The FR to MFK started some four months before the actual take-off; that of the return flight only starts ten hours before, after renting a scooter. It is difficult to forget that the Matsu archipelago has been under martial law for over thirty years (with a 9 pm strict curfew, no lights allowed at night, etc…): no matter where you look, you find military facilities, either active or disused. This bus stop, for instance, has a unique decoration.
This is not for a week-end barbecue with friends.
There is also an incredible (and secret) number of summer homes with a spectacular sea view.
Anyway, as soon as I had a scooter, I climbed to Mt Bishan (298m), which is the ideal place for plane spotting. I could not waste time, or I would miss the only morning flight to Taipei, operated by the plane which had brought me here. The top of the mountain is of course a military base, but civilians can go around it to see the view, in particular on Mainland China which is hardly more than twenty kilometers away.
No need to be high up anyway: this is the view from the small fishermen's village of Qianzi. The contrast is poor because of the haze, but on the left, it is Mainland China. Note the summer home on the right.
This is the result after image processing, but in real life, I could see it much better than that.
I could see so well the Chinese coast on the west side of the island that when I switched on my cell phone, I received this SMS: Welcome on the network of CMCC! (one of Mainland China's operators). Note that roaming fees are 25 RMB / Mb, i.e. about 2.80 EUR. It was around 9 EUR /Mb in Europe at that time.
On the East side, this is Tangci, with its runway partially built on the sea.
Despite the relief in the fore ground, this picture shows nearly the entire town, which is rather a large village. Stairs reach here from the village below, and the tradition is that a man was deemed apt to marry only if could carry his beloved up to the top. Small wonder the young leave Matsu and that the non military population ages!
The Dash-8 taxies up the runway, aligns and takes off from Runway 03.
Now that the intense morning air traffic has subsided, let's have a look at the airport and the town.
On top of the picture, there is the tunnel which passes underneath the runway to reach an island which used to be cut off from Beigan at high tide. This tunnel is like that of the A1 motorway at CDG, only that you are nowhere near taking the picture of a tractor trailer under an A380 in MFK.
In the centre of the picture, the red roof of the terminal. There are two parking spots on the tarmac, in case of exceptional traffic conditions. On the landside of the terminal, five yellow taxis (that is quite a lot) and a rather oversize parking lot. .
On the other side, THE roundabout of the town! This is the strategic crossroad where the road to the airport and the two main avenues of the town, or rather the two streets of the village. The very comprehensive local tourist information leaflet evokes the busy streets of Tangci with a sense of exaggeration which only belongs to the world of touristic advertising.
I returned to the airport and its tourist information bureau to ask about the tides' schedule (a disused military tunnel can only be visited at low tide). I gave a look at the flights display which also has the flights to/from LZN, but it is not up to date: there are five daily LZN<>TSA flights, not three. A staff at the counter comes up, asks if I have any problem (no!), we chat a little and she suggests me to go to Bishan to see the traffic (i.e. the midday flight). I was there just before, and he suggests the beach for the next flight. When I take a picture of the display, his colleague rushes to switch on the light to improve the lighting. The Taiwanese are so lovely.
I am not going to include all my picture in this FR (Beigan is well worth full day, alternating scooter rides and hiking, more or less strenuous according to your tastes), because I want to leave some surprises for your next visit. I can't help sharing these two views of the village of Qinbi, facing Mainland China.
No English language documentation mentions these three cement slogans on the houses:
From left to right: Let's come to help to our countrymen of the continent Return of the light of the continent Cooperation of the army and the citizens
The return to the light is the Taiwanese expression which means the conquest of China. Avenues bearing this name (Guangfu) are all over Taiwan, but the locals keep a low profile towards foreigners on this politically sensitive topic.
Let's go back to the airport in the evening. The same counter handles sales and checking in, and the staffs recognize me immediately, with a warm welcome and give me the right hand seat that I requested, because I know that this is the best side for a night view.
You can see that this day trip cost me 1869 TWD on the way back, and 1962 TWD on the way in, which is 96 EUR for the round trip (the rate of the TWD against the EUR is very stable). The difference lies in the fact that flights out of Taiwan's remote islands are VAT exempt.
It is 6pm: the terminal is empty, because all the passengers went in town to have dinner after having checked in.
Somewhat later, animation picks up, with continuous calls announcing the next arrival of the evening flight, and airport staff chasing excessively bulky luggage. No, this is not like some low cost airline chasing the opportunity for charging checked luggage fees: some passengers really exaggerate. It is difficult to follow what is going on in the hubbub, but there is no reason to worry, in an airport from where a single flight will leave to a single destination.
