ROMANIA 1989: WHEN FACTS BECAME MY FIRST CONFIRMED CASUALTY

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This morning 30 years ago I went with these three women to the cementary in Cluj. I was told that their sons had been buried a few days before after being killed in the City’s last showdown with Dictator Ceaucescu’s Securitate forces.

Their grief might have been the only thing I got right in my reports from the uprising against the dictator. Most embarrassing was how I and scores of other reporters covered the ‘massacre’ in Timisoara without any critical questions.


Later the reported massacre proved to be a fake
propaganda stunt. Bodies, some several weeks old, had been collected from morgues and hospitals and arranged in a mass grave to appear like victims of a summary execution a few days before.


You dont need to have a medical background to know the difference between new and old bodies, unless people are telling you a story that you want to hear. And so we reported this pile of humain remains as evidence of Ceaucescu’s cruel persecution of the pro-democracy activists from The National Salvation Front.

Nicolae and Elena Ceaucescu is being led away for their execution.


The ‘Timisoara massacre’ was subsequently used as part of the justification for the execution of Ceaucescu and his wife 25 December after a few hours of trial in a military court with questionable credentials.

Former president Ion Illescu is now on trial for crimes against humanity for his role in killings after the downfall of Ceaucescu.


Still today, many questions remain about what really happened in Romania. Some may soon be answered, now that Ceauceascu’s main adversary and successor as president Ion Iliescu has finally been put on trial for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in the aftermath of Ceaucescu’s downfall.

THE CREATION OF MY MAGIC LAO CARPET

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Magic Lao Carpet Co-Owner Lani Phaseuth shared her secrets, letting me follow the production of my own magic carpet during seven months.

A journey into the wonderful secrets of Lani Phaseuth and her carpets

In early 2019, I first discovered  Magic Lao Carpets   in a dusty alley in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.  Only a small handmade sign indicated the magic, unfolding behind the high grey wall.

During this first visit, I was completely captivated by the beauty coming out of the hands of the young women, working at the big looms in the workshop.  As I walked around in the workshop, I also had my first glimpse of  the complexity of the entire pre-production process.

Perhaps the quiet hum of the spinning wheels hypnotized me: On the spot I decided to have my own silk carpet made. Co-owner Lani Phaseuth allowed me to photo document the entire process and share her secrets with me. The following seven months became a fascinating journey into a marvelous symbiosis of Lao traditional design and the 5.000 year old tradition of handicraft in Turkmenistan.

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Magic Lao Carpets is a social enterprise, offering training and employment for disabled Lao youngsters.

My carpet is also a love story – between Lani and her husband Ismit, who came to Laos from far away Turkmenistan more than 20 years ago. Ismit brought the proud handicraft traditions from his homeland. Lani contributed with the beauty of Lao design. Together they created Magic Lao Carpet, which is also a social enterprise, offering training and employment for disabled Lao youngsters.

The farm

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100.000 worms devoured 1.500 kg of mullberry leaves to produce the silk tread for my carpet.

My personal learning experience started at Lani’s silk farm an hours drive from Vientiane. On a stifling hot Saturday morning Lani and her staff took me around in the mulberry fields and in the outhouses, where the worms are eating their way through their short life.   Please click here for the story of my meeting with the greedy little bastards.

About a month later, the worms had done their job. I returned to the workshop to learn about the next steps, that is how to get the sticky stuff removed from the fine tread. The worms only deliver some stiff and unattractive mess, which is impossible to use without further processing.

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The yarn for my carpet is boiled and washed several times to get rid of the sticky stuff, left behind by the silk worms.

“First, to do the degumming we boil the yarn with lye from the rice straw ashes  to make it shiny and soft.  This takes about 30 minutes at 80-90c. When the yarn has dried up, we wash it one more time with iron sulfate in the water to remove all the glue. The process is relatively easy but takes time and lots of water – about 60 liters per 2 kilos of yarn. After that we wash the yarn many times in water to remove all the glue,” Lani explained.

