Hateful Hato, The Typhoon That Obliterated Macau: Part 2
The morning after Typhoon Hato was intense. The state of Macau reminded me of those times you wake up from a massive night out, when you’ve thrown off all your clothes knocking everything in your room over and you end up in bed with no duvet, one shoe (but mysteriously no sock), your underwear, and maybe a half removed shirt. All of this but in addition, you had also decided to drag in all of your garden, smash all your windows and ran a bath but then forgot about it. Massive chaos.
It’s now Monday, Day 5 post-onslaught and things are…debatable. There are great waves of volunteers cleaning up the streets after piles of trash and lowly tree stumps still border the sidewalks. Roads are becoming more accessible and there are signs of life back in the street lamps with casino’s flickering on. But the point is…it’s 5 days later. And it’s volunteers working on the streets. The Chinese Liberation Army did come to help Macau but only 3 days after the storm hit. Still there is a major water shortage, with many places experiencing black out periods, and some places still no with light or water at home! But hey, there’s still a bunch of people enjoying the gaudy glamour of the casinos so, all’s well right?
It’s been somewhat mind boggling to me how ill-equipped Macau was before and after Hato.
So I guess, let me give you a run down of the past five days here in town.
Post Typhoon Hato Day 1: Cat Day.
It’s 9:00 a.m. and my alarm annoys me as usual. I already have a WhatsApp message on my phone, “Today’s schedule is cancelled.” I was actually surprised to receive this message at the time, but in hindsight, thinking that was a little naive. Another day off. I do my usual scouring of Facebook while I wake up, passing enough videos of sideways rain to make me seasick. I also pass photos from ANIMA, a local animal rescue charity which I personally love because I rescued my delightful poochie Axl from the shelter. Aww I miss him. Sorry, carrying on. ANIMA reports that their (new) cat sanctuary was ruined and 40 cats had escaped during the storm. The dogs were alright, but trees had fallen on some of the pens. It has been a while since I’ve done some hard labour but hey, I am from the North of England, this dancer is hardcore…kinda.
Managing to peer pressure two other artists to come with, after breakfast we hop onto the bus to volunteer some of our time with relief efforts. The 20 minute ride from Taipa to Coloane is dramatic to say the least and the damage seen was extensive. We travel down the Cotai strip (a.k.a Chinese version of Las Vegas Boulevard) which is dismal and pass our future theatre at The MGM.
People are just getting on with life but we’re not seeing a huge level of relief aid considering the extent of the damage. After passing some overturned shipping containers, buses with busted out windows and what’s left of the jungle, we arrive at ANIMA.
The remaining cats are giving absolutely no ‘F’s’ whatsoever of their home’s disarray, no surprise there. But the relieved ANIMA volunteers are very welcoming and they tell us to help sort out the tree that had fallen down in the back of their facility. The weather is about 32 degrees and obnoxiously pleasant. It smells pretty bad inside the cat building because there is cat poop everywhere. We manage to clear about nine bags of leaves and cut some of the branches into manageable pieces before a dude in flip flops climbs what is left of the remaining tree and starts to saw down the most threatening branches. Outside, there doesn’t seem to be much aid to this small seaside village in Coloane and the military school next door to ANIMA appears to be holding class…not helping on the street.
Meanwhile back in Taipa, supermarkets are running out of water after customers began panicking and started purchasing supplies in excess. Fresh produce and dairy are spoiling because stores no longer have power to run their fridges. In Macau, flooded subways and underpasses are being pumped of gallons of water. It’s an eerie, confusing day.
Post Typhoon Hato Day 2: Dog Day
I do have a tendency to prefer to spend more time with my dog than with people, and so the ANIMA Dog Home was a natural choice for Day 2. We’d been given the day off again and today more of the Destiny cast have decided to join in the relief efforts. It seems that in general, the people of Macau are realising that the country isn’t going to get fixed quickly and more people are taking to the streets.
Having said that, en route to the bus stop, we walk through a grotto of gold, jade, iPhone, bone china and other miscellaneous “shiny thing” stores. The owners are still sitting in darkness, there is trash everywhere and yet, they’re sitting smugly at their doorways ready to serve the casino winners.
This juxtaposition genuinely angered and confused me but for good or for bad, the mood here is, “life goes on.” And I shouldn’t judge these guys who are probably making the best of a bad situation.
It’s again a gloriously blue sky day and while some of us volunteers head to help the poochies, others head into Coloane village. We’re frying in the heat, but most of us agree that since our gym is currently inaccessible due to Hato, tearing out a section of roof for labour will suffice for our missing work outs. #firstworldproblems
A young local guy on a scooter buzzes into the scene carrying some water. “Guys, take some, I finally have it back in my building,” I said to the other volunteers. I ask the local guy if his power has returned yet. “No, it hasn’t, but anyway, take this and I’ll come back,” he replies.
I mean, the guy definitely deserves points for being selfless and delivering with a smile, too. We’re cleaning drains and tearing down branches for a couple more hours when an older ANIMA volunteer comes to ask us to take a break and offers us water. He starts chatting to Sean, the singer in our show who speaks Cantonese and starts tearing up. He’s so thankful we’re here and that we’re working so hard to help the animals as he says people often forget about them. I can say this is the first time I’m seeing really heavy emotions from a local. I wondered what his situation was, maybe he doesn’t have anything left, for all I know.
We take his offer on the break and go play with some greyhounds. Naturally, since we all love dogs.
Heading into Coloane we regroup, planning on finding more work but it seems we’ve exhausted the options. The other groups have cleared the rubble on the Coloane streets into neat piles but now we need trucks to take it away. And we will discover the error of this tomorrow.
