Tsunami Scare

Donald Duck Bay, Similan Islands, Thailand

I’m sitting at Uncle Yai’s Thai and Vietnamese joint and laundry service on the Patak Road near Kata beach. I’m surrounded by some local Thai’s and a group of Russian’s. We’re all sitting around, half paying attention the BBC news listening for something about the Tsunami and half making conversation amongst ourselves. Other than glancing at the news, people are eating, surfing the internet on their lap tops, on their cells phones and Uncle Yai’s family is serving food and talking to people. Everything in the area is closed except for the local food stalls, like Uncle Yai’s. My guesthouse is just around the corner and halfway up the hill. In the hotel next door locals are gathered sitting around the pool area where they are waiting out the warning period.  The word we got was to stay in a high, safe place from 6:30pm on,  but I still see people out on their motorbikes and in cars. The traffic isn’t bumper to bumper like it was at 4:30. In this area, tourists are still walking down the street and people are starting to wander out and look for something to eat. The air is thick and hot and there’s a tension around me as people glace to the news and glance back to their conversation. Ratdech, who does most of the cooking and the laundry at Uncle Yai’s (this is also where I dropped off my laundry today) is sitting across from me doing her bookkeeping in between cooking meals. She and I look at each other nervously when the wind picks up and lightly blows things off the tables.

I have to write about the episode I had earlier this afternoon as I learned Phuket was issuing a  Tsunami high alert. I was in a small spa in the middle of a massage. The young Thai woman from the spa who picked me up from my hotel came into the room during the massage and tried to tell me there had been an earthquake earlier and in her broken English tried to ask if I wanted to go back to my hotel. Since I can’t even communicate in broken Thai, I was completely confused.  First, I hadn’t felt the quake and second, I’m from San Francisco. The idea that the building didn’t even rattle and someone’s coming to tell me there has been an earthquake made no sense to me, really. I knew in that moment I was having a very real cultural communication failure but I couldn’t ask too many questions lying on a table butt naked covered in coconut oil with a Thai woman straddled on top of me. I think I tried to say something like, “Is it serious? Do we need to leave?” to which, I think she answered, “well, don’t know. So sorry, don’t know, so sorry.” And she left the room. I thought to myself, ” I come from the land of earthquakes, I know people who don’t live with them get scared.” My other thought was , “I am completely clueless about what this woman is trying to tell me.” Five minutes later she comes back, and says,” They say we need to close building… get you to your hotel. You don’t pay for massage. You come back tomorrow. OK?”  At this point the woman on top of me is giggling nervously. Any relaxation is gone and I realize there’s something going on. I try to tell them, “yes, yes, we end massage, I go now, I go now…” and I we all agree to leave. By this point I am really confused and I haven’t eaten since breakfast so I’m also feeling more lightheaded than usual.

I head downstairs and ask if it would be ok to pick up take away across the road before I go to my hotel. “Is that ok? I haven’t eaten all day…” and she very politely says “yes”. I ask again, “what is going on? Where was the earthquake?” Then she’s able to give me a small amount of information about how there was a big earthquake in Indonesia just now and then an aftershock here. “That’s just what happened before last time; she manages to tell me, “Security is saying maybe another Tsunami…must get to a high place.” I hate to admit it, but in that moment my ignorance was palpable and as I looked outside everything was calm and people where going about their business. I was hungry and the idea of being in a disaster on an empty stomach started to panic me a little. “Are you sure it’s ok to get something to eat.” “Yes, Yes”, she said. I walked across the road to a small place called, “Southern Fried Chicken” there were a few people standing around a TV and I asked for a takeout menu. The news was on the TV, there was nothing about an earthquake and no one was talking about it. I ordered something quick to take out and went online to see what I could find out.

I saw nothing as I googled, “earthquake in Indonesia 2012” or even “Tsunami warning Thailand 2012”. Everything that came up was from January, nothing about today.  As I was searching, my Thai friend was across the street yelling at me to get in the car. I was no longer confused. At that point I realized she was panicking. A man standing next to me started asking questions about the aftershock, he didn’t feel it. The next thing I know she’s in the car starting it up and I’m packing up my stuff and the people in the area start to panic too. She started to drive the car, I headed over to it and people started closing their shops and running around. Once I got in the car I could feel her panic and I felt so bad. I tried to ask her again, “how do you know this? What did you hear?” All she could communicate to me was that she felt the aftershock, that’s what happened last time in 2004 and she had to drive to Phuket Town to get her son. There would be much traffic now. Immediately, I understood and felt ignorant about being so slow to understand what she wasn’t able to say to me until this moment. She felt the same things in 2004 and she wanted to get to her son. The security in the area had advised to get to higher ground. It was about a 5 minute drive to my hotel, where I could easily pick up something to eat and ask around to find out what was going on. I realized in that moment the word Tsunami is just not a part of my vocabulary. Really. It’s one of those catastrophes that I watch on the news and has no emotional or mental impact on me. I’m ashamed to admit it  but to me,  “earthquake” means the building is shaking and you are hiding under something big or in the middle of the street. Otherwise, it ain’t really a quake. I certainly don’t think of those two things together, my life experience hasn’t engrained it in mind like it has for the lady at the spa that couldn’t communicate to me what she needed to do.

