September: Dragons, Typhoons and the British Council

by - September 27, 2013

I have been here for just over a month now.  On one hand it has flown by, but on the other I have now settled into the idea of this being my home for the year.  I was hoping to do a bi-monthly blog, though it is now the end of September and the title of my optimistically named ‘August Part One’ has been changed to reflect my new monthly blogging pattern.  The first half of September was spent getting used to lectures, making new friends and just getting used to everything in general in order to get a bit of a routine going.

Tai Hang Fire Dragon
Things got a bit more exciting in the third week as it was the 'Mid Autumn Festival’ - a celebration that takes place throughout East Asia and coincides with the full moon and celebrates the harvest through lighting lanterns and eating 'mooncakes’ (a cake which doesn’t really have a direct western equivalent - kind of a cross between a cake and turkish delight).  Festivities were focussed around Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island, which was filled with stalls and lantern displays.  A group of us headed down for three nights in a row to join the large crowds in the park and on the Friday were able to see the 'Tai Hang Fire Dragon’, a massive 'dragon’ made from thousands of incense sticks and supported by a long line of volunteers.  The dragon tradition goes back to a time when Tai Hang village (which has since been swallowed up by the city) was going through a bad patch - plagues, crop failures and typhoons, which were driven back by a fire dance performed by the villagers.  The tradition has continued for over a century now - except (as the announcers made a point of saying) during the Japanese occupation during WW2.

Victoria Park full of lights
Just a rainy, cloudy day really
After the fun of Mid Autumn festival we were presented with our next bit of excitement - the arrival of Typhoon Usagi (named after the fairly tame Japanese word for 'rabbit’).  The tropical storm was set to be anything but tame however - some said it was to be the strongest to hit Hong Kong for 30 years and that the eye of the storm could even pass straight over us.  There is a very well rehearsed preparation over here, with a series of warnings ranked between 1 and 10 in place - though they tend to skip straight from 3 (standby for typhoon) straight to 8, 9 or 10 depending on the severity of the storm.  A level 3 warning was in place for most of the day on Sunday and we received emails encouraging us to stock up on enough food for a few days and to consider taping up our windows in the older accommodation blocks.  On Sunday evening the level 8 was 'hoisted’ (a term that harks back to when typhoon warnings were given by raising a flag), which meant we were encouraged to stay in doors and that most parts of the city (shops and transport) would be shut down.  We watched the storm come in from our balcony and also tracked it on the computer and at the last minute it changed course to the north and struck the mainland (unfortunately killing around 25 people).  There is a popular joke in Hong Kong society that there is a 'force field’ around the territory which diverts typhoons away (’s_field) and it seemed like this was in force today.  On one hand it was a bit of an anti-climax, but I guess that you don’t really want to play chicken with a hurricane.

The actual path of the typhoon

After the excitement of Mid Autumn festival and Typhoon Usagi, we got back to normal on Monday (though morning lectures were cancelled).  I was able to play my first game of football for the Civil Engineers side in the week and I think I did an alright job - though the team talk was entirely in Chinese so I don’t know how well I fitted into the overall game plan.  Despite starting at 5.15pm and playing a game of four 20 minute quarters, the intense humidity and heat brought a whole new set of challenges which hopefully I will be able to get acclimatized to fairly quickly.

British Council awards ceremony
With September seeming to come to an end as soon as it started, there was time for two last events.  On Friday night I was invited along to the British Council’s office in the Admiralty district of the city to a presentation to receive an award I was lucky enough to win to study out here.  The presentation evening was well represented by people from the educational, diplomatic and business sectors and was a good chance to mingle, not just with the aforementioned important people, but also with some students from the other universities in Hong Kong.  A group of the 'scholars’ who had won the award went into the city afterwards to visit the 'Ozone Bar’, at the top of the tallest building in Hong Kong, which is the highest bar in the world, and from there on to a cigar bar and LKF.  It would have been a great way to end the month by itself, but with one day to go I am just gearing up for a couple of days in Taiwan - which will be blogged about very soon.

Ozone Bar

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