When I was a child, I’d sit wide-eyed and listen to my grandparents recount life during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. How there was nothing to eat except tapioca dug from the jungles, being forced to bow down or risk a beating, how girls were disguised as boys or hid away… Malaya was blindsided. Instead of being liberated from the British, they found themselves at the mercy of a new, ferocious conqueror.
One day, I came across a black and white comic strip about the atom bombing of Hiroshima. To me, it wasn’t just about the events that ended the war and started Malaya down the long path to independence. There was a little boy in the story. He had a family, a best friend, a life. In an instant, his whole world was incinerated – him included. In the years that followed, when I had to memorize dry historical facts to pass exams, I always remembered the tortured face of the boy as his skin singed off.
There’re two sides to every story, though. Isn’t that what they say?
So I knew I couldn’t leave Japan without visiting Hiroshima.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there so the overwhelming feeling of serenity of the little city came as a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was a quiet city. There was plenty of hustle and bustle and tourists but there seemed to be a collective reverence for the ground we were standing on. This was a place that had literally been blasted to powder but unless you visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and saw photographs taken on and after August 6th, 1945, gazed at the scorched artifacts, you’d never know. It looked postcard perfect with the river gliding lazily by, cherry blossom petals twirling to carpet the ground and boxy buildings clustered together, spreading out far and wide.
Instead of being a poster-child of a man-made devastation, Hiroshima has transformed itself into a symbol of peace. The A-Bomb Dome, rises into the sky, partly rubble but wholly a reminder of what we never want to see happen again.
There is a clock in the museum that shows the number of days since the world’s last nuclear test. The Peace Clock. When I was there, the number was 94. I don’t know why I was so shocked.
A saying in Malay goes gajah bertarung dengan gajah, pelanduk mati di tengah. Roughly translated, it means, in the fight between higher powers, it is the common people who are sacrificed into death.
I’m always so caught up in the little things of my life – a child’s tantrum, my horrendous un-pedicured nails or how we’re running out of milk. But the visit to Hiroshima made me realize that there are powerful people sitting behind closed doors and making big decisions. Decisions that spark tidal waves of events and I, along with the rest of humanity are being swept along whichever way the current flows. That’s a sobering thought.