Le Naplong (from Hanoi) (Vietnam)
A little bird-like head set on an immense neck, a surprised expression in the narrow opening between his eyelids: as oriental and exotic as it is possible to be. One imagines him to be hardworking and submissive to all authority. He hasn’t the aristocratic refinement of the Japanese, or the fine grace of some Chinese: he is a labourer, a peasant, used to steering his junk along rivers, planting his rice, selling his vegetables. One fine day he was embarked, made to travel for weeks and weeks on a boat, by rail and by lorry: he was settled behind the front lines in a gloomy village in the Champagne region, huddled around a few trees, in the great white plain, and he resumed his patient work calmly, slogging away, digging and cutting: he built narrow tracks, transported supplies, organised trenches. Never a complaint, never a word. He worked for victory, like all the others. He returned to his golden land, to his riverbank, and started to grow his rice again, and to sell his vegetables. Did he keep the memory of those hours spent at the front in France? It’s a mystery; who could read the thoughts in his half- closed eyes?