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A Decade Ago: Marking the one year anniversary of the tsunami

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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A Decade Ago: Marking the one year anniversary of the tsunami | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: On an island accustomed to horrific, devastating and dumbfoundingly absurd news, the page one lead story that captured the hearts of Phuket Gazette readers a decade ago was one of recovery and love – who says good news can’t sell?

With uncharacteristic typographical enthusiasm (underlined and accompanied by an exclamation mark), the headline in the December 31, 2005 – January 6, 2006 issue of the Gazette read, ‘SHE SAID YES!

Tsunami victim to wed doctor who looked after him’. Though born in the same town in Israel – Ramat Gan – Rom Bombiger didn’t meet Dorit Nitzan until she started helping him recover from the trauma of the tsunami at Bangkok Hospital Phuket – one year later he proposed.

Similar to the issue of the Gazette you’re holding right now, the Dec 31-Jan 6 issue ten years ago paused to reflect on a year past; a year that was fraught with the pains of recovering from the tsunami:

“The news in 2005 was dominated by the tsunami and its aftermath. The main headline in the first edition of the Gazette in January said, ‘Relief effort begins’. Businesses nationwide donated goods and services to the giant waves’ victims, bringing much needed relief. Meanwhile, the arduous task of identifying the dead began… The government pumped 20 million baht into the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) coffers in order to provide assistance to tourists in the six tsunami-affected provinces… Despite the catastrophe, tentative optimism emerged in early January, with bold government claims of being able to set up a disaster warning center by the end of the month – as well as the TAT’s proclamations that it would send teams to Europe, publicizing Phuket’s recovery.”

Though the promise of the warning system being online within a month fell short of reality by several years, the tourism sector did miraculously recover. As explored in this issue of the Gazette, the island’s resilience seems to be second to none. Military rule, travel warnings, threats of possible terrorist attacks, shark bites and other sensational news that would appear to be capable of dealing a crippling blow to the province rolled off its protective bubble like a drop of water on a rain jacket this year.

Surprisingly, in-tune with the future needs of the island, then-Phuket Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura spoke to the Gazette about what he would like to see happen in 2006. He called for the island to better coordinate the many facets of development into a single concept in order to propel the province forward.

“There are many separate and different aspects, such as tourism, health tourism, Phuket’s marinas and the island’s overall development. We need to combine all these concepts and link them so that Phuket becomes a top-class destination and one in which people will invest,” he said.

Though officials are still juggling numerous projects as they continue to deal with the province’s growing pains, this year has seen a unified push – with strong backing from Bangkok – toward a single image of what Phuket will be as we enter the Asean Economic Community. The strong focus in the marine tourism sector is expected to deliver fruits to those that have been patiently tending to it, especially now that the government-backed Thailand Yacht Show prepares to set sail in early 2016.

What the editors of the Gazette will think of our current predicament with 10 years of hindsight, is hard to say. Of course, if we jump into the Gazette‘s ‘The Time Machine’, a backward glance from a decade ago – giving ourselves double-bump back to 2000, we find a headline that seems as if it could have been written any time within the last 20 years: Patong’s allure fades as many problems grow unchecked.

And though the concerns are familiar – parking, road safety, flooding and touts – only a few of those expats that can recall in their mind’s eye images of the rice paddies and wandering water buffalo that once dominated Patong, will be able to truly recall how drastically different the magnitude of problems being tabled at the turn of the millennium were from those we face today.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Phuket

Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Marina Krasnopolska

WARNING! Content below contains photos of self-mutilation that some may find disturbing.

The flags on Go Teng poles were lowered on Monday, ending Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival and symbolising that the spirits have returned the heavens. The flags are raised at the start of the festivities each year at participating shrines, calling on the spirits to descend from the heavens.

This year, 2 men were electrocuted while taking down the festival flags. A steel pole with the flag touched a power pole, electrocuting and burning the workers as they were trying to lower the flags. They were taken to the hospital.

During the festival’s street processions and ceremonies so-called “mah songs” channel the descended spirits. They enter a trance-like state and many practice self-mutilation to channel the spirits. “Mah” means horse in Thai, and some say the mah song acts as a horse for the spirit to ride.

