A divided island

Our island retreat – we (Koy, Sheri and I) are now on Koh Jum – starts with an early breakfast and is followed by a couple of hours on the beach, reading science, of course; and when the sun gets too hot we go the few steps back to our bungalow to work on our manuscript. Before it gets dark we set out on a walk, then we eat dinner and continue working after dinner. We are actually almost ready with the manuscript, at least the main part is done and it will not take much to finish it up. In addition we have managed to pull together an application to apply for money for Sheri’s visit to Stockholm.
Those of you who read these lines may think that our life is idyllic, but I don’t think so. We are surrounded by tourists, who already before breakfast, ‘reserve’ the sun chairs with a towel, and who demand things with pretty loud voices, by mosquitoes that torment us, by the almost unbearable heat in the bungalow, alternatively a very noisy fan, and on top of everything we are in a tsunami hazard zone, just 5 m from the shore, and we have no internet connection. But still we get work done!

On one of our evening walks we walked all the length of the beach, and each 10 or 20 meters there are blue signs indicating that this is a tsunami hazard zone and that in case of a tsunami we should move to higher ground. Unfortunately it was nowhere shown where the higher ground is or where we should run. We only found out on one of our walks to the villages – there was a huge sign, indicating the tsunami hazard zone (basically all of the beaches around the island), the escape route and the meeting points (the mosques).
All tourists are located on the beachfront and in the tsunami hazard zone and all villages are in the safe zone. The gap is however not only between beachfront and villages, i.e. between tsunami and safety, it is also between tourists and islanders, i.e. between bikinis and headscarves. No tourists in the villages, and no local population on the beach, except for when it is dark and some set out to gather sea cucumbers. In the villages daily life seems to go on without even paying attention to the tourists, kids go to school, women cook dinner, people go grocery shopping, and everyone seems to drive around on motorbikes. Everyone is dressed very modestly and according to tradition and the difference between the beach and the villages, although they are just separated by 15 minute’s walk, could not be larger. Erosion is quite intense along the beach, and during high tide the sea reaches close to the bungalows.
Yet more and more bungalows are built, from the simpler to the most exclusive. A few centimetres of sea level rise and all is gone. But maybe the owners have a really good insurance!? Tomorrow Sheri will leave for Bangkok and the USA. Ludvig, Nerys, Christophe, Nut and Moo had already left a few days ago from Krabi. Koy and I will take a bus to Phuket, meet Pare there and go to another island. Pare has to finish her MSc thesis latest in March and I need to help her with the language and the final discussion chapter. Better to do this on an island, than in the heat and noise of Bangkok.

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