Saturday, September 30, 2006

Forces of Nature

Body of me: I have Internet access once again. I'm on a noisy generator that's humming in the background, but at least I'm online for the moment.

I don't believe that CNN or any non-local news services carried the story, so here's the skinny: Sometime on Thursday morning, a massive typhoon ("hurricane" to others) battered the Northern Philippines, including the major metropolitan areas. It was originally expected to have winds running at approximately 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph, more or less), but when it finally arrived on our doorstep, we found ourselves facing weather of double that strength and power. This put the storm on a level close to that of Hurricane Katrina, although not quite. And as we always did, we went about our daily business as though nothing was wrong.

Thursday morning, in fact, saw me meeting with a few people regarding independent publication guidelines and specifications. We figured well in advance that Thursday was the only time all of us could meet up, considering that I was still actively looking for a job, and that the others had their own weekday affairs to see through. I wasn't the only person doing business that Thursday, of course -- there were more than a few other people roaming the streets despite the high winds and constant rain, and the little Starbucks branch that served as our meeting-place was relatively full of students and business professionals already.

We see a lot of typhoons in the Philippines, and I daresay that they're little more than another fact of life to us. We usually don't put up such things as storm shutters or sandbags, we don't automatically suspend classes unless some government bureau goes through the formality, and we don't immediately panic at the thought of clogged sewers or power failures. Quite the contrary, in fact: I remember glancing at the swaying trees of last Thursday's experience and wondering what all the tourists were going to think.

I will not bother mentioning my thoughts on fallen trees and collapsed billboards right now, though. Suffice to say that not many people anticipated the idea of such bits and scraps flying around at the height of the storm. It strikes me as an oddly stupid quality, for a nation that finds itself so used to typhoons.

The power went out a little after lunch that Thursday, and it hasn't quite recovered yet. Our phones died a couple of hours later, and that was when we all agreed that our investment in an little eight-year-old diesel generator had been a good one, despite its constant noise. Since then, we've stayed in contact with friends and family via a succession of intermittent text messages -- life is good when you have the largest population of cellphone users in Southeast Asia, I suppose.

By Friday morning, we were all out and about once more. The streets were filled with fallen trees, collapsed telephone poles and dangling electrical wires, but that didn't stop anybody from heading to the malls as they normally did on a day without work. Based on what I've mentioned above between Filipinos and typhoons, it'll take more than a massive force of nature to keep us down.

I've spent most of the last couple of days reading newspapers (as well as a bunch of old magazines that I picked up outside). Even the news is the same, I think: The government still squabbles with itself, the local columnists still display much of their usual logical disconnects, and the sports page still trembles with the anticipation of the college basketball results. It's like the delivery guy who brings the papers to us every morning, typhoon or no typhoon: Same old, same old. It's as though we're the human equivalent of cockroaches or something -- I estimate that it'll take nothing less than sheer apocalypse to significantly dent our way of life.

Or I could simply be cranky tonight, simply because I haven't been able to get at the Internet for a while. I probably have about two hundred messages in my Inbox now.

This is probably why we didn't show up any of CNN's regular news bulletins, I think. Thailand's military coup is news -- they haven't had one in the last fifteen years, from what I know. The rumors of Bin Laden's demise are news -- it's not as though he's going to be tracked down for confirmation anytime soon. The notion of a tourist in space is news -- it'll definitely be a while before we see the next one stand next to the stars.

But a typhoon (née hurricane) hitting the Philippines, causing plenty of structural and environmental damage? A country-wide power failure with interrupted utility services? A population that merely waits the whole thing out for a day and then emerges to go shopping? That's not news, I figure. That's normal... perhaps everyday normal. We've seen it before, and we'll see it again. So we pick up the pieces and move on, just as we always have.

The cockroaches ain't got nothing on us, ladies and gentlemen. We wait out, we pick up, we move on. And that's a fact.


kat said...

I don't know if its something to be happy about, that we can just get up and go on with our lives after a storm like that. By the way, a friend of mine in Japan pretty much made the same observation (with earthquakes on their part).

Sean said...

Kat: Mind you, I actually like the Japanese attitude towards earthquakes: While it seems that their measures belittle them at times, they at least acknowledge the possibility of such natural catastrophes in their building codes and safety procedures. While Filipinos don't quite follow the same lines of thought, I still get a kick out of knowing that we recover quite easily from any major storm that comes around.