The decorations for Christmas and the New Year in Penang had barely been taken down in a nearby shopping center, before decorations for Chinese New Year (celebrated on February 19th in 2015) were taking their place, as there is no time to lose in the drive to relieve shoppers of their money. There are so many red lanterns (too many?) hung everywhere that they are no longer special and one hardly notices them. If there is a lantern everywhere one looks, the point of decoration, to give something special to look at, is lost. I thought about our time in Hoi An, Vietnam, during Tet four years ago. I have posted here some of that which caught my eye of the decorations for Vietnamese New Year and of the multiply colored lanterns there on display and for sale. The old city seemed to retain many of the traditions of this holiday. I wonder how things have changed in four years, though, and how different they are in nearby Danang, say, which is a more built-up city.
Every now and then, I or my husband hears Japanese spoken in Penang, most often either by Japanese women living in Penang as they shop for groceries or by the shopkeepers themselves greeting their customers, or communicating in basic Japanese with them. Occasionally, however, one meets older local residents who learned Japanese during the war, when they were made to learn Japanese in school by the then-occupying authorities. They mention that they were made to sing the Japanese national anthem, and many can remember the lyrics still. Some say they were made to work for the Japanese doing such things as repairing submarines based, visiting, or refueling here. They express no animosity, but recall the time as a not particularly pleasant one. One finds these pockets of Japanese language throughout Asia, but not the way one usually thinks of them. They are not spatial, but rather temporal. They exist not in a given place influenced somehow by Japan or through a migration of its citizenry there, but in the minds and memories of a generation of children, now old men and women, who learned their lessons well.