I found myself repeating the same story many times a day. All of which are to the people who are genuinely concerned about our well being and have sympathy for my family and I.
As a company man, I thought that it may be more efficient in documenting the FAQ (Frequently asked questions) online, so that my friends near and a far could find out first hand information about our situation.
If you see me in person in the near future, you could let me know that you’ve read my blog so I would not need to bore you with the details.
For a few days, our little incident seemed like the biggest news that matters, at least to us, and our close friends. But really, there’s so much more important things that deserve your attention and help. We hope you’d learn from our experience and find strength in confronting whatever challenge you have ahead.
My house in Menglait which I stayed for 4 years was burned down on the 29th October 2013.
The fire started at 3.30pm
The fire brigade arrived before 4pm.
By 5pm, the entire first floor was wiped out.
How did the fire started?
An electronic device which was on standby mode in the master bedroom caught fire when I was in the bathroom. All up, I was in the bathroom for 15 minutes. I ignored my dog Maki, who continuously scratched the bathroom door for my attention. As the master bedroom door was locked, I couldn’t hear my helper banging on the door.
How did you find out the fire happen?
When I came out of the bathroom with myself wrapped in a towel waist down. My room was pitch black, hot and very suffocating. I didn’t realise the scale of the fire until I opened the window to gasp for air, only to see my helper carrying my baby by the road side looking all worried. I turned around and saw the fire catching on next to my bed.
What went through your mind then?
I thought I was busted – all of Deon’s handbags were next to the bed. I thought it was only going to be the room, and that I could put it off. I looked at the drawer that stores all our passports for a brief moment. But my instinct drove me to get out. I jumped through the window to the balcony to get myself in a safe place. I also left my iPhone which was on my hand at the veranda, thinking that I’d come back to it after I’ve fixed the problem inside.
I had totally forgotten about her, nor did I even remember seeing her when I got out of the bathroom. When I returned, I forced open my (locked) bedroom door to try to retrieve the passports but the fire had gone out of control so I couldn’t get in. A few seconds later, a black creature rushed out of my room. That was Maki, who is normaIly white. I grabbed my laptop and reached downstairs to pass it to my maid. As far as I could remember, Maki followed me down, but I lost sight of her after that.
What happened next?
I returned upstairs to get myself (half) dressed. That was when I realised the severity of the fire, as it had started to spread outside of the master bedroom. I took alook at all the possessions we had, but I couldn’t do anything. All I could grab for, was a giant size poster of my wife in her wedding gown, and the entire shoe rack that stored Siena’s shoes on the way down from level 1.
What were the damages?
Everything on the first floor. Clothes, handbags, watches, TV, Siena’s toys, my iPhone, Passports and most of the important documents, everything. And books and magazines. I’ve got plenty of books which I’ve yet to read, including Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath which I bought just last week from the Philippines. That was on my bedside. I can’t even begin to list all the things down, some of the possessions that took a lifetime to accumulate were completely wiped out.
The most important had been the hard drive which stores all the pictures that I backed up. That hurts.
That said, I recovered a Sim card stucked in the totally wrecked Sony Digital Photo frame yesterday. The card was deformed, and required much force to pull out. I recovered pictures of the first 7 months of Siena’s life.
Did you have insurance?
The property, which belongs to the owner, is insured. As for personal effects, NO. Ouch indeed. Please do not repeat my mistake!
Where was Deon (your wife) when the fire broke?
She was at her studio in Gadong Central teaching the Piano. She could see the flame from her work place when I told her what had happened. She arrived about 15 minutes later.
What did she say?
“It’s ok. We can earn back whatever that was lost. Our baby is ok. We are all ok.” Deon has yet to shed a tear throughout the ordeal. So, I had to keep up and act brave. I broke down finally in the middle of that night in my sleep.
When did the fire concluded?
At about 5pm. The fire brigade did a great job in savaging the ground floor. According to one of them, we had been lucky that we had a solid old door that was shut at the staircase. Had it been a new door, the fire would have spread through the entire house.
What were downstairs?
Kitchen, store-room and Deon’s workspace, which include two pianos. All our shoes remained intact. Some beautiful artwork too, including one of Siena’s first drawing which was framed on the wall, and one of my most favourite portrait of Maki taken in Hyde Park (Perth).
Where are you putting up now?
We have upgraded our stay to my brother’s weekend home which is in Menglait. He has everything, but better. An oversize flatscreen TV, state of the art bose sound system. Two of them. I soaked in his Jacuzzi for half an hour yesterday. Life is good. J We were given an indefinite timeframe to stay here.
That said, we’d be looking for a place to rent in Menglait. Do keep an eye out for us.
How can I (you) help?
We have been extremely lucky to receive an overflowing of support from family, friends and people whom we have yet to meet. Words can’t even express the amount of gratitude we have for the community and the Lord’s mercy. Blessed, indeed are those who mourn, for they’d see God – in this instance, we experience Him through each of your graciousness.
Truth be told, we sometime feel a little guilty for all the attention and help that were extended to us. Even though we had lost most of our belongings, we still have a job and a healthy body. It may take time, but we’d be able to recover the material stuff eventually. Do not feel sorry for us. There are plenty of people worse off than us, who need the donations much more than we do. If you feel strongly about making a difference – why not donate to them in our name?
What we really need:
Pray for wisdom – to handle the challenges that are ahead.
Pray for perspective – for learning to appreciate what is truly important.
Pray for empathy – to be able to use this experience to help people who goes through the same.
Lastly, pray that we’d never forget the lessons learned from this experience.
Your Patience and Understanding
It’s a transitional period for all of us, sometimes we may not be in our most pleasant behaviour to be around with, we may inadvertently missed responding to some of your well wishes or even forgotten to thank you for your help (the messages we received is really that much!). We ask for your forgiveness and understanding in advance.
What are some of the lessons you learned?
On the night of the event, I posted on Deon’s Facebook – Matthew 6:19-20 as the lesson of the day.
Do not store up yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
I think it’s a timely reminder to reassess our priority.
How is everyone coping?
We are learning to find joy in the smallest things all over again. For example, we recovered some of the love letters we wrote to each other, Siena’s birth certificate, some wedding pictures and part of a broken watch. It has given much more happiness than buying a pair of new shoes.
Our family and helpers had been extremely supportive and efficient in helping us to relocate all our remaining stuff to my brother’s store room. It was a tremendous effort, and we can’t thank Lili, Edith, Geraldine and Mum enough.
I also used some of the angpow money from mum in law for my new iPhone 5C (when would I ever learn?!!!).
For the past few days, we had been opening up packs of clothes, gifts and toys from well-wishers. This home indeed feels much like Christmas. This Sunday, we’d be going to Siena’s first school friend’s birthday party. Life is returning to normal.
Come to think of it, there is really little we need to get by. However big your problem may be, we hope you’d be able to draw strength from our story.
If our experience could in anyway inspire you or act as whatever lesson you could use, the loss has not completely gone to the ash.
Do not worry, we are indeed in a better place right now.