Boston blasts: 'A reminder of the fragility of the stability and comfort we take for granted'

A day after the tragic events at the Boston marathon, it was almost business as usual in the neighbourhood where I am staying. There was the rush hour morning traffic as commuters headed for the subway station nearby. As I ran errands in the morning, people were going about their daily chores in a calm, routine fashion.

But there was definitely a change in the air and, literally, a gap in the heart of the city. A km-long stretch of Boylston Street, where two bombs exploded on Monday, and a three-block chunk of the neighbourhood, was closed to traffic and will stay closed for several days.

Imagine the length of Orchard Road closed and a good section of the Tanglin and Somerset areas as well, and you will have an idea of what the closure means for the city.

Boylston Street is full of stately old buildings and slick shopping malls, and Newbury Street, one block over, is popular with hip young shoppers with a penchant for trendy labels and chic eateries.

Police and uniformed troops were also out in full force in the city and the hospitals, armed not just with pistols but assault rifles - a simultaneously reassuring and scary sight.

And people taking the subway had to be prepared for random bag checks as security was tightened across the city.

The mood was muted as people shared stories on email and social media. I learnt that an American friend had actually been at Boylston with, literally, a front row seat when the bombs exploded to her left and right.

Thankfully her family were unscathed though deeply shocked and frightened. She had been there to cheer her son who was running the marathon for a charitable cause.

That was one of the reasons why the attack on the marathon felt so unspeakably heinous to everyone here - many of the runners were doing it for pet charities, ranging from mentoring causes to raising funds for needy societies.

And the bombings have forever marred a celebratory, historic event which traditionally heralds spring in the city.

But amid the quiet grieving and shock, the one theme that shone through was how strangers rallied to each other's aid. I saw this kindness myself on Monday when, struggling to get out of gridlocked downtown, I watched complete strangers strike up conversations, share information and pool resources.

On Tuesday, friends shared anecdotes online about how people living in the neighbourhoods along the stretch leading up to Boylston opened their doors and offered blankets, water and food to tired runners. My friend's son was helped by college students who gave him water and a blanket, and lent him a cellphone to get in touch with his family.

One full page in the Boston Globe's 12-page post-event coverage was devoted to the acts of courage and compassion by first responders, runners and observers. While many ran away from the bomb blasts, the stories, and video footage, showed as many people running to the aid of the injured.

All these stories about the altruistic behaviour of people were a necessary balm, a much-needed corrective to the evil spectacle of the bomb blasts and its bloody aftermath.

As a Singaporean, I could not help comparing Boston and Singapore. In the past weeks that I have been here, I have been seeing distinct similarities in the two cities. Both are cosmopolitan, compact cities with big ambitions.

There is a lively arts scene here with theatre performances, visual arts exhibitions and concerts contributing to a busy arts calendar.

The city is home to more than 100 universities, which means a dynamic youthful demographic that fuels coffee joints, yoga studios and funky fashion boutiques. The large student population also draws a healthy international community which, in turn, contributes to a lively restaurant scene packed with great Asian and African eateries. The tertiary schools have also meant ties with Singapore as many Singaporeans have studied and lived here.

In many ways, the city is a great model for Singapore to emulate - its small town cosiness despite the big city reality, its generous accommodation of migrant cultures and its easy cultural grace.

Monday's horrors are a reminder of the fragility of the stability and comfort that we take for granted back home in Singapore.

If, god forbid, something similar should happen in Singapore, then I hope that we can all behave with the same compassion and resilience demonstrated by many Bostonians.

Tinny as the sentiment may sound in the light of Monday's horrors, a refusal to bow to fear, and a continued generosity to strangers, could be the best, and only, answers to terrorists and terrorism.

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