Conversations I’ve had with different Taiwanese friends the last two days have revealed that in the popular mindset the havoc wreaked by typhoon Morakot is larger in scope than I initially realized. Everyone I talk to in my neighborhood says they believe it’s worse than the horrific earthquake back on Sept. 21, 1999, which I experienced a couple of years after arriving in Taiwan.
Being an earthquake, I felt 921 to great effect way up in Taipei where I was living at the time. The flooding and landslides wreaked by Morakot, in contrast, were only apparent to those unlucky enough to be struck by them, so it’s harder for me to be aware of their condition without physically being there.
The typhoon disaster relief stories I’m hearing now are beginning to stir up memories for me of the aftermath of the 921 earthquake. Today reading the blog of a foreigner who with a friend travelled down south to volunteer, I’m reminded of how I volunteered several times in the days and weeks following the 921 earthquake. Basically, while I gave a few people rides and volunteered to help in a tent city twice for several days, the bottom line was that I and my fellow foreign coworkers, not being specialists in the area of disaster relief, weren’t really needed. In fact, I wonder if we might have even been in the way. Going down south to look at destroyed buildings for the most part was just a photo opp, and what they didn’t particularly need in these areas at that time were tourists, however well-intended.
In the aftermath of 921, the Taiwanese quickly adapted to handle the physical clean-up on their own (with the financial assistance they received from foreign governments and on-site foreign specialists). A lot of the help they needed in the camps during the time I was there was administrative, and a functionally-illiterate foreigner wasn’t going to be able to do much good other than to play with the children.
On another note, unfortunately this typhoon has begun to exacerbate pre-existing political tensions the last few days. Grassroots Taiwanese (to which group most of my present acquaintances belong) blame the KMT government/president for not caring enough about the aboriginal inhabitants who comprise most of the disaster victims down south (For those readers who might not know, Taiwan’s aboriginal population came over in fleets of small boats from China or the Philippines or some other island chain several thousand years ago – no one really knows. The second main wave were those coming from Fujian in mainland China 2 or 300 hundred years ago (whose descendents I am surrounded with here now), while the so called “Mainlanders” only came after they were forced out of China by the communist government in 1949).
Now that the scope of this disaster is becoming clearer, may God continue to empower the people and government of Taiwan to care for their own -- regardless of whether they are aboriginal, mainlander, or grassroots Taiwanese.