Typhoon Times – what’s in a name?

Its probably a bit late in the trenches and bolted down in a T8 for the second time in five days to start to discuss Typhoon safety. So I won’t ( well … I will a bit). We are currently experiencing Typhoon Pakhar (T8) (Name derived from a freshwater fish living in the Mekong in Laos) five days after Typhoon Hato (T10) (Name is a Japanese pigeon)

In 1969 The National Organisation for Women in the US passed a motion calling for the cessation of womens names being used for tropical storms ( something about women being always associated with terrible destruction – go figure!) and what we know in HK as Typhoons, had always had European names. This was largely ignored and many of us recall Cyclone Alice as the NZ Met office’s first uninspired naming attempt on a Fiji horror show – not Alice of Wonderland, however the name Alice has been attached to no fewer than 20 world wide Typhoons, Cyclones, Hurricanes and Tropical storms before the name was ‘retired’ in favor of ‘Andy’ in 1979. Not known for their creative genius these weather people! Cyclone Warren just doesn’t have the same energy as Cyclone Maud or Blossom.
Ten year lists of names were promulgated in advance. Hooray for Hong Kong!  1997 our first foray into post British ‘self determination’ had the Typhoon committee HK Members put forward a request to name Asian weather with Asian names and to stop using US and European names, that had been applied since 1947.  It took a further 3 years to gather the list of 140 names and agree that the Japan Met office would pick the names in sequential order from the lists provided by the members, depending on the category, and hence this year we have had Japanese and Laos names represented. Sadly Hong Kong’s dynamic contributions of Dolphin, Lionrock and Banyan have passed us by. It’s all fascinating stuff but the real truth is in what actually happens on the ground, not in the nursery where baby names are being conscripted for meaningless and often inconsequential weather patterns not yet born.

It’s a documented truth that in a Typhoon #8 or above, some people will go home, others will go to the pub and some will go kite-surfing. It all depends on your perspective on natures wildest forces. Fear and a need for security, opportunity for social interaction and reckless disregard for our own safety all find safe harbour in our spirits when a Typhoon signal comes out. I found out who I was, standing on the roof of my apartment wondering if it was safe to go for a run, past the local (to see who was there), when the iron sheets on the lean to shed were whipping a Trinidadian rhythm heard three floors down and the TV aerials were still transmitting from their scrunched up spaghetti nest on the ledge below where they had hung.
Since 1957 only two #10 Typhoons have not resulted in deaths. All have involved injuries. Rose, in 1971 claimed 110 lives and 5 missing along with 286 injuries. Don’t dismiss a Typhoon. I have experienced all three #10’s since 1992 and they are not for sissies.

So for the uninitiated and non-Hong Kong residents – we are ok. The Typhoon season begins as early as May, as I found out holding a birthday party outdoors on 1 May ( first May typhoon in 25 years) and ends around October sometimes with a late lash coming up from the Philippines.  In that time we ought to have experienced at least one minor, and from time to time, a major disruption to the daily business of running the business of Hong Kong. Estimated losses to Hong Kong last week in Typhoon Hato were in the 10’s of billions of dollars, and that didn’t count the damage. Just closing Hong Kong’s financial institutions for a T8 will cause a wide ripple on a global banking day not to mention the local economic fallout. Its little wonder that the guy with his finger on the TYPHOON SIGNAL #8 BUTTON in the Observatory is as much in fear of getting it wrong as President Trump ISN’T about hitting the nuclear codes. Much responsibility is in his hands.

