Busted Typhoon Ruby

Pius Chi-Shing Lee

Moving to Japan from Norway in 1988 rendered a divine bonus to be close to my parents after having left Hong Kong for 13 years. I visited them a few times from Japan during my study as well as a “salaryman” after graduation. In two consecutive summers, I had the joy of visiting them for a few weeks. Dad’s (福海Fook Hoi) retirement happened between my visits. Therefore in the first of those summers, he did not join Mom (葉娣 Yip Tai) and me for a seven-day excursion package tour to Taiwan. Mom was playful and funny. She loved traveling. Life’s burden had tarnished her humor and quick wit. As we boarded the plane and sat next to one another, I almost felt her jubilant smile and restfulness crept back on her face. The only stopper for her jubilance was her language barrier. Mom does not speak anything but Cantonese. During our excursion in Taiwan, nobody would understand her but those who traveled with us in the package tour and the Taiwanese guide who brokenly spoke a Mandarin-blended Cantonese. However, obviously Mom was too carried away in her fun and revelry and started to speak “her mandarin” to attendants and waitresses at the touring interesting points and restaurants. Mom was expressive in her body language as she was giving her thumbs-up for good food and great photography so that she was largely understood.

The long awaited boy

All a sudden, I felt like I became a chaperone guarding an elementary school girl on her first excursion. Mom was totally in a different world once she boarded a plane leaving the Kai Tak Airport. Mom was my super woman all along since I knew her, I guess since I was three. I was ecstatic to experience the childish charming side of hers in this mom-and-son trip to Taiwan. The reason that my impression about Mom was strict, tough and can-do-it-all superiority was that I was the naughtiest of her children and was constantly under her sweep of line of sight. I was raised by my grandma (何雪卿) on my father’s side for a short period of time after I was weaned. Mom reluctantly relinquished me to grandma due to hardship in life. She was also stigmatized for not being able to bear a son after giving birth to three girls[1]. She was determined to bear a son. That is exactly why she named me Chi-Shing (志成) which means “determination and success” on the night I was born.

Rift of guardianship over the boy

Mom and dad and my three older sisters lived on Hong Kong Island. Grandma lived in the country-side called the New Territory. Life for my parents was very tough so both of them had full time jobs. Dad was stationed overnight in his shop and probably came home once a month — I postulated this from his work pace as I grew older. My sisters told me that they had to manage to care for me when I was a baby. They still abhorred the baby-caring job when there were no paper diapers. Even if they were available, my parents would not be able to afford them. My Mom would dictate to the girls what dishes to cook and when to take turns to go to school. Mom would go to the nearby open market very early in the morning to buy fish and vegetables for the girls: two, five, and eight of age, to manage their 2 daily meals. Mom would drop the groceries off, repeat her instructions to the girls, and rush to work in a nearby factory. Mom was from a rich family and finished elementary school in a village in Canton Province. Dad was the only surviving child of his family raised by his widowed mom since he could remember things. Therefore with my birth, grandma rekindled her hope to have the Lee’s family line to continue. She insisted to my parents that she could help raise her grandson Chi-Shing, me. After much negotiation among my parents and grandma it was decided that I would be sent to the New Territory country-side to be raised by grandma, a hog farmer. It was a 3-hours plus trip to travel from my parents’ home to my grandma’s farm.

The real Chi-Shing

What seemed to be a financial and baby-care relief for my sisters and parents turned out to be a nightmare and regret between my parents and grandma. The arrangement to have me living alone with grandma and a handful of pigs was ideal in conception for convenience’s sake but the mom-and-son bondage was not designed to be severed by convenience. Mom became depressed and threw tantrum outbursts of cries and sadness. Dad was an extremely quiet person and was rather ignorant of Mom’s sudden behavioral change. Dad said nothing throughout the tumult of the two families. The girls were skittish and dispersed for hiding whenever they sensed Mom grieved and in aberrations. Fortunately Mom was smart to realize that relinquishing her son to grandma’s care was wrong. She started a long process to reclaim me from grandma. Grandma, after the honeymoon with his first grandson, realized that baby-caring was not as easy as raising hogs. The softening of hearts and timing was right for both Mom and grandma. Mom borrowed money from friends and bought grandma’s farm and the whole family of six moved to the country-side. Grandma sold her hogs and moved back to the city to work as a nanny for foreign expatriate families as grandma could speak some English. Mom was always the visionary and executor of plans. She should have been named “Chi-Shing” because she was really the personification of “determination (志)” and “success (成)” for me in all major events and crises in our family.

Typhoon Ruby

In 1964, Typhoon Ruby devastated Hong Kong, especially our villages in the Northwestern New Territory part of the colony. Our village home was comprised of three sections; each attached to one another. The safest and sturdiest section of the three was a main living quarter brick house that housed the 2 bedrooms and a living room. The next safe was a kitchen and dining room annex that Mom hired some amateur constructors to build using tin sheet walls and sparse-out plank strips with glued asphalt-sheet roofing. The last section was Mom’s chicken penthouse with chicken cages and cartoon boxes and plastic sheets to shelter the dozen or so chickens from rain and frost.

