Scotsabroad's Weblog

September 6, 2013

Permanent Wave

Filed under: Books,visits — scotsabroad @ 3:47 pm

I can remember where I was as I watched the first news footage of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. Safe on a treadmill in Fitness First in Inverness. Bizarre, that almost 10 years later we are holidaying in Thailand and on what was one of the worst-hit parts of the Andaman coast.

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While staying in Khao Lak in July we searched for the Police Boat memorial. Was this something to do on a rainy day when the sun wasn’t shining? Off the highway and 2km inland sits a beachedpolice boat, a memorial to the power of the waves. The boat was patrolling the waters in front of a resort where a member of the Thai royal family was holidaying. Beside the boat they were beginning to landscape the area and build what looked like a wave-shaped building. We wonder, is this a replica of the memorial at Ban Nam Khem so tourists don’t have to make the journey there? 

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We went looking for the main local tsunami memorial on the beach at Ban Nam Khem. It took us a while to drive there after turning off the highway. Built by the Thai army it is (as the Rough Guide says…) an evocative installation. You walk in front of a 4m high concrete wave with a memorial wall showing sun-bleached photographs and plaques of mostly foreign victims. A window has been created in the wave. You look through it and see a fishing boat that was swept inland. The boat miraculously stopped just  short of ploughing through a house. An exhibition of photographs, mainly showing some important Thai and foreign dignitaries who visited the area in the tsunami’s aftermath, are in an unoccupied, stuffy, mosquito-inhabited, soul-less building in the memorial grounds. But there is nothing to suggest or highlight that this village lost half of  its’ four thousand local inhabitants.

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I’ve just finished reading Erich Krauss’ book, Wave of Destruction. The book tells of four families from the village of Ban Nam Khan before, during and after the tsunami. The book describes how many of the inhabitants of Nam Khan had been struggling with life well before the wave hit. It also provides an insight into the scale of human generosity, compassion, cruelty and corruption in response to the world’s largest natural disaster in recorded history.

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Tourists have returned to this area in large numbers and the construction of new resorts and hotels seems to be endless. Being one of these tourists visiting this quickly revived coastline I must be honest and say that I had forgotten the scale of the disaster; and only later realised that many of the people we came in contact with must have had a story of terror and loss – and scars both physical and emotional. The waves must visit their thoughts every day. What magnificent will power to rebuild and carry on. What incredible resilience from those who survived. I hope I will take a few minutes on Boxing Day this year to remember.

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