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.


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。





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!