A WRONG FLAG IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME

Today, I am handing over my blog to Viet Thanh Nguyen: “What these particular Vietnamese have done is treasonous , shameful, and stupid. They own this behaviour. And so do those who didn’t march and continue to support Trump.”

By Viet Thanh Nguyễn

Vietnamese Americans flew the South Vietnamese flag at the attempted coup.

Even mainstream conservatives are calling this sedition. Too bad it took the storming of the U.S. Capitol for them to finally realize that Trump has always been a danger to the country, and believes only in himself, not the GOP and certainly not the entire USA.

And some Vietnamese Americans, who fled an authoritarian regime, who have always cast themselves as patriots, are going all-in on aligning themselves with a pro-Trump, cult of personality movement. that is inextricably intertwined with white resentment, white privilege, white supremacy, and apologizing for the Confederacy and defending it.

I am hearing from Vietnamese Americans who are pained by seeing their relatives continue to endorse this. I don’t know what to say to them. We love our relatives, who love us. They are good people. But everyone has to take responsibility at some point for what they believe, what they say, and what they do.

And what these particular Vietnamese have done is treasonous , shameful, and stupid. They own this behaviour. And so do those who didn’t march and continue to support Trump.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn is the best selling author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer and several non-fiction works, including The Refugees and Nothing Ever Dies.

WILFRED GLUUD ER DØD

WILFRED ER IKKE MERE – min og mange andres ven gennem 40 år, Wilfred Gluud er ikke mere. Få har som ham holdt fast ved sin ungdoms idealer. Det har ikke mindst de fattigste i Vietnam nydt godt af med Wilfreds solide indsats gennem årene bl.a. som utrættelig deltager i indsamlingerne af hospitalsudstyr til Vietnam og uddannelsesprojekterne på provinshospitalet i Bao Loc. Dertil kommer Wilfreds slid år ud og år ind med ene mand at oprette og vedligeholde den globale database med dokumentation for de tragiske langtidsvirkninger af Agent Orange på mennesker og miljø i Vietnam.

Jeg har haft hyppige besøg af Wilfred i Hanoi gennem årene, indtil problemer med bentøjet kom i vejen for hans stædige insisteren på at tage de lokale busser, som ikke just er designet til passagerer af Wilfreds størrelse.

Det er ikke mere end 14 dage siden, at Wilfred og jeg chattede om den legendariske fotograf Thomas Billhardt, hvis Hanoi fotos fra krigsårene netop er blevet udgivet her. Wilfred måtte have et eksemplar til sit bibliotek, og samtidig ville han lige sikre sig, at jeg på den anden side af COVID også hjembragte ‘Hanoi-Opoly’ til ham – han havde hørt at den vietnamesiske chokolade-koncern Marou har produceret en lokal version af Matador-spillet, komplet med chokolade-præmier til vinderne.

Hans sidste ord i den chat var at han indtil videre måtte nøjes med sine yndlings maltbolsjer fra Nørregade. Så måtte jeg jo skaffe ham den ønskede dokumentation for at det var på plads. Desværre nåede Wilfred ikke den runde i Hanoi-Opoly.

Æret være Wilfreds minde.

EN HÆDERSMAND HAR FORLADT OS

Ulrik Helweg-Larsen under oprydningen efter tsunamien i januar 2005

Min gamle kollega Ulrik Helweg-Larsen er død, 75 år gammel. Vi arbejdede sammen ved flere lejligheder, bl.a. med forberedelserne af udviklingsminister Helle Degns besøg i Hanoi 1994.

Men det, som jeg først og fremmest husker Ulrik for, er hans overmenneskelige indsats under nødhjælpsarbejdet på Phuket efter Tsunamien ramte i julen 2004. Ulrik ikke alene knoklede nat og dag. Han hankede også op i os andre, når vi var ved at segne.

Ulrik tog det uden at kny, da Udenrigsministeriets topledelse med brutal kynisme lod ham tage skraldet for ledelsens eget svigt hjemme på Asiatisk Plads.

Her er en minderune for Ulrik, hentet fra mine dagbogs-notater den 4. januar 2005:

“Ambassadøren og hans hustru er de sidste tilbage af det oprindelige hold, der nåede frem til Phuket for over en uge siden. Konsulen og ambassadesekretæren er for flere dage siden blevet afløst og sendt hjem for at hvile ud. Det er tydeligt for alle, at Ulriks egen kone, der har deltaget her som frivillig, er meget tæt på at bukke under af søvnmangel og stress. Ulrik selv får da også et klart vink af en af Rigshospitalets udsendte, der nøgternt slår fast, at der er grænser for, hvad selv ambassadører kan holde til.

