Surviving Typhoon Soudelar

Please visit this blog for more updates on how to help:

https://survivingsaipan.wordpress.com/donate-to-saipan/

Thank you for following. More to come soon. I hope to update this soon with stories from the ground. It is so hard to not be there right now.

Someone started this Facebook page also for some stories. Please ‘like’ for more.

https://www.facebook.com/humansofsaipansoudelor

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Quick Update

Thanks for following along with my prior posts that were all written during the two weeks or so following the initial outage. Internet was successfully restored by a ship from Tyco that came from Taiwan and it was back to full (previously) running speed on July 27th.

I left Saipan earlier than planned and am now in California to do my planned service time at the pediatric hospital I work at here.

Unfortunately, Saipan got hit by a major typhoon called Soudelor on Sunday-Monday of this week (Aug 2-3rd). There have been some pictures that have gotten out of the area that show utter devastation. I know of many people who lost everything. Fortunately, all the reports I have gotten show that there were no casualties and not too many serious injuries at the hospital. Now, clean up has begun and with no power and water everywhere.. but not enough to drink, it’s been very hard from the few reports I’ve gotten.

Please consider going to the Red Cross to donate for Saipan. The Federal government has stepped in to send some relief (http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-typhoon-soudelor-saipan-taiwan-20150805-story.html) and the typhoon, which is now the largest that the Pacific has seen this year is barreling towards my other home in Taiwan.

It’s so hard to see the pictures because I know EXACTLY what it looked like before. Every picture in the news shows places that I can intimately describe the details of. I cannot fathom what it would be like to be there in person.

A friend of mine that is there now setup a GoFundMe page to channel some money into locals that will use the money wisely for acute needs. They have limited internet so getting the word out for help has been difficult. Please share this.. http://www.gofundme.com/8zf7zp6p8

Click there to see a video a friend posted of the devastation as well as some pictures showing only a small bit of the extent of damage.

Here are some pictures from before though to celebrate this lovely island which has the spirit and will to recover strongly from this!

Shore fisherman casting his net at sunset

Shore fisherman casting his net at sunset

IMG_5392 IMG_5432 IMG_5205 IMG_5116 IMG_4953 IMG_4616 IMG_4613

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Expectations

The internet has been back online via some reported microwave repair or by some other news sources, a fiber optic hand strung cable to the next island over, Tinian. (See web-based newslink for an article: http://www.guampdn.com/story/news/2015/07/14/saipans-internet-restored-slow/30121129/) It has been a trial in what your expectations are. As the ‘fix’ has been sooner than the predicted 2-4 weeks initially thrown around, people now are looking for more. It really is all about your expectations.

Initially, it seemed the Internet was accessible very slowly at businesses only (and the hospital) but involved a lot of waiting before you accessed it. There was none available or very limited available for home use although some people were able to get a few outside texts that relied on data to receive through that early morning. Then the next day it became more readily accessible in the home setting. People began setting alarms for the middle of the night or waking up a few hours before their normal time to try to use the bandwidth during low traffic times. I have had variable amounts of Internet available to me as well. This morning, I almost was able to email and check websites at a more ‘normal’ rate and speed from my house but by the afternoon, despite being in the hospital, I could barely open any page even to log in to my email account.

This variability I believe has put a lot of people on edge unless you have accepted or are able to manage without Internet. The volatility actually is more dangerous for peoples’ expectations than otherwise. As with phone service when that was first started up again, I’m sure in a few days everyone’s urge to need to be logged in will abate slightly.

The reports are still mixed as I have heard that a ship was already on its way from Japan but an article in paper today said that there was supposed to be a ship from Taiwan making its way to Saipan but it was hampered by the weather. Apparently the typhoon that passed us is headed towards East Asia at this time, which makes any of these ships (whether from Japan or Taiwan) face a difficult course. There are rumors still that there is another tropical storm forming although it will pass far to the North of us. Most typhoons do not hit us just because of the fact that we are such a small island, but this is typhoon season and the storms in this are of the world tend to start in Micronesia and make their way towards East Asia either going West towards the Philippines or Northwest covering the swath all the way up to Japan. We’ll see when the permanent fix is in place.

