Return to KMO

DEBBY NG
Jan 15, 2009
*Special to asia!

"It's about time." I'm whispering to myself. No. I'm exclaiming out loud in my head! What took me so long? The last time I was here was on December 23, 2005. Three days before the Indian Ocean tsunami levelled the northern tip of Sumatra.

I don't usually watch TV. Having worked at a TV station and staring at two cathode ray monitors a foot and a half distance away from my face, eight hours a day, five days a week, ended any pleasures I used to have with TVs. But on the morning of December 26, 2005, my mom was watching the news in front of the TV. I took my breakfast and joined her. I don't recall much of the news that day, I wasn't about to start Sunday my morning by internalising the number of people who'd died in a shelling in the Middle-east or how much was made in the stock market the day before. I shovelled cereal into my face and drank my hot chocolate. The voice of BBC World Presenter Martine Dennis was very therapeutic to listen to in the morning. She has a pleasant accent, and I liked the way she wasn't unnecessarily dramatic like some other news presenters.

News Flash: An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

The ticker at the bottom of the screen flashed and Dennis went on with world news. My brows tensed up for a moment. As the words rolled off the end of the screen, time froze. Questions. Where in Sumatra? 8.9? Black spaces in my head. Then Dennis begins to speak, "An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale has been recorded in the north of Indonesia's Sumatra island." As she spoke, a graphic of Sumatra island flashed into the screen. There right at the northern tip was a red dot, labelled "epicenter". "Stay tuned to more news on BBC World."

"That's where I was!" I yelled to my mom. "My friends are still there!" My mom replied, "Hmm?" She was chewing her breakfast. Fruit salad. "Nah, it's nothing." "But that's where I was!" I went on, "Right there! On that dot! Right there!" "Just wait for more news." She said nonchalantly. I folded my arms and sat back in the sofa, brows pressed, eyes fixed, waiting for the next bit of news.

News Flash: An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

The ticker flashed again. Dennis came back on. Again the same graphic with the red dot labelled "epicenter" was flashed, and she muttered the same words in her calm accent and tone, "An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale has been recorded in the north of Indonesia's Sumatra island."

Each time, no further news. Each time, she said to stay tuned for more.

A third time. A fourth time.

I picked up my cell phone to the buddy that had travelled with me. I decided to go to Pulau Weh, an island off the Bandah Aceh, when a friend who did some work there took the weekend off to go snorkelling and saw a whaleshark. I made the trip with the same expectations. I didn't see a whaleshark, but the landscape both above and below the sea would be unforgettable. "Have you heard the news? An earthquake! It's right where we were! The guys are still there!"

News Flash: An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

"Stay tuned for more news on BBC World."

I sat in front of the TV transfixed. I wouldn't switch the channel. Wouldn't let anyone do it. But hours and hours later, the news remained the same. The same words scrolled across the screen. The presenters had changed but the script was the same.

It was evening. I had a shower. Dinner. Then my dad turned to watch the news from local TV network Channel News Asia. A tsunami of rocks and mud has ploughed through the coast of Penang, an island isolated in the Strait of Malacca, about 700km from Singapore. We flicked to BBC world, resorts in Thailand were destroyed, Tourists stood to watch as the sea receded from the beach, onto to return a torrent. But still the words from Indonesia remained the same - epicenter.

It was not difficult to get to bed. I cried to sleep. At 3 in the morning, I was lying in bed as my parents considered to camp in front of the TV for more news. I heard the presenter say that the wave had hit the coasts of Northeast India, Sri Lanka, the islands of the Maldives, and the coast of Kenya. With my eyes half opened, I said to myself, "They're all dead."

The next day I called the Canadian Embassy, "I have a friend in Aceh." Then the Swiss Embassy, "I have two friends in Aceh. They are Swiss." Then the Japanese Embassy, "I have a friend in Aceh, the place that's been hit by the tsunami, he's there." The voice on the other end asked, "What's his name?" "Sunny Saito" "Sunny?" "Yes, I'm sorry I don't know his other names, but yes, Sunny Saito." "What do you want me to do?" "I don't know? I only know to call you. If you need anything you need to tell me." "Ok ok. We can't do anything." "I just thought you should know." "Ok ok. Ok." "Ok"

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby

www.debbyng.net

www.pulauhantu.org