Stories > Art and Peace

2013 • Issue 3

Art and Peace

“When 9/11 happened, I was in Amman, Jordan, attending a large intercultural conference organised by New York-based Arts International as Director of Arts Network Asia, a young body encouraging Asian artists of different cultures and religious backgrounds to engage with one another and, through the arts, to co-exist in a very diverse Asia and world.

That day’s conference ended around 4pm. I went out to find a moneychanger. The streets were empty, but in the shops many people were glued to their televisions, occasionally shouting and exclaiming. I thought it was some exciting popular programme.

I found a moneychanger and walked in. A few men were watching what looked like a disaster movie. One saw me and immediately asked if I was American. I replied, “No.”

He then ushered me to the television and I realised it was a news channel showing a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. The next thing I knew, one of the men in the shop pulled out a pistol and fired a shot at the floor! And the people jeered and cheered! More gunshots followed in the streets, and more shouting!

I froze, composed myself and turned to leave. Before I could, a booming voice commanded, “Stop!” I froze again, turned around, and its owner simply smiled and asked, “So, do you still want your money changed?” I said no, and practically ran out.

Back at the hotel, things were in a frenzy. American conference participants were trying to see if family and friends were safe, and everyone wanted a flight out. The following days were coloured by panic and uncertainty. I was stranded for two days. My encounter made me realise how crucial it is to encourage mutual understanding and respect among different peoples and cultures, how easily we can misunderstand one another, and how we individuals have prejudices that cloud judgment. I became more determined to deepen the work of Arts Network Asia, as well as TheatreWorks, in working across cultures. Through the arts, we can encourage the appreciation of difference, to face and resolve tensions between local, regional and global identities. Intercultural work is difficult. Thinking of that day in Amman gives me the energy to carry on.”

Tay Tong
Director and Managing Director

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