The cover page of the Marianas Variety today had in bold letters across the top of the page “Internet is back – kind of.” I wish I had gotten a picture of it to show you. Only in Saipan could we get away with that kind of front page headline.

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So, for now I am keeping my expectations low. I get on the Internet when I can and limit it to essential work – mostly email checking. Better to keep my expectations low and be surprised!

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Internet Restored (Kind of)

Okay, well kind of. But that sigh of relief you had when you saw the title line was the same that we had. Most of us did not expect any update in the internet status so everyone had turned off the wi-fi on their phones so as not to drain their cell phone batteries. When I arrived the gym for my morning workout, there were rumors that people who had left their wi-fi on had gotten a few iMessage messages in over the night. And someone had been able to check their email!

On further inquiries, it turned out my nurses’ husband who works for the company had gotten called in in the middle of the night and an Internet patch had been put in place over the evening. Some that had woken up and checked their computers first thing in the morning almost all were able to connect to their emails at least. I got a flurry of texts from 7 AM to 8 AM about connectivity.

After my workout, I showered and went to the hospital in advance of my 8 AM shift. I opened up my browser on the desktop computer in my unit as well as on my laptop. Connecting… Connecting…

Turns out, I had kind of missed the window. Once the whole island had woken up and coconut wireless and spread word that the Internet was up, everyone hopped on. I heard throughout the day that connectivity at people’s homes become spottier and spottier. There were spurts of faster connection (and by faster I meant still snail’s pace). Even on the Internet at the hospital where we supposedly have a special connection, I sent one important email to an outside hospital we needed to get in touch with and it took a total of 8 minutes to send this text-only non-html 5-sentence email. I just had to click send and wait patiently and not let the computer go into standby mode, but it sent. I gave up on trying to do anything else on the internet as many pages were not accessible.

By the time I got home after work, I opened up my computer and tried opening my Gmail account. Opening the Gmail sign-in page never happened despite multiple clicks and a lot of vigilant watching of the ‘Connecting’ bar.

connecting sign

I’m hopeful that in a day or two, less people will be trying desperately to get online and it may become easier to open up a webpage or two. This patch is clearly just a temporary patch that likely has allowed a few businesses to at least get some functioning ability but not enough bandwidth for personal or home use. For now, I’ll maintain my Internet-less lifestyle since continuously clicking on the refresh page is not getting me anywhere!

Stay tuned for more.

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Reading the Clouds

As the typhoon passed, a days worth of cloudy, drizzly and downpouring skies followed behind it. Today, three days after the typhoon, blue skies are peeking through. One of the things we do not have now is access to weather. I perhaps can find it on the television if I watched the local news in the evenings but local news is only available during the week and today is Sunday.

So for now, I read the clouds. Okay, who am I kidding. I know nothing about clouds or weather. But, I am paying more attention to what the weather looks like by doing what people have been doing since the dawn of time – looking at the sky. No, not looking at the weather app on my iPhone, but looking at the sky.

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Tell me, what do these clouds say?

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These types of clouds are what I say lead to a watercolor sunset if the conditions are right and usually it signifies a storm leaving the area. (Wow, as I typed that I realized how asinine that sounds seeing as clearly I know a storm is leaving the area)

Saipan is a good place to practice since you can almost always be right. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for the most steady temperatures. (I don’t know the exact title that the CNMI holds but it is something like that). Basically, the temperature both during the daytime and nighttime hold steady somewhere between 72 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. Yes, there is some variability because of differences in humidity and rainfall and wind that makes it feel either cooler or hotter than those thermometer-measured temperatures, but the thermometer stays about the same. Almost every day there is probably a shower or two, especially during the hotter months as the humidity seems to just be on the verge of wringing out a cloud or two. Usually these showers occur just as dawn breaks so you can expect a very slightly wet road as you head out in the mornings. Other than that, the day is sunny and warm. That means that if you look on your weather app the weather always reads the same: A string of 82 degrees F with a sun peeking behind the cloud with a raindrop next to it (aka, perfectly useless information).

