A Railway Life

image credit: Daai TV

I started watching it shortly after it aired. However, a lot of other things happened, so I had to put it aside. I went back to it several months ago and watched it slowly as I was between things. So, how was it? Like the majority of Daai series, it revolved around a real-life person and paved out a model family that encouraged others to work hard and also see the positive side of life. Because it was based on a real person, it wasn’t dramatic in a sense that drew in views like a typical idol drama or those daily soaps, lol. But I had shifted to watching Daai dramas more when it came to Taiwanese productions in recent years so I welcomed it. (Yes, I’m getting really tired of those dramatic antics and cliche formulas, so I rather watch something more realistic and actually learn some life lessons out of it too.) That didn’t mean that there was a lack of emotional element in the series itself. It just meant it wasn’t as artificial as the dramatic antics that were purposefully created just for the sake of drama.

Main Cast:

  • Ehlo Huang as Chen Qing Biao (陳清標). Initially, I was touched by how much he sacrificed for his family when little and eventually found his own path and was able to accomplish his goals along the way. He was finally to do all that and much more for his own family. However, I thought it was a bit ironic that he was harsh on his kids, even harsher than his father was on him and his brothers. Sure, the father at times wanted them to have a good life too, but he never forced them through things. If he wanted to, the father could have not allowed him to do a lot of things and just helped with the family business. If one argued that he had to be crazy to not agree with a much better life for his son via the educational path, I would say depends. Sure, he could allow Qing Biao to go to school but the clause was to go into farming and expand the family business only. See how that worked? So, I felt that was overboard that Qing Biao had forced Yi Jie and Qian Ping into pursuing his plans. Yes, his ultimate goal was for them to have a better life, not regress back to generations ago when they had to suffer through so many hardships. Yet he had to remember that his father took a leap of faith with him. How could he rob his kids of their decisions when his father gave him the freedom to pursue his dream? Sure, I got it once again that he was just overly worried and that worry blinded him. He did ease off later, but I thought it was ironic all the same that his mentality was more old-fashioned than his old man, lol. Not to mention how he said those words to his wife, “This generation, what are they thinking? All these independence and thoughts.” NOT the exact quote since I don’t remember exactly anymore, but in some ways, he was frustrated with being questioned when he knew what was good for them, etc. But he once again forgot that his father gave him and his brothers much more freedom than that because the old man truly loved them and respected them, wanting them to thrive–even if it wasn’t following in his own footsteps. So, I was rolling my eyes when he said that. Like that was supposed to be new with allowing your kids to thrive and grow just because, not turning them into a mini version of yourself. And if you’re saying the time was different back then, again, his father allowed them more freedom than that. Don’t bring the whole men versus women conversation in because of Qian Ping and Yu Ling. Because Yu Jie had to follow along too, not allowing any other opinions otherwise. Even if they got it and later apologized for some harsh words being exchanged, their frustrations were justified. (Cue back to how Qing Biao’s father had supported all of Shen Fu’s ventures too–even if he wasn’t 100% sure and yes, they had disagreements. But they buckled up and went through it together in the end. But he still didn’t regret it, because they were family and the old man continued to encourage his grandkids on, etc.) Once again, this was just some strange stuff I noticed while watching. NOT an attack on him or his family or anything. Outside of that, Ehlo did well portraying the emotions at those points. Granted, I haven’t seen the real person whom he portrayed, I just based it on what was happening and how he reacted to it, and if he was convincing in those scenes.
