The angry Chinese reaction to the missing plan and the dignified reaction of my friend Sarah Bajc
Last night, I was interviewed by BBC TV’s The World Have Your Say program about China’s reaction to the Malaysia Airline’s missing plan MH307.
I personally think some of the relatives of the 153 passengers reacted too aggressively, though I understand their pain, their loss and their frustration. Some 200 of them had been gathering at a meeting room at Lido Hotel, accompanied and hassled by a large mob of journalists. The tension there has been running high to the boiling point.
At the news briefings, some of the relatives screamed at staff from Malaysia Airline and sometimes shouted abuses. At one point, someone even threw water bottles. They complained about everything, from small to big: there is only water and biscuits; there are not enough seats that some had to sit on the floor. They complained that the airline has not been reacted swiftly and efficiently; the security was lacking – two people with fake passports got on the flight. They complained that the information has been inaccurate and incomplete and demanded to know the full picture: for example, did the plan turn around or not? I am sure a lot of complains are justified but it would be better if conducted in a calm fashion.
Sometimes, flights broken out between the relatives themselves. A Chinese journalist friend related a funny story that two men had a big row as each thought the other as a preying journalist.
Of course, there’s the money issue as people have started to demand compensations. On Wednesday, the airline offered each family $5,000, which caused another wave of excitement. It was not the proper compensation but sort of spiritual compensation which was meant to cover some of the travelling costs. Some family members hesitated as they worried that they might be able to get the ‘proper compensation’ if they received this sum.
As the days dragged on and there’s no definite news about the missing plan, the Chinese became increasingly angry with the Malaysia Airline as well as the Malaysia government. On Friday morning, during one of the three routine daily briefings, one staff from the airline, under such grill and attack, broke down to tears.
I think the Chinese media, in some ways, fanned such anger. One editorial in Global Times on Wednesday said: “Among all the information that has been released by Malaysia, we are not sure what is true and what is not true, or whether Malaysia has released all the information it possesses.”
My western journalist friends told me that the Chinese journalists acted very aggressively, too.
By comparison, I am deeply impressed by the calmness and dignity demonstrated by my friend Sarah Bajc whose partner Philip Wood was the only adult American on the missing flight.
Earlier in the week, the airline did call her and invited her to go to Lido as they didn’t want her to stay home alone. Sarah firmly refused. She told me later that there was no way that she would join the ‘human circus’. She hoped that people should focus on solving the problem but not demanding things at this stage.
I met Sarah, an American originally from Atlanta, about five years ago in Beijing and became a good friend. She is very intelligent, dynamic and extremely level-headed. She used to be a high-flyer in the business world but trained herself as a teacher in recent years – something she had wanted to do for years.
Since I started, I might as well talk about what I know about Sarah and Philip. In last night’s interview, when the presenter referred Philip as Sarah’s ‘boyfriend’, I corrected her by saying: “partner”. They are (it’s deliberate I didn’t use the past tense) very an item and committed to each other.
They met in October 2011, on a Friday night I believe, at Nashville, a bar in Lucky Street, which has live music in the weekends. It is around corner from Kempinski Hotel, where Philip was staying. I heard about this meeting the very next day. Within weeks, they got together. Philip, working in IT sales for IBM, had recently been separated from his wife and Sarah had recently divorced. They shared a lot of common interests, like reading, watching movies and they madly fell in love.
In their early courtship, I was invited to have dinner with him and I told my friend that I approved of him. He is tall, well-built, handsome in a homey way, lay-back and very affectionate. Even at parties, they liked to sit together and they could hardly get their hands off each other.
The day after the last thanks-giving, I had the couple over for dinner. I placed him next to me at the table. He joked: “If I accidentally rested my hand on your back, please don’t get offended – it’s just my habit to wrap my arm around my woman.”
In the past two and a half years, I witnessed how their relationship grew from strength to strength. Sarah repeatedly mentioned to me that she has never loved any man as she loves him now, with such depth and devotion. And she is experiencing more happiness now than she has ever experienced for the rest of her life. They have made each other happy.
Over the Chinese New Year in early February, Philip was transferred to KL. Together they found an apartment. Sarah is going to follow him over there in June. She has indeed found another teaching job in KL.
Last Saturday, Philip was on his way to Beijing to pack up their stuff and ship it to KL. He was due to arrive at 6.30 and the removal company was due to arrive at 9 am. The removers did turn up at 9, a few minutes after Sarah discovered the news of the missing flight.
In the beginning, Sarah felt there was still hope. Now, I think she is realistic yet she refuses to give up all the hopes. She has been remarkably strong and together.
On Wednesday, I went over to see her, with some food and flowers. Then we went out for a massage. It was the first time that she went out the house since the news. In an email to me the next day, she thanked me and said “spending a few hours with you yesterday was an important step in my getting through this. “
In the first text Sarah sent to me, she said: “Hopes, prayers, good karma out to Philip. There’s still hope.”
Let’s hope so.