During my travels, there have been several cross-cultural dynamics that have always held true no matter where I went, of which I’ve come to regard as the basic rules of traveling. One rule I’ve found incredibly handy to follow is; “if the locals aren’t doing it, you probably shouldn’t either,” as well as its corollary; “If the locals are doing it, it’s safe to assume it’s okay.” Keeping this two-sided guideline in mind as you wander about a foreign country is one of the best ways to greatly reduce any avoidable or unnecessary trouble that your naivety could get you into. With that being said though, I am comparably way too calm as a world-class typhoon quickly approaches my city… And possibly even excited.
Usagi is a typhoon comparable to a level 5 Atlantic hurricane, and on the scale the Chinese use, it has been rated a 12 out of 12. With 150mph winds, torrential rains, and flooding on the forecast, people have been asked not to leave their homes as air traffic throughout the region has been completely shut down and public transportation is running at a bare minimum. It has been predicted that this will be the worst storm to hit the Shenzhen/Hong Kong area in the last 34 years… The Asian Katrina is on its way.
Last night was the first I’ve heard of the incoming storm, and all of today has been anti-climactic compared to the warnings my Chinese coworkers had given me and what the news has been predicting. See, I’d done my under-grad at a college on the shore of Lake Ontario, and the harsh lake effect that made me wonder if Mother Nature could be on her monthly had prepared me pretty well for nasty weather, with days of rain and sleet, mixed with biting winds that every year would knock people to the ground. As I walked the streets today awaiting the storm, it rained off and on as winds noticeably picked up, but it still was nowhere near being out of my comfort zone. Several children’s toy balls had swept by me, bouncing down the street as they were carried away by the wind, and it was then that I began to notice how many shops were starting to close up, as their employees hurriedly mopped the floors and finished things up in the early afternoon, instead of late at night like on a normal day. There was an ominous feel to the way the locals bustled about to shut down the city blocks, how far fewer cars than normal were out driving, and how quickly the usual clutter from merchants and workers was retreating inside from the sidewalks. By late afternoon, the area around my apartment resembled how it usually would at midnight, and the few people that I saw outside were clearly anxious. While the weather hasn’t really gotten all that bad yet, and even though, knock on wood, I’ve definitely walked to classes in much worse (sadly when it wasn’t 85 degrees out either), as I lay in bed writing this article, listening to the wind howl, the obvious sense foreboding that has overtaken my city makes me wonder if this is just the beginning of a whole lot worse to come.