How to Be an Overly Sentimental Idiot in a Typhoon

A few days ago, Wendy from Yelp had started a contest for tickets to a party.  It was a Truth or Dare Challenge, to tell the story of the craziest, bravest thing you’ve ever done for true love or willing to do for it.  I’ve done quite a bit for each person who I’ve ever given my heart, but I can really only think of one time that I put my life in outright danger, and here’s that tale.

Hong Kong.

Those 2 words bring forth a ton of memories of all sorts.  Incredible food and experiences.  Expensive cost of living.  Shopping beyond belief. An island oasis filled with energy that can only be matched by Tokyo or New York.

I remember all that… but more importantly, I remember the incredible heat and tropical weather.

As a kid and a teen, I had visited HK a few times over the years, but until that particular summer, I had never actually lived and worked there.  Through family connections and so on, I had gotten the opportunity to work there as an intern for BBDO HK, a dream position for a mediaphile like myself.  BBDO, the legendary ad firm that came up with Delta’s “We Love to Fly and It Shows”.  This was legendary, as this was THE firm that managed the world-wide Apple Computers account, VISA, Pizza Hut and Pepsi advertising.  I got my chance to see how advertising is created from within the halls of creativity and imagination.

But that’s just trivia really.  While there were a lot of things to remember, what I remember most was the Category 5 Super Typhoon that hit Hong Kong dead on.

typhoon in hk

I had been in Typhoons before, with my friends in Taiwan.  I recall all of us in my bedroom, hanging out while waiting out the incredible winds buffeting against the concrete walls of the Chien T’an complex.  I remember walking out the next day, only to find the huge parade square completely submerged and seeing everything that wasn’t bolted or nailed down laying all over the complex.  Needless to say, it’s a bit of a scary event…. for most.

As you’ve read from The Days, I had acquired a love for lightning and thunder, and deep respect for the power of an angry storm.  I cherished it in fact, with the glee of a child that would be easily dazzled by a shiny new toy.

My friends, well, probably thought I was a bit insane, as I would every so often leave the safety of my room to look out onto the majesty of it all.  2 years later, there I was alone in Hong Kong, watching the city locking down for the most powerful storm ever to hit that island in a decade.

I had been in HK already for a good month, and I missed my then-gal (yes, HER) in Montreal.  Long distance rates back then were insanely expensive at $1-2 a minute, and mail service was terrible.  In previous years, very often I would find my postcards and letters reach her weeks after I had already returned, so writing to her seemed pointless.  And, well, since I was a Canadian with little Cantonese language skills and without any real connections except for the monthly meeting of gamers at the Mariner’s Club, I just felt terribly alone and lost.  I had always defined my identity as a knight in training to my friends and family, but in these lands, I couldn’t be that for anyone.  Then came the typhoon.

I made a quick call (all of a buck or two) and left a message with HER mom to tell her to check the HK weather reports.  And then I looked around the place where I was staying (the cousin of a family friend), grabbed a bed sheet, a disposable Kodak camera, a bunch of balloons and rushed up the fire escape stairs to the roof.

I remember hearing the wind pound against the roof door, straining to knock that door down.  I heard the hard rain hitting the ground outside like cannon fire, and the sound of patio furnishings crash against exhaust pipes and air vents.  I grabbed the bed sheet, tied it securely against my waist and then to the staircase railing.  And with a shove, I forced my way through.

The rain had hit me like a shower of gravel, hard, wet and heavy.  The wind pushed me against the door almost immediately, but I braced myself and went on.  And there I stood, waiting for that moment… one I knew that would come soon.

The storm was dead on Hong Kong by then.  The lightning turned day into night, and the thunder came forth like a thousand lions virtually at the same time.  It was terrifying.  It was incredibly stupid.  And it was glorious.  For a few brief seconds, I no longer was 5000 miles away under an asian sky, but felt a little bit closer to home as it should be.  I braced myself again against the door and sat onto the ground, all the while probably in danger of being blown off the roof or be impaled by debris.  And what I did then?  Made some balloons.

The sentimental side of me had been taken over by the ubergeek me.  Now that I was at the heart of the storm, I wondered how cool would it be to photograph some balloons flying out to sea.  Well, I wondered, though it really wasn’t the smartest thing to do.  I released the first balloon with one hand and ready to snap the shot with another.  Well…. the winds were hitting at roughly 190km at the time.  I didn’t even get a chance to aim, as the wind took the balloon and ran with it with an unearthly acceleration.  I had barely let it go, and poof… off with the winds and deep into the night and out to sea.   I tried again, and again, annnnd again…  Yep, not exactly a triumph for Terry the scientist indeed.  Finally, 10 balloons down and maybe 12 useless camera shots of the dark, I decided to take a shot just prior to letting the balloon ago and see what would happen.  Jackpot.

There weren’t many shots left on the camera, and the storm made the night seem like the whole of HK was wrapped in a black velvet cloak, but I struggled in the hope of a few pics of something.  Anything.  And with the second to last shot, I managed to get a shot of a brightly lit sky of lightning.

That was that.  I struggled to get back inside and close the door, and soaking wet as I was, I returned back to the safety of the apartment 10 stories below.

When I came back home, I had taken the now developed photos, put them in a cheap frame from Eatons, and dropped by a familiar house where someone was waiting for me.  She knew from my message that I was going to do something stupid, dangerous and utterly gallant to feel close again.

She had kept those pictures throughout the years.  Sure they’re in a different frame, and has probably been scanned and so on, but they still exist.  I know they do… because T&G has them now.  They never knew exactly why they were so important to her, but now they will soon when they get to read this.

2 months and counting until the reunion.

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