to be heard and passed on.

跨越47年的騎遇記──美籍老師重返回憶之地:新竹中學

年輕時待過的地方,會在我們的生命中注入養分,從此與我們產生牽絆。1970年代曾經在新竹任教的美國人Tom Johnston,帶著女兒重訪台灣。沒想到再次踏上台灣的旅程,意外挖掘出一段47年前遺落的故事。

起初,Johnston與行程規畫師Vivi聯繫時,只簡單表示自己曾在新竹中學教書,想再回去學校附近的東山街逛逛,並未對過去的歷史著墨太多。但導遊Clint得知Johnston與新竹中學的這段緣份後,身為新竹子弟的他,認為若不把握這次機會讓Johnston重返故地,實在有些可惜,因此主動聯繫了新竹中學,希望校方能提供一些當年的相關資料或照片,讓Johnston可以溫習回憶。

新竹中學校方以1970年代的畢業紀念冊著手搜尋資料,卻遍尋不著Johnston的資訊,教師照片中也沒有Johnston的身影。讓校方疑惑究竟是Johnston的記憶有誤,還是校史室遺漏了不少資料呢?因此,Vivi向Johnston追問了更多線索,得到了以下關鍵字,包括:1970年代、任教兩年的外籍老師、教授進階英語文法,以及,當時新竹中學為了聘請Johnston,曾特地向蔣中正申請許可等等。

重重的謎團,終於在Johnston來到新竹中學後,得到了解答。

當時的政治氣氛下,外籍人士無法在學校任教,因此新竹中學的校長辛志平透過管道取得前總統蔣中正同意,讓Johnston得以使用中文名字「章時敦」在竹中任教。Johnston當年25歲,屬於非正式(秘密)的聘任,因此人事室也沒有他的相關資料。因為蓄鬍的關係,學生多稱他「大鬍子老師」。更有新竹中學同期老師的孩子有印象,當年父親曾邀請大鬍子老師來家裡作客。父親曾問Johnston為什麼那麼年輕就離開家到這麼遠的地方,Johnston說,因為自己的爸爸說住在家裡吃他的、用他的,就必須也聽他的,於是Johnston選擇離開。原來,在40年前,就有西方人選擇台灣作為壯遊的目的地。

談起在竹中教過的學生, Johnston毫不猶豫地提起了這個名字「張永青!」。除了在學時優秀的表現外,最讓Johnston印象深刻的,是在張永青畢業之際,兩人曾和另一名同學,一同花了三個星期的時間,騎單車環台一周。在那個還沒有變速腳踏車且單車環島尚未盛行的年代,三個窮小子以很克難的方式,一路以帳篷為家,簡直就是台灣單車環島旅遊的先驅!

「希望有機會可以見到他」Johnston這麼說,但誰也沒有把握。由於Johnston停留在台時間有限,新竹校友會努力扮演起偵探的角色,透過網路和校方的通訊資料協尋,因為多位熱心的校友幫忙,縱然過程輾轉曲折,竟然神奇地在五天後讓張永青和Johnston再次連繫上。

四十七年前的單車輪轉啊轉,終於抵達了我們所在的時空。時間雖讓滄海變桑田,但Johnston回到故地仍能重遇舊人,連結了過去與現在。Clint和Vivi的積極安排,圓滿了Johnston的旅程,也讓這些傳奇般的故事重新被人所知,並且繼續被說下去。