Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
A real life story
By Martine Olthof
On 26th December, 2004, a huge tragedy hit South East Asia. At 07:58 local time Bangkok and Java) a Tsunami was registered with the epicenter 160 kilometers from the West of the Indonesian island Sumatra and a depth of 10 kilometers in the Indian ocean. It resulted in a gigantic wave with an altitude of over 10 meters in some places… Life of thousands of families changed forever. Not only thousands of local people but also many tourists became victims. It was Boxing day for Christians. Many people were missing and later found dead, whereas some of them went missing. This is the story from Thong Srivijit, a 21 year old student who was living on Phuket island during the Tsunami.
‘I was on vacation in Europe when I looked at the TV and heard that the Tsunami has hit Indonesia. Later it came up on the news that the Tsunami had also hit Phuket where my home is,’ the 21 year old Thong, son of a British father and a Thai mother, explains with his eyes full of sadness. ‘That’s when we rushed to call home to find out if anything had happened to our house, our friends or anything. All my relatives were fine. Then, after a few more hours we saw some more news footage and we saw how bad it really was!’ Thong laughs nervously. He seems to be in that moment again with his thoughts.
‘We changed our flights and went home earlier. From the plane you could see the destruction on Phuket. At the airport we saw tourists, some without t-shirts trying to get flights. Families were trying to leave. The army and the police were everywhere, it was so crowded.’ His parents both work for a local TV station and had to go back to Phuket for their work. But at that time the thirteen-year-old Thong stayed at home alone during the daytime. One day he received a phone call. He got news about a family who was very close to them and stayed in Khao Lak, North of Phuket, during the Tsunami. Thong heard that the father and his three children, two boys and one girl, were missing. Only the mother was found and the authorities could confirm that she was alive. ‘We were shocked and I started to realise that before we left England we were making a decision to either meet up with them or go to England. I realised that if I had stayed then I would be in Phuket with them at my house where they would be safe. So I would be still safe in my house or I could have been with them in Khao Lak having a holiday as well and I could have been with them in Khao Lak and I could have been dead! I was thinking wow, it all depended on one decision and it was hard to accept for quite a while.’ Thong again seems to realise how much luck he has had.
Although his face looks sad you can also read some relief from his expression. He wanted to see with his own eyes how bad the destruction was, so whenever he had the chance he went outside. Because his parent had to report about the Tsunami he also went a few times with them because they did not want to leave him alone. ‘It was horrible, it was just one kilometer of flatness where there used to be hotels. Now there were broken trees and cars, everywhere… It was hard to see.’ He looks down. ‘The bodies were still there. If they found them, they just piled them up and moved them to some area. ‘First they couldn’t find the bodies of two people of the missing family. However, after a few weeks they found them. Because Thong’s parents were working and the mother was still in shock, Thong decided to identify the bodies. Even though he was only thirteen years old he went to the mortuary. He needed only two seconds to confirm that the persons were the friends of his family. ‘You could still recognize their faces. At that moment it was not that horrible because I already saw all the other dead bodies and it was different because I knew these people. I was not shocked but as soon as I got home and as I closed my eyes, the image appeared.’
Thong goes on to say, ‘My high school opened up on the 4th of January so the first thing we did was to gather all the people in our high school.’ Luckily none of the students of his school died, but one person lost his father. ‘There were four people who were caught in the Tsunami and survived. They saw the water going down and they ran away; they managed to escape. They were in the water and got out before anything happened.’ The school decided to help another school which was located near the beach. The students cleaned up this school which was a boarding school for children under ten year old. ‘People slept there, so we knew that some students might have been killed.’ Thong says. ‘So we’re picking up the blocks and, you know, picking up their books and their clothes. Unfortunately one of my friends found a foot. Underneath a pile of concrete, the foot was sticking out, so we called the adults to deal with it but it was hard for us to see that.’ Thong laughs a little because it was so bizarre. ‘It was hard to clean up a school we knew. After that, Phuket slowly started to rebuild itself, and cleaned up everything. Tourists started to slowly come back; it was hard for the economy. That time of the year is the best time for Phuket because the weather is good and the beaches and water are nice. There was still so much to clean on the beach. Every time you wanted to step into the water you just feel like there were dead people here one week ago. So the beaches were quiet, maybe some people were in the water. If you wanted to buy drinking water there was no bottled water available, but everything rebuilt really quickly; under a year it was back to how things used to be. Everything was back to normal and life was steady again. There were a lot of donations from around the world and people sent equipment to our area to help clean up.’
Recently Thong went to the cinema to watch the movie The Impossible, about a Spanish family who was hit by the Tsunami on the South coast of Thailand. It was realistic in his eyes . ‘It was really, really hard to watch it. I cried maybe four or five times,’ he says. ‘The movie was so scary, it was like a horror movie.’ Even after eight years Thong seems to find it difficult to be confronted with the Tsunami, but he tries to go every year to the ceremonies for the anniversary. ‘It is peaceful. You need a day to think about what happened. ‘
*To guarantee his privacy, the name of the interviewee has been changed.
With special thanks to Thong for his courage and cooperation to tell this tragic story. In respectful memory of all people who lost their lives during this phenomenal tragedy that we may never forget!
About the Author:
Martine Olthof is 28 years old and was born and brought up in a small town in the East of the Netherlands. As a child her dream was to become a book writer. Writing nowadays still remains her biggest passion. She’s been in Bangkok since October 2012 for pursuing minor Communication Arts at on an international university. She writes a lot of essays, creative stories and also blogs about her life in Thailand and the Thai people and their culture. Thailand has changed her life, she is a much happier person now and enjoys every single day in this country of the
ever lasting smile!
Martine has a strong sense of justice. With her stories, she hopes to make people aware of what’s going on in this country and the rest of the world to emotionally affect them and make a difference!
Martine’s travel blog page: martineolthofwaarbenjij.nu (in Dutch)
Martine’s lifestyle blog page: kattebelblog.wordpress.com (in Dutch)
Martine’s website: olthofmartine.wix.com/mic (in Dutch)
Illustration by Alan Van Every
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