As the death toll of Hato now climbs over 17 in the region let me reflect on how it is to experience natures force. It could be likened to an orgasm – different for everyone; everyone has an opinion but hard to explain. Some experience it fully, and others get the picture but only a glance. It depends where you are, who you are with and how much warning you got to prepare. The wind direction has alot to do with it (!) It can be disappointingly overrated or overly complicated. Some take preparation seriously and it doesn’t live up to its name, and still others take absolutely no precaution and just live with the consequences. I sit somewhere in the middle. T1 and T3 are foreplay to the main event. Sometimes the main event stops there. Not everyone is happy.
I’ve been irresponsible – stuck on a shopping trip to Shenzhen trying to return to pick up my kids from kindy when the #8 went up and 2 million people tried to get home across a small bridge with no sides as sheets of iron flew through.
I’ve had an overrated and expensive night in the Grand Hyatt when the ferries stopped, with an amorous work colleague, hoping to make a Typhoon more memorable. It wasn’t. I have been awed by the power of both Typhoon York, and Sam in 1999, watching a 100 year old banyan bend double to the force of mother nature, before gradually yawing over into a river of the torrent of Huka Falls. I’ve hurried home to find it was all over before I got there, and I’ve had to bale out knee deep water in my business offices and count the cost in dollar terms.

Today – I’m sitting Pakhar out, with a hot coffee and a cool AC, with WIFI and slippers, in a 4th floor apartment overlooking the boat harbour in Saikung. The rain is torrential, straight in from the East, the windows are leaking and the boats are a wobbly stack in the Typhoon shelter. Last week, in Hato, I watched winds whipping from the West and it was a WHOLE different mojo. Fisherfolk seem to know what to do from generations of hard earned experience, and today they are not battling the ropes to keep the craft in alignment, though to this untrained spectator – they ought to be. They know the winds. Last week it was every man to the pumps, today they may be in the pubs. They know the difference. We do not.

If typhoons are new to you let me give you comfort. Your partner may be in New York or on a flight to Israel, but when a typhoon hits, you will never be ALONE. Schools have procedures – follow them. Doormen will be wearing hard hats and taping windows. You are not expected to brave the force to rescue your child; they will send them home early or advise you to keep them at home well in advance. If you are at work with Chinese colleagues – they are like tortoises. They have an inbuilt barometric pressure gauge that will tell you to go home because the T8 will go up at 2pm not a minute later or earlier. They know. IF you are on a boat – you will know. If you don’t know you maybe ought to rethink living that dream on that Marina.

Typhoons are serious – scaffolding buckles, trees wrench, boats snap moorings and carparks flood. The best place to be in a typhoon is at home. Secure your furniture, tape your windows, get a DVD if you still have a machine and open a bottle of wine. It will be a chance to play monopoly with the kids or catch up on writing your will. You will have inspiration because the people you value will most likely be with you. Typhoons are family reunion days albeit without the margaritas or the aunts. If you happen to be a beneficiary of someone else’s will you may wish to revise your warning system.
I admire mostly the people who go on TV in typhoons to tell us its getting windy out there. Storm chasers for TVB or Pearl don’t get paid enough to stand in yellow macs in full gales giving obvious truth to the winds or the power of hair putty.

Finally to the doubters – All buildings in Hong Kong are pretty much ‘typhoon proof’, but windows do pop. Keep away from them and perhaps follow the urban myth (debunked but I do it) and crack open a small window on the leeward side of the apartment – not to relieve the pressure, but to give me a feeling that I have taken a precaution. Never underestimate a typhoon or its fury as it morphs innocent roadsigns into guillotines, and garbage bins into torpedoes. More importantly, never underestimate the help needed to clear it up as soon as the winds abate so we can get on with Hong Kong being the centre of commercial wonder we are. Grab a bag and help out if you can and if you need help, ask friends and neighbours – for years we were the only people we knew who owned a Husqvana chainsaw. I know lots who now do.
Listen to warnings, and do take precautions. Like unwanted pregnancies, failure to plan and prepare can have long term consequences, and definitely slows you from getting back into the swing of life when its all over. I have come to know that a Typhoon can go either way, and it is never the way you think, but it has never disappointed me being wrong when I anticipated it to be the BIG ONE. This week I have seen a BIG ONE. I hope it doesn’t happen again soon, but thankyou HK for your resilience, and the never ending army of ants who relentlessly tidy up and get on with life after.

For information on naming conventions of Storms and History of HK Typhoons






In honor or Buddha’s Birthday

According to this legend, briefly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.

Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights—he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest. He spent the rest of his life perfecting meditation to find the peace within and teaching the techniques to anyone who wished to know.

