Writer’s Block: 9/11
I was eating dinner at the restaurant in my apartment building in Muange-Eke, Pathumthani, Thailand. It was evening (hence the "dinner" part!) and it was after dark, so it must have been after 7pm or so.
Aunty, one of the ladies who ran the restaurant in my building came over and was talking to me in Thai and I gathered that something relating to an "airplane" had happened, but I simply had no idea what. I saw images on the Thai news of an airplane hitting a building, but I cannot understand Thai news well and it simply didn’t mean anything to me so I sort of shrugged it off.
Then I went back upstairs to my apartment and got to thinking about it and decided that since Aunty had never tried to talk to me about anything news related, maybe I should check into things.
I had a computer in my apartment, but no Internet connection. So, that was no help.
Unfortunately, I had no English language TV channels either, other than ESPN.
But I turned on the local Thai news which was giving coverage to the incident. . . I just couldn’t quite figure exactly what the "incident" was. However, even though the news was in Thai, there were these English language "ticker tape" news feed things from CNN scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen. I read things like "NATO HQ Shut Down", "All Flights in USA grounded, "America under attack.”
Then I started to panic and experience a unique kind of fear that you probably only experience when the world as you know it suddenly seems on the brink of chaos. Quite frankly, as an American, I’d never known this feeling.
At this point, I decided I needed English language news. So, I ran across the sports/track field that separated my apartment building and that of the dorms for my University. I knew that the common room in the University dorms had CNN. I snuck past the security guards like I always did whenever I visited my friends at the dorm. Actually, it is not like the guards would ever have tried to stop me!
I think by this time it was quite late. I went to the common room where the English language CNN was indeed on TV and where a reasonable crowd had gathered, although no one I was personally familiar with.
After a while I ended up sitting on a couch next to a couple very terrified looking students from Finland. Slowly, via the news feed and from what the Finish students knew, I began to piece things together. Of course, even at that time, it was still pretty much chaos in the USA.
I think the Finish students were as afraid as me. They seemed certain that the USA was going to declare war on someone (fair assessment).
A growing sense of unreality overcame me. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning I went home and fell asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, there was this brief moment when I was certain everything I had seen on TV the night before had all just been part of a terrible nightmare. Then, I knew it was real, and this horrible and terrified feeling came back again.
I rushed off to school so I could go to the computer lab and get on the Internet and see what was going on. Slowly some very afraid and confused looking American students filtered into the computer lab. I think they literally didn’t know what to think, or were numb and/or in shock, just like me. I learned a long time later that one of the American students actually had a breakdown shortly after this and had to be sent back to the USA.
Eventually I ended spending the better part of two or three days at the dearold Don Muang airport where the CNN news feed was covering 9/11 continuously. There were a lot of very scared looking people crowded around those screens, including many of Middle Eastern origin.
I remember distinctly an Israeli man coming up to me and asking me what they were saying the death toll was. I told him what I knew at that time based on the news I was receiving: that it was possible that was many as 40,000 had been in the Twin Towers when it collapsed. I still remember the look on his face. He looked at me as if I were insane and rushed away. Tensions were running high all around the airport.
After a couple days the airport authorities decided to switch all the programming from CNN to sports. So, that was the last of the live news coverage I ever saw regarding 9/11.
Oddly, I didn’t hear anything from my family either. So I actually started to wonder if the whole thing was even big news in the USA!
I finally heard from my mother, who was living in Germany. I think like everyone, she was just in shock and didn’t know what to say.
I left the USA in the summer of 2000 and didn’t return until winter 2003. I never visited, so I never experienced this event the way Americans did. I guess I have a talent for missing disasters. I was in the USA when the tsunami hit Thailand. I missed hurricane Katrina by a day; and I was far, far away from 9/11 and there was no visible signs at all around me that anything was unusual. It was business as usual in Thailand, of course.
Even though I was far away from the events and never was worried about friends or family being caught up in any of the hijackings or plane crashes, it was such a terrible time for the weeks following the events and I can still get very emotional about 9/11. It is not something I will forget until I am old and my mind has been lost to dementia or old age.
But the experience of the event, like most of the events of my life, was one I went through alone. I didn’t really have a shoulder to cry on. I was not close to any Americans in Thailand at that time.