Friday, February 03, 2006

People Reclaim Khao Lak From Sea/Jungle

People Reclaim Khao Lak From Sea/Jungle

Just saw a lady walk by, carrying five gallons of water on her head. No hands.

'Five G''s', as we say on the rez, where someone always needs five 'G's of gas. She was from the close quarters, tin roof shantytown Burmese camp, just right over there, low key in this little low rent Thai community of Bang Niang (Bahng Nee-ahng, 'a' as in father), situated between the sea and a block from the main strip artery running from Khao Lak, just south of here, to Takuapa to the north.

She was trailed by four youngsters as she left the little mini mart diagonally across the street, rebuilt now since the tsunami, when it was swept off its foundation, and the owner, when he saw the wave approaching, said, 'I go jogging,' making a pumping motion with his arms.

The wave caught him, he said, and when he popped to the surface, he went swimming. People were on the rooftops, in the palm trees.

Yeah, Bang Niang. Heart of the path of the wave. This is the beach where the now famous police boat, sitting parked just right over there, got taken from however many miles out to sea it was, inland to where it's parked now, right at the edge of the jungle and the bottom of the mountain, killing scores of people, hundreds they say, on it's swath through Bang Niang.

They've made the boat a permanent memorial, and the convergence point for both the '100 Days' ceremony and the recent One Year memorial, which took place there at the boat, and down on the beach at Bang Niang. If you walk up close to it, you'll see flowers, photos, messages, incense.

They've also made it a major tourist attraction, and any time during the daylight hours you can see all sorts of different nationalities out there with their digital cameras. They say that boat, and the tsunami, 'put Khao Lak on the map.'

And so, with the belief that a tsunami comes long once every thousand years, and in anticipation of what's going to happen economically to this area, ALL SORTS of new construction is going up, ALL OVER THE PLACE. This doesn't include the feverish activity that took place just rolling up to the 100 Days memorial, when everybody wanted to be open for business.

Everywhere up and down the strip, from Khao Lak to Cape Pakarang and beyond, on up to Bang Sak Beach, new construction is going on. All the pre-existing resorts are being rebuilt, and it seems like every bit of land is being used up, with encroaching jungle growth being cleared for building someone's new house or two-story Asian-style, shop below/living quarters above.

It's hard to believe they'll be able to fill all those rooms and restaurants, but they say they will. Like Mel said the other night, "Someone is spending some money."


So, why would anyone want to rent an apartment in the heart of the path of the wave? If another one comes, you'll be thirty feet underwater. Lay there sleepless the other night in the room where they said that guy died, wondering what I would do if the room suddenly filled up with water. Swim to the door, down the hallway, and out through the kitchen, out back, and pop to the suface, right?

Positioned as it was, next to the last in a row of eight low apartments oriented perpendicular to the sea, the walls withstood the wave, unlike the first two rentals on the end, swept off their foundation, not rebuilt yet.

Aung, who rented me the place, lived with his wife and two small children in the rental on the end, closest to the sea. They must not've been home, since they all survived. I don't know. He just points to the naked foundation and laughs, making a sweeping motion with his arm. Whoosh. Gone.


I figure I'd have to hold my breath for about twenty seconds. Thirty, max.


Besides that Burmese lady carrying those five Gs of water on her head...I watched her walk down that ramp out of the mini mart, holding it with one hand as she crossed the street, wondering if she'd let go. Sure enough, she did...there was that girl the other day walking with a one-liter bottle of water balanced on her head, talking with her friend as they walked down the road.

And then there was a Thai family of six on a motorbike going down the road, Dad driving, little one on a wicker chair astride the frame in front of dad, another little one behind, then mom, then the eldest on the back, baby in the basket.

'Back in the States,' I thought, 'they'd shoot the parents.'

And then there was that guy on a motorbike, dragging an armload of re-bar (long steel rods for reinforcing concrete) behind the bike. You can imagine what that sounded like going down the road.

And for sound going down the road, Digger and Mel transported an armload of bamboo on their bike. As Mel recounted wrestling with the bamboo, we laughed about tying the bundle off to the frame of the bike, or around your waist. Either way, you'll be un-assing the bike if the bundle should happen to catch on something in the road.

Tie it to the frame, and you'll go over the handlebars. Tie it around your waist, and the bike keeps going, while you drops squarely down on yo' tailbone. Brilliant! Brilliant idea!

That's funny. What wasn't funny was that old man's triple compound fracture of his right leg. Ankle and two places below the knee. I could feel it crunching around in my hands as we loaded him into the back of a pickup truck for an emergency run up to Takuapa hospital.

Should've splinted it. A good medic would've immobilized it. All the bamboo laying around, you'd think you could find a splint. Cannot. Only thing was a long-handled axe in the sidecar in which the man old man was riding, but when I picked it up, his daughter screamed out, "NO! NO!", like, 'this crazy foreigner is going to amputate my father's leg on the spot.'

Lot of people standing around, gawking. The guy driving the truck wasn't hurt, but the third party, who was on a separate motorbike, kissed the pavement and was sitting on the asphalt, bleeding from the nose and mouth.

It happened just behind me at an intersection, a three-way spill in my mirror. We got the bike rider to his feet and into a truck. Dazed and confused, but no apparent concussion. Off they sped, the truck beeping it's way north.

The old man sat stoically, amazingly detached from his injury, unflinching as I put a bag under his knee to relieve the pressure on his twisted ankle and mangled lower leg. I looked up at him, and he just looked back at me, almost vacantly, like someone in the advanced stages of altzheimer's.

Later that night, I studied my Thai. How do you say, 'Call ambulance!'? How do you say, 'Go! Quick!'?


Carrying gauze and roller bandages might be advisable. A kit bag. That was the second in a week. Same spot. Same intersection. Gravel pullout onto asphalt highway. Bike down, clipped by car. Medic! Cuts and abrasions. Treatment at scene. ' Stop the bleeding, prepare for shock.' Start fluids. Just like in a war zone...tell 'em, 'everything is going to be okay,' even if it's not.


Went to the big boathouse beach party and danced with all the girls, even though they didn't know they were dancing with me. Moved around on the sand, bopping to 'Job To Do', a big-name Thai band with hits on the radio. Maybe about three hundred in attendance.

It was a big deal for Scott, the project manager who has been here for over a year, and hit his target of 47 longtail fishing boats, which they launched just before sundown. They've added another 22 boats to the list, and, 'who knows where it will go from there,' said Scott.

He let me play on the big tracked backhoe earlier in the day, scooping out the boathouse launch canal that God keeps insisting on re-filling at each high tide. I had lied to Scott, telling him that I used to run heavy equipment 'alllllll the time.'

Actually, my experience with heavy equipment was just a Bobcat. I also lied to those two Belgians in dreadlocks, telling them that I built the boathouse pretty much by myself, when they asked if I was connected to the boathouse in some way.

Funniest part of the evening was watching the wife of my friend and chief boatbuilder, Aer, a Burmese Muslim. She was trying unsuccessfully to get her daughter's attention, who was in buried the middle of the crowd, dancing in carefree abandon, the only girl out there wearing a headscarf.

On the edge of the dance area, a gyrating guy rattled on in Thai for several minutes, shouting in my ear above the music, not a word of which I understood, but the drift of which was, 'when the music is this good, you've just GOT to dance.'

Sat earlier with the interpreter and former monk, Khong, who was also dancing with all the girls. When he poured me a drink of Thai whiskey, I pointed to the amulets around our necks. "Can Rong Po Thout drink whiskey?" I asked.

"Yes. He can," replied Khong.