Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Typhoon Fung Wong

Shanghai is in the grips of the remnants of Typhoon Fung Wong which came ashore south of here in the Fujian province after slamming hard into Taiwan while I was crossing the Pacific yesterday afternoon. It is the 8th and strongest storm to come ashore in China during this tropical storm season and in terms of impact, more than 275,000 people were evacuated from the region and 25,000 fishing boats were recalled in that southern province.



For me though it just means more rain and some stiff wind and another "1st" in my long list of things worth keeping track of, my first hurricane in the Pacific Basin.

I really enjoy tropical storms, perhaps naively since I have never really had any personal suffering associated with them. I've been through a few - Hurricane Agnes which rolled across Rochester just as I was about to exit high school and Hurricane Gloria which plowed into southern New England while I was living there in 1986.

The former was the first hurricane of the 1972 season and unique in that it made landfall on the Gulf Coast side of Florida, danced across northern Georgia, went back out to sea and then came ashore again in northern New Jersey before following the Susquehanna River up into my neck of the woods near Rochester. The rains and floods were devastating in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania and I still remember the call for people to come out and fill sand bags along the Genesee River, an unheard of event.

The latter came ashore on Long Island and in doing so exposed how the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) and been shielding their lack of funds due to their heavy investments in the Shoreham nuclear power plant. When out of state utility crews came to restore power, they were shocked to discover the antiquated and outdated infrastructure on the Island. Seems LILCO had been pouring cash into the failed nuclear venture instead of updating their more quotidian responsibilities and the storm brought it all to light. What I remember most was the sheer blackness of the sky as the storm rolled in late morning (we had been sent home from work) and the grass on my lawn lying flat in the wind. I taped my windows, ate a late morning leg of lamb and rode the storm out in the dark once the power died. It was also the first time I had an appreciation of how the phone in your house relies on the power grid, after 4 days without any, the telephone connection sounded like you were talking to someone in a diving bell.

In the days leading up to this latest trip, the remnants of Hurricane Dolly made their way across New Mexico. In Albuquerque the storm was nothing more than a couple of days of gray clouds and an occasional shower but it really makes you think about the dynamics of our atmosphere. A storm forms on the far side of the Yucatan, crosses than peninsula, curves up and comes in along the Texas-Mexico border, crosses our giant neighbor to the east, dumps enough rain in southern New Mexico to wash out bridges and continues up to the northern fringes of the Chihuahuan Desert. New Mexico, for being a high desert state, far inland can actually get hurricane leftovers from both coasts, and in my time there, has on several occasions.

So perhaps I have a second 1st to add to my tableau - sitting through the remains of two hurricanes that formed in two oceans which came ashore on the two continents I happened to be in over the course of a week.

This storm though pales in terms of local effect. It's still hot and tropical out there on the street but the wind is howling a bit and it's lightly raining off and on. In other words, a nice night to sit inside and eat Chicken Satay, Suckling Pork and Goat Cheese Spinach Rolls which is precisely what I am up to right now. The pork is the most interesting, as it is heavily dosed with that pervasive 5-spice that is so common in the local cuisine. It gets a bit overwhelming after a while as you smell it everywhere, not just in restaurants. Any time there is food nearby, it's in the air.

Today was a work day so there isn't much interesting to report other than a visit to 78, my favorite lunch place. I had the beef stew ramen which was really, really good and so big that it enabled my light dinner this evening. A large bowl of steaming beef broth with a big tangle of noodles and a 5 or 6 pieces of pot roast. Lunch for 2, $7.

It's nice to be back once again in my old haunts as it wasn't long ago that I was ruing the unlikelihood of a trip here due to the shifting of our work up north. I cut my teeth on China here in this hotel and these neighborhoods and coming here now feels like coming back to one of my "homes." There can be extreme comfort in familiarity which conflicts with the old saw that suggests the opposite. I now cherish my time here knowing that one of these days the context for me coming here will either be gone or changed into "fun" travel.

I heard today that I lost my Uncle Walt. I didn't have a huge relationship with him due to a variety of family reasons, but when I did see him he always left a lasting impression. I recall his house and the myriad books he and Aunt Betty had on a wall full of shelves. And I remember a booming laugh that left me amazed as a little boy that someone as unfathomable as an adult could find anything so funny. He had a dry sense of humor, full of irony, which I like to think came over to me in the "Y" genetics of our family. And compared to my small world, he had a broad list of interests. But perhaps what hit home the most today was that up until recently, he was the only person I knew who had been to this wonderful country, having taken that trip long ago when the doors first opened to western tourists. I remember being awed by the fact that someone could actually travel to a place so inscrutable and wondering what it must be like. How funny that I should be writing about him in that very place. He was a great guy, and in my estimation the world is diminished in no small way by his passing.

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