| Cod Satrusayang |
BANGKOK (dpa) – Sadol Tongkhan had made the trip hundreds of times, picking up passengers at Phuket Airport and driving them to resorts in Khaolak. The trip is only marginally profitable because the return leg is done in an empty cab.
So when two foreign couples flagged him down on the way back on one particular trip, he was thrilled. His joy was short-lived because when he pulled over, the passengers had disappeared from the side of the road.
“They were ghosts, tsunami victims still trying to find a way out of Khaolak,” the cab driver says. Sadol admits that 10 years on, ghost sightings by him and others of are becoming less frequent.
“The spirits have moved on. We have moved on,” says Phra Kamo Viroj, the abbot of a Buddhist monastery at Ban Nam Kem, one of the hardest hit areas in Thailand on December 26, 2004. The monastery was not inundated during the tsunami because it was built on higher ground.
“But surviving the waves meant a different kind of nightmare when the temple opened its doors to survivors, the injured and the dead in the immediate aftermath.”
“We did the best we could,” Phra Kamo says, struggling to get out his words. The temple may be dusty and sleepy now but at the height of the disaster, the abbot and his monks were holding funerals and cremations twice a day for months.
“We moved on,” the monk says again, as if to remind himself. “We’ve rebuilt. Those days are just a memory now.”
But memories last longer for some more than others. A few kilometres down the main highway from Ban Nam Kem, a tsunami memorial featuring a police boat that was swept inland stands accu-mulating dust and rubbish.
Despite its lack of upkeep, a steady stream of foreign visitors comes to pay their respects. “It is very important that we come here,” says Wolfgang Kuttner as he looks at pictures from that fateful day. “We were in Sri Lanka, on holiday, when the tsunami hit.”
Kuttner explains that 10 years later, in a completely different country, it is still important to take a break from their holiday to visit the memorial sites because of the solidarity that he feels with those impacted by the tsunami.
“There was no question we would come here. It’s necessary to remember.”
Even people who weren’t affected by the tsu-nami find their way to the memorial. Ray Davis and his girlfriend Thanyamon Phongput were nowhere near Khaolak 10 years ago but felt com-pelled to make the trip to the memorial while on holiday.
“I think for us it’s important to pay our respects. So many people of every nationality lost their lives,” he says. The divergent ways of expressing grief can be explained by the fundamental difference in cultures, according to Prinya Laohateeranon, a sociologist working with the Thai government.
“Thais are brought up on a culture of non-confrontation and that applies to personal rela-tionships as well as tragic events,” she says.
Prinya says that this may lead to a misunder-standing that Thais don’t care but that is not the case.
“We do care, we can grieve in private moments, but publicly it is more acceptable to celebrate a loved one’s life than the manner of their passing.”
The difference in grief culture is something that Anders Broberg, who runs the Scandinavian Corner guest house in Khaolak, knows quite well. He says he receives guests each December who have made their way back to the area to remember a loved one or to relive the painful memories.
Some local residents have capitalised on the sentiment by hosting concerts and ceremonies to float lanterns.