August in Japan is a reflective month. It features the O-Bon festival, when the spirits of the departed return to their former worldly homes, and the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and is the hottest period of the year, a national holiday and celebrated nationwide with fireworks, fire, processions and dancing.
Staying in Japan generally means it’s too hot to move. So we decided to head somewhere else for a rainy season.
Twenty-five years after I first read Graham Green’s The Quiet American, I visited Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). It was a real pleasure to enjoy postcolonial French architecture, coffee, croissant and baguettes.
The legacy may be splendid, but on deeper reflection, European colonial arrogance really is staggering.
Throw in a world war, some Americans seeking tungsten, a sprinkling of napalm and see what happens. Apocalypse.
Three quarters of the way round the War Remnants Museum, I had to leave. News from far away had already seen my morning mood blue, but the displays were heartbreaking.
Sitting outside having a coffee, I was approached by a man who said hello and offered me his hand. I then realised he had neither hands, nor forearms, only one eye and only one leg below the knee.
He told me he was a landmine victim and was selling books to raise money. I happily bought three from him for around about ¥1,200.
It might have been less harrowing to stay in the museum and finish looking at the displays.
The end of the month took us again to Beijing and the Book Fair. Three days’ hard work and good fun saw us trying to foist our own legacy on younger foreign generations.
Whether we will be effective is one question; how we may be remembered as another one altogether.
August and its reflection are over. Normal service will resume next week.
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