Just Another 48 Hours
Standing at Koh Samui airport I quickly glanced up to see the ominous line "flight delayed" flicking on the overhead screen. This was last Wednesday afternoon and I had suddenly started receiving calls, and a steady stream of SMSs about shaky tremors in Phuket.
Things were about to get worse.
Getting onto my smart-phone brought tweets of a tsunami alert, receding shorelines and a grim reminder of 2004 with an overloaded mobile network that worked on a sporadic basis.
Next came the news from Bangkok Airways that all flights to and from Phuket were canceled and that the airport was shut. I grabbed the next flight to the capital after learning that no seats were open from Samui to my destination until Friday so I'd better operate from the 'big smoke'.
Airport staff were harried but helpful as I booked the first flight on Thursday back to the island from Bangkok. If a wave was going to hit, it would be between 5:30 and 5:40pm according to the news, and that was all we heard as we took off on the sharp ascent North.
On touchdown I switch on the phone, risking the wrath of the flight crew and no doubt imperiling a planeload of passengers by not adhering to the rules. Living dangerously often comes in small and comical doses at my age.
News from Phuket was that no wave had appeared and that the mood had softened.
Waking early and anticipating all manner of chaos at the airport I was reminded of those stirring images of the last planes out of Vietnam. Humans falling like coconuts from an overloaded tree as they gripped on for life to the long legged helicopters.
Check-in lines at the "no bag counter" went by quickly and I glanced at the airline ticket offices expected to see something out of the ultimate cage fighting spectacles. Again I was mistaken, and had time to get a tasty Latte downstairs at Starbucks.
Landing back in Phuket on one of the first flights, things looked pretty normal, except for some guys in Devo-styled orange jumpsuits handing out bottles of water to cars as they exited the airport. Some nearby official-looking cameramen snapped happy so clearly this was a government photo op.
In the land of same-same, things were indeed back to normal.
I was watching a movie serial on the ill fated John McCain and Sarah Palin Presidential run the other night. One line that caught me was when, after a totally disastrous television appearance, one of the Republican media gurus just shrugged it off and said "these days no one has a memory that lasts longer than 48 hours." Certainly the usual expat doomsday din was in full swing, clamoring away how the island straddled the thin line between Armageddon and anarchy. The funny thing is that for much of the world the same thing can be said all too often these days.
Asia remains for many Westerners a bad clich or backwater they call "The Far East", "The Orient", "The Third World" or even worse.
Don't drink the water and for God's sake it's a jungle out there.
I think I've written about it before, but for the Wildly Willing West it took how many days to evacuate the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina? Or the careless Greek cruise ship captain who abandoned his passengers and took the first lifeboat out.
Yes, but it's different they say.
Thailand could erupt in dismal self-immolation at any time. My quick counter to that is to say, well where can't that happen? Even Sweden, up in the pristine top of the world, isn't safe as last year 's summer camp shooting bore witness.
As I sit at the keyboard days after the tsunami scare and evacuation I ponder over the past few days. A wet, wild and uneventful Songkran and even stories in the news of tourists who actually thanked hotels for advising them to leave the beach areas and later assisted in their needs.
In this episode of "Survivor" the island won an immunity idol and the tribe has now spoken. Frankly speaking I'd be much more concerned about people dying in the streets in Syria, than a fleeing waiter in Patong heading to the hills.
It is after all just another 48 hours.