Michael Perry: 'I felt compelled to write her name in the sand'

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The Independent Online

"I met the British contingent and we went by coach to Khao Lak village where there was a large ceremony which was held in front of the police patrol boat swept one mile inland by the Tsunami which they had left there as an unofficial memorial.

"It was a crowded affair and some people laid flowers while the Deputy Prime Minister made a speech. To mark the moment the tsunami happened, there was a minute's silence, and you could hear a pin drop, despite the fact that several thousand people were there. I did not think I would be moved at all but I found the silence eloquent.

"The afternoon ceremony was at the wonderful site of the permanent memorial on a piece of headland above Khao Lak beach. They have allocated 20 acres for it and although nothing much is there at the moment, they have built a track from the jungle to the beach, where the ceremony was held.

"Again, there was a minute's silence. After that, the Prime Minister arrived and laid a foundation stone for what would be the memorial followed by a Buddhist prayer, poems about the wave coming and flute readings.

"I felt moved by the prime minister's speech about the Thai people learning to live with nature. We think we control nature but we don't. Every now and again, it will turn around and show us who is in charge.

"The most moving moment of the day came on an impulse, when, after the ceremony, I wrote my daughter Hannah's name on the sand, just on the tidemark.

"It was a clean piece of sand and I just felt compelled to write her name on it. It was there for a moment but it didn't last long. A wave came and washed it away which was equally fitting.

"I then arrived at a great big official board where people were writing messages. Some were signing it while others were writing their children's names. I felt I had to write something, so I took a felt tip pen from a heap and I wrote, 'Hannah, we miss you'. That was the most moving moment for me. I phoned my wife, Wendy, after the ceremony and she said she'd followed the minute's silence on television.

"The third ceremony began at 6pm at a certain point on Khao Lak beach, which is about 12m long. It was an overwhelming sight where hot air balloons were released into the sky. I had been wandering around on the beach on my own for an hour, waiting for the moment that the balloons would come over my place on the beach, and it was certainly one that was worth waiting for. The forest rangers, who had done amazing things on Boxing Day last year and saved so many lives, sent the balloons up. The sight was absolutely beautiful and lit up the entire sky.

"The balloons were yellow and about 6ft (2 metres) with a burner at the bottom, and they marked the lives that had been lost. They headed upwards like a pathway to the stars. They created a column of such beauty and the first ones to be sent up gradually drifted higher and higher until they became pin pricks and you could barely see them. A gentle breeze was blowing on the beach and they drifted out to sea.

"It's typical of the Thais to create something so moving and beautiful as that. A choir was singing in the background as they went skyward and it looked as if the sky were full of yellow stars. They were beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and very moving to see all above and around you."