Blessed to be a witness

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Saturday, June 25th


Today is the six month anniversary. I am writing this exactly six months after the tsunami - to the minute. Today is a day of quiet reflection for volunteers and tourists. However, the Thais don't really mark this as a significant date: they grieve for 44 days, and have a ceremony of sadness at this point. The next fifty six days are spent in mourning, but the one hundredth day is a day of celebration.

To celebrate that the island is open again after only six months, but to avoid having too much jollity on the actual day, Hi Phi Phi organised a carnival for the 24th. Our friend Claire came up with the idea about ten days ago, and in an astonishingly short time - typical of the spontanaiety and hard work of the organisation - "Return to Paradise" was born; "Return to Paradise" a carefully chosen name - an instruction as well as a description.

The intention was not to make it a farang-oriented piss-up. It was to be inclusive of the entire community, young and old. Loh Dalum beach, which bore the brunt of the biggest wave, was cleaned of glass and debris. Paths were made, lined with coconuts. A damaged building, all that is left of Phi Phi Princess Resort, which lost 55 workers and 320 tourists, was re-plumbed to provide toilets. Stallholders' areas were marked out, lights hung in the trees, banners made and balloons inflated. I designed a logo, and we made t-shirts which sold like hotcakes.

The day began at twelve, and with a very moving sight: the Children of Phi Phi came back from the refugee camp, and ran and played in the sea. Until, that is, three of them got stung by jellyfish and were herded into the medical centre screaming the place down.

A particular highlight for me was meeting several Miss Hong Kong contestants who just happened to be on the island, part of the competition being to make a documentary film. I hit them with a bit of Cantonese and they giggled girlishly, and I grinned like an idiot.

Note M in the background looking unimpressed with me

Football, volleyball, and takraw (a traditional Thai version of volleyball played with the feet and a wicker ball) tournaments went on, followed by beach games, including a coconut shy, a coconut-and-shovel race (as opposed to egg-and-spoon), a sack race, and my favourite, a three-legged obstacle course, which is one of the funniest things I've seen.

A locally famous band, Job 2 Do, played for free, and despite a deluge that almost finished the event off, requiring hundreds of people to crowd into a nearby pavilion, the highlight of the evening, an amateur ladyboy show, proceeded to enormous hilarity.

Then a fireshow that I introduced, unfortunately losing the megaphone in the confusion. Claire had set herself the amazing task of going from never having twirled fire before, to performing an entire poi routine - in seven days. And she acquitted herself brilliantly. I said that in addition to sponsoring her a thousand baht, I'd give her a hundred baht per burn. Thankfully I only had to pay her a hundred extra.

Claire "Faking It"

The event was an astonishing success, and importantly the local community loved it, and want to know if we can have such an event every week. And I'm pleased to say that my t-shirts went so well that we're going to do another run of them.

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