  • Lin Ke Wei (林可唯) as Jiang Yi (姜義). I haven’t watched her for the longest time. Possibly because she had shifted from idol dramas, which was a good idea actually. It wasn’t like she wasn’t in them anymore, but less. I thought she was more valued for her acting chops in real-life dramas than idol ones anyway. She had more to work with and wasn’t restricted in her characters. Of course, I didn’t have time to hunt down real-life interviews of the actual people being portrayed in here. However, I thought she did a wonderful job of showing the transition of her character throughout. She was a kind and gentle girl from little and then transformed into a very kind-hearted teacher. Although there were conflicts and hurdles she had to navigate through, it showed some depth with how she was able to steer through them–whether taking a brief break to rethink her strategy or having those who loved and supported her to encourage her on. Her character grew on me as the drama progressed. It showed her journey quite well–alongside her husband. I didn’t think the kids were just scoring points with her when they said she was the amazing woman behind her husband. She was indeed quite resilient. If it wasn’t for her, the family would have broken apart already. Considering how his job and all. (NOT blaming him here since he was building their life after all but it was tough on the kids too, trying to navigate the world and understand what was going on. They needed their mama as the glue to keep them all together.)
  • Long Tian Xiang (龍天翔) as Chen Qing Biao’s father. He was surprisingly easygoing as far as traditional people went. No, I’m serious. Maybe I was too used to strict parents and all, so I was surprised. Sure, he was seen as tough at times too, and had his principles yet he buckled up and led the way whenever obstacles came up. He did have some guidance from his mother while she was alive too, but had managed to keep to her words and heeded her advice to him throughout the years. I was also surprised that he didn’t care if his grandkids succeed educational-wise or not. Okay, I should dial back. It was more like he encouraged them and loved them regardless of their achievements and didn’t push them at all. He actually went all-in with supporting them–regardless of their decisions. It probably made sense because of how they came from a background of farming and it didn’t matter anyway as long as you were able to find work versus how his son, Qing Biao, wanted the absolute best path, etc. However, usually, the grandpa would take the dad’s side and say, “Your dad’s right, listen to him.” But in this case, his action eased the situation a bit more and he offered some insights and a different perspective. Well, he was quite experienced with life at that point and learned a lot already so he probably wanted to ease off the pressure with the grandkids. Or maybe it was just simply that he loved them because they were his grandkids. But it was just refreshing to see him laying it out so simply. Like how he said he had such kindhearted grandkids already, he didn’t need them to be overachievers or anything else. He was also very happy that they respected him and cherished their family. It was indeed very true. It was hard to come by with all family members getting along so well, etc. So, other factors could be solved regardless. Oh yeah, I would have loved it if he was around during the in-laws’ obstacle situation. He would have gone full grandpapa bear to protect his grandchild from the other woman’s attacks. Or was it because he had passed away at that point already so they didn’t mention him anymore? (They were clearer on his wife’s passing so I wasn’t sure. But I had to assume that he would have passed at that point already. Because it wouldn’t be right without him around in their new home–if they had transitioned to another path once again.) As for the actor, I watched him in so many old series back then with him portraying various villainous roles, so it was hilarious seeing him in this old wise man role. But he did well, obviously. No complaints there.
  • Zhang Qian (張倩) as Chen Qing Biao’s mother. It took me about halfway through the drama to realize she used to be in The Four Brothers of Peking, lol. Yes, it has been ages so I think it was understandable I didn’t make the connection. She was all right. I thought her conflict with Jiang Yi would be long and hard, but it wasn’t much, so that was good. (Jiang Yi was a super germaphobe so it was hard to see eye-to-eye at first. Both sides just needed to communicate and understand, that was all, not implying anything.) She was understanding in that she was able to see past what was more important at times of need–like how Jiang Yi helped with the family situations without putting it over their heads or something. So, in a way, it was just one of those clashes with personality and habits. They got along fine later on when things cooled down.
  • James Chang (張維錫) as Chen Shen Fu (陳神福). Qing Biao’s older brother. He was seriously unlucky. Or was he just naive? Harsh, but whenever he wanted to start some kind of business or an investment, he ended up getting conned or made the wrong call. It was really sad. I wanted him to catch a break, seriously. I actually wanted to know more about him in the later parts of the drama. But I guess he wasn’t the main focus so they didn’t mention him anymore or showed any traces of him after the mom passed away. I hope he caught a break and somehow managed to keep his family safe and healthy.
