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The Word Is Collapsing

In September 2001, I was living in Hong Kong, working for a local company. I had just graduated from high school and was enjoying my first glimpse of freedom in Kowloon.

I had two co-workers : Bidé and Kelín. Both of them were also my roommates since the company I was working for provided accommodation.

We were living in Hum Hong, a twenty minutes walk from Tsimshatshui where we worked. We shared a small brand new apartment (a million dollars condo, really) that my boss had just bought. Tower 1, 33rd floor. The apartment had a bathroom, a small kitchen which we never used (dim-sum to go was the motto) and a living room with a huge bay-window overlooking Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour. Bidé, my male co-worker had taken the only room we had. He was a spoiled brat. Nice but spoiled. Kelín and I were sleeping in sleeping bag directly on the floor in the living-room/ kitchen. The apartment was brand new, so we didn’t have any furniture. We were living like hippies in Hong Kong’s most expensive condo apartments. Go figure.

That day, we had gone shopping directly after work and we came home late. My roommate was to cut my hair and I was to experience a new reddish color.

Around 10 pm, I was sitting on the kitchen counter, admiring my new hairstyle in a pocket mirror when my other co-worker stormed in. Stoned, as usual.

— The World Trade Center was hit by a plane !

I looked though the window and pointed out Hong Kong’s WTC, right in from of us, its lights shining brightly among the futuristic skyline.

— No it hasn’t. You shouldn’t smoke so much.
— Gee, you’re so narrow-minded Zhu ! Have you ever heard of New York ? Duh, there’s a WTC there, ya know.
— Of course I knew.
I didn’t.
— But what happened exactly ? Hit, like an accident ?
— Well, that’s one hell of an accident. I mean, it’s the WTC !

Of course, we didn’t have a TV in the apartment. Nor did we have an internet connexion. Or a computer for that matters.

— Let’s find a TV somewhere.

But he had already passed out in his room.

Kelín and I took the elevator (7 minutes to get downstairs) and asked the receptionist where we could find a TV.
He was strangely overzealous, especially considering he never quite forgave us for hanging out the laundry at the window, thus spoiling the condo’s very high standards.

— Of course, poor Americans, follow me, follow me.

He led us through the main floor and suddenly stopped in front of a huge door.

— A terrible thing for you Americans !

No time to contradict him and go all “Vive la France”. Americans we looked like, Americans we were.

He opened the door and let us in the gym. Quickly, he turned on one of the ubiquitous TV above the Stairmasters. CNN.

We took a sit on the bikes and watched. The second plane had crashed into the 2nd tower by then and it looked like anything but an accident. Our English was somewhat limited but we grasped most of the news. Not that it was hard to understand : voices and faces said it all. People just didn’t understand what was going on – neither did we.

Unexpected. Violent. Barbaric. People were so shocked they forgot to be angry. People looked like they had been punched in the face.

Who did that ? We tried to guess, naming countries at stake with the US. The list was too long. Almost right away CNN was reporting that a man named Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. I had never heard of him before. Palestine is also suggested. What else ? It’s terrorism, it’s clear by now.

An hour later we were back at the apartment.

The three of us sat there in the living-room.

— Think they’re gonna catch him ?
— Who ? The Osama guy ? Even if they do, what good it is gonna come out of that ? Satisfy a revenge ?
— There’s a whole ideology behind this guy and even if the head of the movement is caught, there’re bound to be followers. Cause there’re fanatics. And everyone knows the best pools for extremists ideologies : poverty, lack of education, lack of perspectives, feeling of unfairness… The Talibans didn’t come out of the blue.
— Well, if you think the US are gonna turn the other cheek you’re damn wrong. This is war. This ain’t gonna end before the head of the Taliban is hanged. Is possible, personally by Bush.
— I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Nobody knew. The giant with feet of clay was crying tonight. The attacks had been unexpected and terribly shocking. And peace was a long way down the road.

We slept late that night if at all. We felt Americans that day.

(to be continued…)

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