Beigan is a small world: I meet a Taiwanese family that I met at that military tunnel. We chat, I explain that I traveled without a guide on a scooter. Another passenger steps in from behind: Oh, but you have been hiking too! I saw you scale the rocks at Mt Luo!. Everything can be seen, all is known, and the only foreigner that day is spotted no matter where he is…
Uni-Air, the on time airline… sometimes. Better than on time, actually, since once all had boarded, the plane leaves eighteen minutes ahead of schedule. Why wait? The day before, Flight B7-340 was 30 minutes early, in both MFK and TSA.
This flight B7-340 is exceptionally not full, because it is in the middle of a three day week-end: I saw five empty seats.
This display (and that of the boarding room) tells you that the date was 10/09/100 . Yes. Taiwan celebrated that year the centenary of the Republic of China, founded in 1911 by Sun Yat-Sen in Nanjing. Forget about minor details of what happened during these hundred years: as you all know, here, China is Taiwan!
Forget about the duty free in the boarding room. This room is so tiny that its capacity is less than that of a Dash-8, but no problem, since it is only used as a sas: access to the tarmac begins as the security check continues. A rather lenient check: they did not ask me to take my laptop out of my bag.
This is the heron, which is the one that I spotted the previous week-end (re. the FR of the incoming flight).
The meal on board is limited to a class of a cold drink, like on the way in. Taiwanese Civil Aviation Authority rules mandate that all electronic equipment be switched off during the entire flight, and a FA came up to ask me politely to please shut down may laptop (I was still new to Taiwanese domestic flying, at that time). I have not heard so far of such a restriction in other countries (apart from take-off and landing phases), and I suspect this has more to do with protecting military and other sensitive facilities from Chinese reconnaissance.
The announcement of the beginning of the descent is bilingual… in Mandarin and Taiwanese (all Chinese languages are identical in written form and mutually unintelligible orally). My camera is not sensitive enough to take pictures in night flights, but the view all the way from the coast at Keelung is stupendous.
We are now crossing the Danshui river; this is the Taipei Bridge. Just behind the arc of the propeller, you can see the Shinkong Tower which was the tallest of Taipei…
… before the Taipei 101 Tower was built, here just below the engine's air intake, which was the tallest skyscraper in the world when it was completed.
After a short bus trip, we arrive in a deserted terminal. It is a few minutes past 8 pm, and the last flight out of TSA has already left (on Wednesdays, there is a late flight to KNH at 21:15). Neighbors of other urban airports would envy such an early curfew !
I take the subway back home – few airports can rival the urban accessibility of TSA, thanks to its central location. There is an expressway on a viaduct very close too.
Let's have a look at this information panel in the middle of the platform. The area map is the same on both sides… well actually it is not exactly the same:
In both cases, you are really here, but due to its Japanese colonial history, a Taiwanese area map is never oriented north, but in the direction of the person looking at it. As long as you have not memorized this rule, you will have trouble orienteering in Taiwan (and in Japan too, for the same reason).
Note the sharp curve of the subway line. DORTS – the Taipei subway authority – realized at the last moment that it was stupid to have the line pass 300 meters away from the terminal without serving it. Hence this curve to change the route, and a very low speed limit which gives ample time to see the tarmac (here at dawn the same morning).
A quarter of an hour later, you are here at the Main Station.
This FR was originally posted in French on September 11th, 2011, and all the media were full of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. A standard theme is where were you on 9/11?. You probably all remember, and so do I. But do you remember September 17th, 2001? You most probably don't, but the inhabitants of Taipei do, and this plaque at Taipei Main station helps them remember. We are not at platform level, but one level above, and that line 2.3 meters above the ground is the level reached by the water when Typhoon Nari flooded the city that day.
You can imagine the damage: Taipei's subway network took months to recover. The Taiwanese learnt from that lesson, and Taipei reinforced all its levees and protection walls alongside its rivers, on over one hundred kilometers cumulated length, as well as all its pumping facilities. Taipei is now an impregnable 21st century fortress against Nature, and will never again share the fate of New Orleans.
Beigan Island - MFK
Taipei City - TSA
Trying to go to MFK in May was stupid, but nevertheless instructive. When the season is right, Uni Air does its job well: operate a route which is partially subsidized (islanders get a special discount), for a reasonable price and with a smile.
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