Everywhere You Look
The Thailand Tsunami
Took Its Toll

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

This has been another good week for assisting some of the Thailand tsunami victims. I have spent the last 3 days down at Chalong Bay down in the SE corner of Phuket Island, about 11 kms. south of where I'm living in Phuket town. Pom drove me down and back the first 2 days and today I used his motorbike to save him the inconvenience of taxiing me around. I hadn't ridden a motor bike for a few years so I practiced on the quiet streets around Pom's place for about 15 minutes and then headed out. The traffic between here and Chalong is not too frantic so I felt OK about riding down on the bike. Driving in Thailand is on the left but I've done this a few times in Ireland so that part of it wasn't too tricky. On Monday and Tuesday mornings when Pom took me down we met with a number of the people from another beach-side fishing community about 2 kms. South. Pom did his usual dissertation on me...where I was from, why I was there and the fact I was representing a number of Canadians from British Columbia who had donated money to help some of the most desperate tsunami survivors. Each day he did several interviews asking the size of their families and what their losses were. There were likely about 12 to 15 families that lived in this small area along the water. He told them I would only be able to help those who had lost everything or almost everything to the flood. When he determined who these people were, he put amounts from 2,000 to 5,000 bahts beside their names and I took the list to the car and put these amount in individual envelopes. I never show cash in front of any of the people we're helping as I don't want any bad apple seeing the money I'm carrying around and later taking a notion to rob me. As was the case with the last group we helped last week about 1 or 2 kms. up the beach, everyone was full of gratitude and the smiles were ear to ear. The Thai way of greeting you, saying thank you or bidding you farewell, is to hold the palms of the hands clasped together under the chin and bowing. This is referred to as waiing. I'm into this now too. "When in Rome...". This community wasn't hit quite as hard by the flooding as the previous one but the damage was still horrific...a few houses completely demolished, some of the fishermen's boats badly wrecked and a sea of debris everywhere you looked across the sand about 200 metres back from the water.

These Are Some Tsunami Photographs
From That Fateful Day In 2004

Pom and his wife Pa have shown me genuine hospitality since I've been at their place. My dirty clothes go into a basket in the kitchen every day and Pa has them washed and ironed by the next day. She absolutely insists on doing my laundry for me. Everything looks like it has just come back from the dry cleaners. She spends from 1/2 an hr. to 1 1/2 hours every day washing & ironing clothes. All clothing items the family wears are worn only once and then they go into the clothes basket. With temperatures in the mid-30's every day there's a lot of perspiration shed in the course of a day.

Pom has been unemployed from his work as a singer/guitar player at the hotels at Patong Beach as they were so badly damaged that they won't open again this tourist season. His lost income of approximately C$900 month is a major blow to the family. Pa works for Budget Car Rental at the Phuket Airport. Yesterday, she took a day off work so she and Pom could go to the bank to appeal for a reduction in their mortgage payment from 5,000 TB per month to 50 TB (C$161 month down to C$16). They made one trip to the bank in the morning and then had to go back again in the afternoon to see if they were approved. Fortunately they were.

The unemployment throughout Phuket because of the Thailand tsunami damage and the subsequent absence of tourists is having a devastating effect on this Island. Pa was quite pensive over dinner last night and I know she is very concerned for the family's welfare. I don't know what she makes but I would guess it is around C$400 month. It is pretty tough raising 2 children and keeping up payments on the mortgage, car (17-year-old Toyota) and motor bike on this kind of income. I have been helping by buying most of the groceries, paying for the car gas, plus a few other sundry things I do. I sure hope they can get through this period. Pom is looking for work every day but hasn't found anything yet. He said he would even drive a taxi but there is little sense in trying to do this as there are so few tourists on the Island right now that most taxis sit idle for most or all of the day.

Got involved in some interesting projects this week down at Chalong Bay. On Monday I spent a few hours helping some fishermen get 2 slightly damaged longtail boats up to a higher, flatter location on the beach so they could bail them out, do the necessary repairs and refinish the hulls. They had the help of a front-end loader for the afternoon. The operator would lift the front of a boat about 1/2 a metre above the sand and then 6 of us would place large pieces of wood under the boat to act as gliders. Without the gliders, the boat's bow would just dig into the sand. The machine would pull the boat one boat-length and then we would go through the procedure again.

