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Thursday January 24th 2019

Remembering 911 – A Decade of Personal Lessons Learned

I have put off writing this article for the past few days but finally plucked up enough courage to do so.

I have wanted to write a piece on the tenth anniversary of  911 but couldn’t do so as it was too painful  an event to go through all over again.

Almost three thousand  lives were lost, another few thousands injured and many millions affected by this one terrorist act that ravaged the US and the world.

More significantly, it brought about new distrust between the Muslims and the world and travelling nowadays is just too troublesome with all the custom checks.

Horror of 911 Revisited

I just viewed through some Youtube videos on the 911 tragic event and still shuddered at the sheer destructive terror that it brought – even though it happened ten years ago.

It felt so fresh on my mind and the tears flowed  as I saw how a plane smashed through the South Tower of the Twin Towers on ABC news.

I switched off the video after that -  I just couldn’t bring myself to continue watching again…the pain was unbearable.

I imagined how horrified the passengers would be when they are sitting in their seats knowing that this was to be their last flight and moment on earth.

Many texted their loved ones from the plane knowing deep down that they were not going to see their loved ones anymore. Some of the text messages were broadcasted on Youtube videos and most were too heart wrenching to read.

I have a penchant for emotional stuff but this was way beyond my league.

I remembered how a friend texted me  to turn on the TV during that fateful day. She told me that something unusual happened in the US.

It was around late afternoon here then as  one of the Twin Towers was still smouldering in the distance.   It was still early morning in the US and many office workers were at work in the Twin Towers.

Nobody knew what happened and most of the TV commentators was saying that it was a fire accident until another plane hit the towers in full view.

The dirty word – terrorism – was then used freely after that on TV commentary. Though there were sporadic acts of terrorism prior to 911 – it was never so brutal, damaging and devastating.

 The US had prepared for all kinds of terrorist acts  all along but never one that used air planes to smash into office towers. It was way beyond reasoning and sound mind.

I was clued to the TV for the next twelve hours as the US struggled to deal with a first-class terror act on it’s soil. It was unprecedented, raw and very painful to watch.

I felt my tears flowing  intermittently as terror and pain unfolded on live TV for the first time in history. The terrorists had achieved what they set out to do i.e. striking at the world’s strongest nation at it’s financial core.

When the Twin Towers crumbled after smouldering in smoke for the next few hours, I knew that the world would never be the same again.

Ironically,  I remembered reading an article just a week earlier on the Straits Times stating how terrorism and not global war would be the next item to look out for.  When the planes struck, I began to look back for that particular article but strangely it was never to be found again…

Personal Impact From 911

During that period, I just returned to Singapore from Australia – having aborted a study trip due to family reason.

We just bought our $660,000 condo and took out a $350, 000 mortgage loan. It was manageable as both my wife and I were going to pay  it out from our jobs.

I was very confident that I would get a job very soon as the economy was still doing well then. Singapore was on track for a 7-8% GDP growth and people were anticipating a big fat bonus when the year drew to a glorious end.

 All this changed when 911 happened.

It took me four months later before I could land a job as a $1500/month telemarketer with AMEX bank.

 I literally begged for the job as the manager felt that it was too low a job for me.

 ”Are you sure you want the job?” the manager asked me incredulously. I nodded my head vigorously.

 The interview took a few days as they were unsure if I would take the job seriously.

 I used to earn around $5000/month as a financial advisor and she kept asking me if I was ready to take such a deep pay cut.

 “ Yes,” I replied. “I need the job badly.” I pleaded – eyes moistening. Though my wife worked, I felt lousy sitting at home daily facing the four walls.

Until then, I didn’t have a day of joblessness and it felt demeaning not to be out working as a man.

Moreover, when my daughter returned home from school, I could feel that she was staring at me coldly rather than welcoming me home.

I decided to make the library my second home as I don’t want to face my daughter when she was back from school.

To me, the $1500/month job  was better than sitting at home and doing nothing.

More frighteningly, my savings was fast dwindling and I was down to my last few thousand dollars. Fortunately, my wife could return to her previous job in the bank without any pay reduction.

Termination – Worst Nightmare of 911

I managed to secure the AMEX job and with commission, I was taking home around $2000 a month which  was pretty decent during that dreadful period.

Everyone I knew was facing some setback somehow – this friend was retrenched and another had a pay reduction. Nobody talked much during that period and we knew that it was going to be a tough journey for everyone.

However, my thin walls of security  came crashing down as the bank spoke to me when I was into my second month of work. I knew something was seriously wrong when I was called into the office and faced three other persons from the headquarters.

They told me that they could not locate my previous employer and thought that I have fabricated my resume! Even though I could produce a leaving testimony from the previous employer, they decided to let me go.

“The bank is very sensitive about who they employ now – especially after 911,” the human resource officers told me. Though I pleaded insistently, I was told to pack my bag and left immediately.

I didn’t slept well for the next few nights and knew that the journey would be extremely tough for me during the next few months.

It is another matter to be jobless and out looking for work but you knew something must be seriously wrong when such stuff happened to you – called it premonition if you want to but that was how I felt at that time.

