2005-01-10 Tsunami disaster

Monday 10 January

Dear Friends and Colleagues

This will be the last mass communication of our news, as I am now at home
and will be able, slowly, to start responding individually to emails. Please
do keep in touch: it has been so delightful to hear from you all.

Thank you so much for your good wishes. Even though we were so very lucky to
escape with our lives, the affection and support of friends and colleagues
has been a joy and a great comfort.

I am now at home with a repaired tendon and a stitched up foot, currently
clear of infection, which has been such a worry for people even like me with
relatively minor injuries. I have to return to hospital daily for the
dressing to be changed, then, next week, if all goes well, stitches out and
two or three weeks of leg-in-the-air recuperation. I have a Zimmer frame for
jaunts to the loo, and weíre hiring a wheelchair so that I can get out and
about.

Chai has been wonderful ñ managing all the arrangements and bringing crates
of his delicious home-cooking into the hospital for me (though the hospital
Thai food was excellent). Jacob has been attending to my emails and
communications needs, bringing in printouts of emails and sending mails out,
cycling around Chiang Rai and exploring the city and environs (he is, after
all, here on holiday!); and our friend Khun O from Phuket, has come to stay
with us to help out and give Jacob and me Thai lessons, especially to help
fill my rather passive hours. Lots of Thai friends came to the hospital with
great baskets of fruit and flowers.

Next week our friend Peter is coming in his long-planned visit, and ñ the
most wonderful surprise ñ my brother, Iain, and nephew, Andrew have decided
to come for ten days. So, my sixtieth birthday on 20 Jan will be a wonderful
gathering of my old and new families! Such a great gift!

Our general health and welfare are good: none of us appears to be suffering
from any serious after-effects of the dreadful experience beyond a sense of
peaceful gratitude that weíre alive and safe. Just a momentís glimpse of
imagers on the TV and in the newspapers reminds us how lucky we are, and of
the inconsolable suffering of so many tens of thousands of others.

You may be interested to know that the entire cost for my weeksí private
treatment, accommodation, anaesthesia, the operation, gallons of antibiotics
and anti-infectives, and so on, was rather less than GB£600. And I have no
reason to feel that I had anything but the best.

Jacob shot a couple of rolls of film of our hotel and the surrounding area
in Patong the day after the tsunami, and those shots will be on the website
in due course. One of them shows the bows of a large speed boat thrust into
the side of my ravaged bungalow: on its side are the words, in Thai and
English: Good Luck.

We feel a strong urge to return to Patong (Phuket) soon, and I hope weíll be
able to go with Iain and Andrew, for whom it will be the first sight of a
tropical paradise, albeit a wounded one, though already recovering. (Kao Lak
is a different matter.)

Itís impossible not to think about the many hundreds of tourists still
missing, especially the huge numbers of Swedes; the hundreds of Thais
missing, dead and injured, and the destruction of so many of their small
businesses which supported whole families, sometimes even whole villages
back in the rural hinterland. But you have seen all that, and more.

Affectionate good wishes from us here, and a thousand thanks for your
concern for us.

Bruce




BRUCE HUGMAN
PO Box 246
Amphur Muang
Chiang Rai 57000
Thailand
tel: +66 (0)53 759876
mob: +66 (0)9 6353594
email: mail@brucehugman.net
website: www.brucehugman.net



--------------------------------------------

Chiang Rai Tuesday 4 January 2005

Dear Friends

I have just a few hours at home in Chiang Rai before possible admission to
hospital tomorrow, after leaving Patong Hospital in Phuket this morning. I
wanted to dash off a note to all of you who have so kindly emailed and
called after the tsunami, and also to those of you who wrote before or
during Xmas with greetings and messages. In due course, I shall try to reply
personally to as many messages as I can. In the meantime, I know you will
accept the reasons for a mass mailing.

Briefly, for those who may not have the basic news: I was asleep in my beach
bungalow in Phuket when the tsunami struck the beach and almost submerged
the building. I got out before the bungalow collapsed and the second wave
came. I, along with my Swedish friend Jacob, clung to another bungalow
through the second and third waves (the third was three metres and moving at
20-30kph)in which we were all but battered to death by debris and torn away
from our fragile anchor. Chai was inland staying woith a friend for the
night).

We were bruised and battrered, and I had a deep cut on my right foot which
subsequently became infected and had me hospitalised for seven days. A
Belgian in the next room to me died from gangrene from his injuries.

We were immensely lucky, and (rather obviously)suffered abolutely nothing in
comparison with tens of thousands of others.

UPDATE: The infection has more or less cleared up it seems, and the
specialist allowed me to fly home today to report to the local hospital
here. This afternoon they dressed the wound (and a second, much smaller one)
and I'll report to the surgeon tomorrow. I may be in for a few days (or
longer) depending on his decisions about ops and skin grafts.

We have all been surprisingly placid considering the close encounters with
death, but wonder where the trauma is lurking - perhaps it's yet to appear.
We've been sleeping reasonably well.

My blurry world has now been remedied by reunification with my (old)
prescription glasses (how sharp the outlines of the physical world now
seem), and some comfort offerd by being in familiar circumstances again.

Many of you have recounted the sense of incredulity and horror you've
experienced in far away lands. Some of you have asked: what can we do?
Cash,obviously - as so many people have so generously realised already - but
also, I think, come to Thailand! Help the tens of thousands of ordinary
people whose livelihoods depend on tourism to rebuild and hope again that
life can be benign and hopeful!