Having attended a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat 8 years ago, I now make a 20 minute meditation a part of every day and this has, over the years paid off in spades. I highly recommend meditation for relaxation, stress relief and it helps when crossing Hong Kong’s busy pedestrian pathways!

“I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.”
– The Buddha, while leaving his body at the age of eighty

In China, celebrations often occur in Buddhist temples where people light incense and bring food offerings for the monks. In Hong Kong, Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday. Lanterns are lit to symbolise the Buddha’s enlightenment and many people visit the temple to pay their respects. The bathing of the Buddha is a major feature of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in the city.

It is remarkable that a man of simple stature, having given up his royal status, could affect the course of history and bring peace to so many. In a frenetic city like Hong Kong, calm descends for just a day. If you have time to visit one of the many Buddhist shrines around the city, today probably isn’t the best day to do so. But take a moment to enjoy the country side, the beauty of Hong Kong’s natural places, and todays glorious weather because with the factories of China turned ‘off’ during Golden Week, we are sure to enjoy cool spring skies and some fresh air for a few days – perfect for getting our breathing techniques focussed in line with Buddha’s teachings.


Mid-Autumn Mooncake Munchies

Ooh the annual mooncake munchathon is upon us and I am delighted to take a break from sugar free and totally healthy and join this most fun of festivals in Hong Kong.

Its a time we all watch the weather – is that Typhoon coming, or not, to rain on our parade? No apparently not this year!
Is there going to be a basket of candies and fruit to deliver – a few this year again and its a pleasure ( thanks to all our wonderful clients for supporting us)

And then there is the BIG debate – which is the best mooncake to buy, give or relish…Well this year I am going to put my neck on the line for the NO EGG, nutty, not so sweet cake as opposed to my collegues choices of mango centred chocolate mocchi or green tea snowy ones that melt before you eat them. As time goes by it seems the traditional two egg yoke cakes are disappearing – I have never liked them and I guess more Western tastes are creeping in. Soon we will see McDonalds making twoallbeefpattylettucecheesespecialsauceonasesameseedmooncake and then I reckon the west will have won and we can all go home… Thankfully this is not yet. We all live in  Asia and happy to participate in this cherished family activity.

Have a wonderful Mid-Autumn Festival with friends and family, relishing the love of your kin if not the mooncakes in your tin.


Days of Sorrow in Paris and Beirut

During these days of sorrow I am reminded yet again of how lucky I am to live in a peaceful, open minded and safe country. Hong Kong has never had violence of the nature of the current international events, and we walk side by side on our busy streets with peoples of all nations, religions, colours and languages. One has only to wander Nathan Road around Peking and past the Mosque to feel the solidarity of French speaking Muslims with Afghans and Pakistanis and Mandarin speaking Chinese. This small melting pot of Hong Kong is my home. I’m not in denial that we may have some serious issues looming, but just for today I can’ find a Cambodian Restaurant and enjoy a meal, or go to a sports game or a concert with my family, and know that our lives and our future is safe here. For that I am thankful. My heart goes out to refugees of Syria, victims in France and Beirut and all nationals anywhere in the world who just want to feel safe tonight.

The Big Chill

I do love the Hong Kong climate – Hong Kong can really turn on the heat, the wet and the humidity over summer and I adore that because I have a pool and air-conditioning, but somehow, and I have never figured why, on 1st October its all over and by 1st November is positively arctic. Aircons are off, pools are closed, deckchairs stored away, brollies down, and suddenly we start to witness the emergence of the PADDED JACKET. I have to admit there are days when I envy anyone with the gall to wear one but so far I have not found HK cold enough to turn myself into a Michelin woman. It happens overnight. Today I looked out the window and spotted an AMBER leaf on a tree. Woohoo Autumn is here… and in a few days it will be WINTER. Well not really winter as we know it down under or in Europe or Japan, but there is no question that Hong Kong has seasons. Short, but significant. Can’t wait. A few nippy chilly days and my now too thin blood will be hankering for summer again.