Some mah song pierce their cheeks and other parts of their body with steel spikes and sometimes swords or other bizarre choices (we’ve seen petrol pumps, javelins, samurai swords and kitchen utensils). During the street procession, they walk for hours with the self-inflicted piercings, seemingly posessed by ‘spirits’ and muttering all sort of strange chants, verging on mild cases of Tourette syndrome. A team of devotees for each mah song wipe away blood and keep the wounds clean. Some mah songs even slice their tongue for the street procession. Blood drips on their chest and the ground. Waiting bystanders line the streets hoping for the blessing of a passing mah song. Some mah songs carry a black flag.

The event is an annual spiritual ‘cleansing’ for those in watching the processions. Onlookers lining the street bow their heads and place their hands in the “wai” position as the mah song waves flags and banners over their heads. Businesses along the procession route often set up an altar outside their shop and mah songs stop at each one to do a short ritual.

The Phuket government gave the festival organisers the “okay” to hold this years event with hopes that it would increase domestic tourism and generate much-needed revenue after the Thai government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic crippled Phuket’s tourist economy. Before this year’s festival, Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana asked that the mah songs “limit the level of torturing.” He also called for a limit on the number of people at ceremonies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

His calls were largely ignored.

The spirits will again return in 2021 to Phuket again cleanse the island’s large Thai-Chinese community.

Photos of the 2020 Vegetarian Festival by Marina Krasnopolska.

Phuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Phuket

Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Daily News

As Phuket awaits foreign tourists, city officials are told to prepare a “response plan” in case of a second wave of Covid-19. An official from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports held a workshop in Phuket today to discuss the risk of another outbreak as the country opens up to those on the Special Tourist Visa.

The ministry’s permanent secretary Chote Trachu says now that the country is allowing tourists (who are required to quarantine upon arrival) an infection “may somehow slip through.” He says a response plan needs to be in place in case this happens, adding that there should be corporation from the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Defense.

“If any tourists are found to be infected, the disease must not be allowed to spread among the people. There should be no panic, and public health officers will investigate the case. Tourist Police will track down the suspected person in an investigation with the Ministry of Public Health.”

Chote says all provinces – not just Phuket – should have a response plan. Although tourists must go through a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival, Chote says there are some cases where the incubation period for Covid-19 is longer than 14 days.

“There are a variety of cases. Sometimes, the infection does not show after 14 days, or even 15 or 16 days. Each situation is different.”

Recently, a woman in Koh Samui tested positive for the coronavirus 5 days after she was released from a Samut Prakan quarantine facility. Traces of the virus were found on gym equipment the woman used at the quarantine, leading health officials to suspect she was infected before arriving to the island.

“We urge Thai people to not let their guard down. Everyone must wear masks, wash their hands and take care of personal hygiene. This will help prevent them from contracting the disease.”

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub

Maya Taylor

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket - PHOTO: www.makemytrip.com

Industry officials are seeking the go-ahead for a project to transform over 140 rai of government land in Phuket into a world-leading medical hub. The project is budgeted at 3 – 4 billion baht, depending on which report you read. Kitkong Tantijaraswarodom, from the Federation of Thai Industries, believes the development of a medical and wellness hub in the sub-district of Mai Khao, north Phuket, will help revive the southern island’s battered economy. Phuket has become increasingly reliant on a steady flow of tourists over the past 2 decades.

The southern division of the FTI covers Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Patthalung, Surat Thani, Ranong, Satun, Chumphon, and Songkhla.

“The FTI will ask the government to green-light the project during the scheduled mobile cabinet meeting on the island on November 3.”

Kitkong says businesspeople in the south are anxious for the government to approve the project, which will provide both locals and foreign medical tourists with state-of-the-art medical care. The facility is expected to include long-term care, hospice and rehabilitation services, in addition to a dental hospital, sports therapy centre, and a medical training school for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical laboratory scientists.

The chair of the FTI’s southern chapter is also calling on officials to provide small and medium-sized businesses with additional support, in the form of access to loans, in order to deal with cash shortages.

“In the short term, the FTI wants the government to help SMEs, especially those in the tourism sector.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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