Down the Malay Barrier 7.

Singapore is a microscopic island-country.  It should be poverty-stricken: it’s tiny and has no natural resources.  In fact, it is very prosperous.  It has a great port and it is located at one end of the Malacca Straits, a major world shipping channel between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.  Need fuel or repairs or supplies?  Stop in Singapore.  Picking up or dropping off a cargo for anywhere in Southeast Asia?  Stop in Singapore.  Business generates profits (ka-ching!) and those profits mean that Singapore is a good place to borrow money.  So, you’ve got a good idea for a pot plantation on a remote island or a new textile factory in Bangladesh or a TS brothel on Soi Cowboy?  Stop in Singapore.  These “core” businesses than send out local shock-waves.  What that means is that there are sky-scrapers, office buildings, and slums all over the place.  However, you can’t build these without construction workers.

In contrast, Bangladesh is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of poor people.  The “surplus” population is shoved off to work abroad in Malaysia, the Persian Gulf, and Singapore.  Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi workers abroad then send home part of their pay to the wife or mother back home.  These are called “remittances.”  The remittances help keep afloat the national economy.  At the same time, Karl Marx mistakenly described religion as “the opiate of the people.”  Truth is, sometimes it is the “speed” of the people.  A lot of miserable Bangladeshis have embraced radical Islam.  This scares the government of Bangladesh, so it locks up a lot of the leaders.

Singapore’s population is 74% of Chinese descent, 13.4% of Malay descent, 9.2% of Indian descent, and 3.3% of other descent.  About 15 percent of the population is Muslim.  In short, it is a Chinese island with a bunch of non-Chinese.  Most Muslims are immigrant laborers.

Sometime in the week of 17-24 January 2016, Singapore deported 27 men back to their home country of Bangladesh.[1]  The police in Singapore had suspected the men of being involved with Islamic militants.  They were all members of the same “study group”[2] that had turned to Islamic radicalism.  Singapore announced that the men were linked to Al Qaeda and/or ISIS, and that they had been planning terrorist attacks in Bangladesh.

The government of Bangladesh then charged 14 of the men as terrorists.  The other 13 were released to their families (whose addresses were, no doubt, noted for future reference).  The police said that the men held radical Islamist beliefs, but they hadn’t broken any law in Singapore.[3]  However, the government press release insisted that the accused were not affiliated with either Al Qaeda or ISIS.  They were just, you know, ordinary Islamist fanatics.  Possibly, the government suggested, they were linked to the opposition parties.  (Wink, wink.)  Nor were the men planning a terrorist act inside Bangladesh.  Nor had they been “radicalized” while they were in Bangladesh.  Instead, they had become radicalized while in Singapore.[4]

Singapore is a golden link in a chain of prosperity, poverty, and migration in South-East Asia.   That chain is now under stress.

[1] Julfikar Ali Manik, “Terrorism Charges Filed in Bangladesh Against 14 Men,” NYT, 24 January 2016.

[2] Probably they weren’t debating “what would Mohammad drive?”

[3] So, in Singapore you can be arrested and deported because the cops don’t like the look on your face.  Bear this in mind when you’re making vacation plans.  Still, see Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (1952).

[4] I still can’t give blood to the Red Cross because I was in France when there was an epidemic of “mad cow disease” and I might be a carrier.  (Certainly would explain the teaching evaluations.)  Same thing goes for the idea that Muslims had been radicalized in Bangladesh.  If people start thinking that Bangladeshi = suicide bomber, then no more labor permits for Bangladeshis.  No more remittances.  The whole country sinks even before global warming goes to work.

Down the Malay Barrier 5.

Many different threads of history knot in the case of the steamship “Jeddah.”

First, there is geography.  On the one hand, trade between the Far East and anywhere to the West (the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, East Africa, Europe) must pass through one of two narrow gates: the Sunda Strait (between Sumatra and Java) or the Malacca Straits (between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra).  On the other hand, the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula, on the northern shore of the Indian Ocean, is a poor land called the Hadramaut.  It grows frankincense and not much else.  Then the River Clyde runs through southwestern Scotland.  Along its banks many shipyards grew up in the 19th Century.[1]  Clydeside became the heart of British ship-building.

