By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter
Like many cartoon fans in Taiwan, Jason Cheung (張哲生) had a passion for collecting comic books when he was young.
Unlike most fans, however, that passion has evolved into a life-long pursuit of nostalgic photos, theme songs and memorabilia that has turned Cheung into the internet's go-to guy for hard-to-find glimpses of Taiwan's past.
Looking for now-and-then comparisons of street scenes around Taiwan, items documenting the rise of social media, or videos of 1980's TV series MacGyver, The A-Team, and Knight Rider voiced in Chinese? Cheung and his website and Facebook page are where people turn.
For the 47-year-old marketing consultant, collecting items and keeping records of society is a labor of love that provides no income, despite being something of an internet celebrity with around 200,000 followers on Facebook.
But he sees it as a necessary endeavor because even the tiniest things in people's lives can become threads of history.
"Nostalgia in a broad sense is paying attention to details because they could one day become a shared memory for us and be dearly cherished," said Cheung, who has accumulated tens of thousands of items over the years.
Cheung's hobby got started when he began collecting "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman" comic books at the age of six in 1978.
Twenty years later he launched a website and two years after that, started a blog that showcased his collection of memorabilia related to the Japanese superhero cartoon, which was popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1980s.
Cheung soon found his efforts rewarded after the website and blog became immediate hits.
"The blog was so popular that it even got media exposure in Hong Kong, and it crashed several times from too much traffic," he recalled.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Cheung)
For over a decade, Cheung devoted himself mostly to his beloved cartoons, but after exhausting every possible way to present them, he wondered if there was anything more to explore.
"After all that time trying to keep my memories alive, I asked myself if I could keep memories alive for other people, who may have lived in different times and been interested in different things," he said.
Around 2012, Cheung shifted his focus to documenting people's lifestyles, ranging from the use of social networks such as ICQ and Windows Live Messenger, to fads such as keeping digital "Tamagotchi" pets and hunting down virtual creatures in augmented reality mobile game Pokemon GO.
"I felt that the more capable I was, the more I should do," he said.
It was actually a request from a follower that plunged him into this new world of rekindling the memories of others.
That follower asked Cheung for help in 2012 to identify the location of his family house in Taipei's historic Dadaocheng area through an old photo.
Having grown up in the area, Cheung found the job both challenging and nostalgic and he eventually found the location by using Google street view, checking sites in person, and comparing building materials in the picture and on site.
The fan and his family were excited by the find, and the experience led Cheung to launch one of his major projects -- collecting old pictures and then visiting those places today and taking photos of them to show people what has and has not changed.
Taking a perfect picture can be just as difficult as identifying the location, he said.
"If there is a boy in the picture, I want to capture an old man; if there is a tricycle, I wait as long as possible for a taxi to pass by, to make a compelling enough photo," he said.
Once he gets his snapshot, Cheung has more work to do to tell the stories hidden behind the images.
"You need to point out the context to the readers and give them a feel for the times in which the original photos were taken," he said.
When people riding scooters are seen wearing helmets in a new picture but not in an old one, however, Cheung would make notes about when, why and how the government adjusted transportation policies to require motorists to wear them.
The more materials Cheung has collected and shared, the more he and his followers have interacted, which has led to more projects and more research, he said.
(A 1962 photo (upper) and a 2013 photo (lower) of the intersection between Taipei's Chongqing South Road and Hengyang Road; Photo courtesy of Jason Cheung)
Cheung said he usually has dozens of projects at hand, some that take a long time to plan, others that simply pop up out of nowhere. Dealing with that backlog, however, has not been without sacrifice.
He had to quit his job with a marketing firm in 2015 because his hobby simply took too much time. To make a living, he set up his own marketing consulting firm called Jason Force Digital Creative, which works on projects unrelated to his efforts to chronicle the past.
That means he still struggles to find enough time to devote to his passion, but he sticks with it because he feels he can have a real impact on other people's lives and bring them joy in the most unexpected ways.
Good old days
A documentary Cheung shared on Facebook years ago about the U.S. military stationed in Taiwan during the Cold War, for example, captured the image of one of his followers' 90-year-old mother, who helped the Americans distribute milk.
"We were both so thrilled and touched," Cheung said. "It was complete happiness. I didn't see this coming because all I wanted was to share. That was it."
(Video courtesy of Jason Cheung)
Another surprise came at a Fan Expo in Canada in 2018 when Richard Dean Anderson, the star of the 1980 series MacGyver that was a huge hit in Taiwan, was asked a question by a Taiwanese fan who brought up the ads he made for a sports drink in Taiwan at the time.
Anderson only vaguely recollected the commercials, but a few minutes later, they were found on YouTube (after being posted there from Cheung's collection) and uploaded at the show, delighting Anderson's fans and prompting a "Holy Sxxt" from the nearly 70-year-old actor.
While Cheung takes pleasure bringing people back to their bygone moments, he makes sure that he is faithful to such intention at all times.
"Being nostalgic does not mean one should be cynical about today or consumed with yesterday," he said.
On the contrary, Cheung said, looking back in time helps people learn more about themselves and realize that true values do not change with time.
"Those old memories are like a key, through which we find peace and courage to keep going."