Earthquakes, Tsunami & Shoes
Singapore & Penang

View from our hotel balcony in Singapore

Christmas decoration in Orchard Rd

Today is Christmas Eve, we have just one day here before leaving for Penang early on Christmas Day. Cindy wants to do the shops & I'm keen to visit Little India, so we head off for the shops in Orchard Road with a promise to visit Little India on the way back. Cindy finds a shop that has just what she's looking for, they specialize is "Shabby Chic" and she wants everything. We give the credit card a good workout then retire to the Samlor Cafe on the corner of Campbell Lane & Clive St in Little India. We share a large Tiger beer then Cindy heads off to do some more shopping for Indian bangles, henna tattoos and those shiny things you stick on the side of your nose and we agree to meet at my favorite Gulab Jamin shop in the Little India Arcade. As usual she's late and by the time she turns up I have consumed copious amounts of dessert and am beginning to get that "I've over done it" feeling.

Sound of Little India

Me & my Gulab Jamin

Our flight to Penang is at 7.05am so we're up and out of the hotel early. As we are only going for 3 days we have left most of our luggage behind and taken a half empty case as I have a feeling that we will need the space for Cindy's shopping. Malaysia is cheaper than Singapore, so we hope to pick up a few bargains. We are met by the hotel limo and whisked off to our hotel the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town. How can we afford this I hear you say. Well it is surprisingly cheap, our sea view suite cost just Aus$170 per night (US$129) and it comes with Butler Service. The room was huge, so was the bathroom and the walk in wardrobe, I have seen hotel rooms smaller, Cindy wanted to take the wardrobe home. Our suite had two large windows that opened out giving us a 180 degree view of the ocean, if we had known what was to come we might not have been so pleased. As usual we dropped our bags and hit the street. First to visit Fort Cornwallis on the Esplande that was just around the corner from our hotel. The first fort was wooden and built in 1786, this was replaced by the present stone one in 1793 at a cost of 67,000 Spanish Dollars. It was named after the Governor General of Bengal, Charles Cornwallis. All this walking business was building up a bit of a thirst, so we headed up Lebuh Penang heading for yes Little India, there's one here too. After two very nice glasses of ginger tea we set of again to visit some of the old mansions, temples & a mosque before heading back to our hotel.

Our hotel in George Town Penang

The Esplanade

It was Christmas Eve and the restaurants had those big 9 course banquets numbers on which I find a bit of a waste as I'm full after 2 courses, so we opted to eat in the bar. We weren't alone as several other guest did the same. It had been an early start for us and as Cindy wanted to do some serious shopping the next day we turned in early. She had wanted to go to Batu Feringhi about 40 kms away as there was a market there that sold all the fake designer gear, but I convinced her that it would be crawling with tourists and she opted to try Prangin Mall that supposedly had 600 shops, enough to keep any girl happy. We woke at about 7.45 am and had a quick dip in the pool before rolling up for breakfast about 8.50am and taking a table right next to a door over looking the pool. You could have anything you wanted but we had our usual, some cereal with fruit & yogurt followed by some bread and cheese. We were just sitting have a cup of tea when I noticed the tea in my cup was sloshing about a bit. I had drunk a little the night before but not enough to have the tremors. I felt the table and there it was that rhythmic motion like sitting on a water bed and feeling the water ripple under you, I had felt this before many years ago in Turkey. I looked at Cindy and she had that "am I having a funny turn" look, I said quietly why don't we just step outside for a moment. "Why"? she wanted to know, but by now I had led her out of the building and once clear of the door I said "its an earthquake".

