This is the first of a nostalgic series of four FRs in English, written in French at the time when I was stationed in Taiwan, the place to be in Asia. I introduced a few minor updates here and there.
It was going to be a four-day week-end in France, and I knew that I would not receive many e-mails from the home office: this was a golden opportunity to fly a route which was a contender for the world championship for least activity, with an average of a single flight per month from January to June that year.
GE0011 TSA - HUN You are here GE6812 HUN - ISG in French here, in English there GE6811 ISG - HUN in French here, in English there GE0016 HUN - TSA in French here, in English there
ISG is nearly the foreign airport closest to Taipei (FOC is marginally closer), it is in a friendly country, the citizens of both countries do not need a visa to visit each other, and yet there is nearly zero direct links between both. No ferries (some cruise boats from Taiwan only go into Japanese waters without making landfall), and the flights are few in between, and only charters, as mentioned on my BP.
The year before, I had failed to find out how to buy a ticket on a ghost-like TSA-ISG line operated by Mandarin Airlines (ME), and I was very frustrated to discover that my Chinese language teacher had used it for the October 10th long week-end (Taiwan's National Day), as part of a tour group.
There were just as few flights in 2012: from January to June, there were only 6 round trips between Taiwan and Yaeyama, operated this time by GE (Yaeyama is the Japanese name of the archipelago where Ishigaki is the main island). ME had traffic rights on that line too, but did not seem on a hurry to use them. It was useless to search for the HUN-ISG flight on Transasia Airways' website: there was no mention of it. I found that it would exist after lengthy searches on the internet; in Taipei, the tickets were sold by a single travel agency located in an anonymous building in the city center, where the staff only spoke Chinese (it would have been less fun otherwise). There was little demand, and the flight made a stop in Hualien, which provided me the opportunity to discover that airport too.
A decent FR should begin with some plane spotting, and my readers cannot realize the plight of being then the sole Far-East correspondent of FR, forced to brave Taipei's urban jungle to find new plane spotting locations. One month before the flight, I headed towards the right bank of the Keelung River:
These are the GPS coordinate so that you can do the same next time you are in Taipei.
The urban jungle very quickly becomes more jungle than urban
But do not panic: in the center of this picture, there are direction signs like in the city (that is the urban side of this hike). Stamper refers to souvenir stamps, that the Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese alike love to use to fill their tourism scrapbooks anywhere they go.
And once at the top of the hill, you dominate Taipei's stressing urban jungle, in Yangmingshan National Park:
OK, what is the relationship with air travel? Be patient. First, in order to validate my FR, this is the necessary picture of the winglet of a falcon. It took off nearly in front of me, so close that I saw the pupil of the pilot, but my camera was not ready. I think this was Falco peregrinus, but I am a disaster when it comes to identifying anything which flies and am careful about that.
What does that bird of prey feed on? For example Cyclophiops major, a superb snake that I met a few hundred meters away from there.
It is inoffensive, but its color mimics that of the bamboo viper. If you cross the way of the latter and did not recognize its triangular head and reddish tail, your chances of survival are above 98%. If you are into extreme sports, I recommend hiking at night in the same Yangmingshan National Park, when you have a decent chance of meeting Bungarus multicinctus multicinctus, whose kill ratio against humans in Taiwan is 18-24% (in lesser developed Asian countries with poor emergency care services, that ratio reaches up to 90%). My advice is to never mess with it.
Plane spotting in Taipei is not devoid of risks, and now I reach the point, for your only need to turn around and see the reassuring concrete of our modern civilization beyond the tentacles of the jungle, with TSA there
… from where a China Airlines A330 is taking off. This was flight CI201 to SHA,
climbing in front of the iconic Taipei 101 Tower…
and leaves on a background of Taipei's urban jungle, which spreads endlessly like that of Los Angeles, with slightly more trees and slightly less concrete
From another viewpoint on the same trail the next week-end, I framed it on Taipei 101 Tower, but unfortunately with power lines in front.
TSA is the domestic airport, so this is a Uni Air MD90, operating flight B7607 to MZG, still without the new corporate green logo of the Evergreen group.
An MD90 climbs faster than an A330: it was already in front of the lower levels of Taipei 101. Sorry for the §%& black spots on my camera's sensor, which I tried to remove by post processing. They gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese at the local after sales counter on Monday morning.
It was better from further down.
Let's go back in town. To continue plane spotting, I only needed to take the subway, which looks a lot like the mini-metro serving ORY – no surprise since it is a VAL256, 50 cm wider than the VAL206 in France.
