Finding Tsunami Closure?

000035.jpg December 25, 2004- Phuket, Thailand 

Before December 26, 2004, I never realized how a few seconds could change my life.  Our winter break in Phuket, Thailand had been the perfect holiday. Arriving in Phuket on December 19, we put down our bags and headed straight for the beach. We are total beach bums, so we spent every minute of every day on the beach.  We would get out of bed and amble down to breakfast at the hotel and then jump on the first shuttle bus down to the beach by 9:00 each morning.  Down the hill, the ladies at our hotel beach would welcome us, and chuckle at how early we would arrive. We would sit on that white soft sand next to the endless blue ocean until the sun set and we had to grab the shuttle bus back up to the hotel.    


Upon arrival at the hotel on Kata Beach, I had been furious.  I wanted to be right on the beach and I sulked like a two year old! Every hotel room was full because of the Christmas holiday and the fact that I had procrastinated as usual when I booked our rooms.  So for the next few days, I cursed all of those steps and the steep hill up to the hotel. Little did I know that on December 26, procrastination and that dreaded hill would save my family’s life!  That morning we were tired from the Christmas celebrations the day before and we slept late for the first time that holiday.  Brian had woken up early and slipped out of the hotel room in search of a good cup of coffee.  When he woke us up we changed into our swimsuits, packed for the day and ran down to breakfast.  Realization hit that we were going to miss the first shuttle bus to the beach, so we had a second cup of coffee and a second helping of pancakes and fruit.  Now at least we wouldn’t have to leave the beach in search of a light lunch.  


With a few minutes to spare before the next shuttle could take us down to our beach, we strolled at the pool area and tried to gaze out over the ocean.  The large trees on the hill obstructed our view.  Suddenly we heard a strange noise.  Our brains scrambled to find a reference for the sound and we stood peering over the large pool deck to the street below.  At first when we heard the screaming, we thought of a parade, but my body froze and my blood ran cold because after growing up in the Middle East and seeing demonstrations, my mind finally found that reference and it was people in panic, not festive sounds that I heard!  


Water was rushing through the streets and we immediately thought of a water main break.  Never in my wildest dreams did a tsunami enter my thoughts. Muddy, bleeding people scrambled up the hill screaming, “Tidal Wave!”  We were dumbfounded!  How could this be true?  Brian and I hugged our children and rushed to the lobby for information. E-mails were sent immediately to alert our families about our safety.  Over the next few days, waiting at the hotel for our scheduled flight home, we were nervous and anxious to receive any news of friends on Ko Phi Phi.  Sleep did not come easily!    


After returning safely to Kuala Lumpur, we learned that all of our friends who had been in the areas affected by the tsunami were also safe.  We counted our blessings and slowly began to get back to our lives.  Our school raised funds for tsunami relief and after a while I began to get over the shock and relief that my entire family and all of our friends were safe even though thousands of others had perished.  Still, two and a half years later those “What if’s” can plague me.  I do not dwell on them, but they creep in at the oddest times. 


On holiday in Vietnam this past April, we were at the hotel having breakfast and I thought to myself, “Wow, I wonder if I have one more cup of coffee, will that change the outcome of my day or my entire life?”  While at a resort in Pangkor Island this autumn, I watched my children frolic in the sea and I looked over the resort to decide what I would do if the water began to recede.  At times, I feel selfish for having these thoughts when so many other people were not as fortunate as our family!  I guess that is survivor guilt.  Sometimes I wish my mind would stop asking that question, “What if…?”  I have to be thankful and stop thinking of the alternative if we had not slept late and had caught that bus to the beach as we had every other day!  At other times I think about those stricken faces of people who lost loved ones and I remember how lucky we were that day.    


We have decided to return to Phuket in a few weeks and we will stay at the same hillside resort.  I am not sure what we will find or how we will feel, but for some reason it is important for me to go back there and see how the people have rebuilt after losing so much.  I believe that the local business people need to be supported.  They showed so much compassion and strength in the aftermath of the disaster.  My children do not feel any angst in returning to Phuket.  I know that I will continue to feel fortunate that we are all still together and are able to make the trip back there together.  I will let you know how the trip unfolds.

000013.jpg December 26, 2004- Phuket, Thailand



  1. July 6, 2007 at 11:18 am

    My Parents in law were living in Phuket at Kamal beachwhen the tsunami hit.Purely by chance they were in Bangkok for a short spur of the moment break so although they lsot their home and most of their belongings, which if not washed away were looted afterwards, and manmy friends they were extremly lucky to have survived.

    I was born with sand in my shoes and have travelled much but can not match your number of countries lived in I fear!

  2. Carl Anthony said,

    March 15, 2010 at 6:03 am

    My partner and I are taking our first holiday to Asia. We live in Edmonton, Canada. I am still easily spooked when I think of what happened that Boxing Day.
    We are going to spend 1 week in Korea and 1 week in Thailand and cannot wait!
    Thank you for your story! I know what to look for if I find something is ‘out of place’

  3. July 25, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    We just returned from a trip to Phuket, ostensibly to give a talk at a conference. After submitting a photo of Phi Phi Leh Beach to an international photo group called Trekearth, SUBURB OF PARADISE , I decided to look up the Tsunami of 2004. There I came across your heart rending note written on December 26, 2004. This area must have been a Suburb of Hell on that occasion, now almost six years ago. Thank you for sharing your experience. Warm regards, Bulent

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