  • Bella Chang (張懷媗) as Ah Xue (阿雪). Chen Shen Fu’s wife. I felt bad for her. She had to hold down the fort as time went by and her mother-in-law was getting older. I initially bit down my teeth, wondering if she would cause trouble around the household with some conflicts going on. However, I was reassured nothing more progressed after some initial disagreements within the household. Then I reminded myself it wasn’t those typical soap but they were trying to portray some real issues in life and how people actually communicate within the household and not drag it out for dramatic purposes. (Sure, real-life could be messy too but I was glad it wasn’t so in this case.) I felt for her when everyone had to buckle up and endure it all with the debt issues and had to ration their food, etc. I wondered what happened to her kid but the child wasn’t shown again in the drama. Of course, the focus of the story wasn’t on her and her husband specifically, but it would have been nice to get a glimpse at least. Maybe it was mentioned but I have forgotten already because of the gap I watched some episodes, etc.
  • Rex Kao (高允漢) as Chen Shui Wu (陳水伍). Chen Qing Biao’s younger brother. He was shown initially with Qing Biao when they younger and somewhat when he grew up later. However, not much was mentioned anymore after their mother passed away. Once again, I know he wasn’t the focus of the story either but might be nice to get a little update.

Discussions:

  • Casting. I must say it was really good. Because I could see the resemblance of the chosen cast for the characters at various points of the drama. Especially the three kids through the years. I paid closer attention at that point, so I noticed it more than the first generation, so yeah.
  • Ehlo and Ke Wei. OMG, I had a major struggle getting used to them. Seriously, it wasn’t because of their acting. What I wanted to laugh about was about halfway through the series, I realized that they collaborated before. Nothing new with stars working together on more than one drama. But it was funny in the context that they were both in Heaven’s Wedding Gown together and then The Magicians of Love. Considering their characters in there, it was too hard trying to take them seriously as a couple, lol. So yeah. In case anyone forgot, in HWG, he was Ken and she was Ke Wei aka two-thirds of the office bullies who picked on Ai Qing (Cyndi Wang). Then in TMOL, he was Zhe Ming and she was Mango–who were initially rivals regarding the haircutting businesses before he joined Neo Image as well. Anyway, back to this one, they were all right. I thought it was mostly because they were portraying real-life characters, so the production team wanted to keep everything respectful and reserved. So, there wasn’t much of physical contact except somewhat initially. No big deal though. I enjoyed watching their collaboration. At first, I got this awkward vibe from them. But as the series progressed, it seemed like they were more comfortable portraying their roles or something. Or maybe it was my perception. But by the time they were dealing with their own family issues, i.e. their kids, I could imagine them more as a team and how they approached it. It was interesting to see who was calm versus panicked in each situation. I guess it was sending a message about how we all had our blind spots, so it helped to have one person being the calm one in matters, depending on circumstances.
  • The most relatable person was Chen Yu Ling (陳郁聆). Just personally, really. Because I’m also someone’s youngest sister. So I relate to her so hard. There were obvious differences between us, considering how she was tenfold cuter and positive about life throughout, the light in everyone’s world, which was indeed admirable. What I thought I could relate to her was in the sense that she faced the pressure of doing well just like her sister in school. Although her siblings weren’t keeping scores but being compared constantly (even if the parents didn’t do it intentionally) made her confidence sink. She, of course, had support and love thus overcoming the worst and finding her confidence again. It was indeed nice to see. Because I didn’t like how the parents accidentally started this vibe of siblings’ rivalry among them (as all parents at times did–whether they knew it or not). Interestingly, she got the ease off of not having to do as well as her older siblings and was glad about it later on as well. However, I thought it was like how Qian Ping said at one point, she didn’t have to face the pressure, etc. It wasn’t like she didn’t have to deal with it initially, because she had to at least meet certain goals and/or expectations too. It was just that her parents realized it sooner and ended up easing off on her–more Qing Biao–than Jiang Yi at first. I was just glad that she eventually found her own path and maintained a positive attitude throughout. Not to mention how her confidence shone through so brightly too. I was cheering for her.