Second, there is demography.  The Dutch held the Sunda Strait for centuries; in 1818, the English got the island and harbor of Singapore in the Malacca Straits.  They emphasized attracting Arab merchants already familiar with local people and trade.  It quickly became the hub of East-West trade.  At the same time, Hadhrami (people from Hadramaut) began emigrating to places all around the Indian Ocean.  Usually, they became merchants and sailors.  “Blood is thicker than water”: family networks were vital to success in long-distance trade.

Third, among the “pillars” of Islam, one is “Hajj”: the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birth-place of Islam.  In Britain’s “Indian Empire” (today India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), in Indonesia, and in the Philippines, there were many Muslims.  Many of them made the “hajj.” Sea voyages offered the least inconvenient route, but the small sailing ships commonly used for the journey were uncomfortable, slow, and sometimes dangerous.  A second “pillar” is “Zakat”: the obligation to give charity to the poor.

These threads came together when Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff, a Hadhrami, arrived in Singapore in 1824.[2]  He went into the spice trade, where he prospered.  His son and grandson followed the trade.  The grandson, Syed Mahomed Alsagoff, possessed great wealth and engaged in generous philanthropy.  In 1870, Alsagoff ordered construction of a steam-powered passenger ship to carry Muslim pilgrims to and from Jeddah, the port-of-entry on the Red Sea for Mecca in the interior.  The ship was to be named the “Jeddah.”

Fourth, British ships and British sea captains were the best in the world.  In 1872 a Clydeside shipyard[3] launched the “Jeddah.”   Alsagoff hired British officers to command the ship.  For eight years it plied its trade between Singapore and Jeddah.

On 17 July 1880, the “Jeddah” sailed from Singapore with 953 pilgrims aboard.  By 3 August the ship was approaching the Red Sea.  Then a terrible hurricane blew up.  The ship began to leak, lost most of its power, and began to list to one side.  On 7 August, believing the ship would sink, most of the officers abandoned the ship—and the passengers—in a lifeboat.  They survived and reported the ship sunk.  But the “Jeddah” did not sink.  The remaining officers and the passengers worked to save the ship, then were rescued by a French ship.

Fifth, Authority and Responsibility cannot be separated without disaster following.  It is an unwritten law of the sea that captains remain aboard until everyone else has been saved, or go down with their ship.  The officers had betrayed this duty and became outcasts.  Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) imagines the terrible fate of one of these men.

[1] Also a great many distilleries, although you shouldn’t combine the “twa”—boat-building and booze.

[2] The term “Syed” indicates that he was a descendant of one of the Prophet Muhammad and was, thus, of high status among all Muslims.

[3] David Byrne grew up there.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINJTvRUk1w

Down the Malay Barrier 4.

The Ganges River flows across most of northern India, draining the Himalaya Range.  Near its eastern/lower end it is joined by the Brahmaputra River.  Then the mighty river flows into the head of the Bay of Bengal.[1]  Along the way, the rivers carry immense mounts of earth.[2]  When the river approaches the waters of the bay, it slows down and the silt gets deposited along the shores.  This has created a huge delta.  Actually, it is the biggest delta in the world.  It is more than 200 miles across at its widest point and covers more than 40,000 square miles.  Bigger than the Nile delta, or the Mississippi delta, or the Amazon delta, or the Google delta.  Like other great deltas, the flow of water-born sediment has pushed the delta out toward the sea.  Over time, the delta has advanced an estimated 250 miles to the south.

The silt is rich in minerals and nutrients, so that the soil that builds up is excellent farm land.  With the river and many streams close at hand, it is easy to irrigate the land.  The soil is so rich that between 125 and 145 million people live in the delta.  (That is two-thirds of the population of Bangladesh.)  That works out to about 520 people per square mile.[3]  They grow rice, tea, and sisal.[4]

In addition to the human beings, the islands are inhabited by deer, pythons, eagles, crocodiles, elephants, woodpeckers, leopards, and some Bengal tigers (which occasionally invade villages for take-out).

