Today, I hand over my blog to a Burmese columnist with something at heart in these tumultuous times for his country, formerly known as Burma.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during his recent visit to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Britain is Still Being Beastly to its Former Colony Myanmar
By KYAW PHYO THA, The Irrawaddy
There is usually no harm in reciting lines or verses from your favorite poems. But it can matter what you read, where you read it, and who you are. If you are not careful, you could make a gaffe or insult those around you. Take the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, for example.
When the Foreign Secretary visited Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda earlier this year during an official trip to Myanmar, the 53-year old Conservative Party member tolled a huge bell and recited lines from the poem Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling: “The temple-bells they say/ Come you back, you English soldier.” (In fact, “Bojo” made a mistake, it’s British, not English in the poem.)
His impromptu recital was recorded and featured in a documentary on Britain’s Channel 4. In the video, Boris Johnson was interrupted by British ambassador to Myanmar who said “probably not a good idea” and “not appropriate” in a stern voice after reminding the Foreign Secretary he was on microphone.
Yes, it is inappropriate and insensitive for Boris Johnson to recite those lines in a country that was colonized by the British from 1824 to 1948.
To make matters worse, the person uttering “come you back, you English soldier” was not just an ordinary citizen but the Foreign Secretary from the country that annexed Myanmar through three bloody wars and oppressed local resistance.
Were it not for UK Ambassador Andrew Patrick’s interruption, the Foreign Secretary may have continued with the lines “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud / Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd / Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!”
Referring to the Buddha as the “Great Gawd Budd” at one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country would have been an act of sacrilege.
Who knows why the Foreign Secretary uttered lines from the colonial poem. Probably, he is a great fan of Rudyard Kipling or felt nostalgic for the age of British imperialism. Whatever the case, a British Foreign Secretary’s recitation of the colonial poem in the country where they once colonized is an insult to the country and hurts the feeling of its people.
Adding to Myanmar people’s dismay, the release of the video footage coincides with a time when Britain, along with many other countries, has been actively criticizing the Southeast Asian country and its popular leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the country’s treatment of the self-identifying Rohingya issue, which is in face the result of a bad colonial legacy left by the British to Myanmar people.
If the British hadn’t encouraged Bengali inhabitants from Bengal Province of India (now Bangladesh) to migrate into the then sparsely populated and fertile valleys of Rakhine in the 1800s, Myanmar today would be in a very different position in the controversial issue.
While the British government has been repeatedly criticizing the Lady for her silence on the issue as well as for not doing enough to defend the minority self-identifying Rohingya, St Hugh’s college of Oxford University, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics between 1964 and 1967, removed the painting of the Nobel laureate from its main entrance as the college received the gift of a new painting. It’s questionable why the portrait was taken down amid criticism on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s on the issue.
On Tuesday, Oxford City Council withdrew an honor granting Aung San Suu Kyi the Freedom of Oxford as it was “no longer appropriate” for her to hold it given to her response to the self-identifying Rohingya issue.
Of course it would be annoying for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to see those kind of responses from the UK, which was in some ways her second home, spending nearly two decades studying and raising a family there with her late British husband.
For the majority of the Myanmar people, the actions of Oxford City Council and Oxford University were deliberate insults to the woman whom they have elected as their leader.
It’s interesting to ask why Britain’s government and civil organizations are united in humiliating Myanmar and its leader unlike many other western countries like the US, which is taking a much more supportive role by offering assistance to implement the recommendations made by the Rakhine State Advisory Commission to help the country tackle an issue spawned by British colonial rule.
Is Britain under the mistaken impression that it has the right to bully the country because it once colonized it?
Rather than pointing fingers at Myanmar, the British should be mindful that when it comes to the self-identifying Rohingya issue, their forebears were responsible for the encouragement of mass migration from India to Myanmar for cheap farm labor. It should be noted that they did it for the interests of British Empire, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 when rice demand was high in Europe.
Myanmar had no chance to solve the problem of migration encouraged by Britain under authoritarian rule from 1962 to 2010. The former quasi-civilian government made little success in tackling the issue despite their efforts after 2012.
Undaunted, the country’s first democratically elected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is now trying to fix it amid other problems the country is facing such as bringing peace with ethnic armed groups. Please be aware that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is just 18 months old.
It is very unfair to today’s Myanmar, struggling to cope with the problems the British left behind while being criticized by those responsible who ignored their wrongdoings they did in the country more than a century ago.