  • The in-laws obstacles. This bit near the end with Qian Ping having to face her mother-in-law did dap into the dramatics slightly. However, I thought because it was a real-life topic, it was unavoidable. I actually agreed with Jiang Yi when she was shocked that Qian Ping didn’t even ask about Jun Ying’s family. Sure, she had a point that she wasn’t dating his family and didn’t care about his background (i.e. rich or poor). But realistically, you don’t know if he was the rooftop killer or not, hello. (It’s a You’ve Got Mail reference, look it up.) So yeah, I didn’t like that approach at all. It was more realistic that you would make sure to hit the major questions before diving in. Considering how they were planning to spend the rest of their lives together, after all, a thorough discussion of life goals and what it entailed and who it involved would be reasonable. I don’t know about the timeline of the story, but considering how Qian Ping was a courageous young woman out in the world on her own (for the most part) and leaned toward the independent, talented woman path, she could at least be more realistic. She lived a while in Taipei after all, and shouldn’t be too sheltered regarding common stuff like that. Also, considering how traditional the general vibe was, it was obvious they wanted grandkids regardless of the reasons. The mother-in-law especially mentioned that at the initial pre-marriage meetings between the two sides as well. What made her think that it would go away? And then she compromised because the old woman’s words got to her. Sure, compromises were unavoidable in any type of relationship, but to bring a child into this world because you wanted someone to get off your back? I wasn’t convinced she thought it through. The pressure was obvious. It was just too bad her son had the golden card, so it didn’t matter if he didn’t want kids, it would always be her fault because of that fragmented conversation the mother-in-law overheard. And then to top it off with another 8’oclock soap formula (but in this case, it was a real-life situation), she couldn’t get pregnant SO yeah, more ammunition for the mother-in-law. Just great. Yes, I’m bitter as hell. It is a serious matter and I’m upset for her. But I hated that the importance of her existence was reduced down to that moment (and for others to mock). The mother-in-law’s justification for pressuring them was because her tea buddies kept asking? Really? You’re a grown adult, you don’t have to listen to them or interact with them. Also, none of their business. (Yes, I get it, it’s really hard but I thought at a certain age you don’t care for that BS anymore. I’ve reached that age already hence some of my reviews getting braver in words lately. So, I find it hard to believe it was just that. In the end, it was just about “saving face”, etc. More like you wanted to show off to the world and parade your family around in other people’s faces.) I paused the episode to write the previous part, but I knew it! Other people’s opinions were just another excuse she conjured up. In the end, she wanted the grandkids. She just used the long way around to apply more pressure. Jun Ying did make a good case for his wife, too bad she used the ultimate parent card on him. (Typical mother-in-law passing on the generations of toxic idealogy that it was a woman’s duty to have kids. Not to mention how Qian Ping should just take it and accept it and be proud of her duty–and should be willing to sacrifice for “the cause” made it tenfold more frustrating. So the 8 o’clock soaps weren’t far from wrong after all. Of course, I know this stuff happened in real life, that was where the art drew it from. But I at least thought and became hopeful some things would be different. But I guess we can’t all evolve.) And if you want to say: “Stop applying those modernized Western views to the situation, you don’t understand the culture.” Some Westerners actually have those really old views too. I won’t get into it since that covers a whole new level of complication. I’m just saying some traditions and views shouldn’t be clung to. It’s just so toxic to reduce fellow human beings to only one sole purpose. That’s all. (It makes it tenfold worse when you’re also a woman and you tear another woman down just because they don’t want or can’t have kids. Then exude some high and mighty vibe because you did so and so things, etc.) Upside, at least Qian Ping got her parents in her court. I know, it sounds dumb that I should be surprised they supported her. They were her parents after all. But in the extremest circumstances, the wife’s parents’ side would agree with the other side with “continuing the family line” or along the same vibe. However, Qing Biao and Jiang Yi supported Qian Ping with her decision. Sure, they were worried at first and were protective of her (when they learned of the relationship), but actually quite liked Jun Ying and didn’t force him to jump through ten thousand hoops (just for kicks). They just wanted to meet him and get to know him (which was reasonable with some initial questions after all). The part where Jiang Yi accidentally (possibly) blurted out about “not caring about kids and as long as Qian Ping and