The delta is not one big mass of land.  It is a maze of islands separated by rivers and streams.  The many islands are connected by “traditional” wooden ferry boats, rather than by bridges.[5]  Most of the delta is between 30 feet above sea-level and sea-level.  Indeed, if global warming caused enough of the polar ice pack to melt to raise the sea-levels everywhere by 20 inches, then 6 million delta residents would lose their homes and land.

The delta gets a lot of rain.  The monsoons drop from 59 to 79 inches of rain on the western part of the delta and from 79 to 118 inches in the eastern part.  All that rain is one of the things that makes rice-farming possible.  The run-off causes streams and rivers to rise.

Lying at the head of the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges delta is the frequent target of tropical cyclones.  In the Atlantic these are known as hurricanes.  High winds (typically about 80 miles per hour), lots of rain, and big storm surges (water pushed ashore by the storm).  Tropical cyclones start in the south of the Bay of Bengal, then move northward toward the head of the bay at the Ganges delta.  This shoves a lot of water from deep water toward shallow water.  When it reaches shore it is called a storm surge.  Another problem is that the Ganges delta is densely populated (compared to the Jersey shore during hurricane season).  If they get a big storm, the water level suddenly rises, and many people drown.

What we see here is human beings living at the edge of two great natural physical processes.  The river has created a land that can support many people.  The monsoons of the Bay of Bengal make farming possible, but the cyclones push back the line of safe settlement.

[1] Bengal is in north-eastern India, so the Bay of Bengal is on the eastern side of the Indian sub-continent.

[2] Also, the remains of dead people who were cremated upriver and cast into the stream.

[3] The population density of Conshohocken, PA, is about 13,000/square mile.  However, Conshy is purely residential while the Ganges delta is mostly devoted to farm land.  So the concentration of people in farm villages is much greater than it sounds.

[4] Sisal is a fiber used to make twine.  I bought a roll in the Dollar General to tie up a bunch of small branches that had come down in the yard for trash day and to attach gingerbread cookies to the Christmas tree.

[5] If you read the New York Times, the ferries are overloaded all the time, and capsize all the time, and lots of passengers drown all the time.

Down the Malay Barrier 1.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they simultaneously attacked the Americans in the Philippines, the British in Malaya, and the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies (what is today Indonesia).  Japanese naval air forces also raided Darwin in northern Australia.  Early Japanese victories drove Allied forces back toward Burma in the north, the Dutch East Indies in the west, and northern Australia.  Desperate efforts were made to hold this “Malay Barrier.”

Today the region is home to growing economies, societies under stress, Islamic radicalism, and crime.  What would a traveler see moving from Bangladesh to Darwin?

The city of Jakarta, Indonesia proper has a population of something over 10 million people, but the larger metropolitan area has a population of 30 million people.  A lot of people produce a lot of trash.  Much of the trash from Jakarta—7,000 tons a day–ends up in nearby Bekasi.[1]  A daily stream of 1,000 trucks dump their daily loads onto a 150 acre one-time rice field.  They’ve been at this for thirty years, so the loads have accumulated into a plateau dotted with hills.  Those hills can temporarily rear up as high as 150 feet until bull-dozers working ‘round-the-clock level them down into another layer of the plateau.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and not just for the company that runs the dump.  Many villages surround the mountain of trash.  Most of the villagers are immigrants, farmers who lost their land elsewhere and came to Bekasi in search of work.  They’re here because they had no other choice.  The villagers earn their living by trash-picking for anything that might have resale value.  They scramble up and down the trash piles, dodging around the bull-dozers, and loading their finds into baskets strapped to their backs.  Any plastic, metal, wood, or electronic waste can be sold to someone.  Middle men buy different types of recovered material, paying by weight.  Recycling companies buy what the middlemen purchase from the trash pickers.  Pickers can earn anywhere from $2 to $10 a day.

