Such a beautiful afternoon seeing my friend Hoan again. When I first met her 11 years ago at the Tu Du hospital, she was struggling as hard as any Agent Orange victim, born without lower legs and one hand only. Today, she came riding on her own motorbike to meet me at a Saigon cafe.

“When I told the doctors, I wanted my own motorbike, they said “No! How can you drive safely with one hand and no legs?!” But I had seen other disabled people ride a motorbike, so I insisted. Now, I have my artificial legs from Germany. It took me a year to learn to use them with a lot of pain, but they are fine now. I only have problems, when my legs are renewed. Then it takes me another three months to get used to them.”

A decade ago I gave Hoan the best English dictionary, I could find. These days, she speaks fluent English, and a great deal better than my insufficient Vietnamese, even though Hoan acknowledged some improvement on my part. When we first met, Hoan was living at the hospital with 11 other kids in the room.

In those days her big dream was to become a doctor, like her famous stepmother, Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong. “I had to give up my dream. I accepted that you cannot be a doctor with one hand only and no legs.”Instead, Hoan became a software specialist, and now she works at the Tu Du hospital writing code. She moved out from the ward several years ago.

“I have a good salary, and I rented a house with my friends. I also have my own business selling different things. My friends in Australia were so amazed to see how well I can do in business.”

A message for Obama – and Biden

Hoan became famous as a teenager, when she wrote a letter to US president Obama and asked him to help the Agent Orange children in Vietnam. Obama never replied, but Hoan was invited to testify with her stepmother before the US. Congress.

I asked her if she has a message for the new president, Joe Biden.

“Oh yes, and I am willing to travel to the White House and tell him. There are so many victims from poor families, who cannot take of themselves like I can.” My beautiful friend continues to pursue her dreams to help other victims. When I asked her, what her next dream is, she giggled and looked at me with those sparkling eyes: “I want to get married with a good husband, who will work with me to help those in need.”


I presented dr. Phuong with this beautiful portrait from our first encounter in 1984, shot by photographer Ole Johnny Sørensen.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong came late for our reunion today. She performed three operations this morning, and the last one was a bit difficult, she told me.  

“But doctor Phuong. At our last reunion 10 years ago you told me you would retire soon!” I said to her.

“I am 78 now, so I only accept complicated cases,” she explained today. 

Since 1969, Dr. Phuong has assisted thousands of Vietnamese women with abnormal pregnancies. Today, I gave her this beautiful portrait of herself by photographer Ole Johnny Soerensen, from my first interview with her in 1984. 

I have never been able to put behind me the unspeakable nightmare she was dealing with: Young pregnant women dying on her day after day in the Tu Du Hospital, because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Two young girls in each bed, and sometimes another two girls on a mattress below the beds. 

These days, the nightmare has become sort of manageable. “We have very advanced equipment now, so we can detect abnormal foetus at a very early stage with a much better chance of saving lives,” Dr. Phuong says.

Over the years, she has taken the agony of the Agent Orange victims to the US congress, often accompanied by her adopted daughter Hoan, who was born with no legs below the knees and one hand only. 

Much has happened since the first time we met. In those days the US government denied all allegations from Dr. Phuong and her colleagues as communist propaganda.  

In the past decade, the US have donated as much as USD 400 million to the clean-up of Agent Orange contaminated sites. And more funds are on the way. 

“We do need more funds,” says Dr. Phuong. “We need support for 2nd and 3rd generation victims. We want to create jobs for victims, who can work in spite of their disabilities. I want to help them to get married as well to have a normal life to the extent possible.”

Let us give it up for Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, a true heroine for us all. 


I was one of a handful of journalists, who found our ways to sneak into Burma to report from the ongoing slaughter, which swept across the country some 30 years ago. What we found our editors barely believed, that’s how bad it was. 

– This morning I received the news that my own government of Denmark is now recommending all Danes to consider leaving Burma, or Myanmar as the Junta renamed this suffering nation. Other countries, like my second home Vietnam, have started evacuating their citizens from Burma. 300 Vietnamese just arrived safely here.

Surely, other foreign governments will do the same.  I am not out this morning to blame governments or the frightened foreigners, who are running away from the killings in Burma. I am writing this, because I have very, very strong fears, what will happen next. Because I have seen it all before. I have seen what Tatmadaw (The killing machine of the Burmese generals) will do, when they operate without any restraint. 

They kill, they kill, they kill – that’s how they deal with dissent, whether it is students, Buddhist monks or just any bystander, who happens to be present.

I was one of a handful of journalists, who found our ways to sneak into Burma to report from the ongoing slaughter, which swept across the country some 30 years ago. What we found our editors barely believed, that’s how bad it was. 

Thousands had fled into the jungle, finding shelter with the Karen insurgents, who had fought the Burmese generals since World War II, or they were in hiding with the Shan guerillas. Other thousands were less fortunate. Here is what a catholic priest told me:

“I plead with President Bush, the UN, all the powers of the world to help us. They are closing the schools, the universities, the churches and the temples. People are disappearing without a trace. They have built new crematoriums next to the prisons. The chimneys are billowing with smoke day and night.”

Sadly, the world largely ignored the cries for help, including my own government. As typical for a young journalist and as pathetic as it might have been, I wrote a very angry op-ed in my newspaper, targeting the Danish Prime Minister Poul Schlüter for his silence on Burma. I doubt that he ever read it. The piece was buried on page 18. 

Some governments did even worse. The Polish arms corporation Polski Zaklady Lotnicze sold 20 heavily armed MI2 helicopters to Tatmadaw. Poland’s own liberation hero, president Lech Walesa did nothing to stop the deal. 

Swedish Bofors delivered state of the art patrol boats to Tatmadaw. The Swedish Prime Minister did not intervene.  

The lethal shopping spree of Tatmadaw was largely financed by the French oil company Total with the full acceptance of the French government. Total got the first foreign oil concessions from Burma in return.

To make matters worse, the Thai general and later Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh let his son put together the infamous ‘blood for teak’-deal, which ensured Thailand a huge amount of precious Burmese teak wood. They paid by forcibly returning Burmese refugees in Thailand to their destiny at the hands of Tatmadaw. 

I remember a disheartening talk in Copenhagen with the late Michael Aris, the husband of Burma’s incarcerated Aung San Suu Kyi. He had come to Denmark in an attempt to alert the Danish government to the carnage in Burma, invited by the Danish Burma Committee. No one but the committee bothered to listen to Michael Aris.

I am burdening my friends with all of this, as I see the writings on the wall on an early Tuesday morning in Hanoi. Honestly, the latest news from Burma kept me up much of the night. I am hearing long forgotten Burmese voices, as foreigners are scrambling out of Burma once again. A friend in Rangoon just messaged me a screen shot to show me, how his internet is going down. The Darkness is coming back.

In the short run, I am sure we will see a bit of uproar in the media and elsewhere, as the situation gets worse now in Burma. The generals might be a little cautious, until the world’s attention turns elsewhere due to other calamities.  

I hope I am wrong, but I fear that I am right: Once the darkness engulfs Burma again, the killings will be systematic and on a much larger scale, as we have seen before.

The Tatmadaw will do so, because they know it works.