Stemmen knækker, og det er med tårer i øjenkrogene, at Ulrik takker os for godt samarbejde.

Blandt pressefolkene breder sig en slags sympati for ambassadøren. “Der er noget kaptajn over ham, en af dem der bliver på broen,” siger en af dem anerkendende.

På falderebet overvinder han sig selv en sidste gang og stiller op til et interview med BT. “En uge i helvede,” hedder overskriften lidt senere på dagen.”

Kun et par dage senere var Ulrik tilbage på Phuket igen for selv at tage sig af udviklingsminister Bertel Haarder, der som den iøvrigt eneste danske politiker kom til Thailand for at forhandle en nødhjælpspakke på plads med de lokale thailandske myndigheder.

Den meget lange dag endte i ruinerne af et beach resort, hvor vi nogle dage forinden havde fundet de gennemblødte pas, tilhørende en forsvunden dansk familie.

Det var med modvilje, at Ulrik som det sidste stillede op til en fotografering, bestilt af UMs presseafdeling. Men jeg fik da lov at tage det.

Æret være Ulriks minde.

A VOICE FROM THE MOUNTAINS OF VIETNAM

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel is a magnificent gift to all of us, but maybe most of all a gift to her own people, celebrating their indomitable spirit.

It is a rare experience to see high expectations being surpassed by reality, but this is what happened during my page turning sit-down this weekend with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel The Mountains Sing.    

For months, my copy has been on the road through COVID era travel restrictions from the US to Denmark, finally to be hand carried by a friend on a diplomatic flight to Hanoi. While waiting, my expectations were fueled by a continues stream of praises by readers around the world on twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

As I sat down in my sofa overlooking Hanoi’s Red River, I was soon catapulted by a time machine straight into the terror of that morning in 1972, when another wave of the infamous US bombings hit Hanoi.

As the sirens scream all over the city, a 12-year old girl, Hương is running for her life with her grandmother to find a vacant shelter – in one of the concrete enforced manholes that had been dug all over Hanoi. Shelter after shelter is already full.      

At the very last moment they find a vacant shelter in front of Hương’s school, only to be half drowned in cascades of sewage water, dust and stones.  

After the sirens had signaled it was safe, Grandma and I emerged, shivering thin leaves. We staggered out to the street. Several buildings had collapsed, their rubble spilling onto our path. We crawled out of piles of debris, coughing. Billowing smoke and twirling dust burned my eyes. 

I clutched Grandma’s hand, watching women kneeling and howling next to dead bodies, whose faces had been concealed by tattered straw mats. The legs of those bodies were jutting towards us. Legs that were mangled, covered with blood. One small leg had a pink shoe dangling. The dead girl could have been my age.

Hanoi’s Khâm Thiên street after the bombings.

Hương and Grandma Diệu Lan play the main roles in Quế Mai’s universe along with three generations of characters in the Trần family, who hails from the northern-central province of Nghệ An. The family is doing well as farmers in the fertile land, until disasters start looming in the horizon, one after another. 

Grandma’s tales

As Grandma Diệu Lan and Hương slowly puts some kind of basic existence together in Hanoi’s ruins, Grandma shares the family history with her granddaughter, always calling her Guava instead of her real name to escape the attention of evil spirits, just like her own father always called her Kitten to guard her during her childhood in Nghệ An.

At first, the tales of Grandma’s childhood are as beautiful and captivating as Vietnamese spring itself in the countryside, where the Trần family enjoys more prosperity and fortune than most.  Grandma’s life is shattered by a horrific act committed by Japanese soldiers who occupied Vietnam during World War II.  

She lost a family member and during the three-day funeral rites, the wailings sounds of her brother’s traditional string instrument, the đàn nhị hang in the air for hours and hours.

Công did not utter a single word during the entire funeral, but when he returned home, he stood in the front yard, the đàn nhị raised high above is head. His scream tore into the night as he shattered the instrument onto the brick floor. His wife, Trinh, and Mrs. Tú gathered the broken pieces, trying to put them back together, but he would never play again.

The next disaster is the great famine descending on Vietnam in 1944, with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese succumbing to starvation. Nghệ An is among the hardest hit provinces in northern Vietnam. 

Grandma tells Guava, how a sound woke her up one night.

