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Typhoon Time in Taiwan
I should be teaching right now.
The reason that I’m not is because is that the summer's first typhoon to hit Taipei (Matmo) came along yesterday.
I'm under that.
Typhoon season last from about mid July to late September in Taiwan. Usually between one and three score a direct hit on the island. There are a few near misses as well, which merely scour the country with torrential rain that even the best umbrella in the world won’t prevent from soaking you from the waist down. The direct hits are accompanied by gale force winds that howl like some kind of pagan Wild Hunt overhead, rattling windows and giving anyone living on the upper floors of their building plenty of atmospheric noise. Today’s typhoon was presaged by a huge thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, the opening movement of which rolled on for at least 15 seconds and caused each and every one of my coworkers to pause and look around to make sure everyone was OK.
This was the prelude to a Typhoon Day. All work and school classes are cancelled, as travelling around on the roads, especially by scooter, becomes pretty hazardous due to blowing debris and the like. It’s possible - though not advisable - to go outside on a typhoon day, and a few hardy shop owners open up when the worst of the winds have died down to sell supplies.
How to find out if it is Typhoon Day
There are a number of ways you can find out whether a Typhoon Day has been called. It will be announced on TV and over the radio, so usually I’ve found out when a coworker tells me. Equally, my network of Facebook friends aren’t slow to post about getting a day off. For those that prefer to get their information straight from the horse’s mouth, the government website (http://www.cwb.gov.tw/V7e/index_home.htm) provides news of all weather conditions, and has an English page.
A bonus of this page is that there’s a list of all the many earthquakes that occur in and around Taiwan, so when you are awoken by the shaking of your building, with chunks of plaster falling off the walls wall, and the structure groaning like a ship under full sail, you can see what just happened. In fact, there are earthquakes daily here, but sometimes you don't feel them until you sit down, or they just pass unnoticed.
Sometimes the government is a little late posting these, as they’d rather not have to cancel a full day of productive labour unless they have to. There is usually a cut-off time of by 10pm or 10.30pm at the latest, and the warnings often go out earlier (case in point - the Eastern counties of Taiwan got yesterday evening off work and school as well).
What to do on a Typhoon Day
There’s is as much to do on a Typhoon Day as you want. Many people just get a mid-week lie-in, others sit and watch movies, TV shows, and the like. Many people get together for epic sessions of mahjong before the winds hit. Some even brave the outside to see what’s happening (a friend of mine wants to organise a slip-n-slide this afternoon…).
One thing about Typhoon Days that always amuses me is the run on the grocery shops the night before. All the fresh produce and meat gets cleared out, and the snacks and instant noodles are next. I know it’s a good precaution, but most typhoons last a day, and it’s possible to go outside for part of that. The way some people shop you’d think they’re facing nuclear winter. Unlike the UK, the alcohol section is relatively untouched. Different strokes for different folks and all.
I’m usually pretty frivolous about Typhoon Days. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a bonus mid-week day off? However, there are is another side to it. For a start, even though the locals get a day off, they have to work on a Saturday or lose wages for a missed day. What’s worse, typhoons do cause a lot of damage, as seen in the Philippines and southern China recently. Taipei is as safe as a city can be, yet even here people have been killed after getting hit by debris. Last year, some trees close to my flat were ripped up by a typhoon, and I wouldn’t want to be outside while that was going on.
This sort of thing has far more serious consequences in the southern and central regions, where there are more mountains and more potential for mudslides. In 2009, just over a year after I got here, there was a three-day typhoon, which to me seemed like a great mini-break in the busy summer schedule of cram school classes. It was only later that I realised how devastating Typhoon Morakot had been, which gave me a new perspective.
Coming from England, where we have nothing like this kind of extreme weather, my first instinct is always to treat it as something new and wonderful, and to be honest, a bit of a lark. However, not everyone can afford to look on typhoons this way. No matter whether you’re experiencing your first typhoon or your fifty-first, always remember to stay safe.