Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Some thoughts on this day that inevitably brings back memories of events that took place many years ago now

Two candles burning at a memorial vigil

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I reconnected a couple of years ago with an old school friend who I had lost contact with for decades.  Now connected on Facebook, I received an alert this morning that today was her birthday and promptly sent her happy bday wishes.  Around the same time that I did so, I got to realizing that today's the 17th anniversary of what has come to be known 9/11 and remembered as a day that majorly changed the United States of America, if not the world.   

As someone who's now in her fifth decade of life on earth, I've invariably accumulated a lot of memories: many good, some not so great; many of a personal nature, others of which I share with many others, including people I don't personally know; some of which revolve around events which took place far away from where I happened to be when I heard about their having occured, yet had quite the psychological and emotional impact on me.     

Although there were other reasons why I eventually decided to leave the USA (on July 4th, 2003), the role played by 9/11 is not to be under-estimated.  I think that many people living in America were scarred forever by the terrible events that occured that day in New York City, Washington, DC., and in the air over Pennsylvania.  And, to this day, I'm not sure that many people (including members of the US government) have learnt the right lessons from what happened on September 11th, 2001.

Among other things, the experience and memory of 9/11 has left many of us with some really irrational fears and loathings.  A New York resident I know who saw the planes hit the Twin Towers with her own eyes told me about how, on a recent visit to Hong Kong, she asked for a room change after being assigned a hotel room with the number 911.  In turn, I told her how I -- who saw the Twin Towers fall in real time, even if "only" on TV -- refuse to live, to the perplexity of various Hong Kong property agents, in an apartment located higher than the 12th floor.

And then there's the fear and distrust, if not outright loathing, that many Americans have come to have of foreigners, especially Muslims.  Among the things I will never forget being told in the months after 9/11 was -- and this by an undergraduate at an Ivy League university -- that Americans wanted to study anthropology (which he saw as the study of foreigners) in order to better understand the enemy and defeat them.  Around that time was when I decided that maybe it was time for me to leave the USA; whereupon I did, and returned to my home country -- one with a Muslim majority but also a sizeable non-Muslim population with whom they regularly interact.     

More than incidentally, the friend I have whose birthday it is today is indeed Malaysian, and Hindu.  When we were in secondary school, her family would open their house on Deepavali to the likes of me and her other friends who would happily go there and be fed delicious food by her grandmother.  Among our group of friends were a Malay Muslim, whose house we would in turn visit and get fed at when Hari Raya Puasa came along.  And those friends would, of course, visit my family home during Chinese New Year to eat (and get ang pow)!

Remembering those times makes it so that this September 11th, I have been having happy, not just unhappy, thoughts today.  I really wish 9/11 never happened.  And while I don't think the memories of September 11th, 2001, aren't going to go away nor become less upsetting any time soon, I also really do hope and wish that people will be able to let go of their irrational fears and hates, especially towards other people, eventually and sooner rather than later.


Bill said...


Thanks for posting this timely and thoughtful entry about an event which for many of us inflicted traumatic and psychic wounds that will probably never totally heal. You seem to indicate that it was probably a factor in your decision to return to Asia.

We each have our own stories related to this event. Way back when, I was working in downtown Manhattan, a few blocks away from the Trade Center, when it was under construction. I spent a lot of time sauntering there, including years after its completion...I used to visit Art on the Beach, a series of art installations set up on a sand lot near the edge of the river, against the backdrop of the Trade Center. It was a wonderful outdoor gallery.

I happened to work in the World Trade Center for a couple of months back in the 90's, but I always felt uneasy about working 80 plus floors in the air. Someone in the office there told me I was being needlessly paranoid about working in such a safe building. Well, anyway, I left New York shortly afterwards, never to return.


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

Thanks for sharing your story about the World Trade Center and the area of New York City in which it was located. I spent a few Thanksgivings in New York with an old college friend and his mother, whose apartment was located in Battery Park -- which, as you know, was located close to the World Trade Center. They'd actually pick me up at the PATH station underneath the World Trade Center and we'd also regularly get theater tickets at the half price tix booth located in the building. So even though I never lived in New York, the World Trade Center was actually a place that I spent a fair amount of time in.

I will never forget the first time that I went again to New York City after 9/11. There's a point in the journey from Philadelphia where the train stops for a bit and you can see Manhattan from New Jersey. I remember thinking: that skyline is missing something and realizing with a shock that it was the Twin Towers. I mean I *knew* they had been destroyed but I somehow was still expecting them to be there...