Sunday, June 21st, 2009, Father’s Day came and went without any acknowledgment. I was a bit bummed out about it, but a month and a half later, I was informed that in Taiwan, they celebrated Father’s Day on August 8th. August 8th, or 8/8 is pronounced “ba-ba” in Mandarin, which also sounds like the word, “father.” Thus, this is the day they choose to acknowledge fathers. So this year I would do Father’s Day differently.
A different Father’s Day experience was certain, thanks to Typhoon Morakot. Having experienced three Hurricanes in Central Florida over the years, the approaching Typhoon seemed nothing to worry about. Everyone I knew in Taiwan said Typhoons are a normal part of life, and they just come and go, bringing very little damage, especially in Southern Taiwan. This one was definitely different. Looking at the weather radar, and seeing the wind speeds, it seemed very similar to Hurricane Katrina. The typhoon completely engulfed the island of Taiwan in strong wind and heavy rain for more than 3 days.
On Thursday, 8/6/2009, when I was leaving from work, the outer bands hit. The rain poured and the wind gusts made my drive on the motor scooter a bit of a challenge. I made it home fine, and curled up with my kids and read them a book, while the winds howled and the rain pattered outside.
Friday, 8/7/2009, was declared a national Typhoon Day, which meant schools and government offices were closed. I stayed indoors for most of the day, except a brief trip to 7-11. Their business was brisk. I had an appointment at a sunglasses factory in Tainan City, but I called to postpone it for a day. The winds were just too strong for me to consider driving in. I was surprised that the factory was still open for business. The day was spent on the computer preparing for the meeting. The typhoon has slowed down an hadn’t even reached landfall by the time I went to bed. The course shifted from hitting Ilan to directly hitting the beautiful city of Hualien.
Saturday 8/8/2009, “Ba-ba” Day. The winds were getting fierce, and the rains started to flood the fields outside. I called the factory, and Emma told me we would postpone the meeting until further notice. Her factory was flooded, and she was called into work to save things in her office. With the morning free, I felt restless, and decided this was a good time to borrow Shu-min’s brother’s car to go to the RT-Mart (a store similar to Wal-mart). The winds were not too bad, but we had a car. We put the kids inside, and unloaded them at the store. It was a pleasant shopping trip. I bought 2 new pairs of jeans for US $6 each and they even hemmed them to fit my length as part of the price. We bought quite a bit of food to tide us over. The place was packed. I am sure there were many other restless families and not many other stores open.
We returned home a little wet, and had a delicious lunch to provide for everyone. After lunch, I took a nap. I had a strange dream about waterfalls, and the noise of rushing water woke me up. I ran to the stairwell, to find a stream of water falling 3 stories to the kitchen below. I walked up to the third floor to find the entire floor flooded.
Typhoon Morakot was at full strength outside. The eye was somewhere over Northern Taiwan. The airports were closed, and the trains were shut down. Nothing was open, except for vigilant fire and police departments. Cars and motor scooters were stranded everywhere in high water.
The water was entering the third floor through the glass door to the balcony. The balcony was full of water, as rain was pouring in. The drain was covered by dirt, leaves and other debris. The water on the third floor was a half-inch high and rising. Shu-min, her mother and I ran around in a frenzy to save things from getting wet. I took the power strips on the floors and raised them. (I forgot an adapter for my hard drive, and it is now toast.) Boxes were taken off the floor. One mattress got soaked. My mother-in-law worked frantically with a broom and bucket. Shu-min grabbed every available towel and worked on blocking the leaks. I took child-watching duty.
When things resumed a sense of normalcy, we gathered for dinner. Brother Jen-wen returned home with food picked up at a Japanese restaurant I liked in Jiali. For dessert, I opened two small Father’s Day gifts made by Johan.
As the eye of the storm went back out to sea towards China, the rains intensified over Southern Taiwan. We watched the news and learned that the slow-moving typhoon would leave Taiwan on Sunday at 5 pm local time. We also learned that vegetable and fruit prices would rise steeply. It was obvious that most of the fields in Taiwan were under water and much of the fruit was blown off the trees. That night, sleep was very uneasy, as more mopping was done.
Sunday 8/9/2009 was the third day in a row declared a National Typhoon Day. The winds were calmer, but steady rain persisted. By now, we had 1500 mm or about 4 feet of rain since Thursday night. We woke up that morning a bit late from an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The house endured the night without much more flooding. When we looked out the window, it was hard to believe what we were seeing. Water was everywhere, almost up to the level of the main highway, and almost up to our door. Our home was built on the highest elevation in Sigang, so that meant most houses were flooded in this area.
I was energized. I imagined there were many photo opportunities outside to upload to CNN’s iReporter. I quickly gathered my camera and plenty of tissues for an excursion. My brother-in-law, Jen-wen offered to drive me around in his car, so off we went. I would get to experience photojournalism work at its finest hour, when there was something newsworthy ready to capture and share with the world. Jen-wen would also enjoy translating for me and approaching people for me.
We started by driving to the center to town, as close as we could get to it. The main road was blocked before the floodwaters started. We parked the car and started our tour of the center of town. We checked out the Cing-an Temple, and it was on dry ground.
Most residents gathered at the Sigang Township Administration Office, which was surrounded by floodwaters. We slogged our way, and followed lines of people, who heard about the free distribution of food and drink.
The Jenwen River, just south of Sigang, was an amazing sight. It was swollen and magnificent. It was probably about 250 times its normal volume. I witnessed a diverse amount debris and garbage floating by. I couldn’t help but think how this was God’s way of flushing out the filth and garbage laying about, like a huge toilet flush.
Jen-wen and I ventured down Highway 19 across the long bridge toward Tainan City. We were blocked just after reaching the overpass of Highway 8. Highway 19 was too flooded. We found many stranded motorists waving to tow trucks, and any large vehicle that could carry them into the city. We found many local residents outside assessing their damage and sweeping out the water. One lady got my attention, motioning us to her home. She showed us the first floor, where she put a motor scooter on top of two computers to protect it from the flood water. Typhoon Morakot will have a lasting impact on the local Southern Taiwanese communities, but most people seem to be taking it in stride. A Sigang policeman said, it gave him a moment to really feel like he can help people, at the same time feeling insignificant to the power of Nature. To the woman who showed us her flooded home, she just shrugged it off with a smile. This is just a part of life to deal with and move on.
To me, it seems like a sign of global warming showing it face. When you have warmer weather globally, you get more of the extremes; more droughts and more floods, which was what Taiwan has experienced so far this year. It makes me wonder how much more we can take and shrug off as a society.