Typhoon Thoughts

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A shot I took of the Kuromon Ichiba Market a day after the typhoon hit Osaka - bustling business as usual. 

Within the span of two weeks, I found myself in the middle of two typhoons, in two separate countries. I'm currently on fall exchange in Hong Kong, where the hurricane signal 10 Typhoon Mangkhut descended upon on 16 September. And I've just returned from a trip to Osaka, Japan, which was hit my Typhoon Trami on 30 September. 

It is easy, as a sheltered Singaporean, to fall into the trap of wearing such experiences as badges of honour. And I'm guilty of that - every time I mark myself as "safe" on Facebook's Crisis Response pages set up for these natural disasters, I am probably seeking attention, declaring to everyone who chances upon the post that "hey! I managed to survive a typhoon!" Afterall, if I had the capacity to get onto Facebook, I've probably also managed to text family and friends of my safety and whereabouts. There was no real need for the function. (Although, in my defence, I've written at least three academic essays about this feature on Facebook, mostly to prove how social media can be a force for good, so I jumped at the opportunity to actually test it out for myself.) 

That aside, perhaps the reason why I felt that surviving a typhoon was worth "bragging" about, is because such natural disasters are a novel concept to me. They are the events that happen only in "other countries", and they are the events featured in newspaper reports I've unfortunately become desensitized to. The sheer foreign-ness of these incidents makes them exciting. However, such a mindset is wrong on so many levels. 

For me, these events are mere experiences, while for residents of these countries, such occurrences are part of their lives. Having to stock up food and water supplies regularly in their homes to tide them through power outages or water cuts isn't fun. Some even have to evacuate their homes and seek respite at government shelters because they live in coastal areas or in low-rise buildings - and are even faced with the risk of having their homes destroyed by the typhoons.

Yet, I was thrilled to grocery shop and had the luxury of planning my meals in advance. In both countries, I was also lucky enough to have proper accommodation spaces which were comfortable and safe. The typhoons ended up being nonevents to me mostly because I'd just spend the entire day indoors and witness the storm through my strong and sturdy glass windows. I was not hurt and the only real inconvenience was a one-day plane delay.

Another key impact that I may have overlooked as an "outsider" are the substantial clean-up efforts that take place following the typhoon. While I don't think Typhoon Trami affected Osaka that much (physically, that is), the roads outside my dorm room in Hong Kong were badly cracked and I was personally inconvenienced the next school day by out-of-order elevators and fallen trees blocking my path. However, everything was cleared and repaired so efficiently - I witnessed volunteers and staff members hard at work, restoring things back to normalcy. This was all very eye-opening, and I can't help but wonder if Singapore would be able to respond to such situations in the same manner.

Probably not. The typhoon that hit Hong Kong occurred at roughly the same period as the less-than-an-hour blackout that hit several estates islandwide in my home country, which resulted in hordes of complaints online. Of course, while I am aware that this isn't a fair comparison - the blackout isn't a natural disaster and is likely the fault of the utility companies which I agree should be fixed, it gave us a glimpse of how Singaporeans may react. And in any case, it also highlights how fortunate we are - that the most "serious" thing that happens are short, one-off power outages.

Of course, the most obvious and devastating effects of natural disasters are the loss of lives and homes. For that, my heart goes out to everyone affected, not just by these typhoons but also the recent earthquake/ tsunami in Indonesia. It is not enough for sure, but perhaps I should start by counting my blessings from now on. 

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