Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Phuket After The Tsunami: April 4

Phuket has been on my mind ever since I began planning this trip. The Tsunami hit Thailand the hardest right here. Then a few days ago, Sumatra experienced an earthquake which caused people to wonder if another Tsunami was coming. Many people have told me I should not come here. One of my dearest friends wrote me from Calgary with the caption on her email: "GET OUT". I wrote her back to say: "If the Thai people stay, I stay."

My story of Phuket is really about the people. I was walking on the street just minutes after I arrived and two Thai women kidnapped me to take me to a 'Vacation Club' presentation. They get very little money for doing this but I was happy to go along with it and besides, I got some free T-shirts and a week of free accommodation for the future. This is 'Dang' and 'Ooy'. They are 28 and 31. They have both been struggling to make money ever since the Tsunami hit. They told me there are only 20% as many tourists as usual.

They couldn't get me into a presentation that day so they came to my hotel the next morning and picked me up. So the three of us sped off on a motorcycle. They even took me to find a cheaper hotel. I'm now at the White Beach Mansion and paying 550 baht a night including breakfast. I asked Dang about what she saw the day of the Tsunami. She was working in a hotel up from the beach. She says she ran outside and saw a truck full of mangled bleeding bodies, very badly hurt but still alive, being rushed away from the oncoming tidal wave. She said she lost many friends that day and when she went to the hospital she couldn't stand the sight of so many people in pain all at once.

After the presentation they arranged a tuk-tuk driver to take me around. I messed up their commission though, because I said I was here for three months instead of three weeks. I felt so bad that I helped them book me into another place.

This is Lee. She got the commission for the second meeting and split it with the other two women. Then she insisted I come for lunch on her. I asked her about the Tsunami. She said the death toll is much higher than the 5000 that the authorities say. She said the figures are reported as less because Thailand authorities are afraid to scare more people away from visiting. She also told me that when I go to Kamala I will see the people who still live in tents because they lost their homes. If you saw the 'Hundred Day' event in Phuket, you were seeing this beach. All three women told me that the authorities have been holding back much of the aid money because of local corruption. I am going to talk to the people on the beach tomorrow if I can and see what they say.

The guy who gave the presentation is Aaron from Edmonton Alberta, right near where I lived the last 26 years. He and I had a great time talking and he taught me a lot about the Thai culture because his girlfriend is Thai. He said they were here the day the Tsunami hit and were saved because they are two beaches away in an area that is protected by a cove, or he would be dead. He also told me the authorities have been holding back money that is supposed to be going to the victims of the Tsunami.

These are a series of pictures I took from the balcony of the Hotel I was looking at for my presentation. The Tsunami came from an angle just beyond the peninsula to the left.

Again, you can get an idea of the direction to think of it coming in from left to right at an angle just beyond that peninsula you see to the left of the picture. It didn't hit Patong beach straight on but it was forceful enough that it destroyed the beachfront. Aaron told me the salt water came far enough in that it flooded this hotel's underground parking.

The grass right below this balcony was under salt water which it is just recovering from now.

Again you can see how this foliage was killed by the salt water. Now look at the peninsula to the right. Now see the one just beyond it? Between the two peninsulas; that is Kamala Beach. The Tsunami had a clear path and so it hit with full force onto that beach.

This is looking straight ahead of me toward Patong Beach. The ground is still quite brown because there is no grass yet. I asked Aaron how the Thai people were able to handle such an overwhelming tragedy. He said they don't act the way we do in the West. They don't talk about it much. They understand life from a different cosmology and different social reference. They don't tend to cry over such losses. They just pull together and find a way to survive as a community. I find it hard to believe that these warm gentle Thai people, who helped me so much in the last couple of days, have all seen the death of close friends and family so recently.

***Just as I was preparing this Story, a couple from Idaho were reading a CNN piece reporting that another earthquake could be coming shortly. The scientist quoted, also said that another Tsunami could come with it this time. My understanding is that the pressure release from the tectonic plates have not finished yet but that the quakes will be happening much further South and should not be a threat to Thailand this time.


Anonymous said...

It's impossible to read this without your heart breaking.
You make it understandable and show the incredible courage and resilience of the people you have met.

Anonymous said...

The ocean looks so innocent yet did so much.