I grew up in an 800 square foot apartment on the 15th floor in Wanchai (灣仔), Hong Kong. Wanchai was a tiny district about 10 km² in size with about 200,000 in population. All the buildings were packed right next to each other. It was, and still is, very crowded and dense.
There were four condo apartments on each floor in our building. During lunch and especially at dinner time, you could often smell the fragrance of dishes from our neighbors’ kitchens. Of course I always believed my mom’s cooking was the best and that we would bombard them with even better smells.
When I was growing up, for some odd reason (probably due to an action movie I saw), I believed that one day a big fire or disaster could break out in my building and my family would need to flee. We needed to be ready and be able to evacuate on a moment’s notice.
So, I prepared this emergency bag. This bag was very special to me and was stuffed with items that I really treasured: my birth certificate, my favorite pencil, my passport, my favorite drawing, my pictures of my best friends, etc.
I encouraged my parents to do the same, but they laughed at me and said: “No worries my girl. It won’t happen.” Their inaction didn’t stop me. I figured it didn’t hurt to be prepared. I put my emergency bag right behind my bedroom door. I knew it would be there whenever I needed it.
One day, the impossible happened. My dad was out that evening. My mom was taking a nap. I was watching some silly TV show when I smelled the smoke. It was not the yummy dinner smell. It was real smoke that right away made me break into a cold sweat.
I opened our front door wondering what was going on. The black smoke immediately infiltrated our apartment. My heart was pounding hard. I shut the front door behind me and ran to the bedroom and woke up my mom. I explained to her what happened meanwhile I changed into my street clothes, put my shoes on and got my emergency bag. I was ready to go. I knew it was going to happen. I was ready when my mom was still in disarray.
All this happened literally within 60 seconds. My mom got ready and we left our apartment together. We ran down fifteen flights so fast. We made record time. We ran into neighbors. No one knew exactly what was going on. Most of them were still in their pajamas. When we got to street level, we stood outside trying to figure out what had happened. The fireman came and we found out one of the kitchens had broken out in fire. Luckily it was not too serious and no one was hurt. Everything went back to normal in about an hour.
What would you put in your emergency bag?
Your favorite book?
Your favorite person?
See…the truth of the emergency bag was never about the emergencies. It was about knowing what things are truly important to you and about having the comfort that comes from knowing where to find them when you most need them. Even with today’s advanced technology there are certain things that you know are absolutely irreplaceable. You know what they are. There must be something.
I encourage you to take some time and think about your most treasured items and prepare your own emergency bag. What would be in that bag? That incident taught me about preparedness. Don’t think about the negatives of an emergency, as not all emergencies necessarily mean unfortunate incidents. What you should focus on is for you to pause and think about what things are truly important to you, then make sure you prepare ways to protect them.
As Earl Nightingale puts it “Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.”
P.S. My parents still live there today.
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