Back when God was a cowboy and I was a child, one of my favourite jobs was to polish a silver bowl, a bowl that my father always said had been given to one of our ancestors by the Emperor of Japan. He always referred to “the Emperor” and so it never occurred to me as a child that there might be more than one. There was simply “the Emperor” and “my ancestors”.
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t own their own house nor a television, let alone a car or most of the other trappings that the middle class families around us took for granted, so this story of the silver bowl made my own family life feel a little less tawdry. The more I rubbed the bowl with Silvo and a rag, the more the chrysanthemum design -- supposedly the official flower of the Emperor -- fired up my imagination.
Following the story of this bowl has taken me to the stories of a dozen or more young men who were the sons of Irish tenant farmers in the mid-1800s. Raised during the famine, they ended up at the forefront of international finance in Hong Kong, Japan and China. Without them, there would likely be no bank called HSBC to make it into the 21st century.
|Photo credit: Kinga Hay.|