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About A Week: Just Another Morning

Peter Hinchliffe asks if it is appropriate today to say Happy New Year to the people of Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Andaman islans, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Somalia and Kenya.

Just another morning…

The usual routine, hands guided by automatic pilot. Lather cheeks and chin, carefully scrape away the whiskers with a triple-bladed razor.

The radio is on, of course. A small portable radio, perched on the windowsill, tuned to BBC Radio 4, delivering the early morning news.

I’m a news addict. What would you expect of a 50-year journalist? Even so, I’m listening with only half an ear. Don’t expect there’ll be much by way of new news in these quiet dog days between Christmas and New Year.

…huge earthquake on seabed near Sumatra…giant tidal wave…tsunami…hitting coasts of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand…thousands drowned…

Oh no! Our son Dave and his wife Muay live a stone’s throw from a beach in Thailand.

Out onto the landing I dash, face dripping lather, to shout downstairs to my wife. Joyce had been listening to the same bulletin.

“…and you’re all OK?’’ she says. She is already talking to David on his mobile phone. The wonder of modern communications. Press 12 numbers, and within a couple of seconds you are talking to someone on the other side of the world.

Dave, Muay, little Kew, they are all OK. They live on Koh Chang, Elephant Island, in the Gulf of Thailand, protected by the landmasses of Burma, Thailand and Malaysia from the Indian Ocean and its killer waves.

In the Gulf there was not so much as a ripple from the killer tsunami.

We were all together in Thailand three weeks ago, a holidaying family, happily united in a land of sunny skies and even sunnier smiles.

We were in Chiang Mai, an ancient city not all that far from the Burmese border. A busy place. Crowded night markets. Scurrying tuk-tuk taxis. Fabulous food in a restaurant which first opened its door to customers 135 years ago.

We stayed in a four-star hotel with a marble lobby big enough to serve as an aircraft hangar. Two musicians playing exotic instruments in that lobby every evening. Marble fountains and cool-sounding water gushing along marble channels on the way to the guest elevators, swimming pool, sauna, gym, breakfast on the terrace in December…

All this luxury for £20 per room per night!

I loved Chiang Mai, with its full-strength flavour of the exotic East. I can even enjoy thronging Bangkok with its 24-hour traffic scrums for a couple of days.

But it’s in the Thai beach resorts that you get a glimpse of paradise. White sands, palm trees, startlingly beautiful tree-clad mini-islands which look as though they have been carefully placed to serve as the backdrop for a Hollywood back-packer movie.

Koh Chang is one of the most beautiful of those Thai islands. My son writes, edits, publishes a quarterly guide to Koh Chang. If you care to see what paradise looks like click on the White Sands Publications link in the list on the right-hand side of this page.

Koh Chang is safe, secure, undamaged, still eager to welcome visitors. So are numerous other Thai resorts, and one of the best ways of helping a hard-pressed Thai government is for holiday makers to continue to go to that country.

In that first BBC bulletin I heard, bringing news of the tsunami disaster, the reader said that so far 3,000 people were reported to have been drowned, though that figure was expected to rise.

Rise it has, with a numbing relentlessness. 10,000, 50,000, 80,000...

Many more thousands seriously injured, businesses ruined, millions homeless.

So how, on this first day of January, 2005, do you say happy new year to the people of Thailand?

How do you say happy new year to folk in India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Andaman islands, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Somalia, Kenya…?

The happy new year wish is dreadfully inappropriate for millions of our fellow world citizens today.

What is appropriate for all of us untouched by the worst natural disaster in a century is to contact an aid agency, by phone or via the Net.

And make sure you have your credit card at the ready.

In the United Kingdom you can make a donation by phoning the Disasters Emergency Committee: 0870 60 60 900

or donate online:



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