Please click here to learn more about how you get that raw silk right.

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The three colors of my carpet: Burgundy, honey and golden.

Colors from Mother Earth

With the month of June comes the monsoon, and stiffling hot turns into stiffling hot and humid.  I am back to learn about the production of natural colors and the dyeing process.

Somehow, Lani manages to keep the workshop pleasantly cool without any air-con.  Only mechanical ventilation is bringing about a gentle breeze in the workshop.  The humming fans, the giant pots with boiling water, the cracking fire wood, a couple of water hoses and the spinning wheels are joining each other in a minute symphony.  It is all very, very nice.

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The golden yellow color is derived from the Dok Chan flower.

Lani shows me some samples of dyed yarn. The beautiful dark red color, called Burgundy, is going to be very prominent in my carpet.

“We use natural dye only from trees and plants. The Burgundy color comes from the roots of the Madder plant,” Lani explains to me.

The Madder plant has been known since ancient times for its powerful acid in the roots, which are harvested after two years in the ground.  These are the roots, which will deliver the base color of my carpet.  The yellow color is based on one of the acclaimed beauties of Laos, the Dok Chan flower, which has become a national symbol.. Click here to understand how you create those magnificent colors.

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Enkai, Xud and Kuan will tie more than one million knots to complete my carpet.

One million knots

The month of July brings another big milestone in the creation of my carpet. Three young women – Enkai, Kuan and Xud – have now started the knotting. They have a big job in front of them. It will take them around 130 days to tie the more than 1 million knots, required for my carpet.

“It is very time consuming to produce the carpets, but it is not difficult. If you can tie your own shoes, you can also make a carpet,” Lani’s husband Ismit says with a grin.

He has carried the craft with him from his native Turkmenistan. His home country boasts a 4.000 year long tradition in handmade carpets.  Click here to meet Enkai, Kuan and Xud and learn about their efforts.

In October, I come back to check on progress. I meet the most amazing sight in the workshop. The knotting is done, and Enkai, Kuan and Xud are getting ready to cut the carpet loose from the loom.

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My carpet is getting close to completion.

The real beauty of the three colors – burgundy, honey and golden yellow – cannot be captured fully by my camera.

In less than a month, I will be able to pick up my carpet. I have already decided the location on the floor of my Hanoi bedroom.  It is going to be a very nice feeling to put my bare feet on the incredibly soft carpet on the chilly winter mornings of northern Vietnam.

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Burning excessive treads away.

 

It is November 14, I am back to Magic Lao Carpets to witness the final steps. There is a vague smell of alcohol in the open air area outside the workshop.  My carpet has been brought out on a small table.

Cotton is rolled on a small stick and dipped in the alcohol, and then ignited.  The flame is gently rubbed against the carpet centimeter by centimeter to burn any tread sticking out from the smooth surface.  It is a slow and very meticulous process.  Once it is done the carpet is having a final surface wash with vinegar diluted in water.

Next, my carpet is drying out a little in the  autumn sun. I want to do a final shot from above.  I see a small balcony on the 2nd floor.

“If you want to shoot from up there, you have to crawl out there through the window,” Lani says with that wonderful, shy’ish smile that I have come to know so well.  I get up there and call down to Lani and her staff to join hands and circle around their wonderful piece of work.  Click-click-click and then click – it is not easy to make all these women look up at me at the same time.

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While they roll my carpet and wrap it for the trip home to Hanoi, I send a silent thanks to the 100.000 worms and the 30 people, who have been involved in the making of my carpet in the past seven months.

In the evening at my home in Hanoi,  the first thing I do is unpacking the carpet.  I roll it out in the living room.  My very weird dog, Bo Nam Dinh hates anything new in the house and  sniffs suspiciously to the carpet.  I tell BND right there that I am going to kill him, if he ever pees on that carpet or scratch it with his clawy feet.