Mom won over Ruby

Typhoon Ruby gathered strength as it swept Northwest-ward across the warm South China Sea. Ruby made landfall about 30 miles west of our home on September 5 with gust wind reaching 150 miles per hour. Of course as a little boy I did not know all these. I remember our papaya tree was blown away, and the bamboo forest touching our flimsy kitchen of tin sheets bent so precariously that the tips of those 30 feet tall bamboo stems bent 180 degrees and touched the ground. Mom dared not to sleep as the wind did not relent for over a day and a night. Around 5 pm as it was almost dinner time, Mom saw our kitchen roof was yielding to the sucking wind. Mom put on her raincoat and shut us in the house, now 3 girls and 2 boys. Mom pulled out a wooden ladder from the chicken penthouse — now all blown away. Mom leaned the ladder against the brick wall of the main living quarter and gained access to the roof of the kitchen annex. Mom single handedly brought several dozen standard-sized red bricks to the roof to compress the roof with ballasts! This was an extremely dangerous operation fighting hurricane force wind with everything soaking wet to the core in a tropical downpour. The flickering and flip-flopping bamboo stems and leaves were cutting onto her face. Mom did everything herself and did not allow us to go outside. Miraculously she won, the kitchen roof stayed intact. We only needed minor repairs for the annex afterwards. In the midst of great danger, Mom’s courageous and selfless effort kept us all safe. Mom was an incredible heroine.

A well trained air force pilot

Now, this super woman suddenly showed her childish cheer and excitement. What a reward and sweet quality time I enjoyed with Mom. The excursion package was decent and we stayed in three-star hotels in Taipei, Taichung, and Hualien. Nothing mattered when Mom and I shared so much talk and laughter together. We were shepherded here and there in tight schedules visiting numerous museums in Taipei with the guides deliberately making time for us to visit their merchandise promotion presentations. On the third day we took a 45 minute flight from Taipei to Hualien. The problem was that it crossed the Central Mountain Range of 12,000 feet. The guide had warned us that most Taiwanese airline pilots had excellent air force training. I guessed the training was prerequisites for any pilot to maneuver the steep ascent and descent in that flight. It was a little unpleasant as the rapid air pressure changed due to the steep take-off and climb hurt her ears. We survived. Soon afterwards, the passengers at the back seemed riotous making lots of noise. It turned out the stewardesses were serving hot lunch —- the good old days. Mom and I sat on the third row from the cockpit and the stewardesses started serving from the back. When we had gotten our food and drinks, the pilot announced that the plane would soon prepare to descend. We gulped drinks and quickly downed the food with our superb chopstick handling. Mom was fearful of the ear pain again during the descent. I taught her to continually swallow to even out the eardrum pressures. We survived.

Incredibly destructive hurricanes and cyclones

The next day we rode a sightseeing bus from Hualien to Taroko Gorge (大魯閣峽) along the super narrow Highway 8. To our disappointment, the narrow road was shut down and we were stopped not far into the scenic areas. The guide told us that Highway 8 was damaged by a recent typhoon and no reopening dates were given. Taiwan was battered frequently by typhoons averaging 3 landfalls per year. The islands of the Philippines south of Taiwan are ideal spawning grounds for tropical cyclones. The atmospheric instability intrinsic in the land and sea interfaces in those islands when compounded by the thermal energy and moisture abundance of the northern latitude tropical seas provide a favorable condition to generate cyclones. Cyclones in the northern hemisphere swirl counterclockwise, whereas those in the southern hemisphere swirl clockwise. The power of Hurricane Ruby could easily be equated with 50,000 Little Boy atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima on August 6 1945. The overwhelming power of the natural phenomena of hurricanes and tropical storms are mind boggling.

Mom accepted Jesus the good Lord as her Savior

Mom and I talked about Ruby and how she loomed so tall all these years as a superwoman to me. I had the opportunity to share with Mom about Jesus my good Lord, and His power and protection for me all these 18 years I was away from home —- I was 5 years in a secondary boarding school in Hong Kong before I went to Canada as a grade-13er. No power on earth can correct a prodigal son. Mom knew it well. In that evening I was privileged to lead Mom to say her conversion prayer to confess her depravity and loss. She could only be saved by Jesus the Savior. Mom professed Jesus as her Savior and master for her life. We were very glad, and I knew Mom would not accept the fact that now we were even closer in our relationship as brother and sister in Christ —- I dared not to tell her then. The Bible was unequivocal in the promise that: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

In a future episode, this strategy of evangelization also worked for Dad — yanking a person out of his/her daily duties lessens the grip of the prince of the principality on the person.

Author: Pastor Dr. Pius Lee is the Director of the Development Division of NYSTM. In 2021, he retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, and was selected the winner of NOAA’s Administrator’s Award for the Air Pollution Forecasting Research Group in 2020. Pastor Lee and Mrs. Ancy Thuyen-Anh, Lee have three sons and one daughter. The couple relocated from the capital, Washington, to New York to take up the post.

[1] The second oldest sister’s twin sister was either given away or did not survive infancy, otherwise 4 girls.

You may also like...