Phuket, Thailand

Susan - Pie Lady

In more than twenty years of living in Phuket, Susan has seen all the sides of Thailand, including a massive Tsunami and some tragedies, but she has no intention of leaving. ‘I will always live here. I regard it as home,’ she said. ‘I like the feeling of being in Asia—it is more interesting than Australia. Here, every day is different. In Australia, it is always the same. Your friends stay the same. Here, life moves on. It is more vibrant.

‘The night life is huge. Thank goodness I don’t go out so much now. I tell you, you would be just a wreck if you did everything—you know, expat life . . .’ Susan’s main interests are sailing, running and travelling. And Phuket is perfect for all of this. The Phuket yacht club organises four major regattas a year and Susan loves the running club, the Hash House Harriers. ‘There is a fantastic social life around that,’ said the 60-year-old, who looks closer to 40. In fact, 40 is how old Susan was when she first arrived in Phuket, in 1993.

Born in Cooma, in rural New South Wales, Australia, Susan spent most of her adult life working for building societies in Coffs Harbour and Sydney. She makes no bones about the fact that she ran away from the tedium of her working life—in a rather exciting way, sailing off from Australia in a yacht with her partner. They arrived in Phuket in November.

‘We were going on to Italy, but he was killed in a motorbike accident, in June. We had been living on our yacht—anchored out.’ After her partner’s death, Susan moved the yacht into the Boat Lagoon Marina and began working for the Cathay Pacific pilots who lived in Phuket and had their boats moored in the marina.

‘I would take care of the boats when they were away. It gave me a good lifestyle.’

Susan returned to Australia in 1997 and met Harry, another sailor, before they came back to Phuket in 1999. Harry was about to retire, and said ‘Why don’t we sail back there via the Solomons?’ And they did. There was, according to Susan, only one problem with Phuket—no meat pies. ‘You couldn’t buy a pie in Phuket!’ she said. ‘I missed meat pies!’

So she asked her sister in Australia to get her an electronic pie-maker. ‘Initially, it was just to make pies for myself. Then I thought, “I’ll be able to make pies for the Aussie boys at the yacht club.” And it went from that. I had never made pastry before, so I had to learn how to do that. I used to stand there with this pie-maker and make two pies every seven minutes.’

Eight and a half years later, it is a significant business—and Susan is known by locals as Lady Pie. To this day she is still the only Australian pie-maker in Southeast Asia. She even supplies pies to the Hong Kong Sevens rugby competition—not all of the pies, though, just 8000 of them! ‘I have been doing it for three years. The pies are like little footballs with laces on.’

But there is always a flipside to the joys of living in a tropical island and for Susan this was the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2005.

The Tsunami:

‘We had rented this gorgeous little house in Kamala on the beach. I was in bed and there was an earthquake at eight in the morning. I remember I felt that. Then, at ten, the tsunami struck. And the water came. The whole house got hit by the three waves. The first wave hit and the water came inside. The second wave smashed all of the house. And then the third wave took everything out to sea.

‘When it happened Harry was on his hammock, waiting to go snorkelling once the tide came in. We had our yacht in the sea out the front and the dinghy was tied up to the tree. He saw the water coming and he called out to me. I ran around to the front of the house—there was a big glass table there and it exploded with the force of the water hitting it and the wave washed me out the back. I was lucky and was able to run up the hill.

‘Harry was fiddling with the dinghy when the wave hit and he got swept out in that. I could see him in the dinghy and watched as he eventually got onto the yacht. He got the motor going and went out to sea. ‘The water was really brackish, foamy, brown, with logs and debris all through it—it was horrible. I thought it was the end of the world.

‘After the first wave, a local man helped me back down to the house. I was in shock. I remember I saw the laundry hanging on the line and thought, “I better bring that in.” I asked the man to turn off the power. All the furniture was floating. Then we heard people screaming, “Water!” I ran up the hill again as the second wave was hitting.

‘Then I saw the third wave—it was huge. God, it was big. The road we were standing on was 10 metres up the hill and the wave was curling around the headland and seemed higher than us. ‘After that third wave hit, the water kept coming in and going out all afternoon. We were just petrified. ‘The worst part was the next day when we went down to the town—all the mud, the bodies, hundreds of people were killed.’