One kind of economy creates other ones.  Little stands sell cigarettes, and snacks and soda to trash-pickers taking a break.  Drug dealers and prostitutes meet other needs.[2]

The trash stinks, so the hundreds of trash pickers stink and so do the surrounding villages.  Flies are everywhere.  The ground water is polluted.  Working—or, in the case of children too young to work, playing—on trash leads to cuts and scrapes.  Sores, infections, and breathing problems abound.  Poor Indonesians haven’t had much contact with modern medicine.  Folk belief holds that living in these conditions strengthens the body’s immunity to disease.

The Indonesian government doesn’t do much to help to poor.  Muslim charities elsewhere pay for Koran study classes or provide scholarships for the occasional exceptionally good students to continue their education through university.  Non-profits provide other kinds of help, like additional food.

Is this an example of human triumph over difficulty or of complacent rulers ignoring inequality and suffering at their own peril?

[1] Aleasha Bliss, “Bantar Gebang: Trials and Tribulations of Indonesia’s “Trash Heroes”,” Jakarta Globe, 8 February 2019; Adam Dean and Richard C. Paddock, “Picking Plastic, Metal, and Bones from a Trash Tower,” NYT, 28 April 2020.

[2] See: Richard Davies, Extreme Economies: What Life at the World’s Margins Can Teach Us About Our Own Future (2020).

Cyprus 15 May 2019.

In 1453, Constantinople—the capital of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire—fell to the Ottoman Turks.  The Turks already had conquered most of mainland Greece, so all that remained was to conquer the outlying islands.  Cyprus fell in 1571 and Crete followed in 1669.  As part of their pacification of Cyprus, the Ottomans resettled about 30,000 Turks on the island.  From the heights of their power, the Ottomans went into a long, slow, and humiliating decline.  Barbarism and incompetence became the hallmarks of their rule.  “Inter-communal” hostilities sank deep roots.  Turks and Greeks hated each other.  In 1878, Britain got the island away from the Ottomans.

During the 1950s–when the “Empire on which the sun never sets” was having gin and tonic in the back garden as dusk advanced—Greeks and Turks on Cyprus began to strike at each other and at the British.  Both Greece and Turkey coveted the soon-to-be-independent island.  So, blood stained the Fifties and Sixties in Cyprus.[1] Then the conflict heated up again in the 1970ss and 1980s.  Vendetta became a cultural value and killers became respected men.

You wouldn’t recognize modern Cyprus.  Tourism, banking, and maritime shipping are the pillars supporting its economy.  The country has pulled in an estimated 60,000 workers from South East Asia.  They come from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.  They aren’t “crazy rich Asians.”  Mostly they are poor women from counties that haven’t yet caught the tide of Capitalist progress.  Old ways die hard.  Sometimes the old intersects the new.

Mary Rose Tiburcio (c.1980-2018) grew up in the Philippines.  She got married and had a child, but her marriage did not work out.  Like many other Filipinas, Tiburcio moved to Cyprus along with her young daughter.  Most come to work as domestic help: maids and cleaning women, and waitresses.  Lonely and over-loaded with cares, she joined an on-line dating site.

In May 2018, both went missing.  Well, no big deal: the Cypriot police have 80 unsolved missing person cases that run back as far as 1990.  Perhaps they just left Cyprus for work on a cruise ship or went to some other country in search of better work.

Then, in mid-April 2019, a German tourist saw something unusual and notified the police.  The police found Tiburcio’s body in a flooded mine-shaft.  They also found another body, that of Arian Palanas Lozano (1990-2018).  Then they found more bodies in a lake.

The police back-tracked through Ms. Tiburcio’s internet connections.  One name that popped up an awful lot of times was that of a 35 year-old Army captain.  He was questioned and eventually confessed to seven murders.  No one thinks that that toll will stop there.  As a result of his confession, police found the body of a Nepalese woman buried on a military firing-range.[2]

This sad case illustrates some of the features of contemporary globalization.  Even among the rapidly-developing economies of South Asia, many people—especially women—get left out.  Huge numbers of people—many of them women from less developed areas–migrate in search of a better life.  Whether legal or illegal migrants, they perform essential, menial tasks and are prey to many kinds of abuse.  Finally, the “sending” countries have neither the means nor the inclination to protect their citizens abroad.  They are in the wind.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypriot_intercommunal_violence.

