Saturday, September 11, 2010

When they attacked New York on 9/11

Nine years back on this fateful evening (it was morning in New York) I was in Bangkok waiting for a connecting flight to Amsterdam. The flight from Paro to Bangkok was so early in the morning that I didn't have enough sleep the night before. So I was feeling drowsy and lethargic as evening came and I patiently waited for my midnight flight.

My physical conditions were further aggravated by the long and tiring wait in the uneventful Don Muang Airport. The only thing that kept my eyes open was the CNN news where I was lazily checking the weather and the temperature in Amsterdam to make sure I had packed the right set of clothing.

Then suddenly the “Breaking News” banner started flashing on the TV and I saw a tower burning and people running. My immediate reaction was, “When did CNN started advertising movies?” I thought it was the trailer from the "Siege" with Denzel Washington. Then an aircraft appeared on the screen and hit the second tower. The newscaster screamed to tears, which woke me up completely. More people started crowding around me, all facing the TV. Someone shouted, “Oh! My God. I can’t believe it!” I was stunned. “Is this happening just now?” I asked innocently. “Yes, that’s New York!” Suddenly all my fatigues disappeared and I stood there – almost frozen to death.

I couldn’t even blink my eyes with the horror unfurling in front of us. So much so that only a loud and continuos thumping noise took my head away from the TV screen. To my right I saw the Thai anti-terrorist squad heading for the boarding gates. An announcement came in. “There will be slight delays in all the outgoing flight". That frightened me. Moments later they announced my flight and we were to proceed for security checks. I was still confused as I headed for my boarding gate. There was a long line of travellers getting checked one by one. Besides the usual Thai ground staff, there were armed policeman in full battle gear scanning the place. The sight frightened me even more.

The queue was unusually slow and as I snailed towards the counter trailing an old European lady I started wondering if I should even go to Amsterdam. I could cancel my flight and my trip. Stay for few days in Bangkok and return home. When you are about to board an aircraft the last thing you want to see is a plane crashing into a building and killing thousands for real.

I was lost in all those strange thoughts when a voice called me, “boarding pass and passport, please”. The counter girl, probably in her thirties, smiled at me. I handed them over still unsure if I should go. “Thank you and have a nice flight,” she told me as she handed them back. “You must be kidding,” I thought as I walked away looking for an empty seat.

But as I settled down between two Dutch guys with my eyes scanning the place for any suspicious characters, I started asking myself, “What am I scared of, actually? Dying? But if my time has come I would die anywhere. One day I would die for sure.” That's when my Buddhist upbringing and being Buddhist came handy. No one can escape one's fate or cheat death. If your time is up, it’s up. Whether you are in the Land of Smile or in the Thunder Dragon Kingdom or among the tulips. You will be making your appointment with the Lord of Death anyway. So might as well do that seeping champagne, 30,000 feet above the Earth, seated in the business class with beautiful Taiwanese hostesses serving you.

I boarded the Eva Airways flight bound for Amsterdam.