Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan and on Christmas Eve that year, I treated myself to a day trip to Kinmen, my favorite Taiwanese island.
Taipei TSA ? Kinmen KNH (Far Eastern Air Transport, MD83)in French there, but you are here in English Kinmen KNH - Taipei TSA (TransAsia Airways, ATR72) in French here, in English there
Flying Far Eastern Air Transport was reserved to passengers who are not afraid of crashes, be they of a plane, a balnce sheet or a computer. FAT had crashed two planes on the KHH-TSA route before my arrival in Taiwan, and later crashed into bankruptcy, but unlike the passengers of the above mentioned flights, it ressucitated after three years in limbo, and I managed to buy a ticket on line, despite the initial crash of their server. I admit that my version of Internet Explorer was quite obsolete, but not as badly as that of FAT's MD-82/83 navigation equipment. I do not know if their avionics had redundancy, but I had, and shifting to an up to date version of Firefox, I managed to complete the transaction despite a rather rough landing.
You may have noticed top right of FAT's home page that they had special offers for Kinmen (金門) flights, especially during the holiday season, but you know how the promotions are: even if the destination is right, there is always something wrong.
Clicking on the girl on the right provided 25% discounts to KNH, but the eligible flights were convenient for Kinmen inhabitants only – they are roughly thirty times fewer than in Taipei. The holiday season was not Christmas since it is no holiday there, but the Chinese New Year: FAT was adding a few extra flights for that period, and you had to connect on 28 December around 6-8 pm (don't expect too much precision from FAT). Yes, this was Year 100 of the Chinese Republic, founded by Sun Yat-Sen in Nanjing. Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the quintessential founding father in both Mainland China (a.k.a the People's Republic of China) and Taiwan (a.k.a as the Republic of China, with indeed a lot fewer people), since both countries claim to be the only real China.
I do not know how many Flight Reporters tried their luck, either on line or on the hotline, since 40% of the seats would be sold by phone (in Mandarin only, of course). I was nevertheless slightly disappointed that FAT did not offer me a reward ticket for the worldwide promotion I posted for them on FR.
Anyway, for a day as common as Saturday December 24th, there was no need to plan a long time ahead, especially since FAT's planes are not the first ones to be booked full, and I waited until I had a reliable weather forecast to go for it and reach that web page.
It was the easiest page, due to the airports' IATA codes. Note that I ticked the one way box, since I was not fully convinced that FAT's planes are really capable of flying a round trip to KNH. FAT had only MD-82/83s in its fleet, some alleged to be airworthy, but the majority rust and dust on TSA's tarmac, so that page was illustrated with a superb MD-83 of an unusual type.
(To this day, FAT's 757 are gathering even more rust and dust parked at the northern tip of TPE's ground)
The next page required me to fill in a lot of information, like for instance my private address in Chinese (typing it using a French AZERTY keyboard like it was an English QWERTY keyboard was fun, but thanks to Windows for providing this facility for free) for sending the ticket by snail mail. This was fully useless in the age of electronic tickets, since at the next page, after I had checked everything, I validated that I wanted to receive the ticket by e-mail, and did instantly receive the confirmation that: 1/ I did have a ticket for December 24th, in my e-mail box 2/ FAT's website crashed further down the way with Firefox than with IE7, revealing amidst the wreckage the first portions of future English menus.
If you have not yet realized that the Christians are a tiny minority in Taiwan, come have a look in TSA on a Saturday December 24th, very early in the morning. It was nearly empty. It must have been different in any domestic airport in the West.
It did not take me long to get what I wanted, i.e. a window seat on the left.
The weather had been quite awful in Taipei that week, but it appeared to clear up, and all the flights were announced on time.
A quick security check on the right, and I was airside at the ground level boarding gates for remotely parked aircraft (FAT could not afford the fees for jetbridges).
Far left, a giant free Wifi logo and a self serve computer, displaying a well known home page.
A close up on the keyboard, which may not be like your own.
Keep looking left: the first flight of the day had not started boarding yet.
There is not much plane spotting to do very early in the morning in TSA, so I'll bring you slightly upstream the Keelung River the previous weekend.
All Taiwanese marathon runners know that Sunday before Christmas is the day of the Taipei Marathon, which takes off a quart of an hour before Flight FE11. See here the competitors stretching on the right bank in the bakground. They were at KM 18 in the first lap, far behind the regulatory Kenyan and Ethiopian who won the men's and women's race, respectively. I could use this picture in this Flight Report, because you can (barely) see a plane taking off TSA between the electric lines:
It was a mildly reare bird, for this Fokker 50 is a military plane (see the roundels) which I had spotted a few months before landing in TSA.
Let's go back to boarding via a PAXbus, which provides me to show you this Mandarin Airlines E-190.
Before reaching this FAT MD-83, an acquaintance of mine, since this is the one which is sponsored by the Kinmen distillery, and Kinmen is my destination.
Kinmen spirit, as you may know, is not for the kids. Sure, there is mild version, only 76-proof, but the real stuff is 116-proof. There are rows of shops selling it in Kincheng, the prefecture of Kinmen. I'll make a brief leap forward in time to illustrate that:
There are knives, another local souvenir, that I'll mention in the FR of the return flight.
