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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.
September 22, 2005

A Moment's Pause

On Tuesday, I had lunch with my friend Dalton. He asked me if all this traveling had changed me?

Yes, of course, is the easy answer. The more difficult question is: how?

On the tour through Asia, I became aware of myself acutely as an individual moving through a universe, unfamiliar, yet part of the world in which I lived and in which I needed to function.

These were countries where English is the second language and where my head sometimes hurt from the work of unraveling meaning from words spoken in English.

I sensed myself as a singularity, an individual, alone and almost unconnected, moving through the universe. All through this tour my touchstone with the familiar were a couple of short phone calls each day back home.

I put myself more than once in the shoes of those a short century ago who had no phones and could understand why letters from the 19th and 20th century were so vital and alive; far away so much is washing over you there is a terrible need to communicate to someone familiar that the desire to put word to experience is an almost visceral need.

The yearning for home and loved ones is a palpable, pulsing presence that lived, just under my skin, an itch not satiated by phone calls.

For me, there is a heightened awareness when traveling alone. There is no one to lay off responsibility upon. You are there and must cope. It's why in Taipei I was so glad to have a hotel car meeting me ' I didn't have to discover the local taxi etiquette after a long flight from Singapore.

There I experienced the fourth anniversary of September 11th. It filled my thoughts as I filled my day with a long walk through that city, wandering without purpose in the heat and humidity of a city that had just been lightly brushed by a typhoon roaring its way across the China Sea to kill a hundred on the mainland.

On Friday I had had dinner with some folks, including a young Taiwanese woman sitting next to me who had been on the last PATH train into the WTC that awful morning. She found herself running for her life and she didn't really stop until she was back in Taipei ' as far as she could manage from the horror.

Walking the Taipei streets, I found myself painfully alone with thoughts, my emotions and myself. I suspect I am like every New Yorker who lived through that day, able to experience a 'movie moment' when closing eyes returns you to the moment when the reality of 9/11 became REAL for you.

My moment was on the corner of West Broadway and Spring, seeing the first tower burning and watching people stream up the streets, terrified, horrified, struggling to comprehend. That was very early on in the day's agony, before the second plane, before knowing about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

It was not surprising but interestingly noted I had hardly tracked the arrival of the date; with my schedule it seemed challenging enough to know what day and city I was in much less a specific date.

My feet took me to Taipei 101, according to some measures the tallest building in the world. I forced myself to go to the Observation Tower because I was afraid, fearful of being in a building that echoed the Trade Towers, to be high off the ground and encased in stable steel.

Doing the audio tour, I found myself momentarily frozen when told me I was looking at Taipei's Domestic Airport. Planes could be clearly seen climbing off the runways. How easy it would be for one to climb and turn and plow into the building where I stood. It was gut level, irrational and real.

Descending to the ground, I walked away from Taipei 101 intending to continue on my meanderings through a city that reminded me a bit of New York's Chinatown. But I didn't; my feet turned back toward my hotel and the safety of my room, the small universe claimed as 'home' by me for a few days, where I could feel sheltered by the almost familiar as I experienced my aloneness.