In the March 10 edition of Presently Tense, I shared some messages I sent to friends in San Diego from Thailand on the day I survived the 2004 Asian tsunami. This week, I pick up the morning after:
Sent: Sunday, December 26, 2004 8:12 AMSubject: Update from Thailand
I still don't know if the hotel i'm supposed to move to in a couple days is standing. Probably get a flight back to Bangkok instead. Today I'll motorbike into Patong Beach to see what's left.
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2004 9:38 AM
Ironically, California has lots of tsunamis. They never get them here in Thailand, which is why they were so unprepared for it.
But everything is cool for me. Nothing for me to worry about; I fought the tsunami and I won... with a little help from a very strategically placed river channel right along Karon Beach, which slowed the waves for just the small stretch of beach where I was staying, so when I ran away from them, they couldn't catch me. I just lucked out big time.
I could've looted some postcards from an overturned rack in a smashed up souvenir shop in the wrecked beach town I surveyed yesterday, but decided to just keep e-mailing instead. Patong looks like Godzilla stepped on it. Almost everything within a few blocks of the beach was destroyed. One woman we met was pulled underwater inside her store; she managed to grab a telephone pole in front and hold on tight to keep from getting sucked out to sea.
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2004 10:15 PM
Today, we motor-biked into town. CNN makes it seem like Phuket is just the mile or two stretch of beach that tourists rarely venture from, and of course, this is the area the tsunami destroyed, but Phuket Town is the real bustling, older part of the city about 5 to 10 minutes from here by motorbike. It is known for its Portuguese colonial architecture, and it may as well be Lisbon. Think if Mission Beach got wrecked and then you went to Hillcrest by motorbike.
We set out for Vicharat Hospital, the second largest of the many hospitals, clinics and relief centers operating here, and a little easier to get to by bike than the main Phuket Hospital, or, as CNN calls it “THE hospital there”—as if this huge city has only one hospital—those primitive Asians with their one hospital!
On the way, we drove up a beautiful mountain full of giant trees and gorgeous parks. We stopped at a big old temple that has a massive 50-foot golden Buddha facing the city below; we went in so Tuk could do some prayers with incense for the suffering masses, and in particular, her two friends missing in Sri Lanka, and ended up helping the monks load trucks full of relief supplies. Then on to the hospital to donate blood. But they were full up on blood, so I will have to donate at one of the special blood banks in Bangkok tomorrow: funny that I should have to go to Bangkok to give blood to send back here, but I just won't have time to go back to a hospital here tomorrow.
Tuk volunteered as a translator, but there were so many translators that we both ended up spending the day with a crew of about 15 workers cutting, folding and packing linens, mylar and plastic or vinyl sheeting for dead bodies. Our work area was right in front of the hospital in the emergency area, and ambulances were bringing in wounded people all day long. Everyone I met had a survival story or a sad tale of loss. CNN is reporting 1,000 dead as I write, but Thai TV is already reporting 2,000, and if the amount of body bags I made today is any indication, there will be many, many more when it's all over.
On the way back from the hospital after dark, we looked for an outdoor market / canteen / food stall to grab dinner at and just randomly parked in front of the “Family Restaurant,” a Thai restaurant owned by Israelis, who had a few Middle Eastern items on the menu, so I had a really good falafel and hummus combo for about two dollars. While I was enjoying that, Tuk got a text message from her friends G. and S., who made it back to Bangkok alive from Sri Lanka.
I never found out if the Deevana Resort, where we almost stayed, was completely or only partially destroyed, but I definitely don't want to go back to Patong Beach anyway. Leaving Phuket tomorrow.
Thanks for all the love. I should place myself in the center of all future disasters.
Sent: Sunday, January 2, 2005 11:30 AM
Last night, surreal celebration of New Year's Eve here in Bangkok in a huge, two-story Irish Pub packed with Farang (Thai word for foreigners, i.e. non-Thai people). The band were a Thai Beatles cover band, and they were great. Tuk's friend knew the pub owner and he said that the musicians didn't really understand English! They learned the songs phonetically. We met up with G. and S. and their other teacher friend who had come up from Krabi, so our party turned out to be five survivors, and it wasn't planned that way, just happened! We had a New Year toast with Guinness and took turns telling our survival stories and stories we'd heard. From G. and S. we learned how much worse it was in Sri Lanka. We felt very connected by the weird paradox of being simultaneously sad about the tragedy and happy to be alive to celebrate the New Year, but nobody said that, which was unnecessary.
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