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Published: December 25th 2006
A feeling of dizziness descends upon me whilst sitting at my office computer - it is Friday afternoon, and perhaps the long week is having an impact. Though it should soon pass, it doesn’t and gets progressively worse, like I've just stepped off a sideshow ride. What is wrong? My head continues to spin and now an awful nauseousness takes hold - so I lower my head into my hands to wait for this feeling to subside. With eyes closed, my heightened hearing becomes aware of a strange grinding sound, a very low noise that lasts for approximately two seconds at a time, before falling silent and then recommencing. The noise becomes louder - alternating between what sounds like a sickening grinding of metal and the silent pauses. "Earthquake…" a work colleague solemnly announced. I open my eyes and espied three of my co-workers nearby all clutching the same piece of office furniture - much like one would clutch a Ouija board at a séance - their alert eyes and concerned countenances further adding weight to this comparison.
The swaying and grinding of the building became rhythmic - and as my disorientation subsided the lucidity soon returned. I looked towards
the window and fixed my sight on another building in the distance and used the window’s edge as a marker. Predictably, I could discern a slight movement as the focal point I had chosen would move into and out of my view. For the next 20 seconds (though it was to feel much longer) the whole building swayed and grinded, and as it continued, some staff members exclaimed something in Mandarin. Though I could not understand the contents of the conversation, the tone indicated that they thought that this was a quake of significance. Looking further around the office I could see people all frozen in their movements, patiently waiting …and hoping….
Finally, the movement subsided, and all was still again - almost eerily so - with the nervous anticipation of further tremors hanging thick in the air. Someone hurriedly switched the television on, mainly because work colleagues were predicting the scale of this latest occurrence - with an accolade going to the most correct guess. The excited announcer disclosed that the earthquake rated 6.1 on the Richter Scale (which did please one co-worker who had picked 6.0). Though the rating in Taipei was less than 3.0, the quake
Signs of danger I
Welcome to Taroko Gorge!
was accentuated in this office because we were 14 floors above ground. I pity the poor folk who had to endure the earthquake on the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor of Taipei 101 - it was a fairly anxious experience even at only a moderate distance above ground, so at that height it would be almost terrifying.
I waited two weeks for an earthquake experience but only a few moments to encounter that other natural menace in Taiwan - the typhoon - for my aircraft to Taipei needed to land in one. The British captain calmly announced that the landing was going to commence, but if the winds were too strong, the approach would be aborted. He assured passengers not to be alarmed if this occurred since the engines would scream with power in order to lift us into the skies again. As we hurtled along under the monstrous leaden clouds, the tumultuous winds buffeted and shook the aircraft as rivulets of water ran along the windows. The whining of the engine varied in intensity, and the plane rolled and shuddered as the pilot carefully manoeuvred the plane through the difficult conditions. The tension of all aboard
dissipated when the wheels thudded the tarmac and we slowly proceeded to the terminal in the driving rain.
That was to be my first typhoon encounter, but certainly not the last. Within a week of arriving, I was subjected to another one of medium size with wind gusts up to 175km/h. During this time, the whole city seems to talk typhoons - as every aspect of life - work, meetings, social outings - are dependant on the typhoon's course. If a typhoon becomes too threatening, then all offices are closed for the day - so it is ironic that some people publicly lament when a typhoon alters course away from the island. The informative website of Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau
soon became my greatest friend during these times, as it always provided titillating details of the latest natural occurrence.
At one stage, three typhoons encircled Taiwan simultaneously, which ensured more rain was dumped onto the already damp streets. Included in this trio of typhoons was Typhoon Saomai - a “Super-Typhoon”. Now this was one typhoon that people did not wish to strike Taiwan since it threatened those within its path with 300 km/h wind gusts. Thankfully, it passed a few
hundred kilometres to the north, but it became the largest typhoon to hit the Chinese mainland in 50 years, and unfortunately caused much damage and loss of life. Overall, seven typhoons intimidated Taiwan with varying degrees of ferocity between mid July to September, though none were severe enough to warrant cancelling a day of work, so I spent many days trudging through some appalling wind and rain to arrive at my office. Nature can truly be a fickle beast at times, and its power is unchallenged and unrivalled when exerted.
The conclusion of the typhoon season enabled me to explore some of Taiwan’s scenic wonders, safe in the knowledge that no calamitous weather would interfere with a weekend of hiking. Taroko Gorge is the Taiwan’s premier natural attraction, and though now safe from typhoons, I was faced with a myriad of signs that forewarned me of other natural perils - falling rocks, poisonous snakes, and even killer bees! The scenery was stunning, with sheer cliffs that plunged into cascading and noisy rivers lined with striated boulders - but the thought of being set upon by a swarm of ravenous insects did slightly detract from the grandeur of the place.
Paiyang waterfall - Taroko Gorge
Thanks Vicky for taking this photo - I was not keen to cross a suspension bridge to capture this shot!
However, this was tempered by gentler insects - such as dragonflies, caterpillars and especially the thousands of butterflies - where one could walk along a roughly hewn path, and suddenly the surrounding plants would tremble with movement as the air was enlivened with dozens of flitting yellow, black, white and brown butterflies that danced and pirouetted from one shrub to another.
Taiwan was originally bestowed with the name Ilha Formosa
or the ‘beautiful isle’ and it is easy to understand why - for the small island has an abundance of natural wonders, albeit tempered by some less welcoming phenomena. Despite these dangers, the gracious people of Taiwan approach life from a positive perspective, and they employ one of my maxims - knowing the difference between events and situations that can be controlled and those which cannot - and to accept the latter, regardless of its difficulties, inconvenience or annoyance. Since the fury of nature cannot be harnessed - the Taiwanese don’t dwell on these concerns, but instead focus on other aspects of their life that produce far more enjoyment - family, friends and food. Again, here is a country where my fondest memories will be reserved for the colleagues
Signs of danger II
Killer Bees are on the loose! Taroko Gorge
I worked with and the friends I made.
After four months of working in Taipei, and being away from Australia for six of the past nine months, wanderlust
still sparkles brightly within me. The experience of establishing myself in a typical office-worker routine in a foreign country has evinced a stronger self-reliance than I previously believed. I am now primed for any destination and the choices are endless - but it is the cleansing winds, russet sunsets, and grand animals of Africa that now beckon - and it is a call that I am certain to answer… …To be continued - March 2008...
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