[2] “Cyprus in Shock After a String of Killings,” NYT, 28 April 2019; Megan Specia, “Authorities in Cyprus Face Reckoning After Migrant Workers’ Killings,” NYT, 3 May 2019.

Roadblock.

My Old Man had been on the bum during the Depression: rode the rails; picked fruit in the Imperial Valley; logged in Montana; worked on the Grand Coulee dam; assistant manager of a theater in Portland, Oregon (told Alan Ladd where to find a speak-easy); worked on a government survey ship in the Gulf of Alaska.  Jailed briefly once or twice.  Later, he went to Guadalcanal and Bougainville (“Bo-gun-vill” as he—and many others–pronounced it), then was a ski-bum in Sun Valley.  Drove a cab in the red-light district of Anchorage.  Before and after he settled down.  Knocked all the front teeth out of a tug-boat captain who had disrespected my Mom.  (You could tell because there was a gap in the subsequent bite marks on his left bicep.)

Then there was wormy-me.  Skinny with thick glasses, not athletic, shy beyond belief, and wrapped really tight.  Got tired of that “me” and decided to change it.  One part of that change came in my senior year of college.  My room-mate and I decided to drive from Seattle to Mexico for Christmas Break.  Drive down to San Diego, cross at Tijuana, go down the Baja to Cabo San Lucas, take the ferry to Puerta Vallarta.  Basically, I said “Yes” instead of my lifetime default-setting of “No.”

Was a great trip, too, but not necessarily in the ways you would think.  I was also chasing a girl, so we stopped in LA.  To no avail.[1]  Then we bunked-in at somebody’s house in San Diego.  I bought the Sunday morning paper and sat in a park to read it when the earth began to shake.  I was reading a story about how Mexican narcs were killing gringo tourists.  Crossed the border in a scene very different from “Sicario.”  More like “The Getaway.”  Already memorable or repressible experiences.

Anyway, we drove down the Baja.  Pulled off the road to sleep.  Picked a bad spot.  (Come on, it was dark.)  Next morning we got stuck in the sand.  Took hours, and the help of some passing Mexicans, to get unstuck.

Later on, we needed to gas up.  Stopped in this little village in the middle of nowhere.  Put some oil in as well, but the people seemed intent on closing up in a hurry.  Didn’t bother to get the funnel back.  Gave us full cash change, not part of it in Chiclets.  Too busy putting up the shutters.  So we drove on south out of town.  “Strange Lands and Friendly People.”

Come around the first bend out of town and there’s a road-block.  “Oh, that explains it,” I later thought.  Bunch of Mexican soldiers and a big guy in a tan suit with cowboy boots and a straw cowboy hat.  My friend is driving and I’m in the passenger seat.  “Choo got any marijuana?” he asks.  We assured him that we did not.  As the conversation continued, I glanced out the side window.  Mexican soldier standing there pointing an M-16 at my head.  Muzzle is about 6 inches from my face.  Thing is, it didn’t look like the entrance to a tunnel and he didn’t look like an agate-eyed killer.  Which only made me more edgy because accidents can happen.  Also, I’d just read that story about narcs killing gringos.  And here we were in the middle of nowhere.  So, that’s why everyone back at the gas station had been so eager to see our heels.  Huh, live and learn.  I bit down hard.  OK, my eyes probably got real wide as well.

Anyway, after a while, he let us go.  We drove slowly until around the next bend.  Once out of sight, we floored it.

[1] Later, we had a brief passage and I wanted to marry her.  She had more sense than that.  She died of ovarian cancer on the same day that my Mom passed in 2011.

S— My President Says.

The following is excerpted word for word from a Lonely Planet guidebook.

US currency is used for all transactions over a few dollars. The official currency, the Liberian dollar, only used for small items costing less than US$5

Pavement is generally uneven or nonexistent.

Stay at upmarket hotels if you require a lift or reliable electricity.

