This FR is that of the return leg of a TSA-LZN flight which was rerouted to MFK due to bad weather conditions, but I had really planned to leave the archipelago from MFK the next day. There are only three daily flights, all to/from TSA : morning, midday and evening. Since we had slept in a B&B on the other island, plane spotting was limited to the sole midday plane, landing at 13:50 as listed in MFK's luggage delivery room in my previous FR.
The non-military population of Nangan is limited, but that of Beigan is even less. The top of Mount Bi, the highest in the archipelago, provides an excellent view of Tangqi, the largest town on that island, and the airport whose runway appears to be the longest street in town. It was built in 1994, after the island was opened to tourists and I suspect that the taxiway in the foreground is the much shorter original runway, from the time when the whole island was a strategic military stronghold.
The tradition in Tangqi was that a man would be worthy of marrying only if he had carried his beloved up these stairs to the top of Mount Bi, 294 meters above the village. Wedding preparation was no small word here.
A close up on the terminal, with no fewer than seven taxis waiting for the arrival fo the aircraft. The weather was good, bu quite hazy, and I reinforced the contrast of the pictures.
The best picture of the unusual landing on MFK's runway 21 was taken by Mrs Marathon (this was the first and only time that I saw that runway being used).
Passing above a truck like at CDG and other major airports, but everything is smaller here.
Turning back at the end of the runway
And passing again above the road on the way towards the terminal
MFK's tarmac is now half full, since it has too parking position on the apron.
The same aircraft, from the hill on the opposite side
Nine pictures of a single aircraft is quite a lot, but then this is the only one that I could spot from a distance, out of the three daily flights to MFK.
At the end of our second day in the archipelago, after we had exhausted the tourist potential of the main two islands, we head back to the airport. It was around 5pm and getting dark, even more so that the weather was degrading. Since the scooter rental, the restaurants and the airport were a few hundred meters from each other, we went first to the airport to check in on our flight back to Taipei before having dinner.
Apparently nothing unusual in the terminal, but this was only an appearance.
The clerk at the check in counter, a nice young man, told me that the flight was going to be cancelled due to the degrading weather conditions. This would only be announced at 6 pm (the scheduled time of departure from Taipei of the incoming flight), but it was already certain. But no problem, those who had not been able to fly that evening would be on a priority waiting list the next morning, and since we were number 11 and 12, he guaranteed me that we would have seats. We would only need to be at the airport between 8 and 8:30 am.
His politeness was on par with his patience when I repeated the message with my own words to make sure that I had understood correctly. That I did not show any aggressiveness or, insistence and that I said scores of 沒關係 meiguanxi (no problem, no big deal) and 沒辦法 meibanfa (we can't do anything about it) must have helped too. He delivered two boarding passes after tearing off the boarding coupon, which seemed to be the local substitute to waiting list tickets.
For the passengers who had not understood the situation, Taiwanese cats and dogs suddenly rained on the airport, drowning any remote hope of Uni-Air changing their mind. And no wonder, before 5:30 pm, the only evening flight was officially cancelled. For whoever could not read, it was announced on the P.A. in Mandarin and Taiwanese.
Mrs Marathon had noticed after going through Tangqi a couple times that day on the scooter that there was no accommodation in town and started to scout visually the terminal for the best place to sleep overnight.
Her mistake came from the fact that she reads no Chinese: Tangqi is actually replete of small hotels and B&Bs, but their signboards are not showy and none is in English. There is no need to be seen from a distance or by foreigners in Tangqi, since you cannot be a long distance away and you are not expected to be a foreigner here. Their business relies on the unpredictable weather on Matsu and the barebones navigational aid of the airport to bring a steady supply of castaway tourists stuck in town until the rain or the fog abates. I could even be choosy and suggest to her a significantly more comfortable hotel than the B&B we had the previous night. The room layout was typical of the Japanese influence in Taiwan.
With regards to dinner, we had the local food joint option (which can deliver very spicy surprises), but this time, I selected a worldwide franchise. Taiwan is by far the world leader in the number of 7-Eleven per inhabitants, way ahead of Japan which now owns it, and the US which created it. There is of course an outlet in Tangqi too.
You can buy anything there, including ready to warm up dishes which are much better than instant noodles which are available too. They have a microwave oven and wifi is free: I skyped with my wife from there last year. Souvenirs… but this time she is with me. Three customers out of four were young men who had the bad luck to be drafted to Beigan, one of the worst assignments considering the weather, isolation and lack of entertainment.
