Saturday, January 08, 2005

Update From Malaysia

by Matt Salleh

Some folks have asked me to update them from Malaysia and to give my perspective on the earthquake/tsuanmi that occurred in Sumatra on December 26th at approximately 8 a.m.

Geetha and I are now back in Kuala Lumpur after a 6 month stint in Indonesia. Weíve now got a nice apartment about 5 minutes from the school where I start work on Monday. Weíve spent the weekend unpacking and shopping for housewares etc.

Weíre EXTREMELY excited to be back home in Malaysia and hope to be here for a while to come!

Geetha and I were in Lombok (the next island over from Bali) on December 26th and read about the tsunami in the paper. In fact, four hours after the quake we were on a ferry back to Bali! Thank goodness it didnít travel East! At the time it was just reported that there had been a quake. We didnít know the extent of the damage until the next day. Quakes are reported in the region almost daily.

Anyway, as far as we know.. all family, colleagues, students and friends are safe and sound, even our family (which Iíve never met) in Sri Lanka. There were a few close calls though. A very good friend of mine was in Krabi (mainland Thailand not far from Phuket where the most damage was done in Thailand) with a group of students leading an outdoor adventure trip. He said they had just left for the airport heading inland 20 minutes prior to the tsunami hitting! He also said the resort they were staying at is now gone and they were lucky to make it out in time! You can imagine there are some pretty happy parents for that one! Other friends of ours were in Phuket just 48 hours before and met us in Bali. Again, they are relieved
they decided to meet us in Bali and not spend more time in Phuket.

I have been on the very beaches that were destroyed in Phuket, Thailand. The disaster hit close to home for me as I recognized the resorts, beaches and locales in the news reports. I wonder about some of the Thai people I have met that live there. I never knew them well, merely a roadside aquaintance selling me a drink or a plate of noodles, but still, they are real to me and I think of them and if they are alive. Some of the sweetest and most kind people youíll ever meet are Thaiís, which makes it all the more difficult for me to imagine the hardship they face.

As for Aceh in Indonesia. It was the only place in Indonesia I was afraid to go and I never visited. We were given many warnings about visiting Aceh since it was essentially under military rule/martial law. When we were living in Bogor, Indonesia there would be daily reports in the Jakarta Post about unrest in Aceh, kidnappings and renegade military hijacking this and that. But, I CAN imagine the lack of infrastructure since a lot of Indonesia teeters on the brink of development. Because of corruption and many other factors those places never quite seem to get connected to the rest of the modern world or Asia in the sense of being developed. Many , many people live in plywood and tin roof huts with no running water or
toilets. So I imagine the tsunami just made it much more difficult to cope
with hygiene, clean water and supplying food to the region. I canít imagine
a place in the states as inaccessible to even relate it to.

Iím not sure what stories you guys are getting, but here in Malaysia the papers are FULL of stories.. people floating on debris in the ocean for 8 days and being rescued by fishing vesselsÖÖold folks trapped in their hotels with the water rising and just at the moment they were about to die, the walls collapsed and released the flood. And some of the saddest are about children walking the beaches looking for their family, and even babies that were swept out to sea. Itís all very sad.

The response here has been amazing. Some of our friends work and volunteer for MERCY Malaysia. They said the donations are outstanding, they can barely keep up. However, along the lines of corruption some of the shipments have ëdisappearedí, so now they are sending representatives along with the donations to ensure delivery. Again, the lack of infrastructure (roads, runways, boat docks, man power etc.) has made it difficult to distribute the donated supplies. The reason I say this is because to me the term ëlack of infrastructureí was just a vague notion or idea until I moved abroad and experienced it and saw it for myself. Now I can relate to what they mean when they say they simply canít get the supplies into the region.
Again, I canít think of an example to relate it to in the states or I would.

On another note, since it is easy for me to dislike Bush as an American living abroad, I did notice the slow reposnse by the US. But it seems like they have stepped it up a bit now.

If youíd like another perspective I recommend the two articles linked below. They were sent to me by my friends Callan and Noah. One of them is by Simon Winchester who wrote the book on the Krakatoa explosion in the 1880ísÖ itís a very interresting perspective and as soon as I heard about the tsunami I thought of his bookÖ.,7369,1382850,00.html

One question I do have though, which I havenít had time to research:

Why did the tsunami travel North to Thailand, South to Aceh and West to India and Sri Lanka but not East towards Singapore, peninsular Malaysia and Java? There must be a reasonÖ or I simply am misinterpreting what happened. I imagine it to be like a ripple effect that would be like tossing a stone into a clear pond producing concentric circles. If thatís the case then the waves should have also travelled east? I dunnoÖ. Any ideas? Excuse my ignorance on that one!

I hope to hear from yaíll soon and I hope you are all fine.

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