Then I sit down, taking in the beauty of the pattern and those three magic colors, based on Madder roots and the Dok Chan flower.  I am thinking about my good fortune that I got the opportunity to learn about the small, complex world of the silk craft. Then I let my left hand feel the surface with a few slow strokes.

“A true silk carpet will feel like the belly of a small kitten,” Lani once told me.  It does, indeed.

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VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL

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Today I am handing over my blog to the Vietnamese author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, who has graciously allowed me to share her poem in honor of those who paid the highest prize.

 

VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL

Birds’ song knocks on the White House;
Lincoln’s smile resounds;
sunset soaks Washington in deep red.
The black wall,
fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and sixty-seven names I don’t
know,
who fired gunshots into my mind,
their boot tips still drenched with blood.
I want to bury them once more.
Agent Orange flares up its color,
And the burning Phan Thi Kim Phuc
runs out from the rows of names.

Black, silent,
the silent answer for thousands of questions.

A tiny rose lights up a sharp pain,

a letter dim with tears that someone wrote
for his dead father.
“Father, today is my daughter’s birthday. I wish you were here
To blow with her the birthday candles. There isn’t a day that
Goes by without me thinking about you. Why, father? Why did
You have to go to Vietnam? Why did you have to die?

The rose petals wilt. Letters carpet below the Black Wall. Their
Words flicker and bleed.

I hear from the gloomy earth
the sounds of American fathers
carrying their babies in their arms,
their eye sockets like bomb-craters,
their hearts bullet holes.
Agent Orange lives in their bodies. Their blood
flows and drags their crying babies from their arms.

Every name on the black wall sinks into my skin
to become each face of the fallen Americans;
Washington this afternoon,
red sunset of tears?

 

Quế Mai originally wrote the poem in Vietnamese and translated it into English with the poet and Vietnam veteran Bruce Weigl.  She is the widely acclaimed author of 11 books and numerous other publications.  Click here for more information on her forthcoming novel The Mountains Sing.

Click here for a full profile of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.

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Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author

I AM WHERE YOU GO – IF YOU MOVE THE WRONG WAY

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My son Andreas has lent his voice to a building structure, housing the secretive ‘3rd terminal’ at London’s Gatwick Airport. This is where illegal immigrants are detained for months to the deafening sound of jet engines, before they are deported back to where they came from.  “In fact the noise is so loud that the local plan says humans shouldn’t live here. And officially they don’t. They’re detained,” the Terminal says, calculating that a detainee on average is staying at the center for 59 days, receiving 45.843 jet roaring reminders of their imminent destiny. 

On my blog today, I invite you to meet the Talking Terminal as a video essay, in which Andreas has summed up his Master’s dissertation in Sociology at the University of London.

Please click here for  the video I AM ONLY PRESENT. The full text follows below.

Text, audio & video works by Andreas Løppenthin

If you come from London, you’ll go through the airport terminal. You get off the train and tap your contactless card on the ticket gates. That gets you out of the station and into the airport arrival hall. It will probably be busy. Passenger buggies zigzag in between travellers pullingsuitcases and children. If you follow the exit signs, you will be guided to the wrong bus stops.

You’ll be confused. Eventually you will see your bus out the window, and ask someone who looks sufficiently official how to reach it. They’ll point you down an empty corridor, through an emergency exit and down a dodgy stairway.

It gets you to the side of the highway, where the local busses stop. The bus driver sells you a ticket to go one stop, to the other side of the airport. You get off in a roundabout. The cars are swooshing by.

You run across the road when there is a gap in the traffic, and you spot me on the other side ofa meadow. You don’t want to disturb the cows, so you walk down the road instead. Past Monica’s Burger Bar, and into the industrial estate. You pass my neighbours Acro Aircraft Seating, RS Components, World Duty Free DistributionCentre, Gate Gourmet. They produce things, store them, process them.