Back to the hotel around 7:30 pm through the busy streets of Tangqi, as described in the leaflet of the local tourist office.
They are not very demanding when it comes to evaluating urban activity. True enough, a P.A. announcement briefed everybody about an animation somewhere in town, but we did not feel like going out again to discover the hidden riches of the island' cultural night life.
The breakfast was already set on the table. Breakfast is not what you come to Taiwan for, and this one was typical: egg fried to the core + ham + salad + sweetened mayo sandwiches, and two glasses of coffee that any American would have rated watered down by a factor of two. Standard Taiwanese fare, when you venture beyond Taipei's Hyatt.
The streets of Beigan are every bit as busy a 7:30 am as at 7:30 pm, and there is the same proportion of drafted young men.
These two pictures were taken from the same spot: I do not know any other airport that you can reasonably walk to with your luggage from any hotel in town.
Another typical passenger
Tangqi, from the airport's terminal
This time, our flight is listed as being on time
The weather seems indeed reasonably good; the runway is in the background
This time, our flight was posted as being on time. Like at Taipei's domestic airport, a screen displays the waiting list, with the rank, the partial number of the passengers and their names: we are indeed in 11th and 12th position.
There were no fewer than 41 names on the priority waiting list, which might be a problem in a 52-seater plane which is often sold out on that route, and the next screens were interesting.
The numbers of the IDs of all the passengers ranked 14th to 33rd on that waiting list started with G10, G12 and G20: this was a group of Mainland Chinese tourists who were obvious in the terminal the evening before: like all Mainland Chinese on a tour in Taiwan, they spoke loudly in a Chinese language which was neither Mandarin nor Taiwanese (and when they speak Mandarin, their accent is definitely not Taiwanese) and their clothes were somehow unmistakenly from the Mainland. The situation had definitely gotten out of their hands that time, but they usually behave as if they owned the place, which does help them to be warmly welcomed by my Taiwanese colleagues and I alike.
Their guide probably chose to let them sleep late, because they were not at the airport in the morning, leaving a chance to the other castaways like us, and even some of the 26 passengers on the normal waiting list.
It was on 7:45 and the terminal was still quite empty..
But he arrived at 7:55, after he had started his computer, the previous day's employee came directly to me to issue our boarding passes in priority, telling a passenger that he would first handle the foreigners. I seldom enjoy such a VIP status.
These are the first two BPs on flight B7336.
From there, a few steps to the checked luggage counter, but the X-ray machine has not been started yet.
An employee explains to an elderly passenger how to use the automated check-in machines.
Who has never killed time in an airport by reading again and again the stamps on his passport? This Chinese businesswoman was no different from anybody else.
She was a businesswoman because of her attire, and she was Chinese because the travel document in her hands was not a Chinese passport, but the pass delivered by Taiwan to Mainland Chinese citizen authorized to come regularly to Taiwan. Neither Taiwan nor Mainland China recognize the validity each other's passports, for political reasons, and they consequently deliver quasi passports valid only on the other side of the Straits to save face.
What was this Chinese woman doing in Beigan? Her routing was easy to reconstitute: she was in transit and had obviously come from Fuzhou, had taken a taxi to the harbor of Mawei downstream, had boarded the daily ferry in Mawei, and landed at Fu'ao on Nagan in the afternoon. She found that the flights were cancelled in Nangan, took the ferry again at Fu'ao to Baisha harbor, hoping to catch the much later plane from Beigan, but that one was cancelled too. And like us, she stayed in a hotel in Tangqi.
Anyway, we went to the single boarding gate after hearing the reassuring buzzing sound of a Dash-8 and seeing its passengers disembark.
I am a Dash-8 registered B-15237 frequent flyer: this was the third time that I boarded this very aircraft in two weeks!
The auxiliary power supply
Of course, all the windows of B-15237 are equally scratched
Standard speech of the flight attendant to the passengers seated next to the emergency exit: note that two seats are empty this time. There were 41 names on the priority waiting list and 26 more names on the regular waiting list of a 52-seater plane which was not empty to start with: sleeping late must be a local sport in Beigan.
One of the three flight attendants brings us the weekly edition of the China Post, a Taiwanese newspaper, whose front page is focused on the change of leadership in Mainland China.
