Monday, September 11, 2006

Memories of 9/11

We all have 9/11 stories, here's mine, more of a 9/12 story.

Prelude. I was packing up my hotel room in Würzburg after the 1993 STACS conference. I flipped on the TV, the hotel only had German stations, and saw police and fire engines around the World Trade Center and caught the word "explosion". It wasn't until I reached the airport later that day that I learned the towers suffered no significant damage.

In 2001 I worked for the NEC Research Institute in New Jersey. In September I attended the first EQIS workshop in Tokyo and the following week visited the quantum computing group near the University of Tokyo. On the 11th I took a day trip to visit the quantum computing group at the NEC Lab in Tsukuba. The first plane hit the towers at 9:45 PM Japan time after I had returned to Tokyo and I went to bed that night unaware of the events unfolding back in the states. I learned the news when I booted up my laptop the following morning. I then turned on the Japanese TV (I never get CNN when I really need it) and saw the shocking images all at once.

Tokyo had a normal day on September 12 when I wanted to world to stop. I was the only remaining American visiting the group and I felt quite alone. During lunch one of the non-Japanese asked what America had done to deserve this. I almost slugged him.

I gave a talk as scheduled in the afternoon still in quite a daze. That night I insisted on doing something completely mindless and the Japanese complied, taking me to a small Karaoke bar.

I returned to the states on the 16th, three days later than my original schedule. As the plane approached Newark I had a clear view of Southern Manhattan and saw a plume of smoke still arising from where the World Trade Center had stood. The America I was returning to was vastly different from the one I had left two weeks earlier.

As many of you know we lost a member of our community that fateful day, Danny Lewin, an MIT graduate student and co-founder of Akamai. The STOC best student paper award now bears his name.


  1. I found out after I came back from class as an undergraduate. I'm a very easy-going person, and I remember feeling dumbfounded and furious as well. One of my best friends was supposed to be in the towers, but she slept through her alarm, which probably saved her life.

    Maybe it was because I was so young before 9/11, but I remember the U.S. as a much more tolerant and peaceful place. It's tragic that so many died on that day, but I think Americans are still peace-loving and will eventually heal.

    Another friend was supposed to fly to London when those creeps were caught over there recently. I'm thankful to have such lucky friends, but of course we all feel terrible for those who lost friends or family on 9/11.

  2. Yes, it's amazing how that day stays with you. Perhaps that how it should be. I live in NYC. It took me a good solid year to start to feel normal again after 9/11/2001. My experience is too long to post in a comment, but if you're interested, you can read about it here:

    Memoirs: September 11, 2001

  3. I hope you are as democratic as you advertise yourselves and approve this comment.

    I am not American. As a matter of fact I am an Arab, and I hope you don't consider all Arabs are terrorists.

    I am not a troll either, but I just want to convey to you that we were really sad that hundreds of your innocent citizens were killed that day, but please, remember that in return, you killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs and Muslims (Iraq and Afghanistan).

    While we were angry because terrorists killed your citizens, we don't think you are better than them; you killed of us 100 times more than they killed.

    You have turned into terrorists yourself. Although being the strongest country in the world makes your image not as bad as the other terrorists, it doesn't change the fact that you killed 100 times more innocent people than they did.