Homosexual acts in Liberia are punishable by one year in jail, and the government has floated the idea of making a same-sex relationship a felony crime (punishable with a 10-year prison sentence). LGBT campaigners in the country have also been targets of violence. Needless to say, gay travellers need to be extremely cautious travelling here.

Malaria is endemic and prophylactics are recommended. Typhoid is also relatively common, so get vaccinated and always take care to wash your hands before eating. You will need a valid yellow-fever vaccination certificate in order to enter Liberia. Other vaccinations to look into include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal meningitis and boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and measles.

The tap water in Liberia is not safe to drink. Buy bottled water and use it for everything including brushing your teeth.

Take: Insect repellent; Water filter;

Wear lightweight, breathable clothing, in particular clothing that covers arms and legs to the ankles.

The security situation is somewhat stable, although it’s wise not to walk in Monrovia after dark and be vigilant about staying in secure lodging.

Electric shocks are common in badly wired buildings; wear shoes before plugging in appliances.

Public toilets range from standard toilets (often with a bucket to flush) and squat toilets to holes in the ground, with the latter being more common in rural areas. Always carry toilet paper. Upmarket hotels and restaurants will have Western-style toilets where you may or may not be allowed to flush the paper.

In Monrovia, adequate hospitals are available, but in rural areas you may need to travel for at least a day to the nearest doctor.

Be sure to obtain reliable travel insurance before arrival, including insurance that covers emergency evacuation.

Among the recommended attractions is Monkey Island.  This small archipelago is home to chimpanzees that were evacuated from a hepatitis research lab during the war.

To Europe by land and sea.

Lots of people in Sub-Saharan Africa want to go to Europe.  As of late June 2017, 72,000 immigrants have completed the journey this year.  For the most part, they are fleeing poverty above all else.  Population growth dramatically exceeds economic growth in these countries.[1]  The poverty is particularly serious in rural areas.  “We have no machinery to cultivate the land [and] no rain,” one person told a New York Times reporter.[2]  However, “fleeing poverty” has a larger meaning here.  In the absence of any social security system or local pathway to an adequate income, sons are expected to support their parents.  Often this means leaving home in search of work elsewhere.  Many are pulled to the capital city of Dakar, where there is more opportunity and lower poverty levels.  Other go to Gabon or Congo to work in mines.

Best of all is to reach Europe.  Sons who have made it to Europe and found work send home part of their earnings.  Even a share of the meager earnings of those working in Europe pay for “luxuries” in West Africa: concrete block houses instead of mud huts; iPhones and satellite dishes (and the electricity to power them); sometimes a car instead of a bicycle.[3]  Parents or spouses often encourage men with small future prospects to migrate in search of work.

For those living in West Africa, the route generally takes them east along Route 5 of the Trans-Africa Highway system.[4]  That route passes from Dakar (Senegal) through Bamako (Mali), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Niamey (Niger), and Kano (Nigeria), to N’Djamene (Chad).  In its longest extent, this is a journey of about 2,700 miles.  That’s like driving from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Reno, Nevada.  Without the Rockies, but also without much in the way of paved roads.  From there they join Highway 3 as it runs north across the Sahara to Tripoli (Libya).  From Tripoli and other Libyan ports, they “take ship” for Italy.

Almost every leg of the journey is dangerous.  Human traffickers organize much of the migration in order to prey upon the migrants.  Travelers can find themselves extorted for further payments or abandoned en route.  Africa’s transportation infrastructure is in poor condition.  It’s one thing if you’re a rich Westerner (but I repeat myself).  Airlines connect European capitals with important cities endowed with comfortable hotels.  For ordinary people, travel is more difficult.  Some roads are unpaved dirt tracks.  Many paved roads haven’t been maintained for a long time.  The few railroads mostly haul freight, with infrequent or no passenger service.  There aren’t enough vehicles of any kind, so overloading is common-place.  So are vehicle break-downs.  The vast distances pose another challenge.

The sea passage is worst of all.  Most of the deaths come in the crossing from Libya to Italy.  Vessels starting the sea-crossing are over-loaded, under-powered, and badly crewed/captained.  In the first half of 2017, an estimated 2,100 migrants have drowned in ship-wrecks on the Mediterranean.  In April 2015, one terrible disaster killed more than 800 migrants.

