Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An Hour In The Renegade Province...

And so after a rather long round of Plane Spotting at Incheon International Airport, I found time to relax a bit for nearly two and a half hours before descending into Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport. It was a bit of an experience to be on CX-421, which is called a Fifth Freedom flight, in aviation parlance that means the following:
Fifth freedom flights are normal flights that operate between two different countries, with the difference being that the airline is totally based in a different country than the origin or destination. An example of this would be a British Airways flight from New York to Toronto, or even a New Zealand flight from Los Angeles to London. Think of it as an airline from Country A that flies from Country B to Country C. The main advantage of these flights? They're either usually on better airlines or on better aircrafts than a normal flight. (Source: Huffington Post)
My flight, Cathay Pacific's CX-421, originates in Incheon, Korea, flies down to Hong Kong with an hour's stopover in Taipei. It might surprise many but Air-India too operates a few fifth freedom flights between Hong Kong and Seoul, and Hong Kong and Osaka Kansai. Similarly Jet Airways operates another set of fifth freedom flights between Brussels and Newark, Brussels and Toronto, and Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
Now Taiwan was a place that always fascinated me not only because of its history and a unique political legacy that still exists from the days of the Chinese Civil War between the then ruling Kuomintang Party and the communists. After a brief cessation of hostilities during the Second World War, when the two sides joined hands to fight the Japanese, the Kuomintang had to finally concede defeat in 1949, and they were forced to retreat to the island of Formosa, which today is known as Taiwan, officially, the Republic of China (ROC) as against Mainland China which is officially called the People's Republic of China (PRC)! 
The rest is history... 
The mainland closed its doors to world till the 1970s when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger reached out to Mao Zedong and Zhou En Lai - Kissinger documented this well in his book On China
Meanwhile Taiwan continued to be the official representative of the Chinese people in the United Nations and other world bodies. 
And then when mainland opened up, Taiwan in a sense became a renegade province losing its memberships in world bodies, Many nations derecognised the ROC in favour of the PRC, though the ROC maintains diplomatic missions in most countries cloaked as the "Taipei Economic & Cultural Centre" - there's one in Delhi that issues visas for the ROC. 
Taiwan cannot use the name "Taiwan" or the "ROC" in sporting events, it's forced to use an ambiguous term "Chinese Taipei".
But the belligerents are now warming up to each other, at least the economic realities have forced them to do that. There are flights and ferries across the Straits, but you can't use passports to crossover, you need special identity cards - diplomatic oddities!
Despite the odd and ambiguous political situation, Taiwan has done well for itself with a whole lot of multinationals coming out of the tiny island - Foxconn, Acer, HTC, Taiwan Semiconductor and many more.
And it is indeed a natural paradise with a unique flora and fauna and a distinctive topography. Needless to say, it has evolved a unique culture catalysed by its isolation from the Mainland.
I had always wanted to witness this complex interplay first hand, and Neeti and I had attempted to visit Taiwan in 2013 clubbing it with our trip to China. But we were severely short on time.
Today, I scratch the surface at Taipei's Taoyuan Airport, hoping to be back soon. (Pssst, Neeti will be too upset!)

The flag of Nationalist government greets us as we make our way to the gate...

My phone reminds me I am "roaming" in Taiwan...

Our stopover at Taipei was for nearly an hour. As per local security norms we were required disembark, undergo a security check and reboard. That gave me chance to go through the duty free shops and I picked up some very exquisite Taiwanese oolong tea...

At the boarding gate...

They call this gate the Taiwan Fruit Waiting Lounge...

An informational video on the fruit of Taiwan...

And voila, that was it!
My short one-hour trip to Taiwan was over. But I promise to be back, hopefully, sooner than later!
Goodbye Taiwan!

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