Thursday, July 22, 2010

Black rain


Two days ago a tropical storm swept in towards Hong Kong, and although it never reached us, this afternoon the rain came in and the Hong Kong observatory put up the black rain signal.

There's three levels of rain severity: yellow, which I don't like because it's redolent of golden showers, and I don't believe meterologists should be conflated with that sort of antic, red, which means if you're four years old you don't go to kindergarten, and black, which means impending doom, risk of flooding, drowning, and (apparently) the cue for everyone in Hong Kong to go to the cinema.

This is fairly similar to the typhoon severity levels: T1 (there's some wind and rain somewhere), T3 (there's something bad happening in the Philippines, or about to happen in Guangdong) and T8 (poorly secured neon signs are being blown down, hammers, knives and babes-in-arms are flying out of apartment blocks1, and idiots are getting ready to go for a swim). People working outside are advised to stop; everyone goes to the cinema.

There's also T10, which is around the time Cathay Pacific pilots think twice about taking off (no other airline seems either mad or brave enough to fly in or out of Hong Kong International in a T8), and this is usually heralded by all but the foolhardiest taxi drivers stopping work, while the three men left on the road charge you double in order to expose you to financial ruin as well as your possible death through drowning/squashing/burning. Everyone stays at the cinema.

It may seem odd to the outsider that the typhoon scale doesn't conform to any obvious numbering pattern. Anybody sensible would have realised it should have been from the Fibonacci sequence, because Opus Dei are controlling the world's weather from a basement in the Vatican it should be 1,2,4 because it's all Beijing's fault and "4" is homophonous with "death" in Chinese it would be much easier if they had green, amber and red because the weather's destructive, right, like terrorism. Anyway, the odder thing is the propensity of the people of Hong Kong, in the face of adversity, to seek safety in the cinema. I'm not sure it can be that much safer in a darkened room which may harbour mutant rats, grown fat on discarded popcorn and now hungry for human flesh, but it beats staying at home and watching whatever excuse for television is showing on TVB.

When the signal went to black, all the Chinese people in the office began to make a hullaballoo, which took me aback as the Observatory and the Typhoon Twitter hadn't said anything. This goes to show I spend my day looking at a weather website, while my colleagues are busy listening to the radio - make your own assumptions about productivity as you wish.

I waited for about an hour before leaving, in the hope the rain would abate, but it was embarrassingly mild for a black rain signal. Usually the roads are awash with water, cardboard and taxis floating out to sea; instead, at six thirty there was more water falling from dripping air conditioners than from the sky. It did mean the MTR was packed, but then it's packed every day, and at least the people who insist on carrying a black binliner full of stuff everywhere weren't in attendance, so I had the odd elbow in my ribs and then got home without event.

And still dry, compared to being soaked foot to head a few weeks back. I wonder if the Observatory are erring too far on the side of caution.

(I think I'm safe from being flooded in ironic fashion after writing this, if only because we're well above the ground in my flat. But we shall see.)

1 These things are thrown or fall out of Hong Kong apartment blocks to a fairly regular schedule anyway, but during a T8 there's less likely to be a human culprit.


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