So do I. We’re all in that business around here, storing, producing, processing. Food, chocolate, furniture, humans.

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I’m a building. Brook House Immigration Removal Centre is my name. I don’t normally have a voice, but I’ve borrowed one for now. I sit on Perimeter Road, which runs around Gatwick Airport. It’s restricted area. All though there is no gate, a big blue sign at the end of Old Brighton Road will tell you that only authorized persons are allowed to go further. Perimeter road is technically part of the airport.

G4S take care of me on a day-to-day basis, so they’re the authorities I’m used to. They take their orders form the Home Office who had me built, but they rarely come and see me. They sit in offices somewhere else and decide what happens.

It’s complicated. And being inside the airport boundary doesn’t make it easier to figure out. Perimeter Road lives up to its name: a border, a boundary, a strange not quite public not quite private space.

I look at the planes taking off and landing. 777 a day. 32 per hour. One every other minute. When I was built, the council were worried.

“The building would be 200 meters from the main runway and would therefore be subject to high levels of aircraft noise.”

That’s what they said. But of course they weren’t worried about me, but the humans I’m holding. They’re the ones with ears. In fact the noise is so loud that the local plan says humans shouldn’t live here. And officially they don’t. They’re detained.

Because of the “limited time occupation of the building by individual detainees”, the council decided that the noise was going to be okay. It’s strange to be reading your own planning applications. Maybe that’s what humans would feel like if they could hear their parents discussing whether or not they should have children.

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The plans didn’t specify what “limited time occupation meant”, but from what I’ve been told the humans weren’t supposed to stay more than 72 hours. But planning’s one thing, management another. They stay here for weeks, months, sometimes even years. In 2017, the humans that came here stayed an average of 59 days. That’s 45.843 aircraft movements. 45.843 reminders of their imminent removal. Or of the places they can’t go.

Normally the council doesn’t allow buildings for humans this close to the runway. But apparently I was put here so that the Home Office could more conveniently get the humans on planes and sendthem away. And that was one of the main conditions for approving me. But as far as I’ve been told, only half of the humans that come through me actually end up leaving the country.

Everyone is very secretive about it, but the ones that do get removed seem to leave from other airports than Gatwick. I’ve heard of a place called the Inflight Jet Centre. It’s a terminal for private jets at Stansted Airport. After hours, that’s what I’ve heard, it’s transformed into an eviction hub. Charted flights leave for Lagos, Tirana, Dhaka, Delhi, in the dark of the night.

I wonder if I would be the same building if I hadn’t been standing next to the runway all those years. If I’m doing the math right, almost three million planes passed me since I was opened. On the inside, I’m metallic. There’s always someone banging my doors, and a constant jangling of keys. Tables and chairs are fixed to my floors. I can hold 508 humans.  Some are asylum seekers, some are students, some are doctors, some areworkers, some have been to prison, some are parents. Some just got to the country; some have been here their whole life.

No one has seen a judge.

They share the rooms two or three together. Well, actually they’re more like cells. There’s a TV on the wall, and a toilet between the beds. Sometimes there’s a curtain around it. The windows are sealed shut. Doors are locked between 9 PM and 8 AM. Around noon, everyone is locked upagain so the guards can count them.

During the day, my humans can go outside in to small, enclosed courtyards. Here they can feel the air, but only look at the sky. I block the horizon with my walls and barbed wire fences. The humans are spread on five wings, over three floors. There was supposed to be open air between them. But because of the way humans feel in here, they’ve put out netting.

Sometimes when the humans are really frustrated, they go out onto the netting and refuse to come back. It’s the only place the guards can’t go. The netting takes away the option of suicide, but offers an isolated space of untouchability.

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A space of self-determined in-betweeness, a temporary escape from the detention centre rules and the manager’s exceptions; from the entrapment of waiting that saturates the environment that I create, I’ve been told that a human’s social status can be measured in how much they have to wait.