The cast of characters could have been straight out of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now:

  • The highly skilled ’old Asia hand’ and intelligence operative who hatches a great plan to win a war against the forces of evil – ending up loosing the war and his self respect in the process.
  • The local guerilla hero who turns into a ruthless despot, sacrificing thousands and thousands of his own people in the process.
  • The intoxicated ex-marine who decorates himself with cut-off enemy ears and put their heads on spikes to impress his local followers.
  • The megalomanic US ambassador who sidetracks the generals and insists on personally managing a secret war, then lies to Congress and gets away it.
  • The President who expands this illegal war into History’s most violent rain of death over one of the world’s smallest and most backward countries.
  • The hundreds of thousands innocent people who get killed or wounded in the process.

Tragically, these are all real life characters from the all too real world, as portrayed in US journalist cum historian Joshua Kurlantzick’s latest dig-in piece A great place to have a war – America in Laos and the birth of a military CIA.

This is not the first time Kurlantzick digs into the darker CIA secrets.

In The ideal Man – the tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American way of war, Kurlantzick put forward a solid attempt to uncloud the decades long mystery of former intelligence agent and precious silk manufacturer Thompson’s legendary life and sudden disapperance during a morning jungle hike.

In the book about Thompson, Kurlantzick disclosed fascinating details about the unfortunate symbiosis of arrogance and ignorance in CIA corporate management, when it came to the complex realities of SE Asia.

However, Kurtlantzick ended up with more questions than answers for obvious reasons, given the thick clouds of secrecy regarding the Thompson’s repeated showdowns with his former masters and his later mysterious disappearance.

Bombed every nine minutes

In Kurlantzicks new book on CIA’s decade long secret war in Laos, he does not leave a stone unturned in this compelling and scary documentation on, how the war in Laos turned the relatively marginal and small-budget Office Of Strategic Services (OSS) into the CIA, in turn to become the world’s biggest killing machine, commanding a hundred thousand paramilitary experts and guerillas in Laos – and Air America the biggest air fleet in the world as well.


More than 80 million unexploded bombs are left in Laos. Visitors are advised to stay on the cleared paths on the vast Plain of Jars.

The numbers are staggering: Laos was bombed by CIA operated airstrikes every nine minutes for a decade, until it all ended with the US withdrawal from the SE Asia battlefields. 850.000 bombing missions were carried out over Lao territory. 20 tons per capita.

Ever since then, tiny Laos holds one undisputed world record – as the most bombed country per capita in the global history of warfare.

There were three reasons for this monstrous act:

  • Repeated futile attempts to disrupt North Vietnamese transport through Lao territory of soldiers and arms to the war zones in Southern Vietnam.
  • Bombing the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao communist forces, who were engaged in toppling the Royalist Lao government and at the same time fighting the CIA funded Hmong guerilla army.
  • Unloading US bombers on their return to bases in Thailand, if they had been unable to deliver their payload on designated targets in Vietnam.


Here is Lath, who guided me around in COPE, a small rehabilitation for UXO-victims in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Five years earlier Lath had picked up one those small anti-personel bombs, exhibited here. The explosion tore off his hands and blinded him for life.

In the process, so-called ‘collateral damage’ – killing of civillians – skyrocketed to enormous proportions.  Several US relief workers in Laos tried to alert congress as well as US media to the rapidly growing, undeclared war in Laos.  Stories did appear now and then in the media, but it never caught real public attention.

It played out the same way in Congress.  The secret bombing campaigns were managed by the CIA with the involvement of several US ambassadors.  One of the esteemed diplomats, ambassador William Sullivan, went as far as to actually taking over the management of the war effort, sidelining the CIA chief in Laos.

