Thailand Bounces Back: The 2004 Tsunami
The 2000s have undoubtedly been a decade of disaster for the entire world. Seeing wars break out regularly on the nightly news has become the new norm. Because there is such a strong focus on the incidents that take place in the Middle East and Europe, other areas of the world are often forgotten about or brushed to the side. While no single disaster is more important than another, the American media tends to dedicate more air time to places that are of interest to the general public. Southeast Asia is one area of the world that gets left out when discussing disastrous incidents that have taken place in recent years.
It is December 26, 2004 – a regular Sunday. My family and I arrive home from church to find that “tsunami,” a word that had not yet found its place into my vocabulary, is suddenly being spit from every television channel, causing my young mind to experience painful exclusion. An eerie silence contaminates the city, the roads lack their usual traffic, the restaurants are desolate, the atmosphere bleeds with uncomfortable awkwardness. My parents sit me down across the table from them and explain that a very big wave hit the coast of Thailand that morning. 200,000 people are dead, many more are missing. Among the missing is my friend, Kate, whose family had been vacationing in Phuket, a destination that my own family also frequented during the holidays.
The first day back at school for the second term was surreal. People were quieter than usual, all unsure of what to say to one another. Since the day of the tsunami, we learned that a handful of our fellow students were pronounced dead, one of whom was Kate. A memorial garden was built on campus that incorporated aspects of the deceased students’ interests. A giant chess board stood across from a miniature waterfall scattered with little statues of frogs and flowers. Although it was created as a place for children to play, the garden remained untouched for about a year after it was built; probably because it served as a constant reminder of that horrific day.
The beaches along the coastline that were littered with human bodies following the tsunami were cleaned within a matter of weeks, thanks to thousands of volunteers, one of whom was my father. Many of the buildings and hotels that stood by the water were also severely damaged by the force of the wave. Popular tourist destinations like Phuket, once bursting with life, were in ruins. In 2005, the areas that had been fully affected reopened their gates to tourists with a slew of fully functioning hotels that, merely a year prior, seemed to be unsalvageable. Based solely on infrastructure, there was no trace that a natural disaster had ever even occurred.
Tourism is such a prominent contributor to the economy in Thailand, and each time an event of this magnitude occurs, foreigners are less inclined to visit. As a result, the national revenue decreases sharply. The 2004 tsunami is just one of several disasters that have hindered the country’s development in the past decade. Take last year’s shrine bombing in Bangkok, or even last week’s array of bomb attacks in several regions of the country. All of this keeps happening and yet Thailand continues to have hope for the future, taking measures to ensure its growth. The pace at which the nation has developed, despite having faced both natural disasters and acts of terrorism, is an indicator of the love that locals feel for their country and their undying willingness to improve it.