Nepalese in Singapore in touch with families

Nepalese in Singapore in touch with families

RESTAURANT owner Martin Pun was on the phone from Singapore on Saturday morning, chatting to a friend in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, when he heard a shout, and the line went dead.

The 34-year-old Nepalese, who runs New Everest Kitchen in Chander Road, could not get through when he tried calling back, but later found out that his friend was unhurt. Mr Pun's parents also escaped unscathed.

Many among the 3,000-strong Nepalese community here - Gurkhas as well as IT specialists, engineers, managers and chefs - say they have been able to get in touch with family members and friends back home since Saturday's devastating earthquake. While they are safe, some have lost houses and property.

The 7.8-magnitude quake, with its epicentre 80km east of Nepal's second-largest city Pokhara, is the worst to strike the country in 81 years, and has killed more than 2,300 people.

Many here are rallying together to raise funds, contribute supplies or volunteer services.

Mr Pun is flying back to Kathmandu next week to help with search and rescue efforts and dispensing of medicine to the injured.

"I thought it was a small quake at first, but now... I really cannot imagine it. It is the first time in my life that I am encountering this," said Mr Pun, who has been working in Singapore for nine years.

Mr Yubaraj Limbu, 29, the Nepalese owner of the Gurkha Palace restaurant in Little India, has also been able to contact his mother in Jhapa, about 600km from the epicentre, as well as his brother and sister-in-law in Kathmandu.

"They are safe, but are sleeping outside as they are avoiding buildings," he said.

Noted the president of the Nepalese Society Singapore, Mr Kishore Dev Pant: "So far, we are not aware of anyone who has been unable to contact their families."

The Straits Times understands that most of the men in the Singapore Gurkha Contingent, who number around 2,000, have also been able to get through to relatives in Nepal. Some who come from the affected districts of Gorkha, Dhading and Lamjung lost their homes and property.

The Gurkhas here are an elite force who have been protecting Singapore's most important people and places since 1949. A number of them will be flying to Nepal as part of a Home Team contingent to help with search and rescue efforts.

The Nepalese Society here is also sending five or six volunteers to Kathmandu this week.

"Immediate medical help is needed, and Nepalese and Singaporean doctors and nurses here have kindly volunteered to help," said Mr Dev Pant, 43, a marketing manager.

"But we still need tents, medical equipment, medicines, pre- packed food and water-purifying tablets, as there is likely to be a sanitation problem."

Those who want to find out more about the Nepalese Society's relief efforts can e-mail nepalesesocietysg@gmail.com.

Many others here are contributing, including the Government, the Singapore Red Cross and humanitarian group Mercy Relief.

When The Straits Times visited Mr Pun's restaurant at around lunchtime yesterday, customers had also started a collection. Ms Mani Bhulia, a 46-year-old maid from India who visits the restaurant on her days off, was one of them.

"We are very worried for (the Nepalese), so we thought we will collect some money for them," she said.

Meanwhile, travel agencies here say that, for now, there is no change to tours scheduled for Kathmandu or Tibet - which was also affected by the tremors that killed at least 18 there.

CTC Travel, for instance, has six groups of 20 to 30 people booked for tours to Nepal in the coming months.

Ms Sylvia Tan, CTC's vice- president for marketing and public relations, said that some concerned customers have called to ask about the situation in Nepal, and the company has assured them that the situation is being monitored closely with the overseas land operator.

"Should there be any attractions that are not safe to visit, we will revise the itinerary and make respective changes."

Besides Nepal, agencies are also monitoring neighbouring countries.

Dynasty Travel marketing and communications director Alicia Seah said that the itinerary for Tibet - a popular destination among Singaporeans - is not affected for now, and the travel agency is working with land operators there to find out more.

Dynasty has about seven groups of 30 travelling to Tibet between May and October.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we will alert our participants if there are any changes," she said.

audreyt@sph.com.sg

joseow@sph.com.sg

awcw@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 27, 2015.
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