March 2023

Back to Issue 13

october weekend

By Jonathan Chan

landing in Ho Chi Minh City, i feel like i am 

ten. the daylight glazes the manicured grass of 

public parks. at restaurants, patrons sit facing

the roads, awash with the buzz of scooters

and bikes. walking beside my godfather, we sit

at a cafe called Propaganda. its walls are adorned 

with murals in the best facsimiles of socialist 

style. speaking of poetry and art, we have bun and 

banh mis, throats dried by the treacle of ca phe. like 

weekend lunches in Singapore, conversation flows

along its meandering course. walking through alleys and

pacing the swarms, i listen to sermons on holiness

and sex. i watch videos of the history of Deepavali 

in Malaya. my threadbare plans are filled with the 

breath of smog. i return to the museum of war, body

remembering the lurch of recognition: mines, rifles,

tactics i learned to embody in the infantry. on the ground 

floor, there is a new room on the history of American 

protest. portraits of GIs in the courtrooms, on the streets.

portraits of GIs in wheelchairs and on bended knees. the

same GIs who would enter office. the same GIs who would 

push for normal relations, transform trauma into the removal 

of mines, lay joss sticks at the graves of the dead, dredge

up the land for families to move ahead. there are maps 

of battalions and pictures of the maimed, hands laid over

fathers contorted by a chemical violence. at a replica 

prison, i learn of how the French taught the country 

to use the guillotine. the sky cracks open as i retire

to a café. the rain hammers on riders in billowing 

ponchos. at dinner, my father’s friend bursts with 

anecdotes of drink and money. “I like the danger”, 

he says, riding a scooter as an ageing white man. 

i swallow a beer with a column of ice. i pack my bags 

with cakes and chili salt. reading a memoir as the 

plane begins its crawl, i peer through the window 

at the city engulfed by clouds. its lights, how they glitter, 

twinkling like Christmas ornaments