Tackling the Typhoon
Such drama! Such excitement! Such rain!
Yes, it’s typhoon time here in Hong Kong and I have now been through my first official typhoon. Vicente – they name typhoons the way hurricanes are named, apparently – has been and gone, leaving bits of damage in his wake.
The excitement began Saturday, when the government posted T1 signs around the city and announced the warning in the media. T is the level of the storm’s intensity as it approaches, and T1 signals a mere tropical depression. T8 is a full-blown typhoon, a tropical hurricane with wind speeds of 74 kilometers per hour or more. They’re quite common here in the summer, since warm water and high humidity are among the necessary conditions for them to form.
I saw the signs, but thought nothing of them, since the last typhoon warning led to a storm that passed through at midnight and was gone an hour later. When I left for work on Sunday, I briefly considered taking my Gore-tex jacket, but discarded the idea, because it’s sooooo hot here. However, I tugged on my rubber boots and made sure my ever-present umbrella was at the ready, since it had rained on and off during the morning.
At work, I got busy editing, but as the sky darkened over the harbor, my colleagues became more and more obsessed with the weather. I was reminded of Toronto on the day preceding a snowstorm forecast – fascination with and anticipation over the weather is a universal phenomenon!
As we worked away, people gave continuing updates on the weather and soon the rains came, pelting the windows, a steady drumbeat of sound. Management decided that we’d crunch out the edition as quickly as possible and not think too much about breaking news unless it was significant. We raced through stories and page design and layout as if the hounds of hell were at our heels.
As the storm battered our windows, word spread that the government would hoist the official T8 flag at 6 p.m. and we were given permission to go immediately if we needed to catch a ferry or feared commuting in the storm.
I finished my work at 6:30 p.m., and with the storm officially raging, I prepared to leave, expecting to get drenched. One of my colleagues had gone for take-out food and got caught when the skies opened, so I assumed I’d arrive home dripping. After all, the rains were pounding down.
Oddly enough, power here is not threatened by a typhoon – they know enough to bury cables in this part of the world! So, the elevator took me down to the lobby with no problem, and miraculously, one of the building’s shuttles to the subway was just leaving. I ran, the driver waited, and I had no need to even raise my umbrella! I could see the choppy water in the harbor nearby, but the rain quieted to a mere shower.
We’d seen photos online of mad scrambles to get onto the subway and I was prepared to wait, get squashed, whatever. But I work east of the downtown core, and either the traffic was going west, or they’d all left much earlier, because I even got a seat on the train, something that NEVER happens!
I rode my three stops and emerged into the mall, where stores were closed tightly. I came out onto street level to find that the rain was, once again, pouring down. My flimsy, folding umbrella came out and I prayed that it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. Luck prevailed and I walked the few blocks home through streets that are normally bustling; most businesses were shuttered. At the nearby 7-11, they were trying to sweep away water that had flooded the floor. I reached the door of my building basically dry. What a surprise!
Vicente didn’t leave quite that quickly, however. During the night, I could hear the wind whipping and things crashing as they were blown around. When I went outside early in the morning, I could see signs that he’d been by: trees listing, branches scattered, tiles that were loosened from rooftops lying on the ground and the mall’s decorative little English village, part of a display for the Queen’s Jubilee, uprooted and in pieces. My path may have been charmed, but property owners weren’t all so lucky.
I had an appointment for an early haircut downtown, so I made my way there in the much-lighter rain. The subway wasn’t nearly as busy as it should have been early in the morning. Unlike me, determined to be prepared now in my Gore-tex, the commuters who were out and about had made no serious concessions to the weather, other than carrying sturdy umbrellas. No one had rain gear on, since the storm had abated and they didn’t want to roast in the hot, humid weather.
When I reached the salon, I found that my hairdresser lived on one of the other islands and couldn’t get here because there was no ferry service. No wonder my colleagues suggested that I live on Hong Kong Island!
Never fear, someone else cut my hair, and when I came outside, the rain had stopped and the cleanup had begun. Stores opened, people were heading to work, street sweepers were at work – by hand, as below -- and the streets were busy again. I made my way home with a stop at the store for – you guessed it – a sturdier umbrella!