Like in ORY, it is driverless, but the extension in 2009 of the extension of the line was as chaotic as the initial section, so much so that two years later, they still had charming young ladies like this one on the left in each train to take over in manual mode in case of a problem (there are emergency manual driving hidden on the hood, in the above picture).
The line dives into a tunnel on station before reaching TSA
And when I emerged from the escalator in front of TSA, I discovered a sign pointing to an observation platform. That was new; I was nearly sure that it was opened when Terminal 1 was renovated.
There is also a view on the city and the place in front of the terminal, but that is not the point.
Quiz: what is forbidden on TSA's observation deck? The answer is at the end of this FR, with the entire picture. If you still do not understand, it can cost you a bundle.
I guess that TSA got a wholesale price on the tinted glass of the Arrivals and Departure levels, and unfortunately decided to use the same for this observation deck. Since it is open, that tint has zero heat shielding impact, and it degrades the contrast of the pictures. You can only see the domestic area, but it is better than nothing.
So this is a Uni Air MD90 and a TransAsia Airways ATR72, together, and then separately. The cleaning crew is in the foreground.
I hope that the pilot remembered to close the door before taking off.
Boarding of flight GE2371 to KNH
And the A330 which just operated flight BR191 from HND .
This Gulfstream belongs to Win Air, which operates chartered business flights. Much to my regret, FR's administrators never agreed to subsidize me to report a flight on that airline.
There is some help for beginners, but Win Air has a G450 and a G550, so I have a doubt.
Good thing that I did some plane spotting in advance, because the weather was not fair on D day. This is Taipei's main station, with a police bus turning into Zhongxiao Avenue.
You cannot realize the deployment of anti riot forces in Taipei in critical times. Moscow's Red Square on May 8th is a joke, in comparison. Taipei is nearly paralyzed on those days. Take for instance the mass demonstration on May Day that year on Ketagalan Avenue – the local equivalent of Washington DC's 16th Street, ending in both cases with the seat of the government. It was a state of siege.
It was steaming hot that day, and there were at least one policeman (in the sun) per demonstrator (in the shade under the trees), totaling altogether sixty people. Yes, that scene is a close up (in the reverse direction) of my previous picture, the same day, where the demonstrators were far right.
But the day of my flight, the weather was poor. This was the view on the tarmac from the subway, just before it goes underground.
(Domestic flights) Terminal 2 Departures hall
A friendly retiree volunteer immediately came up to me, asking if I needed any help. No, I was OK, and he posed graciously, telling me that he hoped that he would appear in a foreign newspaper. It was going to be even better : he made it to Flight Report ! I did not blur his face, exceptionally.
No problem for checking, since there is no crowd. The employee was simply surprised that I traveled alone on that charter flight.
The flight was displayed as being on time on the FIDS.
And booked full, and that turned out to be the case.
Since I had some time, I tried the observation deck where the weather had not improved.
I nevertheless took advantage of a very brief lull in the weather to complete my plane spotting, but you cannot expect a good image quality in such circumstances. There were hard to suppress light reflections, too.
JAL 767 heading to Haneda
Transasia Airways ATR-72
Far Eastern Transport' MD-82s were still in service, with a noisy take-off for this one:
And a splashy landing for that one.
On the other hand, this one was unlikely to be noisy, or maybe in the junkyard. It had been sitting there for four years, and not only had the reactors been removed, but the markings had been painted over.
One of Win Air's G450 or 550
This one was a newcomer at the time: a 738 operated by Eastar, a South Korean low cost airline
The same one, with a commonplace Uni-Air Dash-8, which did not have the new green livery and logo derived from that of Eva Air.
Passengers leave a Transasia Airways ATR-72 which has just arrived.
Note the staff in yellow clothing distributing umbrellas to the passengers. I'll mention them again later.
It was raining hard again, and I gave up. Near the elevator, there is an exhibit of models of the planes which land at TSA. I am sure that there was no model of the Eastar 738 at my first visit there.
Above, and invisible in the previous picture, a BK-117 like one that I once saw when hiking up Yushan, Taiwan's highest mountain at 3,952m.
This is the real thing :
Nothing special at the security check – the Taiwanese do not require removing your laptop from its case. On the other hand, you would not believe the number of terrorist attempts using cigarette lighters and especially nail scissors that they foiled here. I shuddered in retrospect.
The boarding room was quite full when I arrived, but there were seats left.
