jenn jay tales

Jennifer Johnston shares her travel tales; life adventures; observations, photos and random thoughts


The Human Spirit triumphs over Tragedy

Sarah Yip was one of my case studies for a commissioned story I wrote for a weekend newspaper magazine. The story, a reflection ten years on from the Indian Ocean Boxing Day Tsunami. A story of survival and the impact it has had on her life, Sarah’s story is a reminder of how the human spirit endures and evolves in the face of tragedy and despair.


We know what its like to book a family holiday at the last minute – Sarah Yip’s family was no different.  Sarah at 23 had recently graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Environmental Science Degree and was re-locating to Bangkok in January 2005 to take on a role as the Australian Youth Ambassador with the United Nations. “It was a lifelong dream of mine to work for the United Nations,” says Sarah. Her family were keen to enjoy Christmas together before Sarah took up her overseas posting.

Sarah Yip

Sarah Yip

With her father (John) organising their family holiday, for his wife (Catherine) and two daughters, Sarah’s new role in Bangkok influenced their destination choice.  “My father is a Risk Manager and has a habit of calculating the level of risk when selecting holiday destinations,” Sarah said. His research indicated Thailand was a safe destination – tsunami free – so he chose the island of Phuket as the opportune place for the family.  Procrastination about which hotel to book, meant most hotels closest to the beach were booked out, so they settled for the Club Bamboo Hotel, three streets from Patong Beach and up a small hill.

Arriving on the evening of the 23rd December, Sarah and her family spent the next day driving around the Island, sightseeing. On Saturday, (Christmas Day) the family visited Phi Phi Island playing tourist. On their return the family felt like a night of shopping and wandered along Patong Beach. Passing a tailor’s shop, Sarah decided she wanted a suit made to fit her tall frame. “As a lanky giant, I’m challenged to fit into store bought fashion,” she said.  As she was on a short holiday, Sarah organised the follow up fitting appointment with the Tailor for 9.30am, the next day (Boxing Day.) For no real reason her father suggested changing the appointment to 10am.

On the morning of Boxing Day, Sarah and her sister  Helen were delayed in leaving where they were having breakfast, due to their waiter confusing her breakfast order.  Her father – ever the clock watcher was waiting outside with their Thai Taxi Driver who was to take them to visit some of the beaches, including driving Sarah to her 10am suit fitting appointment.  The delay meant they left the hotel around10.10am, a delay which saved their lives (including that of Roma the driver.)  “I remember as I jumped into the taxi a man rushed past us, running up the road ahead of us. He was dripping in sweat and screaming something about a wave,” recalls Sarah. “I saw water flooding up the road, people were caught in it, I had no idea what was going on,” she says.

The disaster unfolded in front of Sarah and her family. There was confusion and panic no one was sure what was going on and the language barrier only added to the mayhem. Sarah recalls the people’s injuries, many requiring medical attention. Her sense of helplessness in not knowing how to assist with medical aid was to haunt her for years to come. “There I was in the middle of a disaster zone and all I could do was watch.”

Sarah and her family were lucky because their hotel was set back further from the beach, so it escaped damage. They could return to their hotel and retrieve their possessions, including their passports. Unlike so many at the beach-side hotels who had not shared the same “fortune.” The day after Boxing Day amidst much confusion, Sarah and her family were able to escape to the airport, flying to Hong Kong where they stayed for a few days, before returning home to Australia.

Despite the trauma of the tsunami and the shock she felt about surviving when so many didn’t, Sarah was determined to take up her posting with the United Nations in Bangkok. She stayed in the role for 11 months, but due to medical reasons related to a whistle-blowing case, Sarah resigned returning to Australia.  Reflecting on her life Sarah realised, “I hadn’t processed surviving the tsunami incident and why I was spared an injury,” she said. “At that stage of my life, I didn’t believe in counselling,” she says.  “But I knew with how I was feeling, I had to talk to someone. I felt like I was just functioning – acting like a robot.”

Through meditation, yoga, art therapy and counselling Sarah’s life began to take on a different course. In early 2006 Sarah moved to Brisbane to commence a new role with Keep Australia Beautiful. Completing a personal growth course allowed Sarah to become aware of her psychic abilities. “I never believed in psychics in my youth, but in my 20’s that all changed.”

Sarah now 33, works full-time as a professional psychic on Brisbane’s south side.

“Following the Tsunami, I went from being a scientist in a government department, to a charity worker, psychic reader and counsellor, all within two years.  I was very introverted and closed down, but now I’m more of a risk taker and am willing to fight for my convictions.”

To experience tragedy and return in triumph is a human condition not everyone has the opportunity or the grace to manage.  The tsunami experience changed Sarah’s entire outlook on life. Sarah admits she was very competitive as a child, but she now channels that energy into being of service to humanity.  “I am grateful for the tsunami because it shocked me into consciousness. Without it I would still be acting like a robot trying to make other people happy.”

“I know if the tsunami had not happened, I would not have happened.”

Sarah Yip