Denizen’s writers recall where they were when the Sept. 11 tragedy happened, and how it changed their lives.
Related article: Sept. 11, 2001: Ten Years Later from Young Americans Abroad
Alex McCabe: I was in Singapore when it happened. It was a Tuesday night there and my Dad rushed home from the office when the second building got hit so he could be with my brothers and I. My Mom was on business in Japan at the time. We all watched together as the buildings fell. The next day my brothers and I went to school on the subway as usual. Our uniforms clearly identified as us Singapore American School students and we got noticeably more looks than usual. It was truly surreal. I don’t remember if it was that time or some days later, but one of the guards of my building stopped us on our way out, expressed his sympathies to us, and then said “Fuck Osama.”
The weirdest part to me was that non-Americans I met for months afterwards were expressing their condolences to me as if I’d lost a relative. As someone who had spent so little time in the states, had never lived there growing up, and had only barely been to New York it was a really weird feeling. I had the most tenuous of connections to the event itself and yet I was getting sympathy like it was a death in the family. I grew up always knowing that as a U.S. Passport holder I was going to be a target. That feeling didn’t start on September 11th for me. But the realization that people would now view me that way — that there was an extra distinction between us — made me more American in my own eyes.
In the months after a lot of things changed in Singapore. Gurkhas from the Singapore police showed up at the U.S. Embassy, the American Club and the American School. New fences and security measures went up at school. They repainted the buses that used to proudly display our school’s name and an eagle to a non-descript bright yellow. They stopped letting cars drive up to the American Club or park near the front of it. Our school started terrorism drills. Ten years later, all of those changes are still in place. Cemented as a new reality that anyone not around back then wouldn’t even notice anymore.
Today I work in New York in a building that overlooks the 9/11 memorial site so I look out and think about it every day. It’s a reminder to me of how much has changed in the last ten years. Personally and geopolitically.
Johnny Chuidian: 9/11 for me was more of a continuation of the same in The Philippines rather than a wake-up call.
I remember sleeping in my bed in Manila before my friend sent me a text message telling me a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center — a place I never even heard of at the time. The moment I turned on the television, I saw the buildings crumble.
My friends in the U.S. told me how they were suddenly gripped with fear and paranoia with all these new bomb checks and security checks — I told them that’s how I had already been living for a couple years in the Philippines because of groups like the Abu Sayyaf in The Philippines, had been kidnapping people or bombing places. I myself had been in the vicinity when a bomb exploded in a shopping mall. If anything, the thoughts I had were “now they know how we in the rest of the world live.”
Rachel Aguiar: I was living in Singapore at the time and I remember working on an assignment for my freshman Western Civilizations class on the night of September 11, 2011. A little after 9 p.m., my mom ran into the room and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. My two younger brothers had already gone to sleep and my dad was in Thailand on business, so my mom and I watched in silent tears as a second plane crashed and as both towers collapsed. We slept in her bed together that night.
After a lot of debating, my brothers and I did go to school the next day – not many other students did. Tensions remained high over the coming days. Soon after the attacks in New York and Washington D.C., plans were uncovered that targeted our school and other American buildings, including the embassy. Soon after that, Nepalese Ghurka soldiers with automatic weapons were placed outside of our school. The Singapore American School logos were covered up on our buses to make us less of a target. Despite all of this craziness and uncertainty, we pulled together as a community and moved forward.
Rachel writes more about her Sept. 11 experience in “I Guess I’m Stuck With You: Growing Up With TCK Siblings.“
Alan Ryan Garcia: I was a high school sophomore in Westchester county, New York, 40 minutes outside the city. In the library, I looked up from my desk to see the TV on, people clustered around it. The TV was never on.
The screen relayed a smoking hole, too zoomed in to determine exactly what was going on. The news graphic said there was a crash at the World Trade Center. The camera zoomed out, panning to reveal the extent of the hole and where it was. The sizable crater burning high up the North Tower was the most surreal thing I’d ever seen. I’d never witnessed such a disaster.
The day is a blur. Our school tries to proceed as normal. Nobody pays attention as people scramble, trying to contact loved ones or find out what’s going on. Everybody has a 9/11 story – they knew somebody, they knew of close calls.
My dad got home from the city that night hours after he usually does. Trains were backed up in the wake of what happened.
He looked at me, his voice unsteady, “The entire train… Everybody was crying. Everybody.”
Continue reading Alan’s story in “When Tears Turned To Roars.“
Steph Yiu: I was in Singapore, was trying to finish up my 10th grade homework when my friend Sarah called and told me to turn on the TV. My mom and I sat and watched together for hours.
As a non-American attending an American school, I was swept up in all the emotions, experiencing the tragedy like an American. I think many people around the world experienced the tragedy closer than any other major attack simply because of how prevalent American media was in our lives. Time, Newsweek, CNN, the International Herald Tribune — they all reported it like a local tragedy to the rest of the world. We learned the names of the victims, heard from the families, felt the emotions of the citizens of New York. This is enormously different from how international tragedies are generally reported.
For my 9th grade English class, I wrote a fiction story about a firefighter who lost his life in Sept. 11. For my high school paper, I covered the tragedy, interviewing students who had ties to New York. I signed the 9/11 memorial in our school’s lobby. After Sept. 11, I felt more American — as strange as that is for someone who had no ties to the United States.
Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?