Friday, June 24, 2005

Our New Chief Executive, and the Portents of Weather

I have stared out our office window today and wondered what it meant that Donald Tsang's first official day in office was greeted by torrents of rain and a red rainstorm warning. One could of course recall the huge rainstorm that greeted Prince Charles and Jiang Zemin on the day of the Handover and take it as an ominous warning. But then again, red is an auspicious color is it not? And now at 5pm, although the sky is overcast, it is still far better than what we had before, earlier in the day. An apt analogy, perhaps, for our second Chief Executive?

But of course the weather today was but a gentle zephyr compared to the typhoons that have devastated Hong Kong before. It is a good thing in retrospect that the first colonials did not pack their bags in the summer of 1841 when a huge typhoon had swept aside the matshed huts like houses of cards. It was not an ill portent, but rather a terrifying experience that strengthened them for things to come.

Still, one cannot help but feel pity for Doctor Benjamin Lincoln Ball, writing in his Diary of a Hong Kong Doctor, from his recollection of a typhoon in those early days, living in what we'd generously call today, rustic accommodation:

"Friday, September 1st 1848.

The night has been fearful, and one that I shall not soon forget. I could not sleep in the noise of so much clatter and crash till past three o'’clock. The house itself shook so that several times I was on the point of springing up, thinking that the roof was actually being wrenched off. Everything was made as secure as possible, and yet there was a constant din of cracking and falling glass. The wind gathered and groaned as if with Herculean efforts to level all with the ground. Again and again it came with increased power. Sometimes it seemed as if an immense serpent had encircled the building in its folds, and that the timbers, one after another, were giving way, and the sides of the house bring crushed in its fearful embrace. Amid the raging of the storm I at length fell asleep, and dreamed that I was in a terrible tempest at sea. I thought the vessel was driven with such force that it skimmed over the surface of the water, and then, leaving the sea, flew through the air over the land, coming in contact with the hills, and bounding along like a balloon across the valleys.

I arose this morning at eight, and, in returning home, was wet by a driving rain. It was so dark at Mr. Drinker'’s that we had lights on the table at breakfast, although at nine o-clock in the forenoon. All here had been terrified, and many fears entertained for the safety of the house. The doors and windows were barricaded, and required at times the united strength of all. The garden was in ruins. Plantain-trees were broken down, other trees, nearly destroyed, and flower pots were strewed about and broken up. The water in the harbour had torn and washed up into the garden large stones from the sea-wall; the walks had caved away, etc.

I walked out with a friend to see what havoc had been made elsewhere. We found the shore lined with wrecks of Chinese junks. Vessels were dismasted, and some were on shore. The bodies of drowned Chinamen were being carried away on boards. Sides of buildings were blown out, and the water near the shore was full of spars and drift-wood of various kinds. The slight bamboo houses were in ruins, while those more strongly built exhibited, more or less, evidences of the storm. Captains Watson and McLacklan walked down the shore, looking for their vessels, but could not anywhere identify them. Last night at the hotel they were quite anxious to get off to them, but no boat could be hired to hazard the attempt, and the Chinese boats were all on the opposite shore. Captain Clarkson of the Chicaora, is here this eve. He saved eighteen Chinamen from a boat containing eighty, which drifted upon him in the night. To save one of them he descended by a rope into the water, and, by a rope fastened to the body of the drowning man, drew him up. They had specie and opium on board, all of which was lost."

Very sobering stuff, Dr. Ball. Speaking of which though, might your reference to Mr. Drinker mean your whole account is an allegory about the dangers of over-indulgence?

No comments: