It began as a joke. “We should be drinking at the Four Seasons right now!” Never mind that Hong Kong was in the midst of a “Typhoon 8” Signal, with “Super Typhoon” Usagi bearing down upon the city. This was what the Hong Kong Observatory (the government’s weather forecasting arm) declared to be the biggest storm to hit the city in 34 years. Heck, forecasters called it the largest storm on the planet in 2013. It had already ravaged Taiwan and the Philippines and was heading straight toward us!
The city was in shut down-mode. The Hong Kong Observatory had raised the “T8” signal at 7pm, news which was greeted by cheers in the little “Typhoon Party” that my CouchSurfing host had thrown together at the last minute. This has got to be the only place in the world where people actually celebrate a stronger storm… T8 means that people get the day off work, at least assuming the signal is still up in the morning (it was lifted around 7am).
Here in the safe and cozy confines of my host’s apartment on Hong Kong Island, we sipped homemade cocktails and dined on takeout Nepalese cuisine, a concession to the fact that we were supposed to have gone to Jordan, not the country, but a neighborhood in Kowloon, just across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. The storm had scuttled those plans but we were making due. That is, until someone said something about changing into dressier clothes…
“Oh we reserved a table at the Four Seasons for 9:00pm,” my host’s friend said. What? You want to go out in the middle of a storm that has the wind speed of a category 3 hurricane?? That sounds crazy! There was no public transit running. Literally the city had ground to a halt once the T8 signal had been raised. “We’ll find a taxi,” we were told. “Or walk. It’s only about 20 minutes.”
And so we set off out the door in the middle of a T8. It was a bit windy outside, but not nearly as windy as I would have expected. NYC, where I’d experienced 2 hurricanes in a row the past two years (Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012), has that famous grid which really accentuates the wind as the buildings create a canyon-like atmosphere. Hong Kong’s hilly streets are all over the place, which really dampened the wind quite a bit. “Ok,” I thought. “I can do this.”
The main road was eerily quiet. Not a car was in sight, but people were out and about, clutching their umbrellas. I later learned that there are T8 Running Clubs, where people go jogging during a typhoon and a whole host of other groups that partake in activities when a T8 signal had been hoisted, even surfing! Seems that Hong Kong gets an awful lot of typhoons and knew exactly how to handle them…
A few taxis passed, all wanting fairly exorbitant prices to take us the relatively short distance to the Four Seasons. We opted to walk instead. That’s right…we walked 20 minutes in the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane! And you know what? It wasn’t so bad! At least until we got past the IFC Center and were in the open space by the waterfront. Then it was windy! But the Four Seasons was right ahead!
Inside we found a welcoming environment in their Blue Bar, overlooking Kowloon with the dramatic new ICC Tower dominating the skyline. Here we chatted over seemingly endless cocktails as we watched it rain sideways (!) outside. “Oh we’re used to major rainstorms here in Hong Kong,” we were told. “This is nothing!”
By 1am, we decided it was time to head home into that “nothing” that was happening outside. This was one hour away from when the storm was supposed to make landfall in Hong Kong (though it actually veered north of the city). We had the Four Seasons call us a cab. Employees had stacked sandbags along the doors to keep them from flying open in the wind.
The taxi came and took us for the metered price, though the hotel had warned us that there would be some additional charges for the storm. The driver wanted a whopping HK$100 extra (roughly US$13), a small price to pay for the experience we’d just had.
When morning came, there was no more storm. The city was alive again and then sun was out. Seems Usagi had been a bit of a non-event, much like Hurricane Irene was when it struck in NYC in 2011. The government sounded the alarm and then nothing much happened.
Still though, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the night we were crazy enough to dress up and walk 20 minutes in a T8 just to get drinks at the Four Seasons!