Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hong Kong's on the mend post Mangkhut, and admirably quickly too!

Blown out by Mangkhut :O
Tree carnage in Victoria Park :(
Salvage work underway in the wake of 
The day after Hong Kong's T10 signal was raised for some 10 hours thanks to the most severe storm recorded by the Hong Kong weather authorities, I expected to see a lot of typhoon damage when I finally ventured out of the apartment I had holed up in for some 36 hours.  And on a walk around what's just a small part of the territory, I most definitely saw that: particularly in Victoria Park, where scores of trees had been uprooted and/or had branches broken, benches were broken, metal railings bent, and several sections of Hong Kong Island's largest urban park were declared unsafe or just plain damaged and subsequently closed off. 
During the morning rush hour that day, transport chaos also ensued and, in retrospect, it probably would have been best if the bulk of Hong Kong's workers had been given a day off the day after Severe Typhoon Mangkhut battered the city.  At the same time, it really was a good thing that the workers involved in the mass cleaning up after the typhoon were working, and so very hard, on Monday.  And what they managed to accomplish within 24 hours of the T10 and T8 signals going down to, first T3, then T1 and then being entirely removed, looks close to miraculous.    
From the majority of bus routes being suspended on Monday to most, if not all, buses running again on Tueday (albeit with slight detours in some cases because not all roads have been completely cleared of typhoon debris), much of the city looked to be back to normal just two days after Mangkhut shut down pretty much all of Hong Kong on Sunday.  And considering how flooded and trashed the podium garden in my housing complex got on Sunday, it was really amazing to see it so cleaned up this morning that those who weren't here when Mangkhut visited (or, at least, came so close to the territory) would have had no idea how terrible it had all looked just two days ago.
Of course the parts of Hong Kong that were much more severely affected by Mangkhut will take more time to recover.  And even in those areas that didn't make the news, one still can see buildings whose blown out glass windows have not yet been replaced and such.  But when the fire brigade can be seen attending to the damaged trees on the minor road on which I live, like they were this afternoon, my sense is that Hong Kong is most definitely on the road to recovery -- and admirably far quicker to mend than would be the case in so much of the rest of the world if a similar disaster struck.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Unusual -- typhoon-related? -- animal behavior!

Large gray clouds still loomed over much of Hong Kong 
when I decided to go out for a walk earlier today

There also were a lot of dragonflies flying about
near the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter this morning!
Two dragonflies spotted stuck together -- but in not quite 
After feeling obliged to stay indoors for the entire day yesterday to stay protected from the wrath of what's now officially Hong Kong's most intense storm on record, I was relieved to see that the T8 Gale or Storm Signal had been replaced by the time I woke up this morning by Strong Wind Signal No. 3.  And while remnants of Typhoon Mangkhut remained in the area, it was mainly in the form of large dark clouds in the sky and the gusts of wind that blew today were actually quite welcome as they brought the temperatures down a notch or two below what they usually would be at this time of the year (which may officially be autumn in some places but still feels very much like summer here).
Soon after I had my breakfast, I headed outside for some fresh air and exercise by way of a walk that took me from my neighborhood to the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, past the Jardines Noonday Gun and through Victoria Park, among other places.  While quite a bit of clean-up work had already been done by the time I ventured outdoors, there still were signs of typhoon damage about, primarily in the form of downed trees -- some of which caused the closure of sidewalks and even whole roads -- but also visibly in the form of wrecked scaffolding, shards of broken glass on the ground and -- this at the typhoon shelter which turned out to provide insufficient shelter from the typhoon for some -- sunk sampans.
Something else that I found to be out of the ordinary was the veritable swarm of dragonflies that I saw by the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter.  This is a sight that I tend to take as a sign of impending rain (rather than departing typhoon) when encountering it while out hiking in Hong Kong.  But among the things that the visits of Typhoon Hato and now Mangkhut have taught me is that T10-rated typhoons can get animals behaving in unusual ways!  

