Monday, September 20, 2010

Storm Chasers: Driving into the Belly of the Beast

Typhoon Fanapi, Sunday Afternoon
We’d heard the news and didn’t quite know what to expect. Wind speeds estimated at 144 km/hr (90 mph) gusts up to 180 km/hr (112 mph). We were expecting big rain and high winds. The rain started Saturday night. We’d have blasts of rain then it would stop or rain lightly. The wind would occasionally gust, bet never really seemed to reach any kind of high speeds.

The mountainous spine of Taiwan seemed to take the brunt of the storm. A friend who lives in the mountains said trees were blowing over and the rain was falling. Because of the conditions his family stayed home. But Taoyuan City was a different story. We continued to do what we always do. People were having barbeques to celebrate the upcoming Moon Festival. They were riding scooters, in fact, life seemed pretty much the same as always, without much concern for the typhoon
The path of the Typhoon

It’s kind of interesting, I think, because when you hear about a hurricane about to hit Florida or somewhere in the U.S. people get evacuated, the freeways are jammed. It’s a big mess, but none of that happened here. Six thousand were evacuated from potential mudslide areas in Hualien but that was it. Maybe three thousand cars, that’s not even rush hour. Life in Taiwan, in the face of the typhoon, just continued to happen.

Where we live we didn’t experience anything except some rain, so Emily and I decided to be…Storm Chasers…

We had visions of taking the old Mondeo and driving right into the belly of the beast. We planned to face down danger and drive right down the throat of the storm. As they heard about it, people began throwing around words like: Intrepid: Courageous: Fearless: Stupid (Where’d that come from?). We armed ourselves with video and still photography equipment and headed for the mountains…In Search of Typhoon Fanapi.

Typhoon Fanapi has passed
We drove with the windows down, we wanted to feel the relentless power of the wind, we wanted to hear the full-throated roar of power. We drove all the way to ShihMen Reservoir, looking for roads that would take us from the sheltering embrace of the city and expose us to the savage battering of gale force winds. But, in the end we were disappointed. Fanapi, as far as we were concerned, was a flop. In fact, at one point we stopped to photograph a footbridge and the place was teeming with sightseers, tourists. Tourists…in a typhoon, who would have ever thought? We never found the wind, never saw the devastation; we had driven into the belly of the mouse.

Fanapi facts: As of September 20, Fanapi was being blamed for 75 minor injuries. There were three vehicle accident related deaths, but no deaths directly attributed to the typhoon as it crossed Taiwan. Damage was estimated at $3.87 Million USD.

source: typhoon images and maps

Other Posts you might be interested in:

Typhoon Conson:  Here It Comes
Typhoon Conson:  How Did We Cope

Monday, September 13, 2010

Traveling With M13: The Sequel: Return to Toad Valley

A few months ago I featured a visit to a swimming area in the mountains above Taoyuan City, that I was given directions to, by M13 (Mordeth13). M13 is a vlogger that lives in Taiwan with a unique approach to vlogging. He does it on the back of a motorcycle and videos through his helmet. He recently started a touring company, here that he is calling," Two Wheeled Adventure Tours."  ( The man knows Taiwan and a lot of beautiful places in Taiwan, so if you’re in the market for a motorcycle or motorscooter tour, visit his website and book one. Okay so that was a shameless plug. I recently had an opportunity to meet him and found him a likable, and very funny guy, although sometimes his sense of humor is a little shocking.

Anyway, I didn’t write this just to plug his company. When I posted the trip to the swimming place, (May 2010; “Traveling with M13”) people commented that the place was beautiful and their surprise at the lack of people. The reason for that was that it was during the spring time and on a weekday, so people were at school and work.

We and two other families decided to revisit this place, called Toad Valley, and spend a Saturday during the summer. Things were a bit different, in

terms of the number of people at the place.

We left about 8:30 on Saturday morning and drove along surface streets to reach Toad Valley. It’s about a 45 minute drive from our house. We wound through the mountains and scenery arriving around 9:30. Already, there were a number of people at the river. We found a nice area under the canopy, and set up our barbeque. The kids immediately got down to business and got in the water and most of the adults sat around a talked.
As you can see, the place was somewhat more crowded than our first visit.  People were curious about us some asked where we were from:  Some sneaked a look at what we were grilling on the old BBQ:  Some of the younger guys were stealing looks at my daughters.  (That's just a bit too curious for my taste, so I gave them the old stink-eye.)

Then we fired up the barbeque and barbequed a number of things. As you might have guessed a Taiwanese barbeque is a little different from what Americans do back home. Menu items included: Whole squid, Chinese sweet Pork Sausage, Cheeseburgers, (that was our contribution), potato salad (also our contribution) and Shitake mushrooms.

I was talking with my friend Ken and he asked if Americans barbequed only on special days, as they do in Taiwan. Of course the answer to that, is that in Southern California during the summer, every day is a special day.

About 3:00 o’clock the clouds rolled in. By 3:15 we heard the first blast of thunder, by 3:30 we were packed and out of there as the storm pelted us with huge raindrops that seemed to be pretty close together. I couldn’t run between them, anyway. If you know me you know there’s two reasons why that isn’t possible. I’ll leave you to ponder what those reasons are…
One of the reasons we were popular

The other reason

Other posts you may be interested in:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Taiwanese Traditions: Ghost Month 2: Ghost Day

This parade wandered past our house, recently. Emily and I jumped on the scooter to follow the parade and get some footage. The parade was part of the Ghost Month festival. As I said in the last post the Ghost month takes place during the month of July (lunar Calendar.)

July 15th (lunar) is called Ghost day or the Ghost Festival. This is the day when hell and heaven are opened and the dead come back to the earth. It is a day of worship of the ancestors. The Ghost day parade was interesting because it had aspects to it that I hadn’t seen before.

There were a number of trucks that had racks of lanterns on them. The lanterns are used to direct the Ghosts so that they can find their ay back to their families. There were also a lot of paper houses those houses were sold to people to be burned as an offering their their ancestors. It will provide a home for them in the other world.

Throughout the parade route the vehicles would stop the lantern racks raised and fireworks were lit. The fire works were sometimes launched from moving trucks as the vehicles traveled the parade route. Fireworks are a form of worship and are often included in festival activities.

I don’t know what the story is of the singer at the end of the video. She is always featured in these “Temple Parades,” (including funerals). Sometimes she sings current popular Taiwanese pop songs and sometimes this kind of traditional Chinese song. The horns are an interesting traditional instrument. They sound like bagpipes but are small, recorder like horns. I think the sound is interesting.

Thanks to our companion video blog, Glimpses of Taiwan (, for video footage. Glimpses of Taiwan features short (15 seconds to 1 minute) videos of day to day life in Taiwan. An abbreviated version of this video will be available there soon.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions: Walking the god