I could have shown my corporate spirit there thanks to these two self serve PCs.
Only that the reason that they were available despite the crowd was that the one on the right was switched off, and I had this message when trying to connect to a random website with the other one. Chinese is a very easy language, actually.
At least, I have the proof that I tried. Of course, I could have tried connecting to a wifi network, only that none wanted to talk to me. There is a VIP lounge which seemed to interest a lot this future FR contributor (as soon as there is a Chinese version). I never got a chance to visit it, because domestic flights do not cumulate airmiles on Taiwanese airlines.
The boarding counter, while the clock keeps ticking.
Traffic is disrupted when the weather is poor, and of course it had to be for flight GE011. The flight was announced to be delayed 30 minutes due to the foul weather in four languages (Mandarin, English, Japanese and Taiwanese)
It was better than flight B7351 to HCN which was cancelled outright. Bad luck for Hengchun, for this was one third of the weekly traffic. Yes indeed, this tiny airport at the southern tip of Taiwan only had three flights a week (Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday)… in high season, and only two in winter. Who would want to go to Hengchun, the Taiwanese Riviera, when the weather is poor? I tried, and it was a memorable story, posted here
Thirty minutes later, we took a PAXbus, which gave me an opportunity to take a picture of the jetbridges of TSA, which do not have any advertising (they must have asked to high fees to a well known bank from Hong Kong).
A JAL 767 on the way, in front of an Eva Air A330
We reached this ATR-72, very close to it: the staff in the foreground is against the bus, distributing umbrellas to protect the passengers from the light rain on the twenty meters walk to the aircraft.
But when you reach the aircraft, you must give the umbrella back… and get wet ? oh no, look at this staff holding an umbrella at arm's length to protect the passengers until they are inside the aircraft. You do not get this kind of service in F in Europe.
There was nothing special about the cabin of the ATR-72, but I show it for those who do not know that a real aircraft is propeller driven.
Both sides of the safety card.
The seat pitch ? it is short, but so am I.
While boarding, a staff puts the umbrellas in a plastic dustbin.
Departure salutes; unfortunately, a FA passed to remind me about the prohibition of picture taking.
I do not know if she had an eye on me, but there was nothing to see anyway: I was on the sea side, and in the clouds. During descend, the FA reminded the passengers that we were landing on an air force base, and that pictures were all the more forbidden but the view would have been poor anyway. I was to return to HUN one year later in day time, and you can see the approach of that airport in the FR of the TSA-HUN flight:
But since I saw a Japanese passenger take a few pictures while leaving the aircraft, I did the same. This being an airbase could be told from the white uniform of this airman greeting the passengers.
And also from the very military grey color of the terminal, which like in TSA does not have any publicity on the jet bridges.
Surprise! As soon as we were inside, we discovered a shiny marble structure. In hindsight, it was no surprise: there are huge marble quarries no far north from Hualien.
The meal was to be served on the next flight. This 35 minute flight was too short to distribute anything on board in that fully booked flight, and much to my surprise, a FA gave to each passenger a 20 cl drink (tea). I had once a meal served in the terminal before a delayed flight, but never after leaving the aircraft!
Before we reach the conclusion, what about the pictograms at the beginning of my FR ? These are the solutions:
The last pictogram on the right prohibits the launching of hot air balloons, or rather sky lanterns 天燈 which rise in the air for the same reason. They are made of paper, weighted with a circle of iron in the bottom and deployed on a bamboo structure, with the air being heated with lit jellified petroleum, similar to the stuff you use to start the fire of your barbecue. It could admittedly damage a reactor, especially if there are many hits. This is one of them, a few seconds before takeoff :
I was that night in Shifen, a particularly picturesque remote village in the mountain east of Taipei. It is indeed a railway track in the foreground, and it is operated commercially. But here, in the night of the Feast of Lanterns, it is like Christmas Eve in our fairy tales: nothing happens like in the other nights, and you only need to leave barely enough space for the train when it arrives.
For that night is a fairy tale in Taiwan.
And in that fairy night, tens of thousands of sky lanterns rise to the God of Heaven bearing the prayers that all the other days in the coming year be a fairy tale too.
Taipei City - TSA
Hualien - HUN
Three quarters of an hour late was a lot for a 35 minute flight, but I did not slash the punctuality rating, since it was only a stopover and I was on the next flight in the same aircraft. Arriving late at my final destination did not make so much of a difference either. TSA receives a bonus for the umbrellas, and GE a symbolic bonus point for the drink at the destination.
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