During Typhoon Hato's visit last year, far more ants than I cared for decided to seek refuge in my kitchen.  And my apartment got only its second ant infestation since I moved into it the day before Severe Typhoon Mangkhut beat a path close to Hong Kong.  As more than one person has observed, many animals have better advanced warning as well as survival instincts than many of us humans!
Still, this doesn't explain the unusual behavior of the dragonflies I saw today -- including one pair that might have been on the randy side, yet weren't positioned the way I usually find them and also seemed far more intent on flying about while stuck together than staying put in one place than would normally be the case for dragonflies in that situation!  And this especially so since -- unless they know better -- there's not supposed to be another typhoon coming to these parts for at least the next few days!!  

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A mainly Hurricane Signal No. 10 day in Hong Kong (courtesy of Severe Typhoon Mangkhut)

Large pools of water where there shouldn't be

Strong winds did this (including decapitate a couple of garden lamps!)

One of a number of objects that looked to have blown out 
of nearby apartments down several floors

Shortly before I decided to call it a day last night, the No. 8 Gale or Storm Signal was raised by the Hong Kong Observatory.  And when I woke up this morning, it was to find that Hurricane Signal No. 10 (the highest typhoon warning signal used by Hong kong) had been raised despite Super Typhoon Mangkhut having been re-designated as "just" a severe typhoon.

A little more than a couple of hours ago, the T10 signal was replaced with the No. 8 Gale or Storm Signal having been hoisted.  But it's actually still pretty windy and plenty rainy out there, and I won't feel safe enough to venture outdoors or take an elevator until the signal drops to at least T3 (this since there were a number of power surges in my building today and I've read reports of people getting stuck in elevators in various parts of the territory in the past 24 hours or so).  

At the risk of sounding like a scaredy cat, I also must admit to not having felt 100 percent safe in my apartment at various points today.  Among other things, I worried that Severe Typhoon Mangkhut would break the glass on at least some of my windows or even blow the windows out entirely since this particular tropical cyclone was being billed as the strongest on record to hit Hong Kong as well as the strongest typhoon this year.  And it really didn't help that this typhoon's winds sounded at times like that of a jet engine and I was given a good idea of its strength when it decapitated at least a couple of lamps in my building complex's podium garden and sent quite a bit of stuff flying out of windows and down from my very building or ones nearby!

Something else I was shocked to observe was how the water in my toilet bowl actually swirled about at times when the T10 signal was in place and also its turning disconcertingly murky rather than staying clear colored!  Still, I am thankful that -- unlike a few of my friends -- I couldn't feel my building swaying about for much of the day (maybe because my apartment is on a lower floor than theirs!)!   

In addition, I am very grateful indeed that I don't live in a low lying area susceptible to flooding and being pounded by scary looking waves (like not only the old waterfront villages of Tai O and Lei Yue Mun but also the modern housing estate of Heng Fa Chuen).  And left even worse off are Macau, where some 20,000 households have been left without electricity by Mangkhut, and the Philippines, where floods and landslides added to the damage caused by Mangkhut and the death toll has already risen to 64 at the time of writing (and possibly could go up quite a bit higher in the next few days).

In view of how dangerous many of us figured or even knew outright that Mangkhut would be, I'm rather shocked that there were people who thought nothing of going out to waterfronts to get some thrills and others who decided that a T10 typhoon was not enough to stop them going for yum cha with family members and/or friends!  In all honesty, until a friend told me she was out having dim sum with her parents this morning, I didn't realize that there were any restaurants that would be open when a signal higher than T8 had been raised!!

For my part, even though I must admit to suffering a bit from cabin fever, I don't regret staying put in my apartment pretty much all day today.  And for the record: I will state that Severe Typhoon Mangkhut really has felt far more powerful -- and scary -- than the two previous T10-strength typhoons (Hato last year, and Vicente in 2012) whose Hong Kong visits I've been around to experience; and it really is a scary thought indeed that, as a result of climate change, the world may soon see hurricanes or typhoons that are even stronger than the category 5 Mangkhut. :(

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Getting ready for Super Typhoon Mangkhut's visit

a frequently asked question today

Trees tied up as a safety measure

Earlier this week, Strong Wind Signal No. 3 was raised when tropical cyclone Barijat passed between 100 and 200 kilometers south of Hong Kong.  Kindergartens were suspended on Wednesday morning but life generally proceeded pretty much as usual and when walking about the city, I honestly didn't really feel that it was all that windy for the most part.

