Notes on a Typhoon

photo courtesy AusAID

Looking through some old journals, I found some jottings on a typhoon.

It was October 11, 1989. Our three daughters were in college or grad school in the United States. Eugene and I were living in Manila in an apartment on Roxas Boulevard, walking distance from Asian Development Bank where he worked.

I must have been standing on our balcony, looking out at the storm and its effects and writing my impressions in a journal.

Roxas Blvd. from our apartment

Here’s my journal entry:

High winds, not too much rain so far. Electricity out. The roar of the building’s generator. The insistent swish of wind in the trees, gusting to a low, rolling bellow. Leaves lifting from the ground, rushing past our sixteenth floor window.

A metal reflecting surface taped to a clothes rack on a balcony across from us comes loose and twangs and rustles in the wind. Shook foil. Palm trees bending, off-balance, their leaves pushed to one side, showing their coconuts.

Leaning antennas, long, draping TV cables, clay pots broken and scattered. Corrugated metal roofs ripped off in jagged, irregular pieces.

Broken tree branches, their white, virginal wood open to the elements. Branches, coconuts, leaves strewn around the old lady’s garden. Lots of work for her gardener tomorrow.

old lady’s garden before typhoon

Sign boards and canopies blown down. A man leaving a jeep covers his head with his jacket. Four men walk the service road looking for things to salvage. They find an antenna and cart it off.

Our curtains alternately billow in and get sucked out.

Later: The typhoon has passed. Out to the South China Sea, I suppose.

I didn’t write anything about the aftermath. This one must not have hit Manila, or at least our part of town, hard.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

expatriate life, Philippines, storms , , ,

13 comments


  1. It seemed the storm and typhoon that day was strong enough to make a bit of mess. It’s a very vivid and descriptive journal description – like you were recording everything that you were seeing down on paper. If corrugated metal roods were ripped off, usually any roof has the potential to be ripped off too. I’ve never experienced a typhoon in my life. But when I was growing up in Malaysia we always had these seasonal torrential rains and storms. Part of my childhood involved living under a tin roof, and when the water came down from the sky and the wind billowed, it made the loudest rattling metallic noise you could imagine.




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    • We lived in several houses in the Philippines that had metal roofs. I don’t have any strong memories of the sound of rain on the roof. We get used to things and stop hearing them. That’s the advantage of journaling. If you’re writing about what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel, you get deep into the moment, and you save your impressions. In college, I studied to be a teacher. But I took a couple of elective classes in sketching. One of my favorite experiences was sitting in Volunteer Park and sketching what I saw. Sketching, whether with pictures or with words, is an exercise in appreciation. Even if the subject is not beautiful, it’s an appreciation of “what it”. Of life.




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  2. My goodness! What a storm! I’m glad you have your journals to look back on. Your description is very detailed and lyrical. I feel like I’m there with you.

    I wish I had recorded the details of a microburst that hit my apartment complex years ago. It happened at night. I don’t think I wrote anything about that experience.




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    • Now that I’m writing a novel and preparing posts for my blog, I’ve stopped journaling. It takes time, and it has no purpose other than itself. And yet, I loved doing it. Writing in a journal every day forces you to notice your surroundings and to think about life. It adds a richness to your days. Right now wind is blowing through the trees, each tree responding differently. The Norwegian maple welcomes the wind, puffs up with it, its leaves expanding and fluttering, its trunk and branches untouched. A willow bends and circles like a dancer. A smaller tree turns all messy-haired, showing off its color job, a sort of frosting of fall colors just appearing among the green. It’s all quite beautiful. I’m glad I looked.




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  3. Were people nervous, or did they just shrug it off as, “eh, it’s another typhoon?”




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    • My impression is that people were more focused on what had to be done–sort of the way we meet most daily challenges. Afterwards there were the stories and gossip about what happened. One I remember was about Dr. H., one of the bosses. There was some tut-tutting about how when his Mercedes became stranded on a flooded street, he made his driver stay and protect it overnight while he made his way to a safe, dry place.




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  4. Living on the 16th floor would have made me nervous!




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    • Apartment living in general wasn’t for me. When your home has its feet on the ground, life feels more real and your world is more expansive. It includes your yard and the sky, and your path into the world is continuous, starting from your street and effortlessly moving outward. At least, that’s the way it feels to me.




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  5. Your perch gave you a bird’s eye view of the storm. Thanks for locating and sharing your journal entry with us. Mother Nature can be a wild beastie!




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    • When Mother Nature is quiet, we can enjoy her or ignore her. This past month, she has been anything but quiet in the Atlantic, reminding us that we live at the pleasure of all the natural forces that surround us.




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  6. Storms really make you reflect on things. Despite all the tragedy, I’m glad for the hope shown as people gather around to help. And it makes me appreciate loved ones around me all the more!




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    • I’ve been watching scenes from the earthquake aftermath in Mexico today. The loss and disruption of life there is awful. But it’s heartwarming to see how many people are helping with the delicate, dangerous work of trying to save people trapped under collapsed buildings. It’s been a terrible few months for natural disasters.




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