Some FR readers love model planes, and they may be interested in this one which is sold tanks full. The shop was closed, unfortunately, and I did not determine the price of this authentic B737.
An MD83 does mean much in terms of exposure, so the Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Inc. has bought the sides of all the taxis of the island. Do not worry about road safety: it is recommended below not to drink and drive, for safety reasons. In retrospect, I was worried by the fact that the same warning did not appear on the MD-83, and I was wondering whether pilots could drink and fly in Taiwan.
Especially since the plane's route showed that it took them some time to find the direction of Kinmen, since according to this compass,
the trajectory looked like this :
That is of course pure bad faith: the ide ais to eventualy fly towards Kinmen at a right angle to the Mainland, in a tiny sliver or airspace which is not under Mainland Chinese control.
We were not there yet; after taking the picture of a few privat jets with Taipei 101 in the background
the tarmac crew saluted the departing plane.
I had asked for a seat on the left because on the right, you see nothing but water, whereas on the left and despite the lighting conditions, you have a spectacular view of Taiwan's mountains.
I had to stop during the drinks service, for the use of any electronic equipment at anytime during the flight was prohibited then. According to the latest TSA-LZN FR (in French), the regulations appear to have changed and only take-off and landing remain a no-no.
FAT's coffee? It may be chemically impossible to reach a more awful taste. It is indescribable. Good thing there was the landscape as compensation.
I briefly saw Penghu (see my TSA<>MKG reports), but too poorly to have an acceptable picture. We were now close to landing; it was hazy, but you see here Shuitou village which is an architectural marvel. I once spent close to a entire day there only.
Landing on time in Kinmen, next to two Uni Air MD-90s.
Before leaving the plane, some comments on the cabin : two rows of J in 2+2 layout, and the seat numbering of Y seats (2+3 layout) then starts with number 6, skipping row 13.
That numbering scheme skips number 4: this number is bad omen, because in Mandarin like in Japanese, ? (four) is pronounced like ? (death). It also skips number 13, that Westerners fear.
I did not wait for a long time to take these pictures: there were exactly 25 passengers in that MD-83, spread semi-randomly in the plane.
Another view of one of Uni-Air's MD-90.
And a last view at FAT's MD-83 and its alcoholic advertisement.
I reached the car and scooter rental booth, where the clerk was already with other customers, but she recognized me and greeted me in Mandarin:
- Hey, aren't the Frenchman? You want a scooter, right ? Around what time will you be back? OK, just right down your name, address and phone number here. It's 400 TWD. No, no need for an ID ! This is the ignition key, you will find it by yourself, won't you ?
and she resumed her business with the others. It was my third rental there and I already was a regular customer: this was part of the pleasure of living in Taiwan.
The scooter was in that parking lot in front of the terminal.
I nearly was the first one to post a FR on a 786, left, but I drove a 727, center, maybe not made in Seattle, but nevertheless in excellent condition.
Now, I was excessive in the beginning of my FR: when I returned to the airport, I had the proof that a FAT MD-83 can indeed fly back to TSA, or at least take off from there, like this one.
What if you liked the flight? You can buy a souvenir, because the next week-end, I returned to Mr Li's shop that I mentioned in this FR TSA-LZN, and I bought this model. If you look closely, it is the same MD-83 registered B-28025, even though it does not have the advertising for Kinmen liquor.
This is the end of the FR, next comes a tourist bonus, on the village of Shuitou seen on final to KNH.
Kinmen was poor in the 19th century, and much like those of Guangzhou on the Mainland, many inhabitants emigrated to South East Asia and some made a reasonable fortune, without losing their ties with their native island. In the 1930s, some came back and built mansions whose architecture mixted Fujian (the Chinese province to which Kinmen belonged then) and foreign influences. Kinmen was safe, and there was no defensive feature. The most impressive one was built by a migrant back from Indonesia.
The tower is a later addition, after an incident that I did not determine and justified building a watchtower. The building next to it was a curious false residence, to fool attackers.
The main building is decorated with a stone clock, set at 12:40, a symbol of time which never stops for a lunch pause.
The interior was richly decorated and is now a museum – admission is free.
The returning migrants did not only build beautiful houses for themselves : they also became philantropists and financed the building of this primary school.
Shuitou has also many buildings in authentic Fujian style, with their distinctive roof line. Tourists also come to see them; since most have disappeared both in Fujian and in Taiwan (only two remain in Taipei proper)
Shuitou now makes a living off this tourism : many of these housings have been transformed in B&Bs, where I spent the night a couple times.
A typical stone window
The decoration under the roof of a house in Shuitou
Far Eastern Air
Taipei City - TSA
Kinmen - KNH
The MD-83 is a very silent plane when you are seated far from the engines, which was easy when there are so few passengers on board. The engines being in the rear also guarantee that the pictures will not be blurred by hot air. I was alone in my row, with a decent seat pitch: comfort was excellent. I hesitated about the catering grade: a cup of coffee should be better than nothing, but I wondered if nothing might not have been better. In the medium and small size categories, respectively, there is little to criticize about TSA and KNH, where the staff is courteous and efficient, and information adequate. The only drawback in Kinmen is that most of their tourist information is in Chinese, but they do have excellent thematic road maps, and the island size is compatible with a scooter's speed and comfort.
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