My blog on “Irene” ran too long and I didn’t get around to Typhoons I have known. So now that she’s past let’s talk about typhoons. The world typhoon comes from the Greek on a very devious route. In Greek it meant father of winds. In the Middle Ages the word was borrowed into Arabic. In Cantonese it is toi fung and in Mandarin it is tai feng (great wind). In 1699 it was recorded in English as tuffoon. Looking it up in the dictionary you get “Tropical cyclone occurring in western Pacific or Indian Oceans.” If you want my experience with the word it’s one horror of a wind/rainstorm in an area off the River Li near Quilin, China in 1997!!!
A group of seven of us on a very special China tour sponsored by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, led by the late brilliant scholar Dr. William Wu, began the greatest trip of my life in Quilin in 1997. We traveled with a full time national guide and city guides in each city/village we visited, plus translators wherever we went as dialects changed drastically. One of our first days we left Quilin on the usual Li River Boat cruise all tourists take but unlike other tourists we had arrangements to disembark at a remote deserted part of the river. Our bus was sent off on a three hour drive to get to the place where it would pick us up on the other side of the river.
We weren’t very far down the river when a typhoon, very common in that part of the world (but not to us), set in. It was still in the early stages of its power when we disembarked. But this wasn’t a usual disembarkation. There was no gangplank. There was no dock. They had eliminated the “gang” and simply threw a line of linked wooden planks over the side for us to navigate with no railings. The river was very shallow at that point but still! A group of German tourists on board pleaded with us not to attempt it as the wind and rain were gaining strength, but off we went. We even paused for a group picture once we made it ashore. I wish I’d had a picture of me maneuvering those planks!
We were headed for a generally unchanged Ming village one mile inland where at the school house, the only non-Ming building in the village, we were expected for a visit with the children. After a very short period of sloshing through the mud the storm gained such violence we realized we had to seek shelter and knocked at first little house we came to. The owners welcomed us with great warmth. It was the house of a man who repaired broken metal parts of the river ships and was quite nice for the area. There were two stories. The workshop and kitchen/living room area you might call it was downstairs as were the livestock and chickens and the family slept upstairs. They produced narrow wooden stools for each of us and kept the lighted brazier he used for heating his tools going so we could try to dry out.
After about 20 minutes there was a letup in the torrential rain and thunder and lightening and we set off again. But after a short while things got out of hand again. This time we sought shelter in more of a shack which was owned by a man who made raincoats out of palm fronds. The kind you see frequently in old Japanese woodcuts. I was dying to buy one he’d just finished and bring home for my Chinese costume collection. But Bill diplomatically suggested it would be cumbersome to wear, and also US Customs would never allow it in. So no palm frond rain coat for my collection.
Ultimately the rain let up and the sun came out as we were wading through rice paddies. It became really hot and humid though a light rain still fell. I suddenly felt silly and burst into a song imitating Gene Kelly’s famous song/dance “Singing in the Rain.” My fellow travelers worried that the storm had possibly damaged my brain I’m sure.
The weather was really quite normal by the time we reached the Ming village and our destination school. And our welcome was truly warm. We were the first Westerners many of the children had ever seen. They were very much off the tourist path! Our visit had been anticipated for weeks and a whole program had been prepared for us. When their delightful program concluded Bill was asked for OUR program. We all looked at each other and finally someone started us on “Home on the Range.” You’ve never heard worse voices and so many la la la’s for forgotten words. At the conclusion of this never to be heard again performance the children stood waiting for our second act. At that point Bill introduced Beverley Jackson to the Chinese group and announced she would sing and perform a famous American song “Singing in the Rain.” Never in my life will I surpass the idiot I made of myself singing away in my terrible voice and prancing around with the open umbrella, improvising Kelly’s swing around the pole! But the children and teachers loved it. My group couldn’t stop laughing long enough to applaud. I acknowledged the praise from the children most graciously. And then I saw a beautiful sight — our getaway bus pulling up in front of the school!
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend