We were at a beach house on the central coast while the brunt of the tsunami news unfolded. We watched a couple of television news broadcasts and bought one newspaper, but otherwise tried not to dwell on it. Even so, I found the videoed images of waves crashing into resorts coming into my head when I was woken at dawn by the kookaburras.
A close work colleague spent three weeks on a surfing holiday in an isolated part of Sumatra a month ago. I immediately thought of him and was glad for his 'near-miss'. I had my own faint sense of identification: a decade ago, co-parent and I stayed in a luxurious beach hut in a resort called Fisherman's Cove, south of then-Madras in southern India. A Google search (on return home) revealed that the sea-huts were washed away in the tsunami - but no one was killed there.
I wondered about a family whose son was at preschool with mine - I was surprised a year ago when they told me that they spent every Christmas at Phuket. Yesterday a nighbour who is the child minder for their toddler told me they were safe, still in Thailand.
But the bad news got closer. A friend who was with us at the coast went for her regular massage from a German woman. One of the masseuse's old friends from Germany had been travelling out to see her. She and her partner had stopped off in Thailand en route. The partner telephoned the masseuse to say that her friend had been swept away in the wave... [This story bore an uncanny resemblance for me to an event in the 80s, when an Australian woman was murdered in Thailand en route to visit a friend of mine in London...]
International travel is so commonplace for those of us in the developed countries. It made all these 'overheard' stories possible. Even though I once landed in Bangkok on Christmas Eve myself, I was still astonished to read [sorry, no link] that 11,000 Australians were in Thailand on the day of the tsunami. And 20,000 Swedes, from a nation of just nine million.
Relatively rich tourists provided all those video images which I tried to keep out of my head. The resorts of Thailand are the focus for so much of our morbid fascination and voyeurism, and for a visit from our foreign minister, who presumably feels that he has to be seen to be doing something, as does Tony Blair, who cut short his holiday in Egypt after criticism. Although western nations have now been shamed into doing more than they were initially inclined to do, you don't have to be a bona fide cynic to realise that it was the deaths of Europeans, rather than Asians, which galvanised them. It's primarily those deaths which move us, speak to us, make us grateful we weren't there, this year.
Later: George Monbiot compares aid money with war money.