Compared to the other Taiwanese regional airlines, flying TransAsia Airways is a piece of cake. Not only does it fly well recent aircraft (A320/321/330, ATR72), but it is the only one whose website is fully bilingual, without any odd question or strange condition, and where buying a ticket online ends with this reassuring message at the bottom of this screenshot:
The only surprise was a pre-ticked box given no other choice for a foreigner than being a resident, but there was no special fare condition attached, and a foreign passport is just as good as a resident ID for checking in.
Another trivial oddity is that Far Eastern Air Transport's website (in Chinese only) sends a confirmation e-mail with an English title, whereas is the reverse for TransAsia Airways.
But maybe because it is a biturboprop flight (the competitors were flying E-190, MD-83 and MD-90 on that route) TransAsia's fare are much lower: 1417 TWD vs. 2050 TWD for the incoming flight on with FAT. The catch was that this fare was not non changeable non refundable, unlike the others.
The decoration in front of KNH's terminal is an excuse for a small course in history, environment and religion studies. In 1662, Koxinga, a local Chinese king on the continent, expelled the Dutch from Taiwan where they had set foot 38 years before. China has never been a naval power, and in order to build the ships he needed for this task force, he had all the trees of Kinmen cut down. Kinmen's natural forests protected the island from the erosion due to the wind (driving a scooter on Kinmen tells something about the wind there), and the next crops failed, starving the population. No wonder there is a giant statue of Koxinga in Xiamen, on the mainland, but none in Kinmen.
In front of such hardships, Kinmen's inhabitants created a new god: the Lion God, and erected statues everywhere in the island. The god was obviously motivated to receive so much instant worship, and the island slowly recovered from what we would today call an environmental disaster. Only recently did Kinmen's forest recover their original magnitude.
When you leave KNH's small terminal towards the parking lot in front, you can't miss this statue of the Lion God.
It is modern of course, but I saw many old ones here and there, like this one. If you did not catch the symbols in it, remember that this was basically a fertility god (there are female statues too, but much fewer).
No problem to check in at TransAsia Airways' counter, and I obtained a window seat on the right, which would give the view on Taipei during the final descent towards TSA.
The flight was booked full, and it was the last one in the evening, departing at 18:10: Taiwan's domestic airports all shut down early.
This was a day trip, and yet I checked in my daypack, which a set a new record of lightness: less than four kilos. No, I did not buy any alcohol (they routinely ask if you did, at KNH's check in counters), and you will have to wait until the tourist bonus to understand why I had to.
KNH is built alongside a hill, so that the landside area is two floor levels above the tarmac. There is a small restaurant which provides a decent view on two ATR72, mine and the one operating flight GE2082 to Kaohsiung, soon to depart. The sea is in the background.
Some passengers use Kinmen as a cheap route towards Mainland China: they bought duty free stuff at Shuitou's harbor, which they receive airside in KNH at these counters. This kid seems to check if these are indeed his Christmas presents.
Boarding has not started at T-16': nothing unusual, since the aircraft are parked close to the terminal and the passengers are orderly. There are nevertheless three ID and BP checks: here, and the end ov the roofed walkway alongside the terminal and last at the foot of the aircraft.
I wonder how you could mistakenly board this Mandarin Airlines E-190 !
Anyway, this is TransAsia Airways's ATR72
A close up on the registration number, for those who claim not seeing it in the previous pictures.
The aircraft was indeed full. While the passengers were getting seated, one the FAs had kept her winter overcoat on; it was surprising, but nevertheless elegant.
It was the heart of the presidential campaign – voting was three weeks ahead, on 14 January, and my neighbor's newspaper of course mentioned the debate between front runners Ma Ying-jeou (left, in business suit) et Tsai Ing-wen (center, in blue dress) the previous evening.
But shortly before take-off, a FA came up to bring me a copy of the English language China Post. A good point for the crew, which provided me a very interesting and comprehensive report of the debate, and taught me that the news of France's defective breast implants scandal reached all the way to Taiwan.
I was not really surprised, actually, because you can't imagine the scale of cosmetic surgery in Taiwan, which generates more business than in France even though the population is three times less and the average wage two and a half time less. There are so many plastic surgery clinics in Taipei that telling you that there was one in the building where my office was would not help you locate it. (A standard office joke was that women in that elevator were prettier going down than going up, because they had visited that clinic in between).
Catering was standard Taiwanese fare, but the coffee was less of a disaster than on FAT.
On the other hand, the seat pitch was much tighter than on the competitors' aircraft, and the seats were narrower too, but European LCCs can provide much less than that. For a one hour flight (and an admittedly short passenger), it was OK.
