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Thứ Sáu, tháng 1 21, 2005

No. 0003
Fate intervenes

Skip Whitney's holiday turned into a disaster relief effort.A missed flight turns into a fortunate opportunity to help Sri Lankan tsunami victims
KRISSIE NA KLONGTOEYL.

Leland "Skip" Whitney, an American property developer, and his family had planned to celebrate Christmas in Sri Lanka. The schedule was to arrive at Galle, the city in the South, on the morning of December 26 _ as it turned out, right before the killer waves hit the country.But when he arrived at Don Muang Airport on Christmas to catch a flight to Colombo, he found that he had missed his flight. Whitney had remembered the departure time incorrectly _ he thought the plane departed at 11:45pm, but in fact, that was actually the arrival time in Sri Lanka."I was disappointed," he said. "I'd never missed a plane before. Earlier, I had looked at the tickets over and over again, and I had seen the same departure time."When the Whitneys finally arrived in Galle the following day, after the tsunamis had already struck the country, he found out that the place they were going to go had been devastated."I felt so lucky that we had missed the flight that I felt compelled to help," said Whitney, who is on the Board of Directors of Operation USA, an organisation founded in 1979 with the aim of sending relief flights and sea and land shipments throughout the world. The organisation works with nonprofit partners in each country or through international organisations. In Sri Lanka, Operation USA works with Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), a local relief group active in the devastated areas of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. In addition to providing medical aid, the group provides water, hygiene and food.For four days, Whitney and three physicians travelled to the South and the North of the country to help the victims of the tsunamis. His holiday heaven, Galle, was badly hit by the waves and about 5,000 people were killed.Coming to reflect on what happened, Whitney said he feels fortunate that he did not die in the catastrophe and that he was able to help thousands of people."I believe I was blessed," said the man who has a strong Buddhist faith. "I believe I am destined to help others."Every little snip countsOne positive side of the tsunami is that it has brought out the best in people from every walk of life. So many people have tried to do what they can to help out, whether in cash or in kind.One of these has been hair designer Udomchai Pansap, better known as Pode. When he realised the extent of the disaster, he promptly closed down his salon for a week, headed down south, and did what he is best at doing _ cutting hair.Based at Wat Yanyao, where hundreds of volunteers are working, mostly on DNA collection, he set up a makeshift salon and started snipping away. Within a matter of hours, he had a long queue of people waiting to benefit from his services: locals, children, foreign forensic experts and even tourist volunteers. Within a week, he must have cropped some 300 heads of hair. He came back worn out but glowing with the satisfaction that he had done his little bit.Stylish Supornthip ChoungrangseeWorth knowingThis evening, Thailand Tatler launches its annual society publication, known as The Essential Guide to The Social Season 2005. Socialites who don't find themselves among the 500 entries have been seen sobbing into their champagne, while others are making an even greater effort to get noticed. The ones who are listed, however, are usually the ones who don't even have to try.This year, however, there is a special section that lists the "100 people you must know in Asia ... the definitive list of the region's most powerful, wealthy, altruistic and social faces". The Thailand list features prominent names and faces: Tinakorn "Kookie" Asvaraks, Noppadol "Ou" Baholyodhin, Chutinant Bhirombhakdi, William Heinecke, ML Laksasubha Kridakon, Geoffrey Longfellow, Vachara Phanchet, Parnthongtae Shinawatra, Khunying Chodchoy Sophonpanich, Kamala Sukosol and Kurt Wachtveitl.Tinakorn AsvaraksTinakorn only found out about the honour last week when he arrived in Hong Kong for a quick shopping trip and received a huge bouquet of flowers. Despite his high profile in Thailand, he was over the moon to be acknowledged on a regional basis. This feature appears in all the regional Tatlers, as does another feature that lists "Asia's Most Stylish Women" which, incidentally, is the fold-out cover for the Thailand edition as well. Thailand's contribution to this list is our own Supornthip Choungrangsee. No one can argue with that choice.