How I survived a monsoon in Guangdong, China

My first year in China was filled with all sorts of adventures. From unknowingly tasting shark fin soup at a teacher’s dinner to trekking to the 10th tower of the Great Wall – the adventures were endless. But I guess that is why we travel… to push ourselves to the limits and not just see but experience new sights and sounds so that we can feel alive in the world we live in.

Life of Shal_How I survived a monsoon in China

Guangdong is a province located south of China bordering Hong Kong and Macau. That was where my Asian adventures began. It is one the largest fruit producing areas in China and is famous for its litchis, bananas, oranges and pineapples. Being located so far to the south and facing the South China sea, it’s no wonder this area has a subtropical monsoon-like climate that is filled with long summers and lots of rain.

My apartment building was located opposite the school block so it was just a matter of crossing the overhead bridge and making the ten minute stroll home. I loved the walk because I would always see grandparents smiling and playing away with little toddlers or partaking in their afternoon dance routines. But nothing prepared me for the storm that hit on the 5th of June 2015. We were still in school when the dim grey clouds started rolling in. Everything became darker and within a matter of minutes a heavy downpour began.

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What started as heavy showers soon turned into wildly gushing torrents that blasted against the classroom windows and through the school corridors. Like many of the other foreign teachers, I was dressed only in a pair of shorts, a strap shirt and slops. The school allowed us to wear casual clothes that kept us cool in the summer months because they knew many of us were not accustomed to such hot and humid weather. Temperatures easily escalated beyond 35 degrees but the daily humidity was appalling. Our skin burned and sweat rolled down from just walking across the road to the school grounds.

Perhaps I should have checked the weather reports on a daily basis or even been a little wiser about monsoons in the south but at that time, I wasn’t. To be frank, I lived across the road so I knew (or at least I thought I knew) that if anything major happened, I could just run home and hide in the safety of my 8th floor apartment. Oh how wrong I was. That day when the storm struck I wasn’t dressed for heavy rains or prepared for overflowing gutters, excessive lightning and striking thunder just above my head. As the storm worsened, the school decided to let us off early. Instead of rushing home like my naïve-self had planned in my head, I decided to wait a while, seeking shelter on the school premises. After an hour of waiting I soon realised that the storm wasn’t going to subside anytime soon. In fact, it was only getting worse.

The thunder continued to get louder and the lightning seemed to get closer with every passing minute. I would have to brave the storm, cross the bridge and run home. No stroll today but a fast run. I shoved my laptop inside my backpack, checked and rechecked to ensure it was tightly closed. I had bought this backpack for my first trip to Beijing and had invested a little more at the time because I wanted something of good quality that was waterproof and had endless compartments. Never had I been so happy with a purchase as I was now. All packed up and with my umbrella opened above me, I left.

The thunder and lightning had worsened. What seemed like something that should be striking across the sky now felt as though it was about to strike the ground. I looked up and within minutes it seemed as if something had struck a conductor on the building across the road. I ran for cover to the front gate of the school which was a mere 30 metres away. My umbrella had already turned into a champagne glass with the gusting wind. My clothes were soaked and my heart was racing beyond anything I had ever felt. How was I ever going to get home? A few of the local teachers who had also been trying to make their way out decided to stay and seek shelter under the slim coverings of the school gate above but deep down it felt like a bad idea. The thunder was worsening and I knew that standing out here with an umbrella in my hand was dangerous.

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I decided to brave it and run. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to see beyond the school premises. Outside the school, the roadside gutters had begun spilling over and gushing water in all directions. The roads were flowing with water and cars seemed to be wading past in brown surges. I couldn’t even see my ankles anymore let alone what was whirling down below. For a second I thought about where the water had come from and how dirty it must be. After all that is what my Master of Science research was about. I did some visual calculations in my head. This water must be teeming with E.coli. Turbidity levels must be pretty high and the potential for human viral transmission if consumed… a huge possibility. As the water hissed passed any thoughts of how disgusting it was to wade through this water lasted only a few seconds until the next bolt of lightning struck, sending my thoughts into survival mode. I didn’t care about the quality of water anymore. I had to get out of here. I had to get to my apartment. I was all alone in a poor city in the south of China. There was hardly anybody around that spoke English and I was not about to die wearing shorts and slops. I had to survive.

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I stopped under the bridge for a few minutes and looked around. There were a few people, who like me were wondering if they too should brave their way through or stay here until it subsided. I knew there was no way I could cross the street in such a heavy downpour. It was too open and this was China. The rules of the road are rarely followed on a normal day so I was more than certain that it would be extremely dangerous to attempt crossing now. I had to use the bridge. The only problem was that it was pretty high up and with an umbrella in my hand; it was certainly increasing my chances of being struck by lightning.

I folded up my umbrella and decided that I could stick the rain pelting down on me as opposed to any form of pain that might come from being struck by lightning. I hesitated only for a second before leaving behind the others under the bridge. I climbed the stairs and ran. I ran as fast as I could. This was crazy! I could barely see anything with the rain hitting my face but I wasn’t about to stand around seeking shelter under a bridge by myself. I needed to get to my apartment. I ran. I looked up for only a second to see the lightning strike down another conductor on a building opposite me before hearing the thunder roll loudly. I ran faster, across the bridge and down the stairs on the other side. I had made it across the bridge but I didn’t stop running. I ran and ran, not looking back until I was safely in the elevator within my apartment block.

I had made it. I had survived a monsoon in China.

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Hi World! I'm Shal - an environmental microbiologist, writer, teacher and artist from Durban, South Africa. I've spent the last two years traveling and teaching Chemistry and English to young kids in Asia. Life of Shal was founded as a way to share travel experiences, tips and other worldly magic with you! Join me on my journey!

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