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PHUKET: As 2009 draws to a close, it would be easy – very easy – to highlight issues which remain thorns in the sides of Phuket’s expatriates. Negatives almost always trump the positives in the world of news. However, it is encouraging to see that Phuket has made progress toward the island’s continued development not only as an international tourist destination, but also as a desirable and cosmopolitan place in which to live.

The island’s infrastructure is getting some of the attention it requires and there is a growing trend toward going green. The Gazette‘s ‘Person’ of the Year Award for community service went with great enthusiasm to three individuals who focused on the environment by driving the current campaign to curtail the profligate use of plastic bags.

Perhaps one of the most significant steps towards improving the tourist experience on the island was the implementation of measures to help ring down the curtain on more than a decade of jet-ski scams, an issue that has received frequent worldwide coverage thanks to TV and video websites.

It has been most encouraging to see action taken on a provincial level, spearheaded by Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop, to mitigate the issue, which in the past left untold numbers of tourists feeling cheated and vowing never to return to Phuket.

Full-time lifeguards, life-saving equipment and signs in English warning of seasonal rip currents also appeared on Phuket’s most popular tourist beaches for the first time, although we have to acknowledge with sadness that over the past few weeks beach safety has lost some of its prominence as a government priority. Nevertheless, there is a limit to what the authorities can do to ensure tourists’ safety when swimmers decide to ignore the red flags and advice of the lifeguards.

In October, this writer watched a European man walk past a red flag on the beach and wade straight into a rip current while his concerned girlfriend looked on from the shore. Within seconds, the man was dragged more than 100 meters out to sea. He barely made it back to the beach.

The launch of the Gazette‘s online forum, enabling readers to add their comments to news stories, has revealed a great deal about what really matters to the average expatriate resident and frequent visitors to Phuket.

News stories such as the Nanai Road flooding attracted many more readers and comments than updates about the tsunami warning system and the new detection buoy.

Readers frequently demand that the Gazette ‘do something’ by wading into battle on their behalf with government agencies, retailers, tuk-tuk drivers, and many others. While such intermediation in disputes or other grievances is clearly outside the purview of a community newspaper, we do attempt to highlight in our pages those issues which appear to weigh heavily on the minds of large numbers of our readers. (See the ‘Letters’ page in any of our weekly editions.)

As the world marks the fifth anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, the horrific event is of course receiving wide coverage in reviews and perspectives put forth by media all over the globe. Here in Phuket, anniversary ceremonies and minutes of silence were observed all over the island yesterday.

And today we think it’s safe to say that the ‘ethos’ of the vast majority of Phuketians is anchored in the future or the present, no longer so heavily in that nightmare of the past.

Please do have a happy New Year!

— Nick Davies