It was the faint cries of your mother. A five-year-old then, Ngọc was resting her head on my stomach. Next to her, your uncle Đạt, barely four, lay silent. Your uncle Minh called me. I slowly turned and gazed at him: A hollowed face, dark rings around sunken, yellowish eyes; he was a seven-year-old skeleton. 

Vietnam’s controversial land reform is only one of the disasters,
hitting the Trần family.

Less than a decade later, in 1955, the surviving Trần family members are victimized by the so called ‘Land Reform’, essentially a witch hunt targeting farmers, who have managed to recreate some wealth after the famine years.   

The cruelties of the land reform leave Dieu Lan with a silent contempt. She finds her own ways to survive, leaving her job as a teacher to become an illegal trader in the streets of Hanoi. Her decision leads to a bitter conflict with her youngest son Sáng.

Coping with the casualties

The casualties of war take a heavy toll on the Trần family. Some family members return from the war, injured or deeply traumatised, some don’t. One has a baby heavily deformed because of his exposure to Agent Orange, the dioxin contaminated chemicals, used by the US forces to defoliate the jungles in Vietnam. 

The Mountains Sing is named after the Sơn ca, the little bird known for its beautiful singing in the forests of northern Vietnam.  Guava’s/Hương’s dearest treasure is a wooden Sơn Ca, cut for her by her father in the war zone and brought back to Hanoi by a fellow soldier.  

Maybe the Sơn ca also is there to make us understand that Quế Mai’s novel is more a message of the triumph of the human spirit than misery. 

At the end, The Mountains Sing invites us to the annual prayer ceremony on the day of Grandma’s peaceful departure from Earth. Guava/Hương is burning a copy of her manuscript with Grandma’s tales, knowing that the smoke will transfer her words to Grandma in Heaven.

Wisps of smoke curls upward. And in the twirling ash, I see the Sơn ca moving. It is flapping its wings, craning its neck, calling my Grandma’s songs towards Heaven.

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel is a magnificent gift to all of us, but maybe most of all a gift to her own people, celebrating their indomitable spirit. I hope to see the day, when the peoples of Nghệ An and elsewhere in this country will be able to read along with the world beyond Vietnam. 

CONFESSION OF A DOG KILLER

I have received dozens of messages from around the world, after I was exposed on Facebook as a stone cold dog killer. 

Let me respond briefly: Bo Nam Dinh has always been a hyper sensitive dog with a panicky fear of strangers. This has recently developed into a much more disturbing pattern of aggression. 

A few weeks ago, BND attacked my cook Xuan right in front me. She has been shit scared of him ever since. 

Some days later, I got a frantic call that he had attacked my maid, Anh with vicious biting in her arm and in her leg. She went down with shock, and thats where she still is now.  There was no apparent reason, why BND would now suddenly attack people, whom he has known for years.

I called a Vet immediately and rushed home to be there. And yes, I killed Bo Nam Dinh. I was the one holding him to the floor, while the Vet shot him full of tranqulizer. As BND slowly became disoriented, i had him in my lap, he puked all over me with the saddest eyes, that I will not easily forget.

Did I love that dog? Very much. I was the founder of his personal facebook page. I invented his famously attributed quote: “If you are not invited for the dinner, you are on the menu,” based on his personal experience with his relatives being cooked for a wedding in Nam Dinh. 

Phuong Anh made a beautiful portrait of Bo Nam Dinh.

I have fed him an embarrasing number of his favorite Australian tenderloins. Bo Nam Dinh is immortalized in my forthcoming novel Revenge From Hanoi. Most recently, my artist friend Phuong Anh Dang painted a portrait of him as a birthday gift for me.  

I have seen a few things in my life, but I never imagined that I would one day write an eulogy to a dog with tears running down my face. For Christ’s sake. Bo Nam Dinh was just a dog.

Bon Nam Dinh is seen on the far right during a prayer
for his spirit at a Hanoi pagoda.

HANOI’S MIDAS TOUCH

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The rooftop pool is covered with 24k gold plates.

Do you remember the ancient legend about King Midas, who asked the gods to give him the power to turn whatever he touched into gold? At first it was absolutely wonderful to make everything around King Midas into an enormous golden fortune. But the downside certainly dawned on the king, when he accidentally touched his beloved daughter and then his own food and drink. His golden blessing had become a lethal curse.

