Taiwan has a decent collection of airlines, some old and some new, some far-reaching and some local. According to the UN, Taiwan ranks 55th in population with a whopping 23,396,600 inhabitants. Last on the list, with 800 inhabitants and unlikely to increase very much through natural birthing given the mono-sexuality of its population, is The Vatican City (yes, it’s a recognized country!) in 233rd place. But let’s get back to Taiwan’s airlines (at least the Vatican has no airline; it uses blind faith in Air Italia for regular flights, and other forms of levitation to reach the higher heavens).
Travelling back and forth to Asia in the past couple of years I have been struck by the thought that Hong Kong seems still to be a major gateway to the Orient when really Taipei could just as easily play that role now that Mainland China has opened its airports to direct flights by foreign airlines. In days gone by, Pan American used to fly round the globe on a daily basis; you could hop on a plane, make numerous stops on the way and end up where you started from without ever reversing your track. It occurs to me that perhaps Taiwan’s major carriers like Eva Air or China Airlines might like to take over the mantle of the global airline. It would work like this: Taiwan is just about on the opposite side of the world from Saint Lucia – there’s a 12-hour time difference – so flying the stretch in one long hop is not realistic. As things stand today, travellers from Saint Lucia have to make their way to New York or Toronto and take flights from there. It’s also possible to fly via Los Angeles or San Francisco but it usually takes at least two or three flights to get across America from the Caribbean. There’s also the eastern route of course. Fly from Saint Lucia to Gatwick, change airports, and then fly from Heathrow to Hong Kong or Shanghai, for example, from where you can get a flight to Taiwan. I can’t get this out of my mind because I’m thinking of taking Rick to Taiwan if I can wangle a couple of F/C tickets from the Embassy. He hates flying so I have to make it comfortable for him.
Anyway, back to what I was writing about. I imagine a campaign slogan something like “Embrace the World” that would evoke the image of two arms hugging the globe affectionately. Now imagine looking down on the Earth from outer space somewhere above the North Pole. The airline’s head and shoulders would be in Taiwan, while one elbow would be in Europe and the other in the USA, and the two hands would join in the Caribbean, at Vieux Fort. European destinations could be Moscow, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Italy and Holland, all with very few, direct scheduled airlinks with the Caribbean. Likewise in the USA, cities such as Denver, Dallas, or even Seattle, all without satisfactory Caribbean, or even Latin American links, could be embraced. If Taiwanese airlines were to adopt such route maps, the Far East would gain exciting, prosperous new gateways in Europe, the Caribbean and the USA. Vieux Fort could become the Caribbean gateway for countless business and holiday travellers from Europe and central and western parts of the USA that today lack direct links. Taiwan Air could provide the natural gateway to the Far East for many European destinations, and could provide, for the same markets, direct links to the Caribbean and markets in Central and Southern America, while Caribbean businesses would gain direct access to new cities in North America.
Anyway, even if my fantasy of Taiwan’s global aviation reach comes to nothing, there are still plenty of places for planes to take off and land on Taiwan. Despite the existence of the high-speed railway down the west coast, Taiwan has about 20 airports of varying sizes, which is important because some of the interior is not easily accessible. The country also has over 20 islands under its administration, many of which have an airport. One of the smaller ones is Qimei Airport located on an island of fewer than 4,000 inhabitants, that was formerly known as South Island but was renamed in 1949 to commemorate a legend of 7 women who committed suicide when Japanese pirates raided the island (qi is Mandarin for 7) and the island’s 7 tourist attractions: its scenery, the seawater, local products, people’s hearts, its geology, its architecture, and its history.
By the way, the name Qimei is shared by Wen Qimei, mother of Mainland China’s supreme leader, Mao Zedong, who dictated every aspect of life for his subjects. Wen Qimei was concerned for her baby’s health, which was not surprising, as two sons had previously died in infancy. She took the baby to see a Buddhist nun (yes, there are Buddhist nuns) who lived in the mountains, and asked her to take care of him. The nun refused. The mother even stopped at a temple where she prayed that the deity would become her son’s foster mother. I wonder if Chairman Mao ever knew that he was almost adopted by a deity? I suppose he did. If he didn’t, when he reads this, he will turn in his grave – actually, he was never buried in a grave; they keep him stuffed in a mausoleum as a tourist attraction at Tiananmen Square in Beijing even though his wish was to be cremated, which proves that earthly power, however great, is very transitory indeed – something for all politicians to remember and ponder over. Death is pretty final. When you’re gone,
you’re gone, and you can’t do a damned thing about it!