Jun Ying were together, it was fine” was funny as hell. I had a kick out of it. Because Qing Biao had to clear his throat, reminding her they were at someone’s house and couldn’t say those things. (I’m with Jiang Yi all the way on the petty game she initially wanted to play because the other side wanted to torture her daughter.) I wasn’t mad at Qing Biao for stopping her though, because he had a point indeed. It would be harder on Qian Ping if they interfere even more. It showed he had learned from past overbearing situations with others, so I have to give him points for that. (Qian Ping did choose that path after all. Also, NOT to pile on, but seriously, she should have looked through all their family books before jumping into that marriage. NOT saying she should give up or people shouldn’t get married, but it was a really bad idea that they weren’t on the same page in the first place. I’m not feeling sorry for Jun Ying–even though I know we can’t choose family and what they think, he had more advantage in this situation and the fact that the controlling party was his mother. They had all the power here. If anyone wanted to say that I was petty for keeping scores. Um, the mother-in-law was being calculative first, only thinking for herself, not others. Or more like she only treated Qian Ping as an incubator, not a person. Why should I show mercy toward her? Besides, it’s not like I could do anything to her anyway. I’m just some random, irrelevant person on the Internet.) Totally random, but it was relevant and I don’t want to cut it and put it in their section. But Qing Biao totally took advantage of the situation and used it against Jiang Yi about how she was a teacher, after all, she should stay calm and the lesson she taught her students about thinking before you speak, lol. (Yup, regarding her mishaps in front of their in-law. She said that he was supposed to be on her side in those situations, lol.) I actually felt like they were indeed a couple at that point (more than some of the past serious scenes). It was one of those cute old couple light bickering moments you see at times. Anyway, back to the actual discussion. Regarding how strongly I feel toward the topic in general and possibly missing the point they’re sending–and yes, I shouldn’t meddle into their business (it’s not my place or choice to make anyway), I actually know all of that. But I’m just really upset that they were still sending and trying to normalize that was the correct choice aka to keep trying until some “miracle” happens. If it was Qian Ping’s choice truly, I would accept it more. But it was someone else’s influence, so the rest of whatever was going on was more than the word “infuriating” could be used to describe the situation as an overall. Also, Jiang Yi was seriously lucky as a daughter-in-law. Not to mention how Qing Biao had the gut to move out. I know their situation was totally different and at the time, it made sense that they moved out to fit the circumstances better. But if it was any other in-laws, they would have wanted her to quit and focus on the family. Yet, they weren’t so. They respected her for being such a talented person and accepted it. Even if they wanted the whole family together as much as anyone else. What was also different was that Jiang Yi had three kids, so no one complained and we didn’t see any drama regarding that. But I had a feeling Qing Biao’s parents would be more understanding and actually respect them as human beings rather than punish them (emotional torture and pressure, etc) just because. Oh yeah, did they change the ending to make the mother-in-law more likable? Because I swear it was too abrupt to see her grow a heart like that. It was a typical idol drama move where they changed stuff up for the last episode before wrap-up. I actually wanted to erase the previous parts to make the review less hectic. But decided against it in the end. Because those were my actual beliefs regarding the situation in general, I don’t want to erase that part. I was glad the mother-in-law changed her mind though. It was just that my faith in humanity had taken a downturn and had never recovered just based on personal experience that I wasn’t too hopeful for their ending–unless Qian Ping somehow succeeded. So, I was surprised they (the production team) wanted to send a message of acceptance (as per making the drama and putting the actual story in as well) instead of encouraging women to keep trying, no matter how it would affect their bodies. Again, I believe it’s always up to whoever is involved to make their choice. But I was just surprised Daai chose this story and sent out this message instead of the general procreation themes often splashed around. Because although many general popular cultures (regardless of region) at times wanted to send out the message of respecting others’ choices and empowering women, the ultimate choice they chose to portray–whether real-life stories or fictional productions–would always be procreation. The rest were just there for empty words. What topped the scenes for me was how the mother-in-law actually took an effort to subtly chide her nosy friend at the market when the latter brought up the topic of grandkids.