Once we hit the main road the traffic started to swell. It was moving quickly in the direction we were going but it was starting to slow bumper to bumper in the opposite direction, which was away from the beaches. I told her to just pull over on the side of the road across from my guesthouse and I’d walk, it was a short distance. She did, gratefully, and I got out of the car and headed back to the hotel up the hill, safe from any potential danger.  The owners of my guesthouse weren’t back and their car was gone. I had to go around to the local shops asking questions and watching the news.

For the next 4 hours or so the people in my guesthouse gathered around the halls talking about the news. The shops in our area all closed and the manager of our guesthouse got stuck in the panic in Rawai and had to leave his car on the street and get a on someone’s motor bike to get to higher ground before he made it back to Kata Beach around 7:30pm. I heard there were a lot of people panicking from memories and experiences of 2004. We heard on the news the Phuket airport closed. I heard Rawai was crazy. I heard this from the safety of my table at Uncle Yai’s place watching the BBC news and checking online. I became very aware that the word “Tsunami” has no emotional impact on me, because I have no life experience to relate to.  I kept thinking about the Thai woman who couldn’t communicate to me she needed to go get her son, and the panic she was feeling that there was going to be another Tsunami. An experience I can’t possibly relate to, thank god. By the time we all made it to bed, the scare was over.

This morning, I’m back at Uncle Nais having breakfast and I sat next to a young Swiss woman and her small son. She and I briefly talked of yesterday as she described to me how she was at the beach when they started to evacuate people, she didn’t go back to her beachfront hotel, instead she came to this area and got a hotel room for the night with her son. She said the situation at Kata beach was like you see on TV. They started to evacuate people from the beaches and people started to panic and the traffic jammed, people everywhere trying to get to higher ground and she had to ask people for a ride on a motorbike with her son. She had to figure out where to go just by asking locals what do and what was going on. Luckily, there was much advance warning so she realized that she had about an hour to an hour and a half to get to higher ground. The Thai system is similar to Indonesia…there is no system that works  everywhere. Just a lot of chaos and somehow you manage to figure out what’s going on.  I feel lucky that I was in a safe, low stress place and that I didn’t have anything to really worry about. I’m sitting at the same table, at the same place I was yesterday.

Phuket Dives Me Crazy…

Doing my underwater disco dance

I started this post on the boat Day 2 of the dive trip to the Similan Islands, just to get a feel for what the days were like….I have to add that I mentioned below no one did the “evening activity”, Ashley did actually pole dance that night…it was impressive, she used one of the poles outside…according to Steve that pole has had quite a bit of use this season, she wasn’t the first…

As I sit here on day two aboard the MV Halleluah, we’re halfway through the day and on my right is a chubby guy passed out on the seat taking a nap and his Mom on my left relaxing having a snack. We’ve done two dives and we have two more to do. This is my first live-aboard experience and it’s not going to be my last. We’re diving the Similan Islands which is a national park and made up of 9 islands. I’m on a boat of 22 divers and my roommate and I are the only people traveling solo. There’s a mom and son duo. Also a group of about 9, some of whom teach English together and then a few other friends who joined them. They are a fun bunch. The rest are couples of different ages. Over all it’s a nice group, but the only thing I really have in common with all of them is the diving. So far that has been fantastic for me because I’ve never experienced anything like this.

Our schedule is:

6:00 am Wakey Wakey to Steve’s British accent booming through the boat

6:30 am Briefing for Dive #1- explaining where we are, what we may see (today the big deal is Manta Rays – and one group saw one)

6:45 am Dive #1- North Point (Similan #9) – Highlights : 2 sting rays and a huge potato grouper

8:00 am Breakfast

10:30 am Dive #2 – West Ridge (Koh Bon) Highlights: Morray Eels, Oriental Sweetlips (everywhere)

12:00pm Lunch

1:45 pm Dive #3 – West Ridge (Koh Bon) – otherside…more Fusliler, Goatfish & Sweetlips (so cute)

3:00pm Snacks

5:15pm Dive #4- Pinnacle (Koh Tahchai)- Highlight : Masked Porcupine Fish (why the mask I ask?)

