Thursday, July 9, 2015

Number 8 Typhoon Signal

When people in different countries hear the word hurricane or typhoon, fear strikes the hearts of locals alike. Not in Hong Kong. In fact, typhoon is a welcomed word in Hong Kong mainly because of the possibility of the government's hoisting of the Number 8 Typhoon Signal warning, which means that strong devastating winds will hit the city signalling what locals crave for: an immediate seizure of school sessions, financial markets, and most private/public sector operations. Yes, that's right. Once the number 8 signal is hoisted, everyone gets to go home early!

Since the early colonial days, the government has installed a typhoon warning system to warn of locals to take shelter to protect from typhoons formed in the South China Sea. Back in those days, the buildings and infrastructure were not as sturdy to that of today's, therefore, falling debris frequently occurs, causing injuries and sometimes death to pedestrians below.

A numerical system had been installed which help indicate the severity of the winds which was revised several times during its history. The system today uses the 1, 3, 8, 9, 10 signal; the larger the number, the more severe the winds.

In a typical manner, if a typhoon was heading Hong Kong's way, the Hong Kong observatory would usually begin issuing a 1 or 3 signal. These are usually standby warnings to warn people that strong wind and rain will hit the city. At this time, a great anticipation and excitement hits the air, similar to children anticipating opening their Christmas presents on Christmas morning.  

The television monitors will all have this signal at the top corner of the screens no matter what the programming. Lobbies in buildings will put up signs signalling that this number has been hoisted by the Hong Kong observatory. In offices across the city, work productivity and efficiency automatically drops by 50% as everyone's mind is now preoccupied with the million dollar question: "Will they hoist the number 8?" SMS messaging and What's App Messaging spikes up between friends and families. All asking the same questions and sharing the latest news.

As the proximity of the typhoon nears the urban areas in Hong Kong, the observatory would then make the decision of hoisting a larger signal. This decision is made by announcing so and so time, the number 8 will be hoisted. The radio is normally the first to announce this news and, usually, whoever among the colleagues is the first to announce the news to fellow colleagues, that person is usually considered a hero in the office as everyone greets this news with joy. The news then spreads like wild fire through telephone, SMS, What's App messaging. Everyone making plans of when they will leave the office.
Sometimes the 8 will be hoisted, but sometimes, if the typhoon weakens or begins to blow into another direction away from Hong Kong, then there would be no need to hoist an 8 or above. In contrary to the above, when this news first hits, a great disappointment sets in. Cursing the government or harsh remarks made towards rich tycoons is often heard at different corners of the office, insinuating that they had somehow played a hand in pressuring the Hong Kong Observatory to keep work going in the city so that business can continue.

Typhoons in Hong Kong really make Hong Kong a unique and special place to be in. There is really not a place in the world where a severe tropical storm is so welcomed in a city. As everyone is always busy in this city that never sleeps, the number 8 typhoon signal provides an opportunity for families to get together in the safety and comfort of their homes and spend time together, watching the latest typhoon update on the news and occasionally looking out the window and remarking "Wow, it's crazy out there!" Typhoons usually last over the night and everything is back to normal the next day. Work and school continues and life goes on. The excitement relinquishes until the next typhoon warning comes again...

It is interesting how eight is used as eight is a lucky number for the Chinese because when spoken, eight rhymes with "fa" which means fortune. Everyone wants to have fortune and in the case of typhoon signals, everyone wants the 8.

Number 8 typhoon signs in lobbies of buildings
Typhoon updates

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