On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let the New Year be a time of renewal

Many people, especially those involved in charity
organisations, wanted to know where they could hand over food, bottled water
and medicine they had bought for the victims.

Most people are touched by the images carried by the media on the death and
devastation. And they have responded with their generosity.

It matters not how much is given, or through which media organisation their
money is channelled.

After all, this is not a fund-raising competition among media groups but a
concerted effort to save lives, especially those who are suffering in Thailand,
Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

What is more important is that Malaysians came forward without being asked.
Most understood and supported the Prime Minister's advice to call off the New
Year's Eve celebrations.

It certainly wouldn't be right to party away as if nothing had happened. This
is the time for compassion and reflection. It would be totally insensitive to
let off fireworks when money is needed quickly and more deservingly in places
hit by the killer waves.

A day after the tsunami waves struck Penang, I decided to take a trip to my
hometown to see for myself how badly hit were the people living in the coastal
areas, especially Tanjung Tokong.

I was especially curious to see how badly affected the Sea Pearl Restaurant, near
the Tua Pek Kong temple, was. On previous occasions, I had driven to Penang on
a Saturday for a staff meeting followed by lunch of baked crabs on

This time, I decided to attend church service first and only went there later.
Shortly before noon, that restaurant was inundated. On Monday, I saw for myself
the power of the water that had levelled the restaurant, as if a bomb had
exploded there. The roof of the kitchen was blown away and the sea walls
fronting the restaurant were crushed.

A restaurant worker I spoke to said all they could remember was the "blackish
water" was higher than a coconut tree, a yardstick used by most Penangites I
spoke to for the immensity of the waves that swept in. Many customers, he said,
ran helter-skelter and one woman fell before she was quickly helped up.

I wondered how the waves from the sea, about 15m away, could have crossed over
the Tanjung Tokong main road and hit the many houses along that stretch.
Continuing my journey to Batu Feringghi, I saw policemen recovering bodies from
the sea.

There were endless tales from Penangites, especially those who were in Gurney
Drive, and many had pictures of the waves that hit the popular promenade. A few
showed me video recordings of the tsunami that created havoc in Batu

But Malaysia has been lucky, even with the disaster. We were the least battered
among the affected countries despite being nearest to Aceh, the epicentre of
the earthquake that triggered the ensuing disaster. In terms of casualties, our
numbers are relatively small.

In short, we can count our blessings. Many in Penang have cheated death and for
that we must be grateful. As we deal with our grief and remember those who had
fallen victim to the destruction, whether in Malaysia or elsewhere, let the New
Year be a time of renewal and rebirth.

As I was writing, a cardiologist friend, Dr Samuel Ong, sent me a short
message: "Our time is not in our hands. Teach us to remember our days right, so
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Only in God, a safe and everlasting

Many of us, including myself, often forget the priorities in life. We get
caught up with what we perceive to be important. As we usher in the New Year,
it is appropriate to spend some time on reflection.