According to Kurlantzick, Sullivan’s personal involvement did not prevent him from denying the US involvement in the Lao war under oath at congressional hearings.  He got away with it. Upon the completion of his tenure in Laos, Sullivan went on to become one of  Secretary of State, Henry Kissingers trusted advisors on the war efforts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.


COPE rehabilitation center in Vientiane.

The devastating consequences of the Lao bombings  have lingered on for decades. Still today, Laotians are being killed and maimed by UXO’s – unexploded bombs. An estimated 80 million of the small anti-personnel bombs are believed to be scattered all over the country. They are still taking their toll, mostly on unsuspecting children, who picks them up as toys.

President Obama pledged USD 100 mio. in support to UXO-clearance during his visit to Laos in 2016 – the first ever of a US president.  Certainly a nice gesture, but a very small drop in the ocean.

The bigger, ugly picture

Even though the human suffering in Laos  is a story, which deserves to be told again and again, the bigger perspective in Kurlantzicks book is an even more disturbing part:

The war in Laos dramatically changed the CIA from a mere intelligence agency with a very limited budget to a virtual killing machine with enormous resources – a machine that has been launched with sketchy justifications again and again ever since – with only few requirements of public or political accountability – in virtually every corner of the world.

The strike against Allende’s Chile, The Iran-Contra scandal, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan – you can add to the list yourself.  Over and over again the same denials or sketchy justifications of the undeniable.  The occasional public scandals have not put much limitation to the defacto autonomy of the CIA.

These days, any collateral damage can probably be explained away by a reference to the global war against islamic extremism.  The members of the different oversight committees in Congress and the Senate have always been sensitive to being exposed as naive or – even worse – being “sympathetic with the enemy”.

With CIA’s track record in Laos and beyond, it is very disturbing indeed – not least with the mindset of those elitist individuals who may exert some direction on this organization, whose operations are mostly  beyond parliamentary control or public insight – like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was very much in charge along with President Nixon during the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.


Kissinger and Nixon both denied consistently that the US waged a secret war in Laos.

“The Laos thing”

Kissinger probably never lost a minute’s sleep over the human suffering he unleashed, while working for bigger goals. When he was confronted with the huge civilian casualties on the Plain of Jars, where thousands of families with a 700 year history were wiped out: “You mean, the Laos thing,” Kissinger responded and  dismissed the tragedy as a minor issue.

Kissinger did have a case, if you look at proportions. ‘Only’ some 800 CIA operatives and contractors were killed in Laos, and Lao casualties were probably only close to a million. In neighboring Vietnam more than 58.000 Americans laid down their lives along with an estimated 4 million Vietnamese casualties.

Even though the US intervention in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was a failure with huge consequences for millions of people, including US citizens, it may be argued that it all happened out of the best and loftiest intentions – to save the world from Communism.

It also a fact that it never became a personal failure for the individuals who managed the ‘Laos Thing’.  Kurlantzick documents how the Laos war was internally evaluated as a CIA success story.

Internal CIA assessments argued that the war in Vietnam would have been lost years earlier, if the CIA had not managed to tie down an estimated 70.000 North Vietnamese elite troops in a ground war in Laos with the ferocious Hmong guerillas, funded by the CIA and led by Van Pao, the legendary war lord, who later was evacuated to USA along with his surviving guerillas and their families.  According to the CIA rationale the incessant bombings were essential support to the war on the ground.

As a consequence of this ‘succes story’ Laos became a career platform for several CIA senior operatives, who then went on to prominent corporate positions at Langley or as station chiefs around the globe, where they continued a vast number of activities, often of a paramilitary nature.

Kurlantzick names the bastards in great detail.

He deserves great praise for bringing the implications of ‘the Great War in Laos’ to the public’s attention.

Joshua Kurlantzick: A great place to have a war – America in Laos and the birth of a military CIA. 323 pg. Simon&Schuster.



I anledning af udgivelsen af Jens Nauntoftes efterladte erindringer “Minefelter”.


Gamle Jens stiller op sammen med Unge Jens. Billedet af Unge Jens fra 1975 er taget på Hotel Continentals altan øverst til venstre. Jens boede dengang i værelse 214, der hvor Graham Greenes menes at have skrevet sin ