‧ Chinese name: 蘇昭旭
‧ Year of Birth: 1967
‧ Place of Birth: Kaohsiung, Taiwan
‧ Did You Know? Since publishing his first book, "Taiwan Railways: A Nostalgic Journey," in 1998, Su Jau-shi has continued to deliver an astonishing two books a year on average, constantly pouring his heart and soul into his work. Thus far, he has some 48 books on railways to his name, making him the world’s most published expert on railways in Traditional Chinese.
Su Jau-shi was born in Kaohsiung in 1967. While he was the only son in his family, he nonetheless developed a reserved and introverted personality, in contrast to his four opinionated and outgoing sisters. As a child, he was neither particularly spoiled nor particularly deprived. His only real outlet for his emotions at the time was chasing trains on his bicycle. Seeing the trains vanish into the distance, he dreamed of being able to ride on one and travel far away as well one day. Spending years with no opportunities to speak up for himself, trainspotting was Su’s only real expression of his free will, and standing alone by the tracks inhaling the smell of sleeper oil gave him a sense of liberation.
In the 1970s, translations of Toshimoto Takeshima's books "Trains: An Illustrated Guide" and "A Guide to Steam Locomotives" were published in Taiwan, the first books dedicated to trains in the Chinese-speaking world, and they drove railfans wild. Later, department stores began to sell model trains, and railfans throughout Taiwan were over the moon. Coming from a less well-off family, all Su could do was look through the store windows and fantasize about having one and watch as the children of rich families show off their illustrated books. He wanted to have what was in those books, so he did the only thing he could do, which was to borrow them from the library and copy them out word for word, picture for picture. As for the models, he set about making his own with cardboard and popsicle sticks.
If his family had been wealthy back then, Su has emotionally remarked, he might not have become who he is today. Through that painstaking drawing, writing, and copying, he gradually accumulated a massive amount of creative energy. The tremendous artistic skills he would eventually show in his books, illustrations, and model train museum were all down to making the most of the limitations of his youth, cultivated in the face of poverty. Through his copious amounts of reading, every inch of the railways was etched into the map in his mind.
Over his four years of college, two years of graduate study, and two years of military service, Su Jau-shi stitched together a mental map of Taiwan’s railway network one step at a time. At the same time, he listened to the rumbling of each train car, learnt to recognize them by sight and sound, gained an understanding of what they have been through and felt mass satisfaction through the accumulation of all this knowledge.
In 1993, Su applied to study abroad. Heading to Tokyo opened his eyes to the world, and he began to expand his vision to encompass the railways of the whole world, traveling virtually every year to somewhere new to follow the trains, from Norway in the north to New Zealand in the south. He even rode the Lhasa–Xigazê railway and took the opportunity to visit the base camp at Mount Everest.
While surveying the railways, Su would inevitably need to be prepared for the hardships of life on the road, as it were, and upon returning home, he would quickly set about the tireless work of writing his experiences up under the lamplight. Since publishing his first book, "Taiwan Railways: A Nostalgic Journey (台灣鐵道懷舊之旅)," in 1998, he has continued to deliver an astonishing two books a year on average, constantly pouring his heart and soul into his work. Thus far, he has some 48 books on railways to his name, making him the world’s most published expert on railways in Traditional Chinese, receiving a number of "must-read" recommendations from Taiwanese libraries and even winning the Golden Tripod Awards twice.
As well as writing books, Su Jau-shi is also dedicated to running a transportation museum, where he has on display the dozens of model railways he has produced over the years, including Taiwan’s Changhua Roundhouse and Alishan Railway and railways from Japan, Europe, and the Americas.
In 2007, he opened the Transportation and Technology Museum in an old home bequeathed to him by his father, letting the public visit for free. In addition to giving kids who cannot go abroad the chance to see transportation from other parts of the globe, Su also hopes that through these exhibits, people will be able to learn a little about the customs and lives of people from around the world. Even though he has a hard life, he always introduces the museum's exhibits in person whenever people make appointments.
Of the 48 books he has published, nine (including translations) are monographs on the Alishan Railway, which gives one something of an idea of the depth of his feelings about this particular railway. Personal attachment aside, the Alishan Railway has always had a special value to Su for its geographical location and the unique way in which it was built.
In 2020, Su Jau-shi used statistical data to prove that the Alishan Forest Railway surpassed the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Railway in terms of both highest altitude and drop in elevation, boosting Taiwan's international visibility and highlighting the value of that railway. For this, he was awarded the year’s "Green Oscar."