Last week, Hong Kong had an unexpected morning off work, thanks to the weather.
Where I grew up, the one natural occurrence that could buy us a day off school was snow. Who can forget the anxious nights peeking between curtains to see if the blizzard was lasting? Was it lying? Had it turned to sleet? It was the excitement of Christmas, but a Christmas that could be cancelled if by 4am it began to rain.
Here in the tropics, however, it’s typhoons that do the business for school kids (and teachers…) And so, last Tuesday, we woke up to this weather warning – T8:
Looking at the symbols above, there are a fair few ‘Weather Warnings’ in Hong Kong. I’ve mentioned the overbearing Hot and Cold ones before. They don’t get you a morning off. Monsoons get you nothing but a bit of wind and rain. I don’t think there has ever been a tsunami recorded in Hong Kong. Frost is even rarer. The symbol with the boulders bouncing down the mountain is for landslides (if your place of work is at the foot of said mountain I suppose things could get lively) while the yellow and red fire warnings are for forest fires. The thunderstorm warning goes up almost every day in summer and the worst it does is close swimming pools. But I’m not a lifeguard… No, the ones we are interested in are the rain and the strong wind signals. Black rain gets you a day off, but never tends to last very long. Amber and red simply mean that you’re going to get soaked. Typhoons though…
T1 means that a typhoon is in the vicinity (800 km): stand by. T3 means that winds are picking up. You still gotta work though. Signal number 8 means that its gale force and, hallelujah, offices, shops and schools shut. Signal 9 means it’s getting worse while Signal 10 (which has been hoisted just once since I’ve been in Hong Kong) means batten down the hatches, splice the mainbrace and take cover. The typhoon is right on top of you.
When I left work last Monday, we were at T3 and there was a chance, albeit slim, that we might be getting a lie-in the next day. By this point I’d been using the storm tracker app (see below) for a few days now, at least since the storm starting heading in the direction of the city (marked with the big red pin). It’s a brilliant app, a kind of typhoon based advent calendar that you check every few hours to see if the storm’s changed direction, for better or worse.
As I went to bed on Monday, it was still T3 with hints that Signal 8 might go up later. Even if it did get raised, the chances were it wouldn’t stay up until 6am (the cut-off time for business closures). So, we went to sleep in hope rather than expectation. But, the prayers of every child in Hong Kong, and plenty of adults too, were answered. We got our typhoon day. Probably our only one for 2014, too, as October sees the end of typhoon season.
Yet, if I had to choose between a day off through snow or a day off from a typhoon, snow would win every time. Not only are you off school – but there’s snow to sledge in, and fight in, and play in. Following a typhoon there’s just crap all over the streets, trees across roads and you’ve lost the pair of pants that you hung out and forgot about. And, worst of all, you feel really callous when you realise that this storm you were treating as a bonus Christmas has destroyed countless homes and lives in the Philippines or China. Yep, you realise, you’re a dick. Snow doesn’t kill people. Usually. It’s soft and fluffy. And cold. I miss snow.