Water On The Brain…

I’m thinking about water a lot these days. I only have to look out the window to see torrents of it falling from the sky, and when it lets up a little I can watch the sea hitting the small wall at the beginning of the beach and then shooting vertically into the air. That’s quite a sight, and it must be unusual because the neighbors come out to watch.

I was down by the beach a couple of days ago getting a closer look, on a rare occasion it wasn’t raining. I was standing next to a nice cottage that is adjacent to the sea wall, when my next door neighbor appeared and told me the place was for sale. I think he must be an agent, because he knew all the details and the price. But trying to sell me something that seemed to be in imminent danger of being washed away seemed like bad timing.

Sichon, Nakhon Si Thammarat
Vertical Waves

I’m happy to live hard by the sea, so long as I don’t own the property. I have an evacuation plan in my head, just in case things become really bad. Right now they’re just bad, not really bad. Frankly, I don’t care about abandoning property I don’t own.

I’m really glad I went north a couple of weeks ago. The weather was great, and that made a very pleasant change. I was also lucky that the day after I arrived home it didn’t rain. There was just enough sun to get my laundry dry and get Bert cleaned and polished before the wet stuff returned.

You may recall I’ve been grumbling about the weather for some time, months maybe. We’ve had couple of tropical storms come in off the South China Sea and the Bay of Bangkok, that have caused extensive flooding. Just what we have right now I’m not sure. Some kind of depression that has stalled. And it arrived immediately after the latest tropical storm.

The problem is not the amount of rain that falls near the coast, but the amount that falls in the mountains just a short way inland. The water pours into the rivers that simply can’t cope – especially with the recent extra-high tides – and so they overflow onto adjacent land. And there’s lots of rivers, so there’s lots of flooding.

In my excitement to move from Malaysia to this part of Thailand, I never even thought about the rainy season. Pretty-much every time I’d visited, the skies had been clear and the sea was blue. But I wasn’t thinking clearly…

I lived for 26 years near the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. That’s relevant, because even though the area gets a lot of rain at times, and there is occasional local flooding, it’s the east coast that gets wolloped with days, or even weeks, of torrential rain at this time of the year. And where am I now? On the east coast! Only a few hours north of the border. So, it would seem, the whole east coast suffers, not just Malaysia! Never thought of that, did I?

This year seems especially bad. In fact the Prime Minister just announced that “this year’s rains were unusually heavy in the South, dumping 1,000 millimeters on the region in only 10 days, compared with the normal 1,500 millimeters per year.” That’s one meter of water in ten days!

Many towns close to both sides of the border are under several meters of water, and have been evacuated. And the situation seems to be getting worse. The long range forecast says we may see the sun briefly next Wednesday, and the rest of the time it will rain. Great! January is supposed to be the start of the long dry season. Could someone kindly remind the weather gods?

Oh well. There’s a couple of advantages. I sure as heck don’t need to buy water to fill my tank, and I hardly ever need air conditioning, which means lower electricity bills. So, I’ll shut up, and save money.

Meanwhile, along with much of the world, I’ve been thinking of the events of exactly ten years ago. The über-mega-tsunami. A nice mélange of German, Greek and Japanese for you.

At the time of the earthquake and resulting tsunami I was in Penang. The island was hit by the tsunami, people died, and there was some damage, but it was nothing like as bad as most other areas and countries that were affected. I’ve never really seen an explanation for this, but I have a theory…

The odd thing is, the waves hit at lunchtime. Whereas everywhere else, they hit at around 8am to 10am, depending on the local time zone. Penang, is kind of “hidden” behind the Indonesian island of Sumatera, where the main wave hit the province of Aceh early morning. My theory is that this main wave was unable to reach Malaysia. Rather, the tsunami spread the other way across the Indian Ocean, and bounced back, and it was this reflected wave that struck Penang, and the northern Malaysian Peninsula. I can’t think of any other way to explain the time gap.

As it happens, I had a grandstand view from the top floor of our apartment building. The photos I took, with a rather early low-resolution digital camera, I sent – via dial-up modem – to The Star, one of Malaysia’s English language dailies. They published them, putting a large one on the front page, under the headline “Waves Of Death.” My fifteen minutes of fame!

Sichon, Nakhon Si Thammarat

I have to say, the next few days were bizarre and unpleasant … seeing bodies floating in the sea, and fishing boats in the middle of the road, but, the scarier thing was not the tsunami but the earthquake that preceded it.

As the quake hit, it was drinking-morning-coffee-in-bed time, and the building was swaying so much, it was hard to keep the coffee in the cup! The logical thing would have been to get the hell out of there, but I don’t think it would have been possible to walk without falling. And you always think it’s about to end, but it didn’t … it went on and on for what was two and half minutes but seemed like a half hour! Or a lifetime – because it genuinely seemed like life was about to end, there and then. Just how the building remained standing and undamaged, I’m not sure.

The other thing I find strange is that it was only ten years ago. Personally, so much has happened in those years, some things really really good, and others really really not so good, that it seems more like twenty years ago.

And in that time, I think the world has forgotten what it needs to be prepared for, because the same thing could happen a thousand years from now, or tomorrow. It’s not so bad here in Thailand. On the Andaman Coast, evacuation routes are clearly marked and the warning sirens are regularly tested. But Malaysia seems to have done next to nothing, except for a lot of talking.

Today there’s a big memorial ceremony over on the other coast. I’d thought of going, but eight hours of driving in torrential rain does not appeal. So, as I say, water seems to be dominating my thoughts right now.


...has been travelling the world for more than fifty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more. He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way. More info than you could possibly need is available by clicking the ABOUT tab in the top menu line.

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