I didn’t know that I could be an early indirect victim of the terrorist act and ironically we were so far away from the US. Ex-President  George Bush had also just declared war on Saddam Hussein inIraqand the world went through another phase of tension.

The sacking  was a difficult blow to take and I didn’t job searched for the next few months. The setback was simply too much for me to accept.

It was also  a blow to my huge ego  and it knocked me out flat. I couldn’t even hold on to a $1500/month job – how low can you get?

I continued to dress for work during the next few weeks after the termination – more out of pride than anything else. I hung out at Macdonalds, libraries and even watched mid day  movies to pass time.

Valuable Lessons Learned

It was a period whereby I hit the lowest of the low’s and for once, I didn’t feel like living anymore. There was no pride in me at all and my ego was severely pricked.

Naturally, my self confidence also took a hit and  I felt vulnerable and unsure of myself. I used  to be rather cocky and self-assured but that period I was literally brought down to the ashes.

How could I bring myself to tell my family that I have lost my job in such dreadful circumstances?  How long more then could I hang on with all the bank bills coming in?

Nevertheless ironically, amidst all the misfortune and mayhem, it was also a period that I learned resilience and the will to survive. I learned to dig deep, found a new meaning to live and most importantly depend on God – even though He stayed very silent during that period.

After the dismissal from AMEX, I later found a job as a telemarketer but it was only for three months.

I took on other short term work in order to survive thus learning many important lessons on how to be resourceful.

Financially, I was always short and I also made the fateful mistake of drawing on my credit facilities.

My CPF account was also running low and soon the bank was chasing us for mortgage repayment shortages.

I knew that my time was up.  The banks would not let you sleep in peace…

The awful SARS disease came and ravaged the economy once again and I was back to square one.

Fifteen months after 911, I was broke, jobless and pretty much disenchanted with life. I lived a yo-yo life – one month sailing in the high seas and the other month flirting around in the dry desert.

I began to seriously toy with ending my own life then as banks kept sending  warning letters of bankruptcy to my house. I borrowed to quieten  some but it was never enough. It was tortuous to wait for the bills to arrive every month end.

There were sleepless nights accompanied by  nights of cold sweat. My wife was now distancing from me and our marriage was hurting. I didn’t blame her as most marriages would have already crumbled by now.

I have never felt so broken and discouraged before in my whole life.

Perhaps, when you are brought down  to life’s lowest ebb, then you could find strength within yourself – strength that you thought you didn’t have but it’s deep down within when you began to scrub  the barrel.

Later on, I picked myself up again, put up a time table so that I knew what I was going to do and networked with my friends to look for employment again.

I managed to find a job as an asst social worker through the recommendation of a friend. It paid $1500 monthly but I was happy as I was doing something that I liked very much.

I took on some courses to better prepare myself for the social service sector and changed several jobs along the way.

I went to teach in China during winter in year 2007/8 and stayed inSydneyfor the next two years with my family. It was a period whereby my paradigm was severely shifted and I experienced a different culture from Singapore.

I began to think critically and spoke up when  I disagreed with an issue rather than keeping quiet – which is the favourite reaction of most people here.

More tellingly, I also began to regularly review my life’s goals and aims as after 911 life seems very fragile and you want to live it the best you can – when you are alive.

It was in 2008 that I decided to start – a support site for those who are unemployed. I also wrote a book “How to survive unemployment” during this period to coincide with the launch of the website.

Personal Setback – Decade After 911

Personally, I also experienced  a setback – amazingly a decade after 911.

Perhaps, we didn’t communicated enough during that dreadful period after 911 or we felt that we weren’t meant for each other especially after experiencing such a deep crisis together during that period – my wife and I decided to go  our separate way.

The 911 incident may bring about unpleasant memories to many people – especially those who are family members with the victims that perished during that fateful terrorist act.  The pain could never be erased.

Mine started exactly a decade after 911 – I would be expecting a lawyer’s letter anytime soon.

However this time round, I am in a much stronger  position to handle life’s crushing blow than during the period immediately after 911.

I also want to support as many unemployed people as I could and warning them of the pitfalls that it could bring.

Life’s adversities have a unique way of toughening one up.

Perhaps now,  you may know why I struggle to write this article…

Written by: Gilbert Goh










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3 Responses to “Remembering 911 – A Decade of Personal Lessons Learned”

  1. Eric says:

    Hi Gilbert,

    Thanks for sharing your personal experiences.
    Continue to write. You have done a terrific job!

    All the Best,

  2. vince says:

    A decade ago, I was out of jobs for a few months. I was back from a regular evening basketball game.I switched on TV, and CNA was having a field day. Repeating over and over again, the planes colliding with the building and the pentagon or was it white house has some damage.Man flying down from burning building.I knew Bush isn’t going to let it rest. but he waited for a while before he took action.
    A decade later, I’m still the same. although recently, I seems to found some direction, but still some big barriers lie in front.

  3. Colin Kee says:

    Hi Gilbert, never knew you had such a story. All the best to you. =) May you and family enjoy health and happiness.

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