In here, that’s all you do. No one in here knows how long they’ll stay, not even the guards, not even the managers. It’s decided in offices far away from me. If time is a river, then I’m the brook that’s stopped flowing.

The past and the future is somewhere else. I am only present. I am a factory that produces removables. I am the embodiment of a political structure that moves the border from a boundary fence and inscribes it on the human body. A structure that allows some bodies to flow seamlessly through the world, while others are stuck in the goo of globalization.

I keep the removables hidden in plain sight. Concealed to mend the guilty consciousness of citizens, but right at the heart of business and pleasure, as a wart on the happy faces of cosmopolitanism.

Behind my walls, you’re stuck but being moved, you’ve left but you’re still here, you’re near but far. On the last day of June, a man fell from a plane approaching Heathrow Airport and landed in a garden of a 2.3 million GBP house in Clapham.

The plane was a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi. When searching the plane, the police found a bag, food and water in the landing gear compartment. The man had packed and planned for the journey. He presumably froze to death during the nine-hour flight. If he had survived, it’s likely that the man would have ended up behind my walls.

From the underbelly of a plane to the wings of a building. I’m where you go if you move in the wrong way. I’m Gatwick’s third terminal, I’m the flip side of Generation Easy Jet. If you’re lucky enough not to be forced here, and G4S don’t respond to your research inquiries, it’s going to be hard for you to get any closer than the intersection between Old Brighton and Perimeter Road. You could get a flight to Gatwick and hope that you get a window seat. If thewind direction is on your side, then you might be able to spot me as the plane lands. Or you can go down Charlwood Road, and try to get a glimpse of my back.

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You’ll have a hard time distinguishing me from my neighbours. Same industrial appearance, same CCTV cameras. You can look at the trees and the bushes that almost hide the barbed wire. You might think the 5-meter fence is a bit extensive for a warehouse. Or you might not.

You will see what is probably my two southern most wings. You will see that someone decided that one wing should be green, and another orange.You walk out onto the meadow to avoid the cars rushing past. A big pile of dirt and something that looks like horse dung covers the western end where you enter. Maybe it’s raining now, perhaps the cows have left for cover. From here, you can get a better view of me.

You can see that my windows are barred. You can see that a net covers the yards between the buildings, as an extension of the fence and the walls that enclose them. You can see the planes taking off in the grey drizzle. It looks like they are emerging out of me.

In spite of the constant hum of the highway behind you, you can hear the planes getting ready for take-off and speeding up. And then suddenly, they burst out from behind my grey roof. If you’re filming, you can zoom in close and tell whether it’s a Norwegian, British Airways, or maybe an EasyJet flight. But you have to be quick, because they race for the sky, disappearinginto the clouds long before the roar of their engines fade.

i am only present

andreasloppenthin@gmail.com

goldsmiths, university of london 2019

 

 

 

SÆSON FOR ET SAMPLE DIGT

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Lea er her i Hanoi, hvor  Sæson’s hovedperson Frank støder sammen med Post-Kolonialismen.

Min datter Lea’s nye roman Sæson udkommer i morgen. I den anledning har jeg lavet dette sample digt, der består af de 15 sætninger jeg holder allermest af i denne forunderlige bog.

 

Den står i min reol som en dårlig julegave.

Vi var så lette, så̊ blege, at det næsten var, som om vi var digitale.

Ligesom alt krigsmateriel blev genbrugt, kunne sproget også genbruges, det var slidstærkt.

Det er ikke overraskende, at hvis man er dårlig til at være ung, så forbliver man ung på den dårlige måde.

Så min hjelm stod som et jagttrofæ ovenpå garderobeskabet i stuen, et hjortehoved, som vi ikke engang havde fået hængt op.

Hvor sødt, kolonialisme anno 2004, sagde jeg surt og tog til tennis.

Et giftigt minde, min mors knuste hjerte, min families mistænksomhed.

