Nepal is in despair, devastated by a massive Himalayan earthquake which experts claim to occur every 80 years or so. The last comparable earthquake occurred in 1934. This was a tragedy waiting to happen and will probably occur again 80 years from now. Strangely, the experts were silent before the incident. I managed to contact my friend Jyoti by email. Thankfully, he is safe, but obviously not in the mood to say too much. The limited power supply in Nepal is further hampered by all the damage and destruction.
In a crisis like this, you’ll see who your real friends are. In an earthquake that has devastated remote villages, toppled buildings and trapped people under the rubble, timely rescue can make a world of difference. What Nepal needed, in the wake of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake last Saturday, were rescuers, temporary shelters and medical supplies. 2500 people are confirmed dead. Given Nepal’s rather inconvenient location in the Himalayas, India is the only country with multiple land routes to ferry supplies and rescue personnel. The first things India sent were virtually empty planes to evacuate its own people. It took quite a while for China to respond too.
Singapore did us proud. In response to the Nepal earthquake, the SAF swiftly deployed 2 aircraft carrying personnel from the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre. This team is there to help the Nepalese national disaster management authorities and military with relief efforts. Singapore also sent a 69-member contingent comprising officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Singapore Police Force on Sunday to assist in disaster relief efforts in Nepal. The contingent includes both regular officers and NSmen. A third aircraft was sent on Monday.
Also, the Singapore Red Cross contributed $50,000 worth of humanitarian aid to Nepal. For a tiny red dot without even an embassy in Nepal, we’ve certainly done a lot. We can’t say the same about countries closer to Nepal. But having said that, the official response from the Singapore authorities can be very different from the response from pragmatic Singaporeans on the ground.
“See you still dare to go or not.”
That says a lot. It also means very little. What’s wrong with having no interest in the Himalayan landscape or culture? Everyone has the right not to appreciate durians or classical music. But when it comes to “meaningless” and “dangerous” things like trekking or climbing in the Himalayas, there are actually folks who wish that our government could protect their “loved ones” by making it illegal for them to travel to these “dangerous” places. Other scoff at adventurers, labelling them as “empty” people who are either adrenaline junkies or failures who try to beat the couch potatoes with some risky, frivolous accomplishments.
Let’s put matters in perspective. Is Phuket safe? Not when the tsunami struck in 2004. Even a couch potato lounging on a beach chair on that fateful day could have been killed without doing anything remotely dangerous. But at almost any other time, Phuket is very safe. Nobody lives forever, but would you want to live indoors all your life? Are you contented to see the world from your living room. It totally amazes me, but there are folks who answer yes to both questions. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge, but I would like the same treatment from those who think they are living right by worrying only about COEs and ERPs.
It may confuse some people, but many adventurers out there actually value life more than the ignorant wimps who think that there are no avalanches or skiing accidents on the Swiss Alps – just because it’s so “First World”. People die everywhere, every day and for almost every imaginable reason including choking on a fishball. Singapore is perhaps one of those rare places on earth where our choices of death can be rather limited. While we applaud the heroic acts of foreign workers who risk their lives to save our toddlers, we are not at all keen for ourselves or our loved ones to follow their example.
In this difficult time, showing concern for our friends in Nepal may actually draw flak from certain quarters of society. I sometimes wish that our government didn’t give our aid to Nepal so much publicity on the media. Some people may actually think that we are wasting our money and risking our NS men’s lives unnecessarily. It is impossible to get everyone to agree, but it is never wrong to explore the world or put a little effort to help the less fortunate people who have touched our lives.
© Chan Joon Yee