I finally got a visit from the UK Embassy in hospital yesterday (several
days after the Austrian, German and Hong Kong authorities had popped into my
room to see if I were one of their citizens or were in need of any help). A
rather snotty bureaucrat berated me for not having registered with the
Enbassy as a long-stay resident here, and implied that their late arrival
was largely my fault for not having gone through the proper procedures. He
dismissed rather brusquely a sensible suggestion I made for alerting people
like me to the usefulness of the procedure. I was pretty cool to him and
shall be writing in due course to the Ambassador. Perhaps empathy is not a
necessary quality for UK diplomats.

We have had endless gestures of kindness and goodwill, personal and
official. The Thai government rescined all charges for drugs and treatment
for tsunami victims. My seven days in hospital, drugs, equipment, nursing
and so on, cost me less than £100 in payment for the private room alone
(about £11.50p.n.) Thai Airways upgraded Chai and me to Business (at our
request for the comfort of my foot) for a mere £30 each for the two legs of
the flight home. The Director of the Tourist Authority of Thailand visited
all the hospitals on Phuket and presented a basket of flowers to each of us
(yes, of course they want us to go back, but there's more to it than that).
The nurses were wonderful (with one exception who caused me more pain in two
wound dressing sessions than all the others put together). We gave them a
water-cooler for the nurses' station in gratitude.

I was sad to leave without re-connecting with the island post-disaster, but
we shall be back again soon, I think. Our land in the north was not
affected, but I wasn't able to get to see it this time (Chai checked it
out). I have a sense of developing a new relationship with a place in which
I nearly died, and which, itself, has endured such tragedy.

It's late, and I should be putting my foot up or getting to bed.

I can't tell you what comfort and pleasure your communications have given
during a bleak time; how much your affection and concern has warmed our
hearts; and how offers of help and visits have made us feel loved and
supported and strong. Thank you so very much!

I may not get back to the keyboard for a few days, so please be patient. For
those of you who have been trying to phone me, you may realise that my phone
is (probably) at the bottom of the Andaman Sea with all our other holiday
possessions (except passport, amazingly - which was in the battered, but
secure, hotel safety box). I hope to get a new SIM card with the same number
in the next few days. In the meantime we're using Chai's phone which is +66
9 7551029 (but not after 10pm Thai time (GMT+7) please!).

Love and best wishes and thanks.

Bruce, Chai and Jacob
(we feel ourselves something of a survivors' team, I suppose)

PS There's an account of the actual day on the website (the first email
Jacob sent for me) - and I hope Jon will put this up soon, as well.

BRUCE HUGMAN
PO Box 246
Amphur Muang
Chiang Rai 57000
Thailand
tel: +66 (0)53 759876
mob: +66 (0)9 6353594
email: mail@brucehugman.net
website: www.brucehugman.net



--------------------------------------------

Phuket Thursday 30 December 2004

Dear Friends

I am writing this from Patong Hospital and Jacob has been kind enough to
go out and type and send it for me.

Chai and Jacob are physically fine. I have a quite small cut but deep
wound in my right foot which has become infected and there's some
concern about. I'm comfortable, though lost my glasses and therefore
more or less disabled from anything but walking around (which I can't do
anyway).

I was asleep in my beach bungalow, 25 meters from the high-tide line,
when the first wave hit and woke to see water rushing under my door.

Outside there was already more than 2 meters of swirling water and
debris. The first wave withdrew before the bungalow fully breached and I
walked out in 1 meter of water.

I got to the rear of the bungalow complex and met Jacob and some others
at another bungalow before the second wave plunged in. We managed to
cling on to the bungalow and weren't smashed up by any of the large and
dangerous debris churning past. This wave was only about 2 meters deep
at its height.

There was an interval of a few moments after the second wave had raced
back to the sea, sucking everything after it.

The third wave roared in. We were standing on the bungalow's patio
balustrade, under the eaves of the roof. The water rose very quickly up
to the roof level, and we had to duck below the eaves and the water and
get our heads outside - where 100 pound gas cylinders, splintered
timber, furniture and god knows what were racing, churning,
somersaulting past at 30 kph or more. We had underhand grips on the
eaves timbers.

My body was dragged more or less horizontal by the flood. The water
stopped rising just above the eaves, just below our noses, at about 3
meters.

Death had never been closer for any of us...

Jacob and I the set off further away from the beach in the ebb of the
wave, while clothes and shoes and fridges and debris bobbed around us.
The serious damage extended about 300 meters inland.

I left that close encounter with death, naked, my night time underwear
having been stripped off by the flood at some point. My foot was
bleeding profusely.

Jacob and I were very lucky. Chai was inland with a friend for the night
and was safe though I didn't know it until he found us the next afternoon.

I'll be here until my foot is safe, then we'll get home to convalesce.
Chai and Jacob have been wonderfully strong and supportive. Chai made me
cry by giving me a miniature, beautifully sculpted mother of pearl
dolphin to hang around my neck, because, he said, "you came back from
the sea".

Thanks for phone calls and emails - can't read the emails, but Jacob is
telling me who's written.

At the middle of this cataclysm, it's oddly lonely and quiet.

We have mobile number +66 97551029 but please don't call after 10pm Thai
time.

Best wishes to you all, and a Happy New Year

Bruce & Chai