The Transition Zone
David Yon, August 11, 2008
Floridians know the “joy” of anxiously watching an approaching storm trying to decide whether to go or cancel a trip. This however was a first. Our flight from Tallahassee to Hong Kong by way of Atlanta and Seoul, South Korea went as well as one could hope for when on time means 24 hours later and includes a 14 hour segment. We left Tallahassee at 10:00 a.m. on Monday and arrived in Hong Kong at 10:00 p.m. the next day, which meant losing a day due to crossing the International Date Line. But the voice on the other end of the phone in the hotel the next morning was calmly explaining to me the day’s activities were cancelled due to an approaching Typhoon; number 3 warning flags were posted for early morning and by afternoon they were set level 8. (Tropical storm Kammuri actually made landfall just south of us.) Hong Kong has its own unique severe weather rating system. A 3 rating means a strong wind is expected, with a sustained speed of 41-62 km/h, and gusts which may exceed 110 km/h. It is recommended that all loose items be secured. A level 8 sounds much more ominous including gale or storm force winds, with a sustained wind speed of 63-117 km/h and gusts which may exceed 180 km/h. The recommend precautions, loosely translated, were “batten down the hatches” and stay inside. And in fact, everywhere you looked businesses were in fact closed for the day and buttoning up with shutters and other protections.
Amazingly though, we were told the next day’s activities would go on as planned. The storm would blow through and be gone by day’s end with wind gusts near 60 miles an hour reportedly doing damage in the city. We should not have been surprised because Hong Kong is a city of intense energy which runs 24 hours per day and cleanup crews were out that morning. Of course our main concern was determining how and when to get the first run in…after all 24 hours of travel e that included a trip across the dateline was more than enough time to miss. So we decided to see if the storm was real. A step or two out of the safety of the tunnel of our hotel and the wind began laughing with a sort of “come on out and play” voice that made us rethink what we were doing. Then it began tossing signs and branches along the street, perfect instruments for knocking down a runner and it was pretty easy to decide it wasn’t the time to explore a strange new city.
Commerce drives this city of 7 million and buildings are packed into every available spot of land – much of it actually claimed from the sea. Skyscrapers dominate the landscape and neon signs light up the city and the harbor at night like few places in the world. While it is now part of the country of China, the “One country, two systems” rule of government seems alive and well, leaving the island government in charge of most things, especially the business activity. While it makes for a great place for business and night life, running requires great diligence. The streets are narrow and filled with buses, taxis and cars. The sidewalks are filled with people unless you are out early in the morning. The average home for four in this city consists of 450 square feet of living space. So “personal space” is not part of the language.
The best place to run turned out to be running along the harbor on the promenade. The harbor was spectacular with the skyscrapers dominating the background (and fully lit at night) and the shipping traffic crossing the water in the same chaotic fashion as the traffic patterns on the street. I cannot imagine getting into the water, but there were swimmers taking advantage of the relative early morning calm. Despite the difficulty, running remains a great way to see a city and was no different for Hong Kong. Our runs brought us in touch with many smells, sounds and tastes of the city that showed a different side when viewed from a bus. It was a great warm up for the mainland.