A few hours ago, Strong Wind Signal No. 3 was raised again for the second time this week.  This time around, things do feel quite a bit different.  For one thing, when I was outside less than an hour ago, I already felt gusts of wind that were noticeably stronger than normal.  Furthermore, you can feel the tension in the air and see that serious preparations have already been made for the predicted visit of what could possibly be the most powerful typhoon to hit Hong Kong in recorded history.

The strongest on earth this year, Super Typhoon Mangkhut has been sending chills up and down spines for some days now (even while bringing high temperatures in advance of its visit).  We're talking, after all, of a super typhoon that's worse than even the typhoon which brought quite a bit of damage to Japan earlier this month; a good measure of which can be seen by Kansai International Airport's Terminal 1 not being operational until 10 days after the typhoon hit the area and still not expected to be fully operational even after September 21st.   

With the maximum Hurricane Signal No. 10 being predicted to be raised sometime tomorrow, hundreds of flights previously scheduled to land at or depart from Hong Kong International Airport have already been cancelled -- and even there even won't be any horse racing at Shatin tomorrow!  On a more mundane note, thousands of windows throughout the territory have had taped fastened onto them (even while others remain untaped since there's some debate whether taping them does any good), trees have been tied to one another (to prevent the trunks crashing into others, I presume) and lanterns which had been installed in advance of the Mid-Autumn Festival later this month have been removed for safety.    

In addition, there have been runs in supermarkets and bakeries for food supplies and bottled water, leaving many a shelf bare.  I remember years ago stocking up for a typhoon, only to find that it maxed out as a T8 (Storm Signal No. 8) typhoon and, upon my deciding it was safe to venture out for a bit to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, that the likes of McDonald's and 7-Eleven outlets remain open when the T8 signal is raised!  This time, however, it really does look like it'll be different -- with my fully expecting to be ensconced in my apartment for at least 48 hours, hopefully with electricity, running water and windows intact throughout... :S 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Historical and contemporary sights along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail (Photo-essay)

When people ask me why I go hiking in Hong Kong, my usual answer is that I do it for exercise and to be able to check out interesting sights in sections of the territory that are not accessible by motorized transportation.  Usually, these satisfying sights involve scenic vistas or eye-catching creatures.  Sometimes, however, it's cultural and/or historical sights that end up being the hike highlights or main focus. 

One of my more regular hiking buddies in recent years is a military buff with whom I've explored such as the ruins of the Shing Mun Redoubt located within Shing Mun Country Park and the even older ruined redoubt atop Devil's Peak.  And it was with him that I opted to go along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail that is a historical battlefield trail that passes through a key area of conflict during the Battle of Hong Kong which was one of the first battles of the Second World War's Pacific arena...

One of ten detailed information panels that can be found
along this battlefield trail established in 2006
It can be difficult now to imagine this part of Hong Kong as
A pillbox located on the side of the trail
 A good view of Wong Nai Chung Gap
(and a good place to set up a defence post?)
We went looking for historical relics but couldn't help
but stop at times to admire the contemporary view

Nature looks to be winning its battle against historical ruins

A better preserved section of the former military site

A Hong Kong summer hike wouldn't feel complete
without a large spider spotting... ;)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Some thoughts on this day that inevitably brings back memories of events that took place many years ago now

Two candles burning at a memorial vigil

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I reconnected a couple of years ago with an old school friend who I had lost contact with for decades.  Now connected on Facebook, I received an alert this morning that today was her birthday and promptly sent her happy bday wishes.  Around the same time that I did so, I got to realizing that today's the 17th anniversary of what has come to be known 9/11 and remembered as a day that majorly changed the United States of America, if not the world.   

As someone who's now in her fifth decade of life on earth, I've invariably accumulated a lot of memories: many good, some not so great; many of a personal nature, others of which I share with many others, including people I don't personally know; some of which revolve around events which took place far away from where I happened to be when I heard about their having occured, yet had quite the psychological and emotional impact on me.     

