Monday, December 26, 2005
THE DAY OF THE WAVE
few brief observations on the tsunami remembrance events over here this morning. The AP satellite feed was bouncing between the event in Phuket (that's "Poo-get" for the uninitiated, and not the way it looks) and the one in Sri Lanka. The ceremony in Phuket was conducted in Thai and English, had the standard speech from a government minister, some nice music, and what looked like a very large crowd of Thais and foreigners at the beachside venue to pay their respects. But after one switch back to Thailand from the Sri Lanka event, I was startled by the sound of a farang woman going bananas on the little stage, and thanks to the microphone in her hand, it was blaring out over the PA system and broadcast all over the globe instantaneously by the Associated Press Television Network.
She wasn't making a whole lot of sense, but I gather she was upset that it was too crowded around the memorial, and people were having a hard time getting close enough to lay down their flowers. So a number of people had begun to leave without having offered their flowers, and was she ever pissed about it. Literally shrieking at people to "go away" and "get back," and demanding that the Thai police in attendance should "start doing their jobs properly!" Someone near the stage was apparently saying something to her, and I guess it was something like, "You are on TV and the whole world is watching," because she shrieked back, "I don't care about the pictures, I don't care what anyone thinks, those people are leaving without putting their flowers down! Get back, clear the area, go away!" Then I suppose she had further considerations, because then she started screaming at photographers: "Stop taking pictures! Stop it! Go away!"
Now, I'd be the last to deny that sometimes event management here isn't handled exactly the way some foreigners might prefer. But if there was a way to improve the situation "on the fly," this wasn't it. A friendly word to the officer in charge, with a smile, would probably have helped achieve the desired results. But after screaming at them for "not doing your jobs properly," fergetaboutit. If there is one resource that Thailand has no shortage of, it's amateur foreign experts who know how this country should be run -- and 80% of them are here on holiday.
Down in Aceh, thousands flocked to the Great Mosque -- Mesjid Baiturrahman -- for memorial services. President Yudhoyono had a full day of activities in Aceh today, and Metro TV was covering the events with the wonderful Najwa Shihab reporting live in Aceh, and Tommy Tjokro also reporting live from Phuket. The station ran a very good documentary this morning, produced by AusAid and the Australian government, which largely followed the early response of SurfAid and other civilian first responders, as well as ongoing recovery programs.
One of the interesting facts about the entire disaster, is that the closest island to the epicenter of the earthquake, Simeuleue, had practically no casualties. The people there had a cultural memory which told them what to do. This knowledge was widespread enough -- there are many towns and villages on this island -- that when the earthquake hit, almost everyone made for high ground. Only seven people lost their lives on this island, although they would have had the shortest time period before the first wave hit.
One thing about the massive loss of lives in Aceh and around the Indian Ocean: foreign media reports seem to have settled on a final total of 216,000 deaths. In Aceh alone, the Indonesian government says that over 200,000 are either dead or still missing. And let's face it, if you're still missing after a year, you're probably dead. Something like 130,000 bodies were recovered in Aceh, and of course many would have been simply swept away and never found. The Catholic Charity Caritas has estimated the true death toll in all countries might be as many as 400,000.
MetroTV has been remembering today, and it's painful all over again to watch. On this day one year ago, we had no idea of the magnitude, and wouldn't have for several weeks afterward. Now of course we know, and those early scenes -- many from amateur videographers -- carry that much more impact. One of the most unforgettable scenes, which Metro used for some of its wonderful montage pieces, was a young mother holding her dead child to her breast, shaking her head side to side and crying, "Maya Lu, Maya Lu!" Today we saw a little piece on Maya's mother, for that was indeed her name (as I supposed, when I described it at the time). She seems to be doing well, considering, and showed pictures of little Maya. She can smile now, a little.
I'm planning a trip to Tapaktuan and the South Aceh coast next month, so I should have some stories to write when I get back.