Government warnings of the impending typhoon arrived as early as 2 days before Nari hit the central city of Vietnam. It seems expected. Like this almost annual occurrence of Mother Nature is as normal as day and night.
I remembered how absolutely clear it was that day. Beautiful blue skies, and clouds like brilliant cotton candies scattered low across the horizon. The calm before the storm they say. The days preceding had been wet, filled with angry thunderstorm and brief reports on CNN covering this lesser known part of the world. We were right in the eye of the storm. And it was exactly how science would have described it. While everything around the neighbouring state of Danang was experiencing some sort of torrential thunderstorm, at least in the little office I was given in this NGO to work on my project, it was bright and sunny yet underlined with an eery silence you don’t often experience on such a beautiful day as this. No birds were chirping in the trees. No dogs barking in the streets. Only the incessant beep beeps of motorcyclists in the adjacent street of Le Duan.
By 12 noon the skies began to darken. At 2 we received news from the University officials, of which the French NGO was closely affiliated with, to send all of the students and employees home. A citywide curfew of 6pm was apparently announced across the city. Then it started to rain. And the wind came. It never left, only growing stronger in speed and velocity. The cab which took me back to Novotel, a mere 10 minutes scooter ride on any given day, refused to send me to the entrance of the hotel. Located next to the Han River, I guess any local with a sane mind, would have done the same too.
He dropped me next to the public tennis court, about a block away, muttering between broken English and fast, urgent Vietnamese about ‘road ahead is closed’. I remembered arguing for a minute and realizing my efforts were in vain, paid and stepped out of his cab.
The wind that hit my face reminded me of the time I was in Melbourne in winter time and had accidentally walked through a wind tunnel. I was leaning so far forward just so I could keep walking. A few times, my frame of 46 kilograms kept being pushed back. I was physically experiencing that famous metaphor of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Literally. Between fear of possibly being swept away by this powerful wind, I humored myself with two thoughts, my work laptop is possibly heavy enough to keep me grounded and if I had carried an umbrella, I would’ve probably be Mary Poppins by now having a wonderful aerial view of the entire city of Danang.
That night I experienced Mother Nature wrath in all its glory. The capacity of this Universal energy to summon the entire city into its palms, heaving centuries old roots that has dug its way deep into the earth, and dropping all of humanity onto its knees was astonishing. All within the span of one night.
Before Nari hit at its full force, which apparently came at 4am, I sat down on the floor at the balcony of my hotel room, 10 floors above ground level and within relatively comfortable distance away from the torrential thunderstorm that had already began hours before. It was after dinner. I remembered the sense of awe watching this entire scene unfolding right before my eyes. A sense of being in extremely close proximity with the source of the energy that governs us all. Like I could reach out my hands and almost touch the center of God.
Earlier in the day, many of the locals were relating stories of the last major typhoon that hit their town some years ago. Rooftops being blown off. Electricity cut-offs. Sitting in the darkness. Random objects falling down unexpectedly in the middle of your living room. And that inevitable call of death that some had to answer overnight.
I remembered thinking how small we are as humans against the ultimate strength and energy that moves the earth around the sun, the powerful unseen hands that pulls trees, bridges and rooftops off its place. And how extremely minutiae our human problems are at that moment.
At some point, the hotel bellboys came knocking from door to door to remind guests to keep their balcony doors shut and tightly locked for safety reasons. By then I saw what the locals were trying to tell me earlier. Zinc rooftops dancing in midair as high as where I was standing from. And a perpetual, ongoing shrill wailing of the wind. Like the sound of a grieving mother holding on to her lifeless offspring.
I woke up the next morning to a quiet city. The balcony half flooded with rain water and littered with leaves. I looked down to the crossroad and saw every single tree, save for a few palm trees, uprooted and lying down on its side. Like a playful giant that came visiting overnight and decided to pluck every tree from its roots for fun.
Life went on pretty much as normal the next day, the only reminder of Nari was the cleanup that city officials were left with in its wake. Someone in the office said they had to stop their motorbike midway while crossing the Dragon bridge because the wind got too strong and they were forced to hold on to the railings for dear life. Someone else said the roof on top of their kitchen got blown off.
And I was left mostly with a deep contemplation of Mother Nature and the power that resides within her.