South Korea Gets Some Typhoonanny

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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It was a big spewing mass of hot air whose only desire was to whip people into a frenzy worrying about society’s destruction.  It downed trees, destroyed signs, and shattered homes—and this wasn’t even the Republican National Convention.

Known as a typhoon in Asia, the biggest hurricane to hit Korea in ten years was certainly a force, but in the end it didn’t flood the city, capsize ships or shatter storefronts.  The anticipation was far greater.  I can morbidly admit that I was tepidly awaiting Korea’s storm of the century–my first big storm.  The wait cracked the nerves of many expats, and the tumultuous buildup from foreigner internet searches may have been the storm itself as English teachers nationwide hit the social media front en masse to bitch about their school’s hurricane policies.  Maybe unfairly, many schools required teachers to report to school while their students stayed at home.

Massive cyclone coming your way?

Get back to work!

This is hard-working Korea, after all.

But Typhoon Bolaven turned out to actually be kind of a big deal.  It killed a few at sea, canceled school, bitch-slapped signs off of their buildings, and disrupted ports nationwide.  It abused and uprooted trees deciduous and tropical, painting the streets green as if trimmings from a great celestial lawn had been poured out all over the city.  It would have been foolish to step outside during the storm itself, which was either a CAT-1 or a tropical storm depending on the news source, and with the exception of a few cash-strapped cabbies masquerading as heros to foolish pedestrians, everybody stayed inside.  (They always say downgraded to a tropical storm don’t they–as if flying debris and massive wavebreaks were small potatoes?)

Cleanup, aisle everything!

Still, hours after the storm broke this morning, many of the power lines around town were smarting from the stress of being pulled to-and-fro for the past 24 hours.  Walking under the painfully buzzing power lines was slightly sketchy going before I found my courage, and as I walked to work my mind wandered to Montana’s version of the unfulfilled old-school college basketball star and potential NBA star Wayne Estes.  Wayne was an all-around hero who approached the scene of a traffic accident, only to die from a downed power line.  (I’m sympathetic to the promising Boston Celtics Len Bias story, but Estes’ comes more from pure heroism instead of the youthful “he made a deadly mistake” category).  Being from Montana, I’m no gumshoe to huge winds, and I want to fondly un-remember driving out of Great Falls, MT (one of America’s windiest places)  during their blustery winter.  Many who hit the skil hills of Bridger Bowl, MT have also been privy to some scary moments on the once-archaic ski lifts during heavy winds, but this typhoon was still some pretty serious stuff.  The rain and winds knocked out power for somewhere from three-quarters-of-a-million people to 1.7 million South Koreans this morning, with nearly 3/4 of this restored already.

Please tell me dude from Gangnam Style was under there.

My friends’ lights also went off here in Yeosu, paradoxically inciting poor-me complaints on facebook about their powerless situation using their computer batteries.  Many of my students lost electricity too, and companies at the massive Yeosu industrial complex also experienced some power outages.  But I wouldn’t have known–my typhoon party consisted of passing out through most of the howling winds after eating too much ice cream.  (I remember  a similar cold treat-related stupor from high school in Montana when I missed the cosmic clap of an Air Force jet waking up the whole town at 4AM with a sonic boom.)

There’s something about a typhoon that screams otherness as the wind batters your window.  My Dad sometimes tells me about his time aboard a naval troop transport vessel that encountered a typhoon in the Pacific.  He spent three hellish days and nights climbing up and dropping off of 60 foot waves in the South Pacific during a particularly wretched storm in his WWII Navy days. (Yes, my Father was in WWII…pretty sweet).  

Bud Lilly: not a big supporter of this whole Typhoon program.

“Typhoon” almost sounds averse, like it’s a more brutal, alchemistic oriental storm that we’ll never understand, as mysterious to westerners as Cantonese calligraphy. I prefer to say “hurricane” because it carries the weight of American survival, but I’m a phony on that front.  I won’t play survivor here–there’s even a guy from Mississippi who lives in Yeosu that did house-to-houses after Katrina.  Pulling through Typhoon Bolaven and getting your “I survived Bolaven” t-shirt is like playing Dance, Dance, Revolution with Justin Bieber and claiming you 69ed the living shit out of Rihanna.

Love the way you lie … about your high score

Despite some Chinese fishermen being lost at sea south of Yeosu around Jeju island, things proceeded pretty regularly in my city after all.  Typhoon Bolaven didn’t inspire any roof rescues or survivalist scrounging tactics, but a  few sandbags placed in front of doors and “X” shapes slapped on windows with tape for good measure.  Other than this, people went about their business pre-hurricane with a calm disposition that made me think that people in Yeosu were either extremely cool about the whole impending superstorm, or supremely unprepared.

Bolaven lashes Jeju-do, Korea

The big one was coming, but I still had to shimmy in a quick pre-storm lift session.  As the rain started to spit outside, I realized I had forgotten my umbrella for the biggest rain and gust blasts of the decade.  Typical.  I entered the gym as the wind’s screams began the storm’s slow crescendo , leading me to expect a city’s populace ready for a storm, a city hunkered down ready for the big one.  Entering the main room of the fitness club was Yeosu unfolding along the predictable line of daily habits, and I found nothing out of the ordinary.  Inside, pudgy middle-aged women shamelessly wore their bikinis and spandex bell-bottoms to their dance classes.  After finishing their bizarre knee-circles, middle-aged Korean men continued to push through their pitiable quarter-bench presses and smith-machine half-squats with self-satisfied peacocking.

The sideways rain and screw-you wind came soon after I departed the gym at 10PM.  The media had reminded us to stock up on batteries and food to prepare for the worst; before the storm became full-grown, I couldn’t help but make my way through a half -cylinder of Korean-style Cheetos just in case I needed to bulk up for a post-apocalypse winter.  Guess I don’t deserve to be an end-of-world Cormac McCarthy-esque group leader after all.

Too much Soju for this guy.

As the unyielding winds hit their forte I peered through the windows like a has-been ringman sits in his basement watching his boy box on a black-and-white TV.  I pretended to be outwardly disinterested in the storm’s wrath–and the fight’s outcome–win or lose.  The winds seemed burly, but I passed out eventually with confidence that I wouldn’t end up having to loot a liquor store for Combos snacks and bottle of some strong Black Velvet hwisky tomorrow.

Or hopefully I would?

Slept through this.

Typhoon Bolaven  threw a series of combinations, put Yeosu on the ropes, but it didn’t knock us out.

It’s the next day.  Here in Yeosu life continues normally.  Walking to work today was a lesson in balance.  Even though the rain subsided, residual wind gusts punished trees throughout the morning, stretching them back sideways by a little, then a lot, blowing broken car and apartment window shards and fluorescent light bits in all directions.  At a leaf-strewn crosswalk, the half empty roads draw an eery silence to an otherwise dodged bullet of a storm. 

A traffic light is out, causing chaos instead of cooperation among Korean motorists.  A few speeders nearly rear-end each other at the defunct light.  Soon after, a bus barely avoids decapitating a Korean luxury coupe, and the others sit confused, honking about what the hell  to do next.  As I attempt to cross the street Frogger-style I realize my life is in my precious feet just like any other time, just like any other day crossing the street here.  Things may have already returned to normal.


This is Korea after all.


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