Yet people—those who go and those who urge them to go—rarely understand the dangers involved.  “We only heard success stories” said the mother of two sons drowned at sea.  Death lists are sometimes published in Europe, then reported by those who made it to relatives at home.  Yet still the migrants come.

[1] According to the World Bank, almost half (47 percent) of Senegalese live in poverty.

[2] Dionne Searcy and Jaime Yaya Barry, “Leaving Home, One by One, Along “Deadliest Route” to Europe,” NYT, 23 June 2017.

[3] But not more farmland or tractors?  Well, perhaps.  Some of the emigrants sell their land to raise the money for the trip.  So, someone is buying.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-African_Highway_network

Boxing Day 2004.

Thailand is a developing country in Southeast Asia.  Most of its economy depends on agriculture (rice); then on manufacturing (look at the labels of whatever you bought at Walmart); and then on tourism (15-20 percent of the economy).  Tourists come to Thailand for many reasons.  The climate is tropical, it has beautiful beaches, and it has amazing cultural sites.[1]  One of the best places is Phuket (Foo-ket, not something else that might occur to you), an island off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea.  It has some gorgeous beaches (or so I’m told) and the cost of living is very low.  There’s an airport that handles almost 3 million travelers a year.  There are many luxury hotels, but they aren’t allowed to mess with the beaches.  As a result, it’s full of foreign tourists and European expat retirees.

Just before 1:00 AM on 26 December 2004, the Indian tectonic plate slid over the Burmese plate somewhere between the island of Simeulue and the west coast of Sumatra a hundred odd miles away.  This natural process caused a violent undersea earthquake in the eastern Indian Ocean.  All along the fault, one plate moved upward suddenly.[2]  The shock sent off waves called tsunamis.  The waves headed in all directions, but most importantly to the west and to the east.[3]   It is possible to create tsunami warning systems.  However, the sensor systems themselves are expensive; then there is the complicated issue of how to warn people ashore once a tsunami has been detected; and then there is the problem of what to do in a coastal plain when you have been warned that a tsunami is sweeping down on you.[4]  The poor countries surrounding the Indian Ocean didn’t have a warning system.  In any event, the waves reached northern Sumatra in 15 minutes.

In deep water, the waves move very fast, but don’t have any great height.  When they hit the shallows close to shore, they slow down and achieve great height.[5]  On a long stretch of the west coast of Sumatra and Indonesia, the waves were 8o feet high when they came ashore and travelled inland for as much as a mile.

The waves hit different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral at different times.  Indonesia and Thailand are “developing countries.”  One result of their state of economic development is that there is a shortage of “hard” structures made out of reinforced concrete, a shortage of roads, shortage of landline and cell-phone communications, and a shortage of emergency services.  The waves killed between 185,000 and 230,000 people, and laid waste the towns of northern Indonesia and western Thailand.

One last thing.  Tilly Smith was vacationing at Phuket, Thailand, with her parents.  She saw the sea receding from the shore and bubbles all over the surface.  She had just finished a geography lesson in school about tsunamis.  She told her parents; her parents—who were smart enough to have a kid like Tilly—warned people at the beach; and, amazingly, all the other Brits on the beach “scarpered” before the wave arrived.  Nobody got killed.  Tilly was 10 years old.[6]

[1] It also has a lot of poverty-stricken, but beautiful young people.  As a result, sad to say, international sex-tourism is a major revenue source.

[2] When the 300-pound William Howard Taft was President of the United States, his Secret Service bodyguards warned off other swimmers at Cape May, saying that “the president is using the ocean.”

[3] There is a GIF of the shock waves at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/2004_Indonesia_Tsunami_Complete.gif  Must have made for great surfing off Mozambique.  OK, that’s callous.

[4] Bend over and kiss your ass good-bye?

[5] See: Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat.”  http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/crane/open.htm

[6] But go ahead, keeping checking your cell-phones while I’m talking.  See: Charles Darwin.