Another bonus point for flawlessly bilingual FA announcements on board. This bonus point was unfortunately voided by the fact that that bilingualism was Mandarin / Taiwanese : 復興航空公司 (Fuxing Hangkong Gongsi) belongs to that club of Taiwanese airlines were there is no safety demonstration in English, verbally or subtitled on an IFE. The only word that I understood in Taiwanese was 安全帶 (safety belt) which is pronounced nearly the same as in Mandarin.
Final approach on TSA; my camera was not sensitive enough to record the view. It was (as usual) superb, but you will have to board one of these flights to enjoy it.
Top level kiss landing, which compensated GE's tightly packed seats, and parking remotely as usual.
The PAXbus left quickly, but by the time I had reached the luggage delivery room, mine was already there; it was so small that you cannot see it on this picture. The luggage tag was checked by a staff, a good thing since a passenger before me had taken the wrong luggage. I always wonder why they never check that in French airports.
This is the end of this report, but why did I check my daypack on that flight back to Taipei ?
Let's go back in history. The civil war in China started in the 30's, and in 1937, in an economically difficult period when steel became rare and expensive, a Kinmen blacksmith named Wu (an extremely common surname), had the idea of recycling the shrapnel which was lying all around the island. It was a stroke of genius, for he could not guess that after twenty years of civil war, the island would undergo thirty years of shelling from the Mainland, since this was the place held by the Nationalists closest from the Mainland under Communist rule. When the Mainland forces attacked on August 23rd, 1958, the ensuing battle poured no fewer than 500, 000 shells on Kinmen, with a grand total estimated to a million over thirty years, creating a nearly inexhaustible artificial steel deposit.
Mr. Wu was fortunate to survive this shelling, and also that the Chinese (and the Taiwanese) sent lots of propaganda, tightly packed in non-explosive shells whose bottom part was easily removed for opening, which made the recovery of that excellent steel both easy and safe.
His descendants were good in marketing, surfing on Taiwanese nationalist pride of having kept control of Kinmen despite all of China's might, and on quality: Maestro Wu's knives and cleavers are famous in Taiwan, and the smithy is worth a visit. This cleaver was made in front of me in less than fifteen minutes.
My visit ended with some shopping, but there was no pressure to buy stuff. Of course, these knives are more expensive than what you can buy in your local department store, but this is not made in China junk. I use them regularly and I can vouch that you'd better not be on the wrong side of the handle.
The campaign was not only in the newspaper on the flight back. There was going to be both the presidential and the parliamentary election, and voters were actively sought everywhere, even on the outlying island like Kinmen which are strongholds of the KMT (the presently ruling party). That did not stop the militants, here in Kincheng, distributing DPP propaganda material at the market :
The DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) is pro-independence, and their motto that time was Taiwan Next (see the back of one of them, on the left), a hint that their next move would be to declare Taiwan as an independent country.
This woman looks like she is doing some tourism too, but actually, the Taiwanese political activists very often film their actions, just in case things go wrong, to have a record to defend themselves. The police also routinely film demonstrators, just in case things go wrong, so I witnessed once an incredible scene in Taipei where thirty peaceful demonstrators in front of thirty equally peaceful policemen filmed each other, ten meters from each other, with the very same type of cameras.
Anyway, in Shantou, at the far end of Kinmen, there was a KMT rally (the pictures show the incumbent president and VP, together with the parliamentary candidate).
See here the folkloric group which will perform, and the essential ingredient of any Taiwanese political rally: the red plastic stool, which is always either neatly stacked or neatly lined in impeccable rows. The rest of the stuff belongs to the hardware shop which happened to be there.
Kinmen is the piece of Taiwanese territory which is closest to Mainland China. At the north-est end, Mashan is the Taiwanese village open to civilians which is closest to a Chinese village equally open to civilians, i.e. the two small islands located west of the cape, only two and a half kilometers away. The foreground here is Taiwanese, but the background is Chinese.
Now that the war has ended, now that Kinmen is no longer a military zone, anybody can come and see these ordinary housings on the other side with very poor quality telescopes, but actually, you see them nearly as well with naked eyes.
This time, I had remembered to take with me my Chinese SIM card, and since I was within Chinese cell phone network range, sent a text message to my best Chinese friend.
Haha ! Thanks ! We are now having lunch, we were so happy to receive your message :) and wish merry Christmas to all your family too!
Being so close to China was a bittersweet reminder that she had not been able to attend her own best friend's wedding: that friend that she had met during her studies abroad was Taiwanese, and there was then no way that she could get a visa to attend a wedding in the other China.
Flight Reporters who grumble about some airports' inefficient passport controls seldom remember that scores of people aren't allowed to cross these controls at all.
Kinmen - KNH
Taipei City - TSA
On the bright side: a website in English, and a ticket price 30% less than the competition On the dark side: a flight ten minutes longer, in a noisier aircraft in a narrower seat with a lesser seat pitch. I never heard the name TransAsia Airways in the airport or the aircraft. I therefore recommend 復興航空公司 as an excellent choice for Taiwanese domestic flights.
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