Have you ever seen a city shut down in minutes?

August 10, 2007 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Well, I saw Hong Kong shut down today – within minutes! This morning started out quite sedately with visits to the Australian Consulate (my father wanted to apply for a multiple entry visa because my sister lives in Australia) and the Pakistan Consulate (my father and I were paying a courtesy visit to the Consul General). It was pouring when we left the house. We took a cab because my father can’t really walk very long distances without tiring.

Well, the visit to the Aussies bombed out when my father was told that the elderly were no longer given multiple entry visas and that if a person was over 80 he needed to have a medical done even for a single entry visa. Until now my father had always managed to get 4 year multiple entry visas for Australia. Last year he only got a year’s visa because of the validity of his passport. Anyway, you can’t argue with bureaucrats so we gave up and headed for the Pakistan Consulate where we had coffee and biscuits with the Consul General and discussed the potential for IT growth in Pakistan, the education system, the economy, politics, etc etc. He said he had heard that we were in town and was waiting for us to call on him. Just as well we did then :-)! My father is very correct about these things.

zenFrom the Consulate we returned home because it’s Friday and he had to go to the mosque for prayers. I, on the other hand, headed out for Pacific Place. I couldn’t leave this city without having a proper cantonese meal with dim sum so I headed straight for a Cantonese restaurant. Had my fill of more seafood chinese style and ventured out to the task at hand – more shopping!

I had been pondering on the efficiency of the Chinese as I left the restaurant. In an hour I had seen them serve hundreds of people with such speed and expertise, resetting places and filling them up again with new customers. I was thinking what would happen if a restaurant in Karachi had to serve so many people at any given time – refilling pots of chinese tea, serving dim sum and loads of a la carte items that customers ordered.

As I pondered on that, I suddenly noticed that the lights in the shops were being turned off, the shutters being pulled down, and the entire population of the city was heading home. In minutes it seemed the city was shutting down. Confused, I looked around and noticed that signs had gone up stating that Typhoon Signal Number 8 had been hoisted.

rainWhat does that mean?

Gale or storm force winds are expected, with a sustained wind speed of 63-117 km/h and gusts which may exceed 180 km/h. Rain would of course accompany these gusty winds.

The typhoon that had left us behind the day before (leading to the removal of all storm warning signals) had actually backtracked and was heading directly for Hong Kong.

In such cases one is expected to take all precautions – head straight home, shutter down all doors and windows, disconnect neon boards if you are a neon board owner, not stand near windows, park your car where it is safest, etc etc.

While all sensible people were finding the quickest way to get home, I decided to walk home – take in the atmosphere, see what people were up to. I was on holiday after all and feeling quite adventurous. I had a wee umbrella with me so I thought I would be okay. Maybe I had forgotten what typhoons in Hong Kong can be like.

I even stopped at the Opera Gallery half way home to look at socharlieme paintings in the window. Was grumbling to my brother on the phone about the Hong Kong Observatory creating a panic for no rhyme or reason – that there weren’t any strong winds or heavy rain. I had barely said that when it started coming down in sheets from all directions. The umbrella wasn’t much use. A raincoat would have been a better bet. These typhoons are so deceptive I tell you. Anyway, I started to walk faster but by the time I got home, I was totally drenched. It had certainly been an eventful day. We are now shuttered in waiting for Typhoon Pabuka to hit land so that we can go back to a normal life.

I hear Karachi has been hit by a storm resulting in heavy rain. I feel for friends and family there because obviously this means flooded roads, power breakdowns and telephone lines going down. Why can’t we get our act together and plan for such emergencies? Why can’t our city infrastructure be fixed to deal with these things? When will the normal person in Pakistan be saved from such anguish?

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