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A Whole Other World
We wake up every morning under our think, warm comforters as our heads are resting on our soft and fluffy pillows. We dread another long day of learning. We shiver as our bare bodies wait to be engulfed by the hot water. We look into the mirror and frown at our imperfections: a pimple, a big nose, bushy eyebrows. We toast our bagel for breakfast but are disappointed when we open the fridge to find no cream cheese. We get into our cars and drive to school, annoyed with the grandpa going 20 mph in his Buick and frustrated with all the commercials on the radio. We worry about the history test, being late, or someone taking our parking spot. Are these really the things we stress over?
I remember the smells, the air, the people. The smell of fish in the markets, the fried ride at the restaurants, and the bananas: twice as thick and half the length as they are in America. Phuket, Thailand—a place that was so different from Redwood City, California. As soon as we arrived at our new bungalow at Friendship Beach, the people were happy to give us anything we needed. They gazed upon our blonde hair and blue eyes and the cook made us feel at home by preparing hamburgers. As we drove through the village to Yanui Beach, I looked around and saw all the houses made of cardboard with no plumbing. A washing machine was too expensive, a television out of the question, and a computer unknown.
We surround ourselves in a bubble, just wishing for more: a nicer house with two stories, a hot tub to go along with our pool, a new stereo system for our cars, or a bigger television. We are so caught up in materialism and just continue asking for something more. Something bigger. Something better. Poverty: the state of condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support. Something that only 12.5% of Americans experience compared to the 21.5% in other third world countries. Most of us aren’t even aware of the living conditions in poverty-stricken countries. Sure, we see YouTube videos about the billions of people suffering from Aids and other diseases. Yes, we do learn about poverty in history classes, but do we really see it?
It was December 26, 2004. As my family and I drove back from Thalong, where we rubbed gold leaves on a Buddha for good luck, we arrived at Surin Beach. The people stood there like zombies, staring into the ocean. Lawn chairs, umbrellas, and towels were floating in the water, taken and thrashed from the power of Mother Nature. They couldn’t move, for the shock seemed to plant their feet into the ground.
A tsunami—the most powerful wave in the world reaching 10 meters high and traveling 80 mph. It can destroy a whole town within seconds. The ocean will retreat back at first, then slowly build up and rush toward land, killing instantly. Deadly. Completely unexpected.
It was the 9.1 undersea earthquake that triggered the tsunami off the coast of Indonesia. A total of 170,000 people were killed in the countries of Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, Malaysia, Burma, Bangladesh, Somalia, Tanzania, and Kenya. The number killed in Thailand was 5,321 and 8,457 were injured.
We drove back to Friendship Beach. Our bungalow was flooded, full of mud. Dead fish baked in the sun on our front lawn. The whole mood of the little resort changed. What used to be smiles were now faces of desperation and grief. The owner, who would always walk around and greet his customers in a friendly way, looked like he was carrying the whole world on his shoulders. He had dark circles under his eyes as he walked in and out of each flooded bungalow. The expression on his face reflected frustration and worry about what would happen to his little resort on Friendship Beach. The waiters and waitresses were cleaning up the turned over tables and chairs. People tried cleaning out the pool, squinting their faces from the stench of sea water, sewage, and dead fish. It was no longer a place to relax and enjoy the tropical sun. It was a resort of damaged property and unsettled feelings of the visitors and workers.
We drove back to Yanui Beach, where we had snorkeled and sun bathed the very first day we arrived in Phuket. The beautiful crystal-clear water was now a churned pool of browns and greens. We met two Australians who were scuba diving earlier that day and saw the wave coming from under water. The restaurant where we ate delicious fruit platters of pineapple, bananas, and papaya that sat on the sand was destroyed—now just a pile of wood, tables and chairs. I didn’t even recognize that place anymore. I remember turning around to where the small houses once sat across form the beach and seeing just one giant mount of debris. People were searching for their belongings, trying to find what was left: maybe a t-shirt, a watch, or a picture.
In America, we can afford the systems that will warn us if a tsunami will hit. The Pacific Tsunami warning system can locate the earthquakes under water. If the magnitude of the earthquake underwater is high enough to generate a tsunami, a warning is issued, including the estimated arrival times at certain areas. They detect how far the tsunami will travel in a few hours. If Thailand had a tsunami warning system, thousands of lives could have been saved.
It was the day after Christmas. Back home my friends were happy about the new jeans they got. In Thailand, happiness was only evident when families received news that their loved ones had been rescued. Kids in America were sad when the Uggs they asked for were out of stock. Sorrow sunk in hearts when homes were destroyed in Asia and when families recognized that dead body as their mother, sister, father, brother, son, or daughter.
I was sad to know that I would just be going home in five days. I remember watching the news for the next three days and seeing the disturbing images. A mom was holding on to the side of her house with her three kids while water was rushing past them. She was trying so hard to hold on to all of them, but she just wasn’t strong enough. Her oldest slipped form her arms and the water took him away. Images of palm trees fallen into glass windows and cars and boats piled on top of each other remained in my head.
I came back to my cozy house on Grand St. the following week. I noticed the sound of the heaters when they turned on in the morning and felt how soft my bed was. I looked up to the ceiling as I fell asleep. I noticed all the food in my refrigerator that doesn’t even get eaten. I remember my best friend telling me about the Juicy earrings and the pink Razor cell phone that she got for Christmas. The trip to Thailand was my only Christmas present from my parents and that is the most important gift I will ever have.