Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Typhoon Vicente

On the same Sunday that we went to play tennis, we were under a cyclone 1 warning. This signals that winds are high and squally rain showers are in the area as a result of a tropical depression/storm. This storm was set to skirt south of Hong Kong and bring a couple of days of rain and winds. By later that day the warning was raised to a Cyclone 3 - stronger winds, more rain.

Cyclone warnings are T1. T3, T8, T9 and T10. (What happened to 2 and 4 through 7, I have no idea.) Anyway, Monday morning arrived with the T3 warning still in place. The showers were spotty until about 1 PM when the rain began in earnest. The winds kept increasing and there was no let up in the rainfall. By 4 PM they were anticipating raising the level to T8. It seems that the tropical storm had suddenly increased in intensity and changed direction. It was now heading directly for Hong Kong.

The T8 warning was issued at 5:40 PM. This means that within an hour all above ground public transportation stops, all businesses, schools, government offices and most shops close immediately. We have been here for two T8 warnings before this one, but we could already tell this was to be different. The winds kept escalating and there was no let up in the rain. Ken arrived home shortly before the warning was raised. We settled in for the evening with no idea of what was to come. 

With each succeeding hour the winds escalated until there was a constant thrumming on the windows and the view was also constant...

This was all we saw until the following morning. At 11 PM Ken went to bed. The bedroom is on the more protected side of the apartment and was marginally quieter. I chatted from time to time with our friend Janet who lives two floors above us and was having the same experience we were. We concurred that this was way worse than any T8 we had seen and seemed to be getting worse. At 11:20 PM T9 was issued. It is hard to describe the noise, the swaying of the building, the humming of the windows, not to mention the water being forced through some of the window seams. Around 12:30 I decided to try and go to bed. Even though Ken was sleeping like a baby, I could not drift off. As I lay there, it seemed that things were actually getting worse (and they were). I got up around 1:15 AM to check and I found that the T10 Severe Typhoon warning had been issued at !2:45 AM. It was so noisy and scary in our living room that I retreated back to the bedroom and eventually drifted in and out of a fitful sleep till about 6 AM. Ken woke shortly before me and came to tell me that we were still at T8. He had slept through and completely missed T9 and T10. 

In checking out the apartment after our night of wind and rain, we found minimal leaking through the windows and our exhaust fan whirred and sprayed water all over the kitchen (but not too bad all things considered). Other than that and a lack of sleep, we came through very well. Since T8 was still in effect, Ken got most of the morning off. He took a conference call from home and then we headed down the mountain to grab some lunch and see the aftermath.

Before we left the apartment, we noticed that parts of Victoria Harbor looked like a parking lot.

Victoria Harbor is considered one of the safest deep water harbors in the world. The day before boats of all sizes headed for the typhoon shelters along the shoreline and the larger ships weighed anchor in the more protected areas between the islands.

As we headed down the escalator stairs, we saw an umbrella from someone's roof garden, lots of leafy debris and an awning on one of the restaurants that had seen better days.

Of course, the T8 had only been lowered for a short while but already the cleanup was beginning.

After a bit of lunch I headed back to the apartment and saw one of the saddest sights of my tour. Just below our street there is a tiny little park along the escalator that is covered with trees and a pleasant place to take a rest. Unfortunately, every tree covering this little haven received some kind of damage. 

Once back home I took an overhead tour of some of the rooftop gardens on the buildings around us. In every case furniture, plants and assorted heavy objects were blown over/around. We even had to help Janet upend two extremely heavy planters on her rooftop that had been blown over during the night.

The last time a T10 signal was issued it was 1999. This storm defied all normal patterns in that it went from a tropical depression to a severe typhoon level 10 in just 20 hours. Its trajectory took a sharp right turn that put it on a collision course with Hong Kong. Luckily it veered off just short of landfall so that we did not take a direct hit. The eye passed within 100 km of Hong Kong and the strongest wind gusts were clocked at 255 km/hr with sustained winds at 165 km/hr. Typhoon Vicente left its mark for several days after it moved off. We had six straight days of rain. On Saturday we saw our first sunshine since the preceding Sunday.

Having grown up along the east coast, I remember a few hurricanes from my childhood. I can tell you that experiencing one at sea level on the main floor of a house is a completely different experience that being on the 35th floor and half way up a mountain. It was an experience we will not forget - but once was enough.


One of the things I love best traveling around Hong Kong is the unexpected surprise. We were heading to Hong Kong Polytechnic University to meet with our friend Vesper for a little Sunday morning tennis. After checking in we were heading through the gym to the rooftop tennis courts when we came upon one of those surprises.

One of the most popular sports in Asia is badminton. As luck would have it, Polytechnic was sponsoring Squina, the Asian Universities International Badminton Tournament.

Since it was only 9:30 AM, warm-ups were just finishing up.

There were teams from all over Asia and I can tell you that this is not your back yard badminton game. The speed and skill with which they played both singles and doubles was most impressive.

Just a few minutes out of a Sunday morning, but a real treat for us.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Adventure with a Touch of Home

The other day I was reading the South China Morning Post and saw that the US aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima, 2 destroyers and a cruiser from her battle group would be porting in Hong Kong for five days. Other US ships have made port while we have been here, but usually it is not possible to get any photos of them. So on Saturday morning I happened to look out the window of our guest room and noticed a ship with a silhouette I did not recognize anchored off the western end of the island. I called Ken in for a consult and we also noticed a very flat deck peeking beyond the edge of one of the buildings. Long camera lenses and binoculars confirmed the location of the ships moorings.