  • Jiang Yi is a germaphobe. OMG, seriously, they were addressing it at the last minute before wrap-up? I meant we got it initially and I first thought it was because she liked it clean. When it was the situation with the baby and all, I thought she was worried, being a new mother and all. That issue somewhat offended her mother-in-law since Mrs. Chen brought up three kids fine after all. Yet I was glad that was later solved and they didn’t keep that in mind. I must say once again Jiang Yi was seriously lucky to have such understanding in-laws. Because if it was others, they would have use that to their advantage to gain the upper hand later on. Somehow, the family just endured all through the years yet it finally caused major issues when she was already retired? Wow. She sure was lucky to not clash too much before. I guess people thought it would be normal for her to value cleanliness being a woman, a teacher, and other factors. The storyteller really buried the lede until the end all right. But it was indeed a time for Qing Biao to shine all right. She’d been the calm one in the past between his and Yi Jie’s situation. Now, it was his turn to try and resolve their conflicts. (I agree with him though. Each of us has our own habits and routines, but don’t try to influence others or it would cause them discomfort and/or feel more pressure.) Some comments missed the point when they criticized Yi Jie for not knowing how great he had it with his mom willing to clean the place or help and all. Yes, he had it great thus far. That was true that the mom’s intention was good. Yi Jie’s attitude had been a consistent thing throughout, so it wasn’t helping either. But it was a boundary issue in this case. It was nice and all having someone help you clean and stuff. However, how would they like it if their stuff got move around? Each of us has a system and comfort level. How do you like it if people come in and rearrange everything and claim they were helping? It didn’t matter whether it was family or not. In a way, Yi Jie understood well how there would be clashes hence moving out after his discharge from the army. He didn’t want to force his wife to change, knowing the situation at home and all. So, he was already approaching it with his own way. Once again, they shouldn’t use the parent card to force things through or guilty trip their children into changing. I was glad the issue was resolved and all, but I thought one shouldn’t be let off as easily with the parent card. Sure, Jiang Yi understood and thought it through afterward, wanting to call Yi Jie too. But somehow, she was saved from admitting that she was in the wrong too and should meet them halfway instead of going in there and demanding they changed according to her habits. Again, Yi Jie was wrong on the attitude, but he wasn’t wrong about the boundary situation. Considering Jiang Yi didn’t like it either that Mrs. Peng put her daughter in a hard spot. She shouldn’t do that to someone else’s daughter either.
  • Bonus. You get to see the real-life couple (Chen Qing Biao and Jiang Yi) at the end of the series on the train together. That was so cute.

Recommended? I thought it was worth it. I went in, just wanting to watch for Ehlo. Yet I learned a lot about the railway system and some other life lessons too. It might not be as fascinating to locals (or could be, I don’t know), but it was informative to me. Well, it wasn’t like it was focused 100% on the railway system and all. It was at heart trying to portray a typical model family. So it was worth watching see how they navigate through those life hurdles. Sure, I complained about some of the stuff too. However, I felt it was worth it in the end. I might not completely agree with some situations, but it was another perspective. Some things did make me think a little harder about it and it did change my mind about the situation. Others, take it as what it was.

Thoughts?