The go signal for nightmares

Mike Currie

IF eight is supposed to be such a lucky number here in Hong Kong, then why have we chosen it to represent what for many of us is a situation where our fortunes take a sudden turn for the worse? Even in the Philippines, where the most illogical things happen: women claiming they have given birth to a fish, men who con the world's press into believing they are pregnant, there is logic of sorts during the rainy season.

Radio weather bulletins are more often than not in tagalog, but at least the typhoon signals are simply 1, 2, and 3.

Eight I hate.

It always seems to go up when we all want it to stay down, and be lowered when we would all like it to stay up.

Those of us who live on the Outlying Islands are the most vulnerable. We pay heavily for our breath of fresh air, and last weekend was no exception.

No 8 got me for the first time 10 years ago. Up she went for the last typhoon which actually hit us, Ellen, and of course I was still at work.

Two days in Hong Kong without a change of clothing until the ferry service resumed. Ships were strewn around our beaches like plastic bags from Park'N Shop, but luckily my Lantau flat escaped lightly. The extractor fan had been extracted, and that was about it. A neat, square hole in the kitchen.

Since then lucky No 8 has hounded me. Wouldn't it be nice to wake up mid-week, stick the TV on to see that the No 8 has been hoisted, which means cancelled ferries, and gratefully slip back into bed? It nearly happened once. Late evening, No 3 already up and a direct hit a possibility. We clustered around the radio in the bar in Silvermine Bay, and up went No 8. Typhoon party time.

Five in the morning and surely enough, a change of direction, No 3 again. Into work four hours later, trying not to slur. I think that one was Typhoon Wayne. Wayne, you may recall, threatened us, moved off towards Vietnam and decided to come back again. Iremember the headline well: ''Wayne, Wayne, go away''.

Then there was the time I was having a dreadful holiday in a Third World country in Asia and wanted to get back home early, but was forced to endure more because of a No 8 affecting Hong Kong; and the time I returned from Thailand and the No8 went up before I left Kai Tak. No ferries again.

But last Friday was the limit. Lots of time, the last ferry would leave for Lantau at 5.30pm the ferry company promised.

I waited with the rest at the Outlying Islands pier from 4pm to 6.30pm, only to be told there would be no ferries. I didn't know that my Chinese wife had taken the 3.30 which was unable to dock, and was stranded in Peng Chau with 600 others as No 8 went up.

Me? I went off to my father-in-law's place in Kowloon. He can't speak English, I can't speak Chinese. His other siblings can, but have emigrated. He understood why I was there, but he obviously wondered what I had done with my wife.

He left, shaking his head. The TV was only tuned for the Chinese channels, he doesn't drink so there was no beer in the fridge, and I didn't have a key to get back in, so I couldn't go out to buy any. So all I could do was sit and worry about my wife.

Well, at least I had a bed, if no change of clothing.

Next morning, it was back to signal No 3. Right let's get out of here and back home. No way.

My father-in-law had gone to work, and taken the padlock off the security gate so that I could get out. Trouble was, there is a secret lever as a security back-up. I hadn't been shown where the secret lever was. Two hours caged up like an animal before help came.

And when I got to the ferry pier, there were still no ferries.

I decided to go to the gym for a sauna. ''Oh, you're the first one here,'' said the receptionist. ''I'll give you the key to locker No 8. It's a lucky number, you know.'' I'll apologise for my bad language next time I see her.