It has been a dramatic final week for us here; first there was the Shanghai stock market crash and then there was, according to some reports, the strongest typhoon since ‘the communists took power in 1949’. I can’t help wondering if there is some connection between the two events. Perhaps the typhoon is supernatural punishment for the encouragement of unbridled speculation, 80% of which is the result of millions of individuals buying shares. Of course, because of its terror of social instability, the Chinese government has intervened to stop further falls on the stock market. However, even the might of the PRC was unable to stop Typhoon Chan-hom.
There has been at least 10 days of stifling, humid weather in Ningbo, sometimes accompanied by rain. The sky has been overcast and the temperature fell by about 10 degrees from highs in the mid- 30s. It was quite chilly at night, which was annoying as we have sent all our warm clothes away in the shipping crate, expecting only intense hot weather. On Friday there was a sense of foreboding, and locals told us that this was typical pre-typhoon weather – only about one month earlier than usual. As we have never been in Ningbo in August, we had not experienced the usual run of tropical storms.
We don’t watch television, except the sports channel, as the spoken Chinese is too fast to follow, so we are usually out of touch with local news. Of course, the Chinese staff on campus knows exactly what is happening and last week, as he was responsible for a student summer school at UNNC, Fintan began to get weather bulletins from administrators warning of a severe typhoon coming in from Taiwan.
I began to ask my Chinese teacher about typhoon etiquette. She was calm and unconcerned, saying that you basically get enough food and water in stock, stay indoors and don’t drive anywhere because of potential flooding. Sure enough, on Friday evening about 9pm, a text message arrived on my phone in Chinese. It was a typhoon red alert and reiterated Yona’s common sense advice. I was delighted with myself, as after three years of study I could read the warning, including the injunction not ‘to go towards dangerous places.’
On the estate, the tall ranks of apartment buildings seem to create wind tunnels and a way of judging the growing strength of the wind was to look down at the trees bowing and straining in the gardens either side of our flat. The gusty wind and heavy downpours made for a noisy night, and all day Saturday we felt we were in the middle of the storm. From looking at English language websites and responding to concern from friends in the UK I realised that the typhoon actually hit the coast near hear on Saturday afternoon, but we couldn’t really say when the peak came.
Bored in our empty flat, Fintan ventured out in the afternoon, but soon returned soaked, having abandoned his broken umbrella after a few minutes. He reported on debris and leaves spread on the road and in the late afternoon we listened as a group of men in orange hard hats gathered downstairs with a chain-saw to clear large branches that had fallen on a car. There was much shouting of ‘Yi, er, san’ – ‘One, two, three’ – and characteristically loud and animated discussion of how to proceed.
This morning, the weather calm and the storm having passed, I went down to have a look at the damage. As well as two days’ worth of household rubbish, there are small branches and leaves everywhere, and the displaced peasant farmers who look after the estate are out in force patiently clearing it all up with their sticky brushes. There is a pile of sawn branches near where the hard-hats conferred yesterday, but no sign of any dented cars.
People are emerging, with a few runners in shorts trying to throw off cabin fever. Grandmas are putting out washing in the light breeze and the estate is returning to normal. I don’t know how other places have been affected, but I assume we got off lightly, seeing that the government evacuated 800,000 people along the coast. My Chinese teacher’s in-laws were more in the path of the storm and I asked her how they had fared. ‘Oh, they were fine, they just had some flooding to deal with,’ she said, as usual downplaying any drama. I look forward to hearing a bit more detail tomorrow.