7:00 pm Dinner

8:30 pm Ashley’s Pole Dancing Show

After about 8:00pm there’s a silly evening activity written on the board like scrabble or pole dancing. I have yet to experience anyone doing it. Instead people are so tired we sit around and talk a bit and hang out and then people head for bed. It’s really all about diving on this boat of 22 of people. 4 Dive Masters and a crew of the sweetest Thai folks. They speak very little English but they really like to smile. Very warm and friendly.

Our Thai Captain

We have plenty of time in between dives to nap, hang out and chill. Favorite pastime so far has been looking at underwater photos (which have been really cool) and jumping off the top deck of the boat.

It’s Interesting being on a big boat with no one you know for 4 days. Sometimes there’s a lot to talk about and other times you just want to stare out at the most beautiful blue sea you’ve ever seen. The fact that 2 of the 4 Dive guides are handsome (see below) and really nice makes it more fun to hang out. As my dive buddy Becky would say, “Yes, if we were on a deserted island together we would definitely fall in love.” You would not be disappointed Becky, they are deserted island material.

Tom has a wholesome baby face look and a great British accent. Steve is on this boat every week all season and he’s been doing this for 8 years. He has a 4 year old daughter who’s half Thai, haven’t found out the story there yet. They are both British and I love the accents.

Tom and Steve

Steve and Tom

The diving is amazing. The visability is very good, not fantastic but very good. There are so many fish it’s the first time I’ve swam with schools of fish and been right in the middle of them. Love that. Everywhere we looked this morning there were Butterfly fish, Oriental Sweetlips, Silver Sweetlips, Fusilier, Angel Fish, a big Moray Eel. It’s been really amazing. Some people are tired already because it’s been eat, sleep, dive. I’m working on my air consumption so I can stay down there longer. My skills have definitely improved and I feel like I’m getting the diving bug. Here are a few photos from the trip. Hope you enjoy.

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A little cheese for the camera

Wandering to Thailand…

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So I find myself in the Ngurah Rai airport in Bali waiting for a flight to Phuket. Finally, I’m on my way to Thailand. After 10 months in Bali it seems like it’s finally time to move on and I’m feeling the whole range of emotions. Excitement, joy, wonder and a little sadness. A little sad to leave Bali and amazed there are people there that I love. I spent last night at a birthday potluck for a friend Estee. She had her place all set up for music and she got up and sang her heart out for the first time in front of a group of people. She was terrified and she was great. Her voice was awesome and it was totally inspiring. I love watching people do things they are afraid of and blowing everyone away. This morning I cooked breakfast at Cat’s house for her and my friend Eugenia before leaving for the airport. Scrambled eggs with feta and mushrooms, smoked salmon, bacon, the works. It’s the most relaxed and carefree I’ve ever been before a trip. Cooking breakfast, sitting with friends I love and staring into space soaking up Cat’s mystical jungle garden. After 10 months, there are people in Ubud I’ll be excited to get back to see. So much so, that when I feel like this next adventure has come to a natural end, I’ll head back to Bali for a few months of R&R. It has it’s ups and downs, the trash problem is out of control. The rate of building and construction has destroyed the environmental balance of the island. Everything has its own pace and there’s little you can do to control it, it’s all on rubber time…in spite of all of that, I know I’ll need to come back to ground myself and touch base.

I’m also feeling a little sad because I hoped to meet up with a friend in either Singapore, Bali or Thailand and as I sit here in the airport it’s more clear to me that it’s not going to happen. I’m just going to call him Mr. 80’s (because despite his age he loves all things 80’s – just like when we were in high school) and he and I having been talking about meeting up for months but last week when we talked about it I could feel the energy wasn’t there. He’s still coming to Singapore and Bali, but he won’t have much free time, he has pressing things at home he needs to get back to and he sounds like he just doesn’t have the energy for anything more then what he’s already involved in. I am in such a good place right now that I just have to follow the energy and listen to my intuition. After all this time and effort that’s what’s sticking with me. Allowing myself to follow the energy and trust that everything will fall into place. So I feel a little sad and disappointed not to see him and I know he is too. Right now as the plane lifts over Bali, I am fully grateful that I’m blazing on my own path, listening to the little voice inside, opening and allowing whatever is next.

Selamat Tinggal Bali…Sa-wat-dee Thailand