Friday, July 29, 2005

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

Growing tired of the culinary monotony of fish heads and rice served up three times a day at the volunteer center, I invited a friend from Sweden to the Friday night dinner buffet at the Marlin, a five-star resort hotel where you could excessively indulge yourself on several entrees of premier Thai cusine for 400 baht, about ten bucks.

The Marlin was situated on the south side of the mountain, about halfway between our primitive gecko-jungalow-bungalow and the volunteer center up on top at the Khao Lak Nature Preserve.

Several of us volunteers had been using the Marlin's six swimming pools, enjoying the facilities as if we were staying there, being turned away only during the stay of the Prince of Denmark, whose entourage occupied the entire resort for the four or five days during the memorial service for the hundreds of Danish victims of the tsunami, over which he presided.

"These guys look like they're ready for a day at the beach," Digger had said when we went for the modestly-priced Sunday morning all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, nodding at the dozen uniformed Danish security men standing around in the lobby waiting to see what the Prince wanted to do next, all wearing tan summer shorts and towels around their necks, laughing easily like they had the day off. For a security force, they all seemed extremely relaxed. Assignment to accompany the Prince to Thailand? Not baaaaad. Not bad at all. Pack the fins and snorkel.

"We're with the Prince," Digger told the manager when he stopped us in our traverse across the lobby, but when I realized he knew I knew he knew who we were...we had far too advanced tans, compared to the recently-arrived pale white Danes, and didn't resemble the resort's primarily German and Swede clientelle, and besides that, he'd seen us frequenting the pool for weeks...that I relinquished the ruse and told him we were there for his modestly-priced breakfast buffet.

"You should have said something in German," Digger said.

Although the main reception facility, restaurant, bar, and several of the resort's 4,000 room occupancy were on high ground and undamaged by The Wave, many of the rooms below 30 ft. sea level and beachfront bungalows had been swept off their foundations and were in the process of being rebuilt by dozens of Thai workers who smiled and used whatever English they knew in greeting me whenever I sneaked into the pool.


You know how dogs can talk. They've got the standard expressions they use for 'friend', 'glad to see you', 'wary distrust', 'get back', and so forth, but if you watch them closely, they can tell you much, much more.

It was late and dark by the time we had finished a sampling of the half-dozen inspired buffet desserts the chef proudly encouraged us to try. After signing off the bill to a Mr. Hendricksen in room 309, we walked down the concrete walkway to the beach, illuminated by small yellow lights, accomplanied by a generic short-haired brown Thai dog with the customary arched tail up over his back.

I'd seen him around before in the lower level of the resort where the Thai military had set up headquarters for their massive tsunami relief effort, with their huge tent encampment adjacent to the grounds of the Marlin.

When he appeared at our heels, nuzzling my hand in a wet-nose greeting that demanded recognition, I wondered whose dog he might be, there on the grounds and all. His confidence and air of unchallenged authority said, 'This place is mine. It's all mine. I own it. Come. I'll show you around. Please follow me.'

We walked down to the beach and stood under coconut palms looking out at the blackness. Tiny lights of fishing vessels were far out on the Andaman, her waves crashing in methodical thunder.

My dinner companion said six thousand Swedes died in Khao Lak, some of them right here, where the day after Christmas, on their winter holiday, they were having breakfast, walking along the beach, or maybe just sleeping in a little longer from the previous night's festivities when the water, as the Thai strangely put it, 'went away'.

Everyone attests no animals died when the water 'came back'. Just human beings. There were still more than 2,000, they said, still 'out there', somewhere in the sea.

Our escort had gone to high ground, as well, but he had returned immediately in the first wave of stunned survivors to help with the aftermath. He had seen incredibly sad things that his ancestors never knew, and he experienced some truly horrible smells, but these days were pretty much back to normal, with his job to oversee all the reconstruction work that was going on there at the Marlin, and to coordinate things with the military.

He wouldn't let us go near the water that late at night, and gently suggested we stay on the walkway, up under the coconuts, walking between us and the beach and leaning into our legs to direct our stroll.

When a young couple, walking hand-in-hand, came up the beach, he leaped up and ran out to the water, staying with them until they returned to the Marlin's grounds and their bungalow, then he returned and found us, and on the sand, he just sat there, watching the sea.

- end