Although there were other reasons why I eventually decided to leave the USA (on July 4th, 2003), the role played by 9/11 is not to be under-estimated.  I think that many people living in America were scarred forever by the terrible events that occured that day in New York City, Washington, DC., and in the air over Pennsylvania.  And, to this day, I'm not sure that many people (including members of the US government) have learnt the right lessons from what happened on September 11th, 2001.

Among other things, the experience and memory of 9/11 has left many of us with some really irrational fears and loathings.  A New York resident I know who saw the planes hit the Twin Towers with her own eyes told me about how, on a recent visit to Hong Kong, she asked for a room change after being assigned a hotel room with the number 911.  In turn, I told her how I -- who saw the Twin Towers fall in real time, even if "only" on TV -- refuse to live, to the perplexity of various Hong Kong property agents, in an apartment located higher than the 12th floor.

And then there's the fear and distrust, if not outright loathing, that many Americans have come to have of foreigners, especially Muslims.  Among the things I will never forget being told in the months after 9/11 was -- and this by an undergraduate at an Ivy League university -- that Americans wanted to study anthropology (which he saw as the study of foreigners) in order to better understand the enemy and defeat them.  Around that time was when I decided that maybe it was time for me to leave the USA; whereupon I did, and returned to my home country -- one with a Muslim majority but also a sizeable non-Muslim population with whom they regularly interact.     

More than incidentally, the friend I have whose birthday it is today is indeed Malaysian, and Hindu.  When we were in secondary school, her family would open their house on Deepavali to the likes of me and her other friends who would happily go there and be fed delicious food by her grandmother.  Among our group of friends were a Malay Muslim, whose house we would in turn visit and get fed at when Hari Raya Puasa came along.  And those friends would, of course, visit my family home during Chinese New Year to eat (and get ang pow)!

Remembering those times makes it so that this September 11th, I have been having happy, not just unhappy, thoughts today.  I really wish 9/11 never happened.  And while I don't think the memories of September 11th, 2001, aren't going to go away nor become less upsetting any time soon, I also really do hope and wish that people will be able to let go of their irrational fears and hates, especially towards other people, eventually and sooner rather than later.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A (bird-filled) Hong Kong Park excursion so fun that it's worth repeating!

Is that a blue-winged leafbird perched on that tree branch?

A yellow-faced myna thousands of miles away from 
where members of this species usually are to be found

Any one able to identify this other unusual looking bird that 
caught my eye today at Hong Kong Park's Edward Youde Aviary?

Earlier today, I spent time having Chinese tea and conversation with a friend at the branch of Lock Cha Tea House located in the grounds of Hong Kong Park.  Afterwards, we decided to go for a stroll in the park -- and after I learnt that, despite her having lived for five years or so in Hong Kong, my friend didn't know that this Hong Kong park possesses a conservatory, I decided it was high time she visited it.

On the other hand, she needed no introduction to the second of the park's indoor facilities which we visited.  Indeed, the Edward Youde Aviary appeared to be a place she's not only familiar but also, like me, enjoys spending time doing a bit of bird watching (and photographing) in.

Built along a natural valley on the northern slope of Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary is home to a number of fascinating trees, palms and tree ferns.  Still, there's no doubting that the stars of the show are the 600 or so birds of some 70 different species housed in in this expansive space measuring approximately 3,000 square meters that's enclosed by steel mesh (whose exteriors squirrels often climb onto and look to enviously peer down at the scene below). 

While I recognized a few birds in there as ones I've seen in the wilds of Hong Kong (including at Hong Kong Wetland Park as well as in the country parks), there are other, more exotic birds that I doubt that I'll see elsewhere in Hong Kong on account of their home continent being South America rather than Asia or continents that are nearer to it.  In addition, quite a few of the birds that are easy enough to spot in the aviary have far more striking plumage than those I've caught sight of while, say, out hiking in Hong Kong.  When coupled with their appearing to have become far more used to people than those in the wild, it really is hard to resist snapping bird pics galore on a visit to the Edward Youde Aviary. 

Here's a funny thing: upon going through my photo archives, I got to realizing that on this day two years ago, I actually had spent time at Lock Cha Tea House and the Edward Youde Aviary with a(nother) friend!  Even more amazing is that none of the photos I took at the aviary back on September 9th, 2016, were of the same species of birds as those that I photographed today!! :)