Taking photos through the window of our apartment just didn't seem quite enough to satisfy our curiosity, so we created our own adventure. In looking at my map of Hong Kong Island I realized that the closest vantage point I could find was Kennedy Town. This is an area we had not explored yet so we set off just following our noses. 

The first part was easy. We hopped in a cab and told the driver to take us to Kennedy Town. Since we had no specific address, he just drove us to the middle of town and we were ready to search out a good vantage point. We had a few fits and starts. There are many ship yards along the waterfront so finding an open space looked to be a challenge. But after walking in the wrong direction for a bit, we reversed ourselves and finally found a decent spot for photography.

Closest to us was the cruiser.

As you can see, we were still quite a distance away. It is a very big harbor. A little farther out was one of the destroyers with the Iwo Jima rising behind it.

We walked as far as we could to get a better view. It was really difficult with all of the commercial property along the water. But we finally found our spot.

By then it was lunch time and we were hungry so we stopped into a local Chinese restaurant, The Harborside. We found ourselves in for a real treat. The highlights of our meal were the frozen honey lemonade, beef skewers and the most amazing ribs with strawberry sauce.

The strawberry ribs were so good that Ken and I were fighting over them. Dueling chopsticks is a new form of battle. And who knew whipped cream could taste so good on ribs? I am craving them just looking at the photo.

After lunch we were ready to head back to Central. The MTR (subway) does not yet extend to Kennedy Town. The line is under construction and should be up and running by 2014. In the meantime, one mode of public transport is the tram. The tram system is 101 years old and still retains much of its early charm - if you can call no air conditioning charm. We were lucky to get upper level seats by the front windows so our ride was not too bad.

We saw the new Ibis Hotel under construction in Shueng Wan. It is identifiable by all of the bright colors on the facade. We also got a different look at IFC, the International Finance Center.

When we finally arrived home we found the ships were changing position and for the first time we had an unobstructed view of the Iwo Jima.

Who would have guessed that I would get my best shot from the bedroom window?

And this morning they were gone.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dragon Boat Carnival

One of the most unique sports we have come across here in Hong Kong is Dragon Boat Racing. It is similar in many ways to crew but with a drummer keeping tempo and a stand-up oarsman steering from the rear. There are 11 to 18 paddlers in each dragon boat, and, of course, the front and rear of each boat display the head and tail of a dragon.

We saw a few of the individual town and district races last year, but we were out of town for the bigger events. This time I was able to catch the big event on Victoria Harbor. The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival is a free event that takes place over five days. The afternoon I attended they were holding the women's races.

The course is set up on the Kowloon side of the harbor just past the Avenue of the Stars. Barges are set up to keep the course safe from harbor traffic and the waterfront is brightly decorated.

The festival has grown over the years and this year's 8th annual had teams competing from countries far and wide. Of course Hong Kong was well represented as was Australia, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Great Britain and the US. There were also teams from Dubai and Hungary getting revved up as I entered.

The course is set up so that teams start with the boats touching the start platform. Once the horn sounds you hear the start of the drum beats. The boats pull away from the platform and the race is on. I discovered that like in horse racing the boat who takes the lead is not always the fastest in the long run. What started out looking like blow away races usually became very tight by the end. One race was won by a snout (they are dragons after all).

By the time the race has finished the next teams are already lining up. I must admit it is some of the best organization I have seen. The boats just finishing paddle their way back to the holding area and the next race is off and paddling.

To keep the carnival atmosphere going, there were pop-up parades, mascots and even a balloon dragon boat roaming about.

The last race that I saw that afternoon was a very special one. Each member of every team was a breast cancer survivor. It was truly inspiring to see so many women who have gone through so much showing support for those still battling this terrible disease.

As I took a shot of an Australian team celebrating their win, a soft rain began to fall. I headed off to catch a ferry back to Hong Kong Island, but along the way I managed to find some others enjoying the water in their own unique way.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Handover Day

July 1st marked the 15th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese. It is always a public holiday, but with this being a special year all the stops were pulled out. There were events for several days culminating with the July 1 celebrations. 

This year Hu Jintao came for the festivities. There were parades and soldiers (imported from the mainland because Hong Kongers cannot join the PLA), a flotilla on the Harbor, lots of protest marches, swearing in of the new HK Chief Executive and his cabinet and fireworks to bring it all to an end. 

We knew about some of these things, but missed advanced notice of the flotilla so I could only take photos from my window. Wish I had gotten down to the harbor for some closer shots.

Later in the morning we joined Janet and some guests from the US for a trip to Stanley Markets. It was a beautiful (if very hot and humid) day in Stanley and we wandered the markets, had a wonderful lunch by the waterfront and enjoyed getting to know Lekan, Terrand and baby Yael.

After a bit of a rest we all convened at Janet's' apartment. It's such a commute for us - up two floors! She has a rooftop patio above her flat and we took great advantage of it. We watched a cruise ship play peek-a-boo between the buildings and the play of light on the city as sunset approached.

Our guest of honor, Yael, arrived...

...and it was time for the big finale. The show was even better than before. Not only were there fireworks over the harbor, but several of the skyscrapers had them rising from the roof. All were timed together and the effect was wonderful.

Here we go. Ooh...


It was a fun celebration and we pretended it was for the 4th as well. Hope you all have a great holiday and a great summer.