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York native in Paris: Attacks were terrifying

Written by Mike Argento/York Daily Record | Nov 17, 2015 7:33 AM
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Edna Zhou, a York native, lives in Paris and was a block and half away from one of the sites of Friday's terrorist attacks. (Photo: Submitted)

She was a block and a half away from site of terror

(Undated) -- It was about 10:30 p.m. Friday, and Edna Zhou was with some friends at their favorite cocktail bar, a place called Red House, owned by an American ex-pat in Paris' 11th arronddissement, on the right bank of the Seine.

It was a usual gathering place. The owners are friends, and it's a comfortable bar, a nice place to grab a drink late at night.

That night, the bartender, a guy named Joe, had glanced at his phone and told Zhou and her friends that there had been a shooting nearby. Zhou said she didn't think too much of it. She reasoned she's an American, and there are shootings all the time in the United States. It was an isolated incident.

"We didn't think it was a big thing," Zhou said Monday morning. The 26-year-old York native and Central York High School graduate has lived abroad since graduating from Elizabethtown College.

Then, there was a report of another shooting. And another. And a bombing. And a hostage situation.

"We knew it then it was something bigger," she said. "We knew something big was happening, but we were not aware that it was a huge, terrible terrorist attack."

Zhou repeatedly refreshed her BBC app on her phone and checked Twitter.

One of the attacks was reported at a restaurant a block and a half away -- La Belle Equipe on Rue de Charonne,

The bartender walked down the street to see what was happening and by the time he came back, terrible news was all over social media -- the restaurant had been attacked. They stayed hunkered down in the Red House. Zhou's boyfriend, a former military man she met in Paris, told her if there's any shooting to get behind the bar.

The French, she wrote on her blog, expatedna.com, "were impressively nonchalant. Some girls behind me ordered eight shots of tequila; others began smoking in the bar (usually illegal; smoking has been banned indoors since 2007).

"I wasn't sure if I admired their calm or was annoyed at their nonchalance."

At midnight, a curfew was announced. The metro was closed down.

She and her friends stayed at the bar for a few more hours. They wanted to keep the owners company and, she said, "We wanted to make sure it was safe to go home. I was terrified. My hands were shaking."

As the gravity of the situation became apparent, Zhou texted her parents in York. She told them she was safe. Her father, Zehao Zhou, replied that as soon he saw the news, he went to her Twitter feed and learned that she was safe and that she had told her friends not to worry.

She and her friends made their way home at about 3 a.m. The streets were quiet, as they usually were at that time of night, but it was eerie. They usually bike the two miles home; that night, they were able to catch a taxi. It was worth the 15-euro fare.

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Photo by AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek

Stephane Fosik, from left, Cedrine Plongeur and Cloe Tinchant light candles in the shape of a peace symbol in LOVE Park, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, during a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the attacks in Paris.

She spent the next day in bed, catching up with friends via social media. "Physically, everyone I know is safe," she wrote on her blog. "Mentally and emotionally, I can't say the same."

The past few days have been surreal. Normal life continues. The markets are open, she said. Tourists still flocked to the Eiffel Tower, which remained closed nonetheless. At the same time, security has been beefed up, and police have told people to avoid large gatherings, she said.

What's most surreal is, she said, "I consider Paris my home." She has lived there on and off since traveling overseas, always returning after her work in sports journalism and communications elsewhere ended.

She loves Paris. It's a beautiful city. She loves the culture. She loves the language. And she loves the people. She has a lot of friends in the city and met her boyfriend there. Many of her major life events have occurred in the city.

It was unsettling, she said, that the terrorists chose the targets they did.

"They attacked daily life in Paris," she said. "They didn't attack the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. They attacked people eating dinner, or having drinks, or listening to music, or watching their team play."

Sunday night, she wrote:

"Today I went outside for the first time since Friday's attacks in Paris.


"As I passed through Trocadero, there was a beautiful sunset, and the tourists were out again taking photos, as were the hawkers with their toys, and the couples in the park making out -- and I thought, "It seems like life is returning to normal." 

"But then I got to the 11eme, and passed La Belle Equipe, where people died on Friday night, and there were so many people gathered around, laying flowers and lighting candles, and I felt so much pain all around.  

"After a few minutes I left to continue walking -- and that's when a woman biked by, yelling about shots fired at Bastille. By the time we reached our destination one block away, two more strangers had warned us about Bastille and Republique.  

"We soon learned it was a false alarm -- firecrackers, supposedly -- but saw reports on how the crowd here had panicked and started running, trampling the flowers, a sign of how tense things still are in the city.  

"On my way back to the metro at the end of the night, I once again passed this spot. The crowd was much smaller, but candles were still being placed.  

"One man walked up behind me, holding a rose, trying so hard not to cry but crying nonetheless, quietly murmuring in anguish in French. It seemed the pain was personal for him, and it was overwhelming, and several of us in the crowd were crying with him.  

"We are trying and acting and believing as hard as we can that life in Paris is getting back to normal, but there is so much healing yet to be done."


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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