Tsunami Tragedy’s Poster Boy – A Ray of Hope?
As the tsunami tragedy continues to flood various TV channels, radio stations and newspapers here in Thailand, everyone sits glued to the TV, watching in horror as the death toll continues to rise ever so steadily. Most Thais came home earlier this evening to learn that 800 bodies have just been found buried under the rubble at Sofitel Hotel in Phuket, sending Thailand’s death toll to 1,516. In a statement made earlier today, Thailand’s prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, said that once this is all over, Thailand’s overall death toll could easily go over 2,000, or even higher.
But besides the mass horror stories, it’s the individual accounts that pull at the heart the most. Throughout the day, Thai journalists have been interviewing loads of people, ranging from fishermen, Swedish tourists, construction workers, and Thai vacationers hailing from Bangkok. With tears in their eyes, all of them held up photographs of their loved ones, pleading in earnest that should anyone spot them, to please notify them immediately. No one wants to think that those currently missing might in fact be dead. No one wants to give up hope, especially when there has already been an odd miracle story here and there. Everyone wants to think that their missing father, son, daughter or mother might still be alive; that there might still be the chance of a possible reunion.
The story that has been headlining the news both here in Thailand and abroad is the story of a 2-year old blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy. The boy was found on the side of the road, bleak and weary-looking, his face covered in red mosquito bites and small cuts. None of the Thai hospital workers could decipher the language he was babbling in, but noticed that he appeared especially enthusiastic when he overheard a Swedish man speaking in Swedish. After posting his picture on the Phuket International Hospital website and sending his picture out to various news stations around the world, the boy’s Swedish uncle recognized him and the boy has since been reunited with his father and grandfather, though his mother and grandmother are still missing.
So this is the story most families have been clinging to, hoping and hoping that maybe – just maybe – their loved ones are lost somewhere at one of the many hospitals packed with tsunami disaster victims in southern Thailand.
But not all the stories have had happy endings. Also at the same hospital as the young Swedish boy is a 10-year old German girl, named Sophia Michl. Both her parents are missing, and so far none of the young girl’s relatives have come forth to claim her. This is just a brutal reminder of the hundreds of thousands of children all across Southern Asia who are going to be left parentless after this disaster.
But despite all the tragedy, various other pictures that have been emerging from this disaster have also been amongst the most heartening. I’m not talking about the pictures of washed up bodies lining Thailand’s pristine shores, but rather the pictures of monks crouching down on the ground, hard at work as they hammer together wooden coffins. Pictures of tourists coming together to aid injured Thais and fellow tourists, carrying them out of the rubble and into helicopters; pictures of Thai university students helping out at Thammasat university, helping to translate and assist tourists so that they can contact their loved ones back home. And of course, how can one forget the pictures of Thais rushing off to various charities all over the country to donate whatever they can, whether it be money, dry food, clothes, water… blood. These are the pictures that help make the suffering a little easier to bear; to see Thais hurrying to aid the disaster victims by showing them that they understand what their fellow brothers and sisters are currently going through.
I just found out this morning that a family of distant relatives of mine is still missing in Phi Phi. No one has been able to contact any of them, and we can’t help but expect the worse. Two of my brother’s friends have already been confirmed dead, though thankfully another one of his friends just barely escaped the tidal waves in Phuket with her family. With New Year’s Eve celebrations right around the corner – to be quite frank – I couldn’t care less about parties and celebrations when thousands of people all over the region are suffering from such devastating personal loss.
The extent of the human suffering and economical costs from this tragedy is absolutely staggering, but I can only hope that South Asia can rise above all this in the months to come.