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An Aspenite in south Asia

Naomi Havlen

One Aspen student got more than he bargained for as a participant of an exchange program to Thailand, as he stands witness to the enormous natural disaster that has captured the world’s attention. Aspen High student David Hach, 16, is living in Bangkok for 11 months as part of the Rotary Club International exchange program. Although he was well inland when the earthquake and resulting tsunami hit the Pacific Rim countries, Hach has experienced the horror of the disaster and is asking friends back home to help in the relief efforts.”I hope you will seriously consider donating a few dollars to the Red Cross, or an organization like it, to help provide support to the people who have lost everything,” he wrote in an e-mail forwarded to The Aspen Times by his parents. Hach assured friends in the e-mail that he was unharmed by the disaster, but knows that millions of people in the region have been left homeless and injured.As part of Rotary’s exchange program, students spend 11 months in a different country, hosted by local families. In the cultural exchange, the kids learn what it’s like in other places – Hach’s mother, Marty Ames, said she thinks the program is “Rotary International’s answer to world peace.”We spoke with David Hach via e-mail this week about his experience in Bangkok during the disaster.

Aspen Times: Bangkok is too far inland to be directly affected by the tsunami, but did you feel the initial earthquake?Hach: Bangkok was lightly affected by the earthquake, however I was woken up on Sunday morning. I thought it was a large truck, though they aren’t usually driving that early on the weekends. I live on the Shell Oil distribution center, and there are always large trucks going by, so nothing really seemed out of place. Two aftershocks later in the day sounded like very deep thunder, maybe 10 seconds long. I was confused by that, considering it is the dry season and hasn’t rained in well over two months. This was all before I had found out about the earthquake and tsunamis.How did you find out about the destruction?I found out about the tragedy late Sunday. My host parents just told me that a few people had died in the South because of some waves. I didn’t think much of it considering the recent tragedy in which 70 people had died in military trucks after having been arrested at a Muslim protest. Then on Monday morning, while watching the TV during breakfast, the death toll in the region had grown to 10,000 and counting. That grabbed my attention immediately and I’ve been following closely ever since.What was your reaction to hearing about the disaster? What about the reaction of the people in Bangkok whom you’ve met?

My reaction was disbelief. I wondered how could so many people die so quickly? I was in Krabi (a coastal resort town) a little more than two months ago. It is hard to imaging the ocean there being so violent, considering how peaceful it was while I was visiting. The waves were rarely taller than 2 feet. The hotel where I stayed is gone, as well as all the seafront restaurants and houses. People in Bangkok have reacted with great sympathy and generosity. Monday morning, in a spur-of-the-moment fund-raiser, we raised a total of about 110,000 baht, nearly $3,000, in just under five minutes from schoolchildren donating their personal spending and food money. I was really impressed.Has life changed for you since the tsunami?Life hasn’t changed too dramatically here in Bangkok. One of the royal princess’s sons was killed in the waves, and out of respect for him and the other victims, the king and prime minister canceled all New Year’s celebrations. There will be no large get-togethers or fireworks this year, and the ball drop at the Bangkok World Trade building will not happen. The other most noticeable effect has been that traffic is much worse than normal. It’s nothing to complain about considering the situation of the people in the south, though.What do you think people back home (in the United States) can do to help?The biggest thing people in the States can do is donate money to the Red Cross or other organizations like it. Food, water and shelter are what are most needed right now, but little can be done without financial support. Some estimate that disease could kill as many as the original disaster unless all the bodies are contained and disposed of soon, as well.

In your letter to the editor, you mentioned tourists in the coastal areas need blood – why is that? The majority of the injured are foreigners who were in the resort areas on holiday when the waves struck. Thais generally have positive blood types, and negative blood types are usually not in very great demand. Because so many European and American tourists have negative blood types, the supply has been depleted but is still needed. I will be donating blood on Saturday, along with the rest of the Youth Exchange Students. Many exchange students who speak German, French, Japanese and Spanish are also volunteering their time as translators; however, there are now excess English translators and I am not needed.What is it like being overseas when something like this happens, and the whole world is watching?Being oversees for a tragedy of this magnitude really has changed my perspective on many things. Oftentimes we hear of this tragic earthquake in some far corner of the Earth that we’ve never heard of, and ignore it. Actually being here makes it impossible to ignore what happened. In all honesty, I think if I had been in the U.S. when this occurred I really wouldn’t have paid it much attention. Having been here and seen what it is like, I don’t think I’ll ever ignore something like this ever again – no matter what part of the world it is in.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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