Posted by: tonkatsudelights | October 21, 2007

Remembering That Day…

My business trip to Manila at the end of this month is now highly uncertain.

Due to yesterday’s bomb explosion in Glorietta shopping mall, which is in close proximity to our offices and the hotels where we stay, the company has issued a travel restriction to Manila. Only essential travel is allowed. With local HR and security approval.

And for the employees on the ground the message is clear. If the employee feels safer to go home earlier, he/she is welcomed to do so. On the other hand, if the employee feels safer in the office and rather carpool with fellow colleagues, he/she may do so as well. Whichever is safer for the employee.

Somehow this reminds me of that one day. One historical day for my country. Was that May 13, 1998? If my memory serves me right. That was the day when the riot in Jakarta broke out. For so many days before that, we had students’ demonstration, which was a peaceful demonstration. But the demonstration that day was somehow different. It was no longer students alone. And the demonstration that was supposed to be against the then government, suddenly took turns and became a riot targetted against the Indonesian Chinese community. I personally believe it was not the students’ fault. That was just the dirty way that some people in government used to try to stop the demo. By trying to show to the public that the students were up to no good.

If you heard about what happened that day, you probably would have your blood boiling like mine. People’s houses and shophouses were looted. And burned down with the residents trapped inside. Women got gang-raped on the streets. Big shopping malls were also looted and burned down. 

That day I was working in my office in Jakarta. The company issued a similar notice. If we felt safer to go home earlier that day, we were free to do so. Some of my colleagues left earlier. But I, not realizing how grave the situation was, kept working on my computer. And when I realized what was happening, it was too late. I didn’t drive to the office that day so I didn’t have any means of transportation with me. My parents could not pick me up as it was not very safe to drive on the street. The rioters blocked the streets and attacked several cars that passed by. Cars with people of ethnic Chinese inside.

So I was left with two options. Stayed in the office and relied on the food stocked by the company for emergency situation (which was mainly instant noodles). Or tried to go back home with two fellow colleagues, a brother and a sister who lived in the same house. Not wanting to be left behind in the office, I chose to go with the latter option.

The ride to their place was almost heart stopping. All along the way we saw smoke coming up here and there at different corners of Jakarta. They came from all the buildings that were set on fire. We saw people walking by, carrying goods that they took from the shops or from other people’s houses. We just drove and drove. Knowing that we shouldn’t stop at all. Stay away from the crowds and do not stop when the people tried to block our way. Just drive right through them. Or, over them, if necessary. For it is either our lives, or their lives.

I was able to go home only the next day. You can’t imagine how relieved I was to be finally at home. And I stayed home for the next 10 days afterward. The 10 days that result in the change of government for my country.

During those days, I realized how vulnerable our life is. When you live in a lawless situation, only one law remains. The law of the jungle. The strong survives. You stay in your own home but you can never be sure of your safety. For other people can suddenly come and loot your house and burn it down. You have to defend your own territory. And that’s exactly what happened in a lot of housing complex. The residents decided to guard their houses together. I remember my dad had to stay awake at some nights and guard our complex together with our neighbours. 

The bomb in Glorietta is a far cry from what happened in Jakarta that day. But somehow it brings the memories back again.

For on that day, Jakarta was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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