Also, over a couple of days I spent a few hours helping a young fellow (early 20s, married, one 3-year-old son) by the name of Tom, to build a new house for his family. Tom's wife is Noi. The place was built up about 1/2 metre above the sand on stilts and was about 3 metres by 3 metres in size and no windows. We built a front deck on it that was about 3 metres by 2 metres. Place looked quite good when we finished it -maybe a little bit like something Huck Finn would have built. There's only room inside for Tom, his wife, Noi, and their little son, Tar, to sleep. (This is only a temporary dwelling until Tom and his step-father can get walls up on the main floor of the parents’ house where Tom and Noi used to live before the big wave hit). The walls are made of thin plywood which Tom bought with some of the money we gave him on Monday. Tomorrow is the big day! Warren is going to paint the place. Tom and Noi are very excited about the paint job. They will have the only house in this little community that will have paint on it. I asked them what color they'd prefer and they both told me that I should choose so I've decided to go with forest green. I'll pick up the paint and a brush on my way down to their place in the morning.


* Most of the homes in Thailand don't have water heaters. Water out of the tap is slightly cool but seems to work for doing dishes and showering. Showering is really in vogue here and the standard is 2 per day when you're working and 3 or 4 if you're not working. I've got the 2 going now but 3 or 4? That's a little over-kill, don't you think? Mosquitoes have been a non-issue so far...the very odd one on the front patio of Pom's and Pa's place in the evening but none during the day. I'm taking my malaria pills every day just to be sure.

* A roll of toilet paper is kept on the table in the kitchen that we eat at. The family doesn't use napkins but they all use the T. P. to clean their hands & mouth.

* When is garbage pick-up day? It's whenever the garbage is picked up! Last week the bags of garbage sat outside for 4 days before they were taken. Pom and Pa have provided me with a beautiful Thai lady to sleep with each night. She has beautiful eyes, long legs and she's very slim (almost skinny). She's a 9-month-old white kitten with a brown mark on her tail. She's a great little cat. She has taken to me like a duck to water. Half the time I'm sitting at the computer she is sleeping on my lap.

Her favourite pastime is stalking the little chameleons that cling to the walls outside at night. Another hobby is playing catch with the odd cockroach that shows up on the front patio.

* Security is a big issue here. There's a padlock on the steel gate at the entrance to the carport at the front of their house and the front door to the house is padlocked every time the last person leaves the living room (my bedroom) at the front of the house to go down to the bedrooms or kitchen at the back of the house.

* Anyone driving a vehicle here has to have very busy eyes. Other than our trip to Malaysia a few years ago, I have never seen so many motor bikes--millions of them!

* Played a game of golf last week at Phuket Golf and C. C. I know, a few of you said, "I'll bet you can't spend that long down in Thailand without playing at least one game of golf". I couldn't resist. I had an introduction to a fellow who is a part-owner of the course. Fraser Mulholland (who I caddie for)and his brother, Robin, who lives on Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, has known this fellow at Phuket Country Club for several years and suggested that I meet him while I was here. The gentleman very kindly invited me to play a game "on the house". I had to rent clubs and golf shoes and pay for a caddie but, everything considered, the price was pretty decent. The caddies are all little Thai girls, dressed in blue coveralls. They're good. They mark your golf ball on the greens for you and give you a read on your putts and also handle the flag…all in all, they're very competent. They all pull the clubs on carts . They'd have to as the bags and clubs likely weigh more than the girls. My caddie was about 4'8" and weighed all of about 85 lbs. I played with Pa's brother, Kollie. He loves the game but spends a lot of time walking the rough down the right side. We had a great time together. I had 3 very bad holes on the front 9 that included a few penalty strokes, for a 46 and then recovered on the back 9 with 3 birdies and a 39 that included 2 penalty strokes. * Weather remains good...still no rain since I arrived. For those interested, you can bring up Phuket, Thailand on your computer and you can access a map to see where I am working this week down at Chalong Bay at the SE corner of the Island.

* Phuket is 15 hours ahead of Vancouver.

Well, time to sign off and catch some sleep in preparation for the big painting day tomorrow. Hope you are all keeping healthy and dealing OK with the beautiful B. C. January weather.

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