First-person account

Holiday fun turns into tense stay

PARIS • On Friday afternoon, I was standing in the heart of Paris, gaping in awe at the magnificent beauty that is the Notre Dame Cathedral.

I have been on holiday here since last Wednesday, taking in the sights of the City of Lights.

People mingled freely without worry. Many of them were posing for selfies at the cathedral, one of the best-known icons of the French capital.

I returned to my hotel after dinner at about 8pm and dozed off at around 10.30pm, vaguely aware of the constant stream of police sirens blaring outside my hotel, which is next to a busy train station.

At about 1.30am (8.30am Singapore time) yesterday, I was awakened by calls from my worried family. The relief in their voices told me that something serious had happened.

I turned on the television and my iPad, and took in the chilling drama on my doorstep that had already left at least 128 dead and many more injured.

My mobile phone rang. It was someone from the Singapore Embassy, where I had registered before I went on my holiday. The lady at the other end of the line advised me not to wander into any restricted areas that the Parisian police may have demarcated.

Outside my hotel, the streets were free of vehicles, but plenty of people were gathering along the pavements, and most of them were looking tense.

Some were shouting in French at passers-by, who immediately quickened their paces.

A father, who wore the French national football team jersey, appeared with his son, and both looked grim and tired. A football friendly between France and World Cup winners, Germany, took place that night at the Stade de France, where four people were killed and several others injured when two suicide attacks and a bombing occurred nearby.

The manager of my hotel, Justin, managed a wan smile before telling me: "I think it is best if you stay inside the hotel. It is best not to wander out."

I asked how he felt about the shootings. He smiled again, shook his head and said: "Terrible. Terrible. Why? I don't know."

The prevalent mood through the night was confusion at the unprecedented scale of the attack on the city.

Why such a sudden attack?

Why so many senseless attacks? Why so many dead?

When night turned to morning, information began to trickle in. French President Francois Hollande blamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group for masterminding the savage attacks.

As Paris begins to grieve for the innocent lives lost, I have also received plenty of "stay safe" messages from my social media network.

Amid the tense situation, such long-range good wishes are much appreciated acts of humanity amid unfathomable barbarism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'Holiday fun turns into tense stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe