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Sequestered

Page 4

On the inner wall of each private booth on the side the row of hooks had failed to give a clue. Wall hooks on a rail like in a European restaurant for umbrellas, bags and songkoks perhaps in the Tropics. The question was never posed for the current host.

One evening chatting after dinner the man himself drew attention to the hooks.

Yes, yes, smiling. The British soldiers liked to sup in privacy. You see where they hung their coats.

It was a curve ball pelted at speed and impossible to defend.

One of the bags under the host’s eyes, the son who had remained retracing the steps of his father over the floor here, looked as if it had been blackened. (There was a good deal of skin complaints in the Tropics.) The wry smiling cast back to many years before, when a young lad had furtively observed the white foreigners at their suppers.

The date on the pair of buildings this side was 1936. Father out from Hainan had bought the one on the left from Indian chettiars—the famous South Indian community bankers of the region.

The communist menace had of course gripped the region with some force. Not until 1964, a couple of years before the Australian Aboriginal peoples, had the former Chinese coolies been granted the franchise in Malaya. The Americans in Vietnam had learnt lessons from the British in Malaya: Agent Orange, jungle warfare, hunting out sympathizers in the rural areas, resettlement and collective punishment—the Brits had written the textbook. The old Forward-Scout met in Ipoh three years earlier returned to mind with these cubicles and coat hooks mounted on the wall of Kedai New Eastern Restoran. If only the British had been in charge in Vietnam! the Forward-Scout had lamented.

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