I rarely pay much attention to the weather. I will wear a jacket when I know I need one, but I am not the type of person to check the weather every morning. I am also not the kind of person to carry an umbrella with me everywhere I go: if it rains, it rains. I knew very little about Taiwan before applying to TUSA (the program I am enrolled in). I was not so excited about the weather, which is extremely hot and humid, but it was an experience I could not refuse. I did not even think about natural disasters during my application process. In fact, it was not until much later that I learned that summer is Taiwan's Typhoon Season. Typhoons are not unusual around here.
The term typhoon comes from the Mandarin “颱風 (tai feng),” which translates to supreme winds. It is the equivalent of what we in the United States call hurricanes. The first typhoon during my stay here was scheduled to hit during our trip to Taipei. However, a sudden heavy storm as we got ready to leave Taipei was the only sign of the typhoon. There were thankfully no noticeable changes to the weather in Taiwan as I was entirely unprepared for them.
My tutor told me about Typhoon Soudelor a few days before we were scheduled to go on a field trip to Southern Taiwan. At first I imagined the typhoon would be similar to the one before, but after some light internet research I realized Soudelor would be a lot more serious. Keep in mind, we were going to Kenting, a place best known for its beach and ocean related activities—we had planned to spend some time at the beach, and even go snorkeling. The field trip was not canceled, but the entire itinerary was changed to avoid the beach. I almost did not go, as heading to the beach right before a typhoon seemed like a terrible idea.
The weather was surprisingly amazing throughout the two days we spent in 墾丁 (Kenting). The water was calm, the sky was clear, and it was still as hot and humid as ever. We didn't do anything too exciting, but it was a nice change from school and studying. We left for Kenting early on Thursday morning and were planning on returning to Tainan on Friday afternoon. The typhoon would hit Taiwan on Friday night.
The most memorable part of the trip was Thursday night. The best night market in Kenting was very close to the Youth Center we stayed at, so almost the entire program headed there after dinner. I was ready to buy all my souvenirs there, but the market turned out to be a lot more expensive than those in Tainan—most likely because Kenting is such a touristy area in Taiwan. Regardless, it was still really fun to walk around and look at things, try some on, and even buy one or two items. The best buy of the night was by far an ice cream sandwich, which consisted of vanilla ice cream, banana, and Oreo pieces between two slices of danish bread. A lot of people went to the beach after that, but I decided to stay in and catch up on my reading.
Soudelor was a Category 5 typhoon, with winds as fast as 180 mph. Newscasts called it the worst storm of the year (worldwide). Blogs said to stay away from the coasts, buy typhoon food in case you were stuck inside for a few days, and not to go outside. The news were making me nervous we would not make it back to Tainan before the winds started, but we left Kenting right after lunch,. It did not even start getting windy until we arrived in Tainan. I went to the supermarket almost immediately after the bus dropped us off, then grabbed dinner a few hours later. The weather was beautiful by 8pm that evening; I don't think I have ever been so happy to feel the breeze against my skin. I did not leave my room at all on Saturday.
By the time I woke up on Saturday morning I had a message on my phone warning me to stay inside. There had already been two fatalities. As you can see above, Tainan was not hit badly—we just got some strong winds that knocked down trees and vehicles, but the mountain range that divides the East and West slowed the typhoon down significantly. I ventured out of the dorm on Sunday to grab some actual food (I prefer not to eat Instant Noodles too often) and was met with the views below. Hundreds of trees must have been torn out, some streets were blocked, as well as almost every sidewalk. There were workers cleaning up the mess by that afternoon.
I personally did not have much to worry about, but Typhoon Soudelor had much more damaging effects in Northeastern Taiwan, and other places nearby such as Japan and China.. I am very glad Tainan was barely affected; we returned to normal life right away and were even glad to have the nice weather for a change. There are now two twin typhoons in the area, both of which will hit around the time most TUSA people are flying back to the United States. Here's to hoping my flight will not get delayed. Wish me luck!