Fort Cornwallis

The blood drained out of her face and she gripped my arm "what should we do?" she mumbled, "nothing" I said, it will be over in a moment. Well it wasn't, it went on for what seemed like ages, more people were coming out of the hotel and when it got around that it was an earthquake, there were some very frightened looking faces. Waiters were rushing about, the kitchen staff appeared, & everyone had that stunned look, eyes were on the hotel expecting it to collapse at any moment. I thought it might be a fair distance away as the vibration was very rhythmic, not erratic as I would expect if it were close by, but hell I'm not an expert. After about 15 minutes we went back to our breakfast ordered a new pot of tea and tried to get on with the day. Later in reception we heard people making arrangements to leave so it had put the wind up some of them. I remember thinking that Sumatra has a fault line running up the coast, but a tidal wave was not my main concern I was more concerned that there might be another bigger quake. We set off in a taxi heading for Prangin Mall. It turned out to be everything Cindy had hoped, more shops than you could poke a stick at and the prices were about a fifth of what we pay at home!. Cindy found another Shabby Chic shop and the delightful gay guy that ran it treated her like a lady, which paid off as she bought dresses and tops by the bag full. Next was shoes, Cindy's favorite item, I ended up carrying 8 pairs, we couldn't have them in boxes as they took up too much room. Loaded up we grabbed a cab about 3.30pm and headed back to the hotel. I paid off the cab, we grabbed our parcels and head into the hotel.
What has happened here the floor is covered with mud, the Christmas tree is gone, restaurants have no tables, the outside area looks like a bomb has hit it. The once beautiful swimming pool is now brown and uninviting, the gardens are all damaged and debris is everywhere. We've had a what, a Tsunami. The news is not good, round at Batu Ferringhi there are already reports of 14 dead. Around George Town there is no real beach just a sea wall and this did protect the Hotel, the wave got over the wall sent tables, chairs and people crashing into the side of the hotel. It burst open all the doors on the sea side and flooded the ground floor, but compared to other places we got off very light. All around Fort Cornwallis were we had been the day before cars were pushed aside and the road was awash with mud and sand.

Seawall around George town

Man saved by several pairs of shoes.

See if we had gone to Batu Ferringhi, we may have been tempted to go swimming and that could have been fatal, so Cindy's and my life was saved by a few pairs of shoes. 15 minutes before the Tsunami hit the sea started to go out, At first no one took much notice but as it went further out people began walking out as if drawn to it unaware they were being led to their own death. In many places fish were left flapping on the beach and locals went out to pick them up not realising what these fish might cost them. This clip was taken on one of Penangs beaches and shows the first of the big waves coming in

Video on Penang beach ( file size 760kb)

By the time most people saw the wave it was too late, in seconds they were caught up in a boiling soup of water sand and debris that raced inland at breath taking speed. When you see the power of this wave up on the land, just imagine what was happening to those people who were on the beach, this short video shows how powerful those waves were in Sri Lanka.

Video of Tsunami in Sri Lanka (file size 3mb - Broadband)

Video of Tsunami in Sri Lanka (file size 500kb - Dial Up)

The wave goes out taking everything with it

Fish stranded as tide goes out

The Eastern & Oriental's restaurants were out of action and the hotel were telling us that another wave was due at 8pm. Cindy was very concerned about this, but I wasn't too worried. The after shocks from the quake had been a lot smaller than the original quake, we were in a low rise and very sturdy building and our room was on the first floor. We stayed in and had a meal in our room, but Cindy was quite edgy, her eye was on the clock all the time, "should we move away from the windows?", "could it knock the hotel down?". I ordered wine with the meal and got a glass or two into her to calm her down, 8pm came and went with not a hint of a wave, the drama was over for us. The next morning the reports of the Tsunami in the News Straits Times put the death toll at 7,204 with Malaysia accounting for 44 deaths which would rise to 65 by the end of the day. We thought we had better ring home to let everyone know we were OK. The phone had worked the day before but now it just wouldn't connect. During the day Cindy tried sending text messages but even though it said "Sending" they were not in the phones out box, which made us unsure if they had gone. About 2pm the phone beeped and it was a text from Cindy's brother saying thanks for letting them know, we knew he would ring the rest of the family. We flew back to Singapore had two more days before heading back to Brisbane and home.

The grim reality

We arrived home to an answer phone full of messages from friends and family, some were very concerned about our safety. Although Cindy's family knew we were ok, my family in England had listed us as missing and friends had listed us with Australian Foreign Affairs as missing. My sister said she thought we would be OK as we are not beach people, I said if ever a shopping center full of shoes shops collapses then you should hold grave fears for us. We didn't realise how big this thing was and that TV screens had been filled with images for the last 6 days showing complete destruction, giving the impression that nearly everyone had died. In some places that was true but as with most disasters it depended where you were. Some beaches got the full force of the wave while others facing a different direction were not so badly effected. Penang was protected by the tip of Sumatra, the wave had to come around the island to get to us and that is what save it from destruction. Everyone knows we are OK now, my sister rang Sky News and our names have been going round on their ticker as survivors for the last week. We have learnt one thing from this, don't go away with out letting everyone know where you are and keep in touch.

I took Cindy to India a few years ago and we were caught in a terrorist attack in Kashmir where we spent two hours laying on the floor of a taxi avoiding gun fire. In 2002 we went to New York and got caught in the worst Blizzard in 100 years, now Earthquakes and Tsunami, for our next holiday we will get extra life insurance just incase, I think someone is out get us!

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