Kiwi in Hong Kong on RWC Eve

Its fair to say as an expatriate Kiwi during Rugby World Cup final week I feel a mix of emotions. Proud of my country, its heritage and its sense of fair play and the fact that anyone can make it. I love that Rugby isn’t about who you are or where you come from – its the boys from the Pa and the Doctors son’s that blend into winning team perfection. And then again rather obviously not a part of the crazy world that is taking a whole country to the brink of nuts. ( Over the edge of nuts really – Haka Crazy)

Not far from my own memory is a night four years ago when I gathered 20 or so friends from different nations at my home and treated them to Anzac Biscuits, Marmite Toasts, Pavlova, Pikelets, Afghans and an assortment of Kiwi treats and we won the cup – now to be able to do that twice in a row seems frighteningly ambitious.
This time, I’m happy to spend a night in at home watching and at midnight I’ll miraculously turn into a crazed sports fan too – but I do wish I was back home spinning around in a kitchen making Onion Dip, pots of soup and fresh bread that always goes with a big game in winter, jesting with our Aussie friends,  hoping we all play well, and getting ready for the match that will prove NZ doesn’t just farm sheep, or kill a nations pride – the game of the century – with my mates. Its just not the same. But I wish all sides well and look forward to it all being over for another four years.

Sporting old chap.

With 7 million people stuffed into upright cans of convenient housing, sport could have been a low priority to most Hong Kongers but this was certainly not the case over many years. The British penchant for games brought clubs and cricket to the elite in Asia and we can see a steady rise in sport action over an astonishing 160 year history. The Victoria Rowing Club VRC Hong Kong founded in 1849 is still thriving. Dragon Boat racing is a national obsession. The first ‘Chinese football team’ is documented in 1904. Hong Kong’s love affair with water sports floated in 1996 with our Gold medal from Lee Lai Shan in Mistral sailing. In 2000 Hong Kong participated in the Olympics under its new flag and name in Sydney, and in Athens in 2004 we won our second medal ever in Table Tennis ( Silver in mens doubles)  In London in 2012 the cap was firmly placed on Hong Kong sport with a cycling medal by Wai Sze Lee and its been all MONEY MONEY MONEY since.

The equestrian events of the 2008 Olympics held in Hong Kong saw a sudden rise in tiger mums placing jodpur’d tots on ponies. The medals in cycling brought wobbling geriatics out on to the roads at night without helmet or lights but with ambition to climb every mountain! Hong Kong now fields its own home grown team of Olympic asiprators in the Rugby Sevens arena and the Institute of Sport is the gene lab for every sport conceivable. MONEY MONEY MONEY is buying talent, and investing in sports science on a very intensive level and with remarkable potential success. If we can rise to the heights of home trained horses thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club we can push our athletes to leap the hurdles needed to make Hong Kong proud. Hong Kong has done well in all major events from Asian games to Commonwealth in years past but its not without significant investment that we will see future stars come to the Olympic tables.

What of the stay at home couch potato in TST or Tin Shui Wai? Well Hong Kong abounds with sports facilities, public parks, tracks, courts, facilities and programs and we are very keen to try everything on offer. Sports programs and lessons are heavily subscribed. Hiking is free – and HK has 75% of its area in country parks! Thousands of people, who probably shouldn’t, go out and about in the country parks every week. We boat, we beach, we sail and we seasonally surrender to the sea as every inch of Hong Kong is minutes away from the ocean. We even run at night – just last night the Moontrekker 40km run was held on Lantau. We Oxfam run 100 kms a year for good cause. We support football with the most expensive grass on the planet and we definitely bat, bowl,  run, walk and cycle our way to good health in a variety of ways. I’ll wager that if SHOPPING was a sport we would also win – but I have not gone down that route YET – Hong Kong seems to have a proliferation of the latest body watch gadgets including the FIT bits, the Protrekkers, the UPs and the Jawbones and everyone seems obsessed with monitoring their hearts and their footsteps.W’m obsessed with running right now and as in previous posts I can update that my time has increased – I can now run for five minutes without dying of a heart attack. I can walk and run for 20 minutes and my ‘trainer’ thinks I may have a chance of finishing that 10 km race in December but we are not counting on it yet.

Have fun on the trails people – its a BEAUTIFUL day out in Hong Kong