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I was thinking about the Midas legend this morning after a tour of Hanoi’s new Golden Lake Hotel. The friendly management told me that the entire hotel has been gold-plated with one metric ton of gold. Everything from the top floor pool to your coffee spoon is gold plated. Even your dim sum suckling pig and the Beijing duck has pieces of gold on it.

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When checking out the golden bath tub, I had another flash down memory lane: Through the window I looked down on one the now (in)famous dilapidated apartment buildings, which were built with Soviet aid, when I first came to Hanoi in the early 1980’ies. At the time, these apartments were seen as a symbol of progress and international solidarity, providing good housing for poor Hanoians.

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Alas, when I next visited one of these apartment buildings in 2005 with the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs, Denmark’s Ambassador, the late Peter Lysholt Hansen, and my friend Trine Glue Doan, they had turned into some of the worst slums, I have ever seen. At the time, there were a number of proposals to improve the living conditions for the unfortunate families living there.

As you can see here from the Golden Lake Hotel bathrooms, not much has happened. The Hoa Binh Group (note to non-vietnamese speakers: Hoa Binh means peace) is the investor behind the Golden Lake Hotel. It probably looked like a great idea, when the project was conceived. Gold is indeed an obsession all through Asia these days. Walking around in the virtually empty hotel, I am afraid that the bloody Corona virus at least momentarily has turned this dream into a modern Midas nightmare.

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EN VEN VED NAVN COVID-19

De 196 ark lægger sig ovenpå hinanden med den blanke bagside i vejret. Om lidt vender jeg stakken og ser mit forsidefoto på tryk. Et foto, som jeg har haft stor fornøjelse af at bøvle med:

Her er Phuong, en antik vietnamesisk kvindebuste, der har fulgt mig i årevis. Nu har hun fået selskab af en Zippo-lighter, som jeg fået lavet i én kopi med det logo, som den infame amerikanske specialenhed Tiger Force bar på deres uniformer under Vietnamkrigen. Foran Phuong ligger en original Ka-Bar kniv, som har tilhørt en af soldaterne i Tiger Force. Jeg har photoshoppet kniven ind.

Både lighteren og kniven spiller hovedroller i mit nye univers. 

Jeg har fået skrevet den thriller! Den har endda en titel: ”Hævnen fra Hanoi”. Det som kunne have været COVID-isolationens sorte hul, blev i stedet et kreativt kaos, hvor mine sammenskrabede livserfaringer og min fantasi fik deres helt eget liv.

Før COVID-19 stod det skidt til med min thriller. I flere år har jeg haft en myrdet dansk ambassadør liggende i min skrivebordsskuffe. Med et gennemboret venstre øje og en terminal hjernelæsion uden udsigt til at komme videre til sin egen begravelse, endsige til en opklaring af hvem der står bag likvideringen af ham. På side 5 satte min skriveblokering en stopper for yderligere fremskridt. 

Så smuttede COVID-19 ind under døren og gjorde mig selskab i min hjemmekarantæne. Måske var det på min COVID-Aften nr. 2, at jeg ikke tændte for Netflix. I stedet hev jeg den døde ambassadør op af skuffen. De ledige, stille stunder i de følgende uger fik mig til tasterne. Jeg kom vidt omkring på rejsen med det persongalleri, der myldrede ind ad døren. Jeg har følt mig som en pilot i en ny Boeing Dreamliner, hvor computerprogrammer klarer det hele.

Jeg har siddet der i mit personlige cockpit, og skuet udover min egen hukommelse, som om den var en planet: Hiens 95-årige, etbenede bedstefars beretninger fra franskmændenes endeligt ved slaget i Dien Bien Phu. Min ungdoms første odyssé gennem det ødelagte Vietnam efter den sidste store krig. Mange års daglige iagttagelser af Udenrigstjenestens begavede, til tider noget aparte kolleger. Mit Tsunami-traume fra Phuket. Alt sammen tilsat et festspil af ideer til, hvordan det hele kunne bo i et fiktivt, morderisk univers. Jeg sad deroppe og så ned på det hele, mens tastaturet opførte sig som et selvspillende klaver.

Jeg har haft nogle fantastiske sparringspartnere under hele turen. I ved selv, hvem I er. Det ville være en grov underdrivelse at sige tak for jeres hjælp.

COVID-19 er jo klodens kollektive forbandelse. Men ret skal være ret: Den virus gav mig det skub, som jeg har savnet længe. Lad mig ikke holde nogen hen i unødig spænding: Min myrdede ambassadør blev bisat undervejs allerede i kapitel 7 ved en smuk, omend noget ensom højtidelighed i Gentofte kirke. Hans kolleger blev væk, men UMs medarbejderforening sendte da en krans…..

‘THE MEN FROM THE FOREST’

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Encounter with the Orangutangs in Borneo

THE MEN FROM THE FOREST – It can be somewhat frustrating to monkey around in Borneo’s humid, hot and dense rainforest to look for ‘The Men in The Forest’, as the Orangutangs are called in Borneo.
When humans are around, the Orangutangs tend to stay in their nests 8-10 meters above your heads, occasionally letting you see and arm or leg dangling up there.
Things get a lot easier, if you go to the famous Orangutang Rehabilitation Center in Sepilok, located at the edge of the forest outside Sadakan. Since 1964, the center has nursed orphaned Orangutangs and brought some other 700 ill Orangutangs back on their feet, often after potentially fatal bouts of pneumonia. 

Bor (22 of 42)BorUran (5 of 7)The idea of the center is to bring these marvelous primates back to their normal life in the forest, but as you can see from my shots the other day they do hang around in a very friendly manner, possibly because they can pick up free food twice a day from a platform a few hundred meters inside the forest.

It is certainly great fun to go there and see the Orangutangs in action in a semi-natural setting, and it might even inspire you to endure a few more hours in the ‘real forest’, looking for them in their truly natural environment. In the wild they can only be found in Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Orangutangs are considered very intelligent primates, displaying clear learning abilities and passing these off to their off-spring.  They typically construct three to four nests per day, sometimes supplying them with a roof in the rainy season.

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ENCOUNTER IN BORNEO

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The Proboscis males are blessed with this magnificent nose, which serves as a megaphone for their calls to their harems of 5-7 females.

 

This week, I finally managed to realize a 15 year long dream to return to the weirdest creatures, I ever met.

This time, I brought the proper camera gear to capture them in their habitat: Borneo’s enigmatic Proboscis monkeys.

Take a look at the above pix of this marvelous male, waiting for his harem to show up for some good old love-making in a tree-top. His rather oversized nose serves as a megaphone, making sure that his wives can hear him more than a kilometer away. Then take a look at his wives, who seemed to be more interested in Mother Earth’s own snacks than him.

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Should a male  manage to call the females over, he can still not be certain of success.  The world’s no. 1 expert on Proboscis monkeys, Elizabeth L. Benneth observed:

“Even when he has secured his females from other males and one is presenting herself before him, a harem male faces problems. When mating starts, the young animals in the group become extremely upset and do everything they can to interfere.  They frequently pull hard on the male’s upper leg, screaming all the while, but a more succesful tactic is to lean over the amorous couple from the front and try to tweak the male’s nose.  Even if this does not stop mating immediately, it certainly curtails a male’s ardour.

He sometimes even has to stop what he is doing to chase away the youngsters before returning to his female. The ultimate frustration must be when he finds that, in the meantime, the female has lost interest and wandered away.”

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A female is too busy with her favorite snack to follow the amorous calls of her master.

The Proboscis can only be found alive in their own habitat. Due to a very complicated diet and their multi-belly set-up, they seldom, if ever survive in captivity.  There are an estimated 7.000 Proboscis left in Borneo and Sumatra. They are dependent on the riverine forest areas for their daylight intake of leaves, unripe fruit and insects.  Even though the total ban on hunting Proboscis monkeys might be effective, the ongoing destruction of the rainforest put them at serious risk. 

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The Proboscis are dependent on the riverine forest areas for their daylight intake of leaves, unripe fruit and insects.

As National Geographic notes:
“Unfortunately, Borneo’s most threatened landscapes are home to these highly specialized primates. The rampant clearing of the region’s rain forests for timber, settlement, and oil palm plantations has depleted huge tracts of their habitat. The fragmentation of the monkeys’ range means they are being forced to descend from the trees more frequently and often must travel perilously long distances to find food. Their land predators include jaguars and some native peoples who consider proboscis monkey a delicacy.

Here is how you manage to encounter the Proboscis monkeys: Catch a flight to Malaysia and then onwards with a local plane to Sadakan in northeast Borneo. Then 2.5 hours by speedboat up the Kinabatangan river. You transfer into a small boat, powered by a quiet electric motor and explore the myriad of smaller rivers, led by local spotter, who knows where the Proboscis creatures hang out. Let me tell you, it is worth the effort!

There are several lodges in the area. We had Borneo Eco Tours arrange our visit and had a really nice stay at their Sukau lodge.

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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.