World disasters – 9/11 and Boxing Day Tsunami personal experience

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September 15, 2012 by lucychlin

New York:

On Tuesday marked the 11th anniversary of the World Trade Centre bombings. This year’s memorials were significantly less than last year’s 10th remembrance. I remember sitting in front of the TV watching the family members and friends of loved ones killed in the Towers and thought it was a simple, poignant, yet an emotionally moving tribute.

In fact, last year, September 11 2011, I was writing an essay for my Master’s coursework. Back track to September 11 2001, I was writing an essay for my undergrad’s coursework. Some things stay the same whilst some things change.

I think everyone will always remember what they were doing when they found out about 9/11 – the world changing “where were you moments?” like Diana’s death in 1997 and if I were old enough, JFK’s assassination and the moon landing. It was 11pm, near midnight, in Sydney, Australia, and I got a phone call. I was instructed to turn on the TV by a friend and I distinctly remember saying “but I’m studying” :). I did, and couldn’t believe the surreal images. I truly thought it was a sick joke movie, then the realization kicked in and a really deep sense of sadness. Needless to say that I stayed up all night watching news reports, and didn’t get to finish my university report that night.


Fast forward to 2004, I was in Thailand when the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami hit. At the time, I was teaching English in Japan and went to Thailand for seafood, surf and relaxation. I boarded the overnight bus from the capital Bangkok on December 26 heading southwards, and was surprised that there were hardly any passengers on the usually busy coach. When travelling I don’t pay as much attention to the news (especially in pre smartphone days), and was shocked to find out what was happening on the TV images whilst at bus station toilet stops. The next day, we arrived at Ao Nang Beach, the heart of disaster central.

The usual idyllic images of clear blue waters and pristine beaches were replaced by broken boats, hotel/shop/home debris strewn all over the sand and water and missing people posters that lined up along the street front of mostly children and elderly people. What sadness I had felt watching images of NYC, was magnified by a million times by the first-hand experience that I had witnessed the day after this world catastrophe. We spent time volunteering to help the locals and foreigners affected by the disaster with a clean-up effort, and after 4 days with minimal food, drink and supplies, we moved westwards to Koh Phangan.

When there, we heard an even more incredible story. Our work colleague was on the same plane as us from Japan and was staying at Ko Phi Phi on Boxing Day. That day, she went to the window, saw bodies being dragged out to sea, grabbed passports, ran to the highest elevation and slept on a rock that night. She told us the reason why she wasn’t at the beach that morning was because they had a big night the night before for Christmas and woke up late. It had saved her life.

Personal experience take-aways:

  • From my experience, life is too short, and the unexpected can happen at any time.
  • Always tell family and friends what they mean to you.
  • Grow from past experiences and become a stronger person as result.
  • Luck plays a key part in life, but you can change your own life course.

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