A SINGAPOREAN’S SCARY EXPERIENCE DURING PARIS TERROR ATTACKS

It’s 2.30am on a Friday night as I start writing this. Madness has again descended on this beautiful city of light.

I am in a Paris bar right now. It’s closed for the night but agreed to let us (myself and a group of colleagues) stay here to wait out the situation. The bar has full glass windows, but the curtains are drawn. We have water and a bathroom. Right now it’s all we need. Right now it’s a safe heaven.

I know other people who are similarly stuck, getting ready to spend the night in whatever restaurant or bar they happened to be stuck in. I feel lucky that I did not get kicked out when the bar closed, and that those friends did not get kicked out — because I also know people who got kicked out by establishments that were closing for the night. I feel lucky to be here.

I am glad that two friends and co-workers who got kicked out, managed to get to where I am and off the streets. I am glad that even though another place kicked out two other friends and co-workers, it got them a cab and they made it home safely.

I hope everyone in Paris is safe and accounted for.

I still hear sirens. Police. Ambulances. They come and go.

We make and laugh at jokes. Macabre jokes. Morbid jokes. Tasteless jokes. Dumb jokes. Anything to relieve the tension.

Everyone is on his or her phone. Texting loved ones. Texting friends and family and co-workers. Checking Facebook. Checking Twitter. Trying to find out what’s going on. I check my email, including the marketing spam. I wonder if it’s crass to do some online shopping to relieve the stress.

I called someone 10,000 times – an exaggeration, but I called him a lot of times. Because he did not check-in on our Telegram group and nobody knew where he was. We thought he was probably sleeping, exhausted from the long week, but we didn’t know for sure. The relief when he finally posted into the group was palpable.

I first found out about what was happening, when a friend and co-worker got a call from her Airbnb host, saying that there’s been a shooting incident on the street where her listing is and telling her that the street is closed. The host talked about the shooter having a sub-machine gun. The host was stuck in a nearby bar which was locked down.
We were concerned for our co-worker. But we managed to figure out who she could crash with, if she couldn’t get back tonight. At that time, we didn’t know about anything else.

Then news started filtering through. Messages started coming in. Emails started coming in. It became increasingly clear that there are sick people in the world, and they have chosen to manifest their sickness yet again. And that as you are there, the madness was unfolding around you and the madmen responsible were still out and about.
Shit got real real fast. So real.

Until you live through something like this, you don’t know what it’s like. Until you have people you care for — friends and co-workers and family (because we are family and we take care of our own) — who are unaccounted for and who could be at risk, you will not know what that unrelenting wave of terror and fear and worry and anxiety feels like. Until you have loved ones to inform about your safety so they don’t worry, you will not understand what it’s like to strike that balance between letting them know that shit is going down but you are ok and not telling them just where you are because you are actually not that far from where these things had happened.

Until you have to refrain from calling your wife in a time zone 7 hours ahead because she’s still sleeping, even though you just want to call her because you haven’t heard her voice for 5 days and you just want to hear her voice and you just want to tell her you love her because you know you are safe but goddammit who knows what shit could happen, you won’t know what self-restraint really means.

It’s 4.30am. I’m back home in my Airbnb listing, tired but safe. The car drove past many deserted wet dark streets, and also many police cars and ambulances and uniformed personnel.

It changes how you think about terrorism and security and what the price of freedom really should be. It changes your appreciation for the safety and security of Singapore that you so take for granted. It changes how you think of your loved ones and what’s important to you.

Love your loved ones. Live your life and chase your dreams. Have no regrets. Have no fear. Those are the important things, now and always.

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