The seat pitch, evidently unchanged
Three flight attendants on board a 52-seater aircraft with two pairs of emergency exits? Yes, because one of them as a Trainee badge, and was supervised by another when she closed the door. But she had not forgotten Lesson One of her training: smile to passengers… assuming of course that they bother to remind something so obvious to a would-be Taiwanese flight attendant.
I did not take a picture of the coffee with milk which I found acceptable. Is it that I get progressively used to the local drinks? No, Mrs Marathon confirmed my impression, and we agreed that we sometimes had very bad coffee later during our vacation.
Final approach on Taipei Songshan Airport, with the confluence of the Danshui and the Xindian, left, and the bridges on the Danshui close to the city center, right.
Crossing the Danshui river,
The Grand Hotel, behind the expressway to TPE.
Touchdown at 10:17 am, i.e 11:57 hours late with regards to the cancelled flights that we should have boarded the day before. The bus is next to the aircraft, with the iconic Taipei 101 Tower in the background.
The Taiwanese women use both legs to walk to the lavatory. The pictogram hints that the space inside is very cramped (yes it is, I checked), because the pictogram shows that they must tighten their legs once inside.
The passenger bus is waiting next to the aircraft, with the tower Taipei 101 in the background.
Good thing that few passengers check where they are coming from on the stairs board, because you can have doubts.
Some plane spotting on the tarmac: Fareastern Air Transport has found a new customer for its advertising space on one of its MD82/83.
But there is some available advertising space left, in case you are interested…
A Transasia Airways ATR72
And a Mandarin Airlines E190
The light truck bringing the checked luggage to the terminal, as seen from the passenger bus drop-off point. You can expect to get your luggage quickly when it is such a tight race between the two.
The luggage was expected by the statistically valid sample of passengers coming from Beigan.
An hour extra delay was not going to make so much of a difference on our schedule, and Mrs Marathon allowed be to spend some plane spotting time on TSA's observation deck.
Win Air's Gulfstreams
Arrival of a Transasia Airways (GE) ATR72
The passengers board
End of pushback
Ground crew waving a good flight
The jetbridge leaves the Mandarin Airlines E-190 seen earlier
Pushback begins, while another E-190 reaches its pier-side parking position
Ground crew waving a good flight
And departure. An E-190 accelerate faster than an ATR-72, and my picture is really blurred
Last one : arrival of a Shanghai Airlines 738
This is the end of this FR; now is time for a Taiwan tourism bonus
Not everybody can have a chance to climb Yushan, Taiwan's highest mountain, but ally visitors should go to Alishan National Park, in the vicinity. Alishan village is actually disappointing, but there are beautiful landscapes in the outer areas of the park, and this is where the best high altitude tea of Taiwan is grown.
Three temples next to each other dedicated to the same goddess in Jiji, where inhabitants temporarily pray in this building which looks more like an industrial hangar.
For they had barely finished building a temple dedicated to Matsu after eight years of effort that the earthquake on September 21st, 1999, reaching 7.3 on the Richter scale, destroyed it completely.
They were not discouraged, and built another even larger one, just in front of the rubble which was left untouched. It was nearly finished when we visited it.
It the vicinity, Sun Moon Lake is another of Taiwan's inescapable tourist spots.
The superb Wuchang temple lies on the opposite shore; all tourists visit there. It is crowded on weekdays too.
Have you ever seen a temple with free wifi and a computer connected to the internet for visitors?
And did you expect to find there the traditional corporate screenshot of this FR?
Beigan Island - MFK
Taipei City - TSA
This FR is part of a tight match between Mainland China's China United Airlines and Taiwan's Uni Air for the title of the worst flight delay. Uni-Air holds the all-time record with me with two and a half days on the TSA-MFK route, and later doubled with a two day delay on the TSA-HCN route (FR to be posted soon in English). CUA's 13h14 delay is nevertheless commendable against UIA's 11h57 this time, but CUA had fed me (very poorly) and provided a day-use hotel room, and reimbursed half the ticket. No colleague - local or foreigner alike - has ever flown to NAY, LZN and MFK, and there is a good reason for that: on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, if you look for adventure, you find it.
I did not enquire if Uni-Air would pay for the hotel night in Beigan : it only replaced a night elsewhere on Taiwan for which I had no reservation, so the net cost was zero.
Uni-Air again provided flawless ground and in-flight service, and deserves the top grade for that. The drink on board was limited, but nevertheless in progress.
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