Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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Typhoon Dujuan, and yet another Mayor Ko nontroversy

9/29/2015 Taiwan Explorer
Typhoon Dujuan passed through Taiwan earlier today. It made landfall on September 28th at 17:40 in Yilan, and left the Taiwanese mainland on September 29th at 1:00 in Changhua. While his central part only remained in Taiwan around 7 hours, it brought extensive rain several hours before making landfall, and several hours after leaving. It certainly wasn't a small typhoon, but the destruction it left behind was fortunately not as big as what we saw just a month ago during a very gusty and highly destructive typhoon Soudelor. While there certainly was plenty of destruction, floods, and mudslides in selected areas in Yilan, and rural parts of New Taipei and Taichung, most of the bigger cities (where the majority of Taiwanese live) were spared a bigger disaster. Many people in these urban areas were temporarily cut off from water and electricity, but that was often the worst thing that happened to them. Having extensively researched typhoons, I would not list Dujuan among the most devastating typhoons that hit Taiwan from 2000 to 2015, and that is a good thing. Most images related to Dujuan circling around the web yesterday were of people having difficulties to hold their umbrellas due to gusty winds.


The Taipei 'half-day off' nontroversy

Yesterday at around 20:10 in the evening the Mayors of 3 northern cities - New Taipei, Taipei and Keelung (often referred to as "北北基") - issued a statement saying "class and work will be cancelled half day the next morning" (that is 4 hours). This was done at a time, where it was already known that the typhoon has made a turn towards Central Taiwan, and not towards Taipei, as assumed previously. It was also known, that it will leave the main island early in the morning. When I woke up at 7 AM, there was no rain in Greater Taipei, in fact a lot of streets were half-dry already. I'm pretty sure the decision made by the 3 northern mayors was based on facts and reason. It was a middle ground between giving people some more time to recover from the typhoon, and at the same time allow businesses to resume their operation.

The track area of typhoon Dujuan (Source).

However, after the decision was made public, people flooded Taipei Mayor Ko's Facebook page in anger, and demanded that he made the whole day off instead of just half. That post garnered over 6000 comments to date, and the Taiwanese media reported on it. Suddenly it was Mayor Ko who was chosen to represent the whole northern Taiwan, despite New Taipei Mayor Chu being in charge of a bigger city. Unfortunately Ko and the rest succumbed to pressure, and issued a whole day off for the next day together with the mayor of New Taipei (and a bit later the Mayor of Keelung followed). I personally find it to be a scandal, that a mayor responsible for a city of 2.5 million people decided to change his rational decision because of a few thousand noisy Facebook users. The top comment under his new announcement was 《目前狀態》:民調回升 ("Current status: Ratings are up again"). It received over 6000 likes. And indeed, soon after the announcement of the full day off his Facebook Page likes went up, and he reached over 1 million followers, the third Taiwanese politician to "achieve" that after President Ma and DPP's Tsai Ying Wen, as reported various news outlets. New Taipei's Mayor's likes went up, too.

Facebook users achieved their goal with carrots and sticks.

I usually wouldn't complain about a day off, but in this case the timing is very unfortunate. We had 4 consecutive days off, 2 of which are week days and happen to be at the very end of the third quarter. If you are working in international business, you can imagine how important it is to reach certain numbers, close quarter end deals, access certain systems and people, and make sure you ship out goods in time. In addition, starting on October 1st, China enters the "Golden Week Holidays" that last until October 7th, which means, if your factory or freight company is located in China (which is often the case for Taiwanese companies), you won't be able to ship out goods for over a week. Today's day off can potentially cost Taiwanese companies millions of dollars. From my perspective it was a mistake. It might have helped some Taipeiers, no doubt, but I don't see how it justifies to completely shut down the city for the whole day. In fact, public transportation is running normally since early morning, the roads are dry, damage is only in selected areas, and the sun is slowly coming out - Taipei is fine! And based on weather data, as well as past experience, this was predictable. Half day would've worked in Taipei, no doubt.

What do other foreigners say?

There was an interesting discussion on Taiwanreporter's Facebook page about this very issue, and not surprisingly, most people were pro full day off. Here some selected comments:

We already had a typhoon day off today. If Taipei, New Taipei and Keelung are only calling half a day, why is the focus only on Mayor Ko? I think half a day is perfectly fine if the typhoon continues on the trajectory its going on now.
- J. Ellis

Kids at school at 1?...what about lunch....or getting yourself to work...every thing is just a mess if they make us start at 1...they could have given us a morning and afternoon off, and allowed evenings hours for business as usual...My older kid is stuck in Taoyuan....no clue how he would have made it to class...
- H. Adamopolous

People keep comparing half day to whole day off...I'm comparing half day to NO day off, which is what I expected until recently. Look at it that way and it's not so bad. If all the things you say above happen, no day off is far worse than a few extra hours in the morning to deal with it. And again, morning delays are quite common where I come from, I really don't understand the confusion surrounding them. I can't even count the number of days I started school at 10 or even 11 (if the buses were slow after the plow).
- J.L. Cody

Not giving a day (or at least half) off after an unexpectedly strong typhoon hit until early morning, with power outages and water turned off, would be totally suicidal.
- Taiwanreporter

I guarantee there will be long lines for seats in restaurants and at movie theatres tomorrow in Taipei. People will be out and about enjoying their day off. You'll probably also see people lined up to take pictures of some mail boxes that were bent by the wind. Meanwhile people living in the mountains in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Taichung will be struggling to repair their homes and most will likely need to be evacuated due to intense flooding.
J. Ellis

Yup...but you're at home right...not stranded on the other side of the island are you Taiwan Explorer?
- B. Maartens

It doesn't matter how many billions of NT dollars are lost by calling a typhoon day - The mayor has to take into consideration the feelings of all citizens, including foreign residents like Bobby and all the people of New Taipei City and Keelung as well.
- J. Ellis

Mayor Ko claimed he was managing the last typhoon using LINE. Hope he has reformed his ways. So far his IQ of 157 has proven to be pretty awful as a benchmark for running a huge metropolis.
- N. Wang

Well, I don't remember entire villages disappearing or more than a thousand people dying during Ko's watch on the last typhoon. The cleanup effort also went by smoothly. What exactly is it that you have issue with?
- J. Ellis

Let's close this topic with the best comment so far:

There was this blog about the 10 things that you do which makes you a local here in taipei, they forgot point 11, complain about anything and everyone, blame it to sombody else. Come on folks, back in your homecountry nobody would talk like you do here. [...]

If in germany the government decide to close schools, parents will have to deal with their kids or take off by using their annual leave. Follow the things that are going on with the kindergardens, strike without end, people try dealing with it. And in general, anyone should be honest and tell if today typhoon holiday was necessary, i say no as at 9 am in wenshan already 85% of the leftovers have been cleaned up, no rain, no wind.
- H. Schuler

You can read all comments here.