So, in essence, you don’t really need to ever know the weather here and in the past I never checked. You just assume you’ll be warm and if it does rain, you know it will pass in a few minutes so no reason to carry an umbrella with you. This year’s typhoon season is just starting and as I’ve mentioned on my blog this year, it’s been a surprisingly active one since I don’t remember a single typhoon or typhoon warning the last time I was here. For now, we collectively cross our fingers and toes that there is no more concern for bad weather until we get back on the grid so as to protect as many people as possible.

Stay tuned for more.

(Here are some gratuitous beautiful cloud pictures since the Internet is cooperating as I post this)IMG_5383 IMG_5389 IMG_5391 IMG_5392

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World Awareness

I heard today through the grapevine that Saipan was mentioned on CNN. Apparently as they were discussing the world weather and some typhoons that were headed towards Hong Kong, the weatherperson mentioned that the typhoons had originated in and around Micronesia, passing by Saipan – the island that has lost its internet and phone connectivity. So, there was our 2 seconds in the spotlight. According to that source, you can find out a bit about what happened here by searching “Saipan” in Google. A lot of people have found out what happened here if they have friends in Guam who have been posting on Facebook or other social media to get the word out.

It has been interesting wondering what the ‘outside world’ knows about what is going on here. The opposite is true too in that I am sitting around wondering what is going on in the ‘outside world.’ We will probably rely on the Coast Guard and other emergency response personnel to notify us if another typhoon or tropical storm sweeps through the region. If some important world decision happened or God-forbid, some terrorist act or headline-grabbing riot took place, I would have no idea. At this point, coconut wireless has worked out some of its kinks so I’m sure I’d found out soon but not in the traditional ways that I found out before. And there would certainly be no fact checking behind it.

As I was reading to the end of The End of Your Life Book Club, the book veers towards the accomplishments of one of the characters – the mother with pancreatic cancer who has an impressive career in the world of refugees via the Women’s Refugee Commission. She talks about some of the things I have witnessed and some of the things I have only read about. Child abuse and slavery, human trafficking, children forced into military service, and the other horrible things that often tend to come from unstable countries that produce refugees. She talks about how little, especially children but also adults, know about the outside world. How easily propaganda (because it is the only information available) can become what is true and right. The power of information, starting from the power of literacy and education, is ridiculously strong. I know these last four-ish days of lack of information is NOTHING compared to that but it does help me realize how truly powerful information can be if used in the right way (or if used in the wrong way). She suggested that if you can’t do much more to help these types of causes or things that are happening far removed from your world, you should at least read about it. I feel even more lucky now that I have access to virtually all the information in the world on my fingertips – I hope I use that to my advantage when I get reconnected.

If you have book recommendations, let me know! IMG_5371

(P.S. I went out to eat lunch with some friends today and was treated to this sign. Hallelujah! They said that apparently they have a dial-up Internet connection through one of the banks to process their credit cards. *Insert dial-up processing sound here)

Stay tuned for more.

To start reading from the beginning of this series, click here.

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Grass is Greener

Recently, I have been thinking about the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Who thought of this phrase exactly?

In the past few days, I have talked with a number of people who have stated that the lack of Internet is a sign or a punishment for something. You know what I mean? It’s a little bit of magical thinking but we all have it.

I was spending too much time on Facebook and not spending any time with God.. and then the internet went out.

I was spending too much money on online shopping and wasn’t putting any money away in savings.. and then the internet went out and I could only buy things with the cash I had on hand.

I think almost everyone I know in the mainland United States has dreamed of a vacation. Perhaps I am generalizing, but I think many people include in that daydream – a lack of cell phones vibrating or inability to access email. Well, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Now that I’m without it, you realize the useful things you use it for. You also realize the things you use it for that are frivolous. While I’d like to communicate with the outside world (and get back some reference material that I check regularly to make medical decisions), I also would like this time of disconnected to last a bit longer. They say that it takes twenty eight days to make a habit stick. Wouldn’t it be great to habit-ize the lack of checking my email first thing when I wake up so that I spend two minutes on my balcony taking a breather before starting my day? Wouldn’t it be great to habit-ize not coming home plopping down in front of my laptop but instead giving a friend a phone call and meeting up for a face to face dinner?

We will see how long this lasts. I hope I make some new habits that stick. Maybe you can just make the grass be greener on both sides of the fence.

(To start reading from the beginning of this series written during the internet apocalypse of summer 2015, start here)

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