Monday, August 31, 2009

Andrea's sister comes to Taiwan

In July Andrea's sister, Erin, came to visit and stayed with us for over two weeks. It really is great to have someone from home come to visit so that you can share your home away from home with them, although when you come from places like Canada and Australia, Taiwan is more like a world away from home. When we get the opportunity to share someone else's first experience of Taiwan it prompts us to see things anew again and consider our environment from an outside perspective, something that we wouldn't usually do due to the amount of time we've spent living here and our habituation to the environment. All of the amazing and interesting things here in Taiwan have become normal for us but of course for someone like Erin, visiting for the first time, things are... just... similar but different. Anyway, we had a great time having her here and I'm sure it was a great experience for her.

Erin paid a visit to Andrea's school and talked to the children in Andrea's class. Not having been there, I can only assume that Erin was talking to them about her work with the Emergency Services in Canada and not teaching them about the differences between North American and Taiwanese fashion.

I wasn't present when the girls got their massage either but I'm sure it was a very positive aspect of the cultural experience.

Here we are at a local night market. I've just purchased a mixed-fruit juice from the juice stall next to us. You can buy all sorts of night-market snacks in these places and you can also find cheap clothes, shoes, and accessories besides other knick-knacks and random things. Taiwanese people seem to love to be where everyone else is so these places can get very crowded and sometimes a little overwhelming when you're shuffling along behind the person in front of you trying to get from point A to point B without being jostled about too much.

Here's Erin on the grounds of one of Tainan's many multifarious temples. This one is very famous and very old; it's called the Confucius Temple (that should probably be Confucian Temple but who am I to argue with what they call their important places of worship). I think I remember that this place was also a school for Confucian scholars. I don't know whether to capitalise Confucian or not but I think I might err on the side of caution and give it a big C.

And here's a temple roof. Temple roofs are works of art and some are covered in highly detailed and intricate decorations. Going by what I've seen they often portray the deity or entity being honored, usually in the process of doing whatever it is that they are renowned for doing.

Erin returned to Canada after a busy couple of weeks with us. I'm sure she now misses Taiwanese style ice teas and being able to go to the beach. Taiwan sure is an interesting and challenging place.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Typhoon Marakot

On Friday August 7th typhoon Morakot slammed into Taiwan. The centre of the typhoon passed directly over the north-east coast of the island while the south of the island was blown and battered the whole time. The wind and rain didn't really die down until Sunday. According to this website a location in Pingtung County received 1,403mm of rain on Saturday; that's almost a metre and a half of water in 24 hours! Over a few days, from Friday to Sunday, rainfall reached proportions of between 2,500 and 2,900 mm.

Let's compare this to a couple of statistics drawn from the climate of my hometown, Collie, in Western Australia. The average annual rainfall in Collie is about 749mm (according to this page). So that one location I mentioned in Pingtung County received almost twice as much rain in 24 hours as Collie does in two years! Many locations recorded as much rain in three days as Collie receives in four years. Moving to Perth, the capital of Western Australia, the highest rainfall ever recorded in a single 24-hour period was 120mm in 1992 (according to this site). Compare that with the 1,403mm Pingtung received in the same amount of time.

So how did we fare? Well, it did eventually get boring holed up in our apartment for almost three days waiting for the storm to pass. Our water, electricity, gas, and internet were uninterrupted the whole time. We didn't suffer any flooding: we do live on the 10th floor of a large apartment building. The wind howled at any cracks and gaps it could find around our windows and doors but we were fine. Some of our friends suffered a bit of water in their apartments and my school is going to have to replace some large panes of glass on the third floor. A couple of months ago I tied some of my class' work up in one of the stairwells at our school and when I looked for it today it had all been torn away by the wind apart from one rather sad-looking clump of paper.

You may have seen the footage of a hotel falling into a surging river on TV or on the internet. That happened in Taitung County on the south-east side of Taiwan but not really that far from Tainan. Here is a link to a video of the event on Utube. I think I remember hearing on TV that all of the people were evacuated from the building before it collapsed.

Anyway, on Sunday it was still pretty gusty, blustery, tempestuous, and inclement but by then we were so desperate to get out of our apartment that we decided to take the scooter for a ride around to survey the changes that Morakot had wrought upon our city.

Happy to be out of the apartment. You get really sick of being in your apartment after a couple of days.

This statue of a bird is situated in the peace park by the canal close to our place. The wind has managed to tear away sections of the outer covering leaving holes in the statue. I guess it's hard to appreciate the damage if you have never seen the statue complete and undamaged. Note the trees in the foreground.

Corrugated iron fencing catches the wind very effectively and so corrugated iron fencing all over Taiwan was either blown down or sent on its own journey of discovery to new environs.

Going to the beach has never been as interesting and never accompanied by such a sense of apprehension as I apprehended what we might find as we approached one of the local stretches of coastline. For a start, all that water shouldn't be there; there is a small inland sea between us and the beach proper. And I'm sure there were more trees with more leaves here before the typhoon.

Standing on the beach we looked out at the sea, choppy as the man with the cleaver at the chicken-rice restaurant down the street. This picture doesn't capture the breakers still erupting over the breakwater in the background, sending water exploding into the air.

Down the beach at the mouth of the river. The place is covered with debris. I realized, being here, that an event like a typhoon creates an enormous amount of extra pollution and waste: a lot of stuff that was previously useful is either broken (becoming garbage) or moved from where it belongs (often becoming garbage). A lot of garbage gets washed down rivers into the sea along with a lot of other more insidious pollutants and a lot of new things have to be replaced which means a lot of extra manufacturing which creates a lot of extra pollution. I also saw here a lot of nice wood from what might have been some kind of boardwalk. We found out later that the typhoon had completely destroyed a nice, long raised wooden walking path along the river. I watched it being built over the course of many months as my journey to work takes me along the river on my bicycle. What a shame.

This road among the fish farms north of the city was cordoned off. Note the house in the background that is flooded. The road ahead was also flooded.

Hoardings on buildings also caught the wind effectively. A large part of this hoarding was torn down and we saw it being removed from the site.

We don't have any water right now and won't for a few more days. But it is remarkable that after such a violent and destructive event people are so calm and get straight down to business or making business possible again. Apart from the lack of water, life was almost back to normal by the start of the week when we went back to work. We have been told to expect a rise in the price of some foods such as fruit and vegetables. My school's graduation show was also postponed due to the typhoon. Some people have said that it's just nature and there have been suggestions that it's nature's way of trying to tell us something. I think it's just sad, wasteful, and unlucky.