Post Typhoon Hato Day 3: Human Day
I wake up to news that The House Of Dancing Water, another production in Macau, had cancelled their shows for the week and they had been encouraged to join the volunteer relief effort. Reason for cancelling shows; the millions of litres of water their pool holds could be conserved which is better, in order to serve more basic human needs. Fair play.
So my phone is now lighting up with a whole load of instant volunteer organisations, managed flawlessly, like I would expect, by a whole load of stage managers, carpenters, engineers, strong burly people with managerial spirits.
God bless the arts and their families for being team players on and off the stage.
Today really feels like we are getting punched in the face by Typhoon Hato. The humidity is on point and the sweat is real. We’re volunteering in an area called Red Market, in the heart of Macau’s peninsula. The groups who had been cleaning up the streets had produced piles of trash days before, and now we are having to re-bag them all. They were all rotting, watery bags of crap heaped on the streets.
Around 4:30 p.m., I see that military personnel begin to assist in the relief effort. We’re now elbow deep in rotting fish, bread, eggs, sewage, as well as textiles that are beginning to ferment, paper, boxes, whole businesses washed up onto the street. My friend is clearing incense and firecrackers from a man’s store. He’s desperately trying to hang on to this stock which is ruined, and now wet. I was lucky to be working in ‘Daiso’, a homeware store. We’re throwing away dozens of bags of stuff which I’m sure could actually be reused like jars, plastic trays, umbrellas (ironically) and the like. The manager doesn’t seem too bothered, but that’s the difference between a large conglomerate and a local business. Insurance.
While we’re there, an older woman begins to scavenge through the bags. Initially I was thinking, how dare she!? In the midst of all this devastation, she has the audacity to rummage through their stock and steal it? But luckily another part of me just thought, sod it. Again, I’ve no idea if she has a place, she could have lost it all and plans to sell it. And at the same time, I probably was a little jealous she got all those mason jars I wanted. Damn it.
My group moves from business to business, systematically dragging out items like bees with pollen. We’re then notified about a block that is still without power and water and we’re to deliver crates to every apartment. So we do.
It’s a 12 storey building full of apartments. We’re initially dumb enough to manually walk up with each box before we realise that we could just make a human chain to pass the supplies up the stairs. I mean, this is supposed to be hard but, let’s be real. En route, a delivery van is giving out water to a very organised queue of people who look like they’ve done this before. There must be 200 people wrapped around the block waiting for their ration of 2 x 1.5 litres of water each.
It’s been four hours of hard labour. We head back to the meeting point.
I’ve not been here yet but when I arrive, I am overwhelmed by the number of people and friendly faces I see. No one is king, we are all determined, giving workers, here to rebuild our adopted city.
The atmosphere is buzzing. Everyone is knackered but no one is complaining. People are smiling, laughing, telling stories of how much actual crap they’ve been in this morning and just looking to be directed to the next job. It’s a glorious display of human spirit, one that I had never thought working in the smell of rotting street garbage could ever be.
A plan is made and we don our gloves and masks for the afternoon. Finally some trucks have appeared to take away the tonnes of ever-dangerous street trash. There’s a mad rush to get items on the trucks. People are actually fighting each other to get things loaded. Then suddenly it all stops, the truck drives off, and a hundred people are left, awkwardly standing in the filth, looking for something to happen. It’s very, very clear that there aren’t enough vehicles to dispatch all this waste. Someone asks, where would all this be going? Silence. We don’t want to know.
Post Typhoon Hato Day 4: Me Day
We awake to a T3 storm warning at 6:00 a.m., then a T8 warning, then a T3 warning again. I’m exhausted and thankful that I’ve an excuse to sleep late but I’m now worrying about how all the work we did may now be washing away…literally. And then the rain starts to hammer down again. I’m getting a beer.
Post Typhoon Hato Day 5: Are we really not done yet?
I still have friends whose water is unstable. Still parts of Macau don’t have power. Still people are a little too laid back about the whole thing, in my opinion. We did go to work but it rained so hard on my way in I couldn’t see the tops of buildings. Facebook tells me that despite the pouring rain, a bunch of people have valiantly kept working and now some one has managed to strike a deal with Starbucks to get free coffee for volunteers and our local vegan place is offering discount to anyone who volunteered during the week.
This all suddenly became the most hipster rescue effort ever. There’s nothing like a cheeky apocalyptical event to make you question the relevance of that stuff you keep in drawers for no reason. Why it’s necessary to own more than three hats or did you really need that polaroid camera?
Here I am, a veteran of Macau, back for only two weeks after spending almost two years away and I did not consider for a second how utterly bizarre all this must have been for my new cast. Most of them have never been to Asia, for many this is the first major show they have worked on and most of them cannot speak Chinese. Talk about sensory overload! Initially I was annoyed that not everyone had volunteered to help, but who can blame them! The word ‘alien’ doesn’t begin to describe how insane this place is at the best of times, never mind when people are actually losing their lives outside.
It wasn’t the people’s responsibility to clean up Macau, but we did it anyway. People were and still are, in shock and those that could, did help and it was felt by the whole community. I’ve lived here for 3.5 years and still don’t know enough Chinese to not point at pictures on menus. But the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ could not be more adequate here.
The people who call this place home put it back together again. In some big ways and other small. It will take time to make it perfect again, and that’s hoping that the powers that be learned something. There is somewhere, a real inner love within this obscure metropolis of billionaires, street vendors and wild animals, and that we will still be there the next time this happens, because we call these islands home, for better, for worse.