Karwan blev underligt forvredet, han skrumpede ind, som om han var blevet lagt i eddike.

Jeg bad hende venligst: at holde mig ude af sin psykiatriske udredning.  Fanme om det er noget, jeg kan tage ansvar for.

Der er ingen summen i dørtelefonen, til gengæld er dørhåndtaget sat fast med tape.

Deres liv er ikke nemmere end mit, slet ikke. Vi har levet nogle knuste dage sammen.

Måske var det den aften, jeg blev voksen, fordi jeg blev præcis lige vred på min far, min mor og mig selv.

Jeg vil fragte den historie som en surdej mellem alle mine dage.

Jeg ønsker heller ikke at være min storesøsters advokat eller ghostwriter. Men jeg vil heller ikke vaske smerten ud af fortællingen, som om den ikke var der.

Jeg har nok prøvet femogtyve frakker i Spanien nu. Det er også en måde at integrere sig et nyt sted.

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FIRE, WATER AND VINEGAR

 

Carpet (3 of 19)My beautiful Lao Carpet, Part 5

The Magic Lao Carpet workshop is pleasantly cool this morning.

The three young women –  Kai, Kuan and Xud – work with incredible speed, tying knot after knot on my carpet.  They have come a long way since my last visit. It looks to me that they have passed the one million-knot-mark already.

The real beauty of the three colors – burgundy, honey and golden yellow – cannot be captured fully by my camera.

In less than a month, I might be able to pick up my carpet. I have already decided the location on the floor of my Hanoi bedroom.  It is going to be a very nice feeling to put my bare feet on the incredibly soft carpet on the chilling winter mornings of northern Vietnam.

While the knotting proceeds on my carpet, I look around in the workshop. The workers are used to me by now, and they no longer giggle and hide, when my Nikon clicks away. Other carpets are in various stages of completion.

Carpet (16 of 19)One carpet is being washed and scrubbed thoroughly, while another one is wiped with a burning piece of cloth.

Magic Lao Carpet co-owner Lani explains the final process to me:

“After the weaving is completed, the carpets are washed thoroughly.  They take 1-3 days to dry, and then we use the open flame of cotton pads soaked in Lao alcohol to remove any threads sticking out, than the surface of carpets clean again with the solution of vinegar and water, to show the real colors and beauty of the carpets” Lani says.

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In another part of the workshop Tan and her colleagues are very busy, once again preparing the early stages for the next batch of carpets.  Lani tells me that new orders continue come in, most recently from China, Australia and Europe.

Considering the social aspects of Lao Magic Carpets, it is certainly nice to see, that they can continue to offer training and jobs to young disabled people, who otherwise have very little opportunities in Laos.

In a few weeks’ time I will be back to follow the final stages of my beautiful Lao carpet.

Stay tuned for the final part.

 

AN HONOR FOR THE SADDEST OF ALL REASONS

68911795_10156822778043369_5347273191628734464_nThis week,  I was presented with an honorary medal for my assistance to the Agent Orange victims of Vietnam, issued by chairman Nguyen Van Rinh from VAVA – Vietnam’s National Organisation for support to the Agent Orange victims.
To be honest, I wish most of all that there would be no reason to issue medals because of assistance to coping with such unbearable and widespread misery, which still burden the Vietnamese so many years after the war ended.

Thousands of people in 3 generations are affected all over the country. In addition, please also note the other thousands of victims among the US, Australian, Canadian and Korean soldiers, who were exposed as well.

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From a visit to a family of 3-generation victims in Thai Binh.


The Agent Orange tragedy was the reason, why I first came to Vietnam in 1984, and I stayed with this cause ever since along with many, many other people, who are trying to help. In case you want to know more, here is a re-run of an essay about it all.

Sometimes you can meeting a beacon of light in all the misery.  Please meet my courageous and amazing friend Le Minh Chau by clicking here.