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.

 

”IF YOU CAN TIE YOUR SHOES, YOU CAN ALSO MAKE A CARPET”

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The story of my beautiful Lao carpet – part 4. 

I have returned to Magic Lao Carpet on another hot Lao summer morning. The workshop is pleasantly cool with just a few big ventilation fans humming among the looms.

I am here for an important milestone.  For three months, I have been following the process right from the feeding of the silk worms. The yarn has been de-glued and dyed, and the spinning is well under way.  The first batches of thread are ready, and the remaining yarn will be spun, as the carpet knotting proceeds.

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The spinning of yarn continues as the carpet itself is manufactured.

The loom has been prepared with the basic white strings, and now the final knotting has begun. I joke with Magic Lao Carpet co-owner, Ismit that I know all their secrets now, and will make my own carpets in the future.

“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,” 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.

Magic Lao Carpet has become an employment opportunity for young people with various disabilities, which prevents them from finding jobs in the ordinary labor market.  It takes 3-6 months of training, before they can do the job according to the quality standards. Then it takes another 2-3 years to become a master weaver.

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EnKai, Kuan and Xud are working on my carpet.  Their daily effort amounts to 1.5 cm of carpet.

Three young Lao women – Kai, Kuan and Xud, are working together knot by knot with amazing speed. The density of my carpet is very high: 400.000 knots per m2.   Now and again, the women hammer the knots to make sure that the knots are secure and tight.  The three women are progressing with 1.5 cm per day.  

They are working with six strings in three different colors. The base color is Burgundy derived from the roots of the madder plant. The two other yellow colors – Honey and Gold – are both coming from the Dok Chan flower.  The Honey variation is created by increasing the percentage of dye and the PH value during the dyeing process.

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The dazzling yellow colors Golden and Honey are derived from the Dok Chan flower. 

While the three young women are keeping their fingers busy, Ismit’s wife and carpet partner, Lani calculate the details for me: The Burgundy constitutes 62%, the Golden 30% and the Honey 8%.

I run my fingers on the finished part of my carpet. The feeling is amazingly soft like the belly of a kitten.

My carpet will be 114×200 cm, and total production time is estimated at 133 days. I can’t wait for the final day!

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At the same time, other carpets are progressing in the workshop on the looms. Beautiful colors everywhere.  Magic Lao Carpet’s total capacity is around 100 m2 per year.

Stay tuned to see my beautiful carpet completed in just a few more weeks.

 

 

 

 

A CARPET TO DYE FOR

The making of my beautiful Lao carpet – part 3

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Lani: “We use natural dye only from trees and plants. The Burgundy color comes from the roots of the madder plant.”

The yarn for my carpet is completely transformed. The sticky stuff has been washed out, and the stiff and dull looking fibers have now  become soft and shiny.  Now they are ready to be dyed.

The co-owner of Magic Lao Carpets, 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.

Honey Gold

The radiant yellow color, called Honey Gold, is made from the flowers of Dok Chan, the climbing plant which is known all over Asia. The Dok Chan is often used for hair dyeing, drinks and as a food ingredient.

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The Dok Chan flowers deliver the beautiful yellow color called Honey Gold for my carpet.

 

COLOR SHADING

Color shading is always a potential risk, when dying yarn and fabrics.

“We avoid color shading by dyeing the yarn for one carpet at a time. The red and blue colors are the most difficult ones to work with,” Lani says.

Her staff takes great care to ensure that nothing goes wrong in the further process. The water is tested for its PH value, and heated gradually to 100 degrees Celsius.

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Tan is dyeing the silk yarn into Burgundy red for my carpet.

Magic Lao Carpet’s own dyeing expert, Tan, brings out of the first batch of yarn and dips it into the steaming red water and then washes it gently to get the excess dye out. It takes lots of water – 40 liters per kilo of yarn – to complete the process. The next day the yarn is being washed again, this time with natural soap, at 60 degrees Celcius to improve fastness and the treatment of eco-friendly fixer to increase fastness ratings.

Same procedure is followed for the yarn to be dyed into honey-gold.  A total of 12 kilos of yarn for my carpet are ready for spinning.

Stay tuned for the next step on the way to producing my very own silk carpet.

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Tan and her colleagues will say goodbye soon to this magnificent carpet, which they have made for a customer in the UK.