S'poreans in Paris still grappling with aftermath

S'poreans in Paris still grappling with aftermath
PHOTO: Courtesy of Felyn Tan

For the past year, Singaporean Felyn Tan, a 42-year-old lighting consultant, has been living with her French husband and two young children in the bustling Rue Oberkampf in east Paris.

Her home is just 500m from the Bataclan, a concert hall which was at the heart of the terrorist attacks on Nov 13, which killed 130 and injured at least 350 people.

Ms Tan's voice was still shaky when she recalled the violence and the aftermath.

"It is still too soon to come to terms with the scale of all that has happened. The community here is small. Everybody knows someone who had been affected, injured or killed," she told The Sunday Times.

She and her family were at home watching the France-Germany football match with the windows shut, which blocked out the sounds of gunfire. They found out about the attacks only from breaking news on TV.

But others were not so lucky.

Ms Tan's niece, who lives in the 16th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, was forced to hide under a stairwell for hours that night.

Ms Jan Lim, a 24-year-old Singaporean graduate student at the Paris-Sorbonne University, said two professors and three students from her campus were killed. Exams were postponed as many students were too affected by the loss.

Ms Mehrunisa, a Singaporean information technology consultant in her 40s who did not want to give her full name, said: "It could have been any one of us. The victims were just at the wrong place at the wrong time." Her husband is French, and they have two children.

Since 2005, they have been living in the 18th arrondissement, bordering the 10th arrondissement where part of the shootings took place.

Security has been ramped up in the wake of the attacks. Schoolchildren are no longer allowed to linger on pavements. All extra-curricular activities outside school have been suspended, said Ms Mehrunisa.

At the Paris-Sorbonne University, there are guards at every entrance. While cordons around metro stations have been removed, there are signs warning the public to be careful.

Freelance writer Soh Wee Ling, 33, who has been living in east Paris with her French husband for two years, admits everyone is more wary and "a little on edge".

But Parisians are also showing their "typical French defiance" by getting on with daily life and demonstrating their solidarity at community events. It was not the first time that terrorist attacks have struck the French capital.

At the same time, "most people also know better than to generalise and brand the attacks as representative of Islam," Ms Soh added.

Two days after the attacks, Ms Tan visited the Bataclan with her 11-year-old son Xavier, and saw how the walls and windows had been riddled with bullet holes.

They queued silently with others to pay respects to the victims.

"A man placed his hand on my shoulder and just gave me a nod. Something like this speaks louder than words," said Ms Tan.

Explaining the attacks to Xavier, she said: "I told him that it is not about religion, and that we have to be united. Friends and family in Singapore tell us that we should just stay home for now, but I don't think that is the solution.

"Of course we are fearful. You wonder if you should take the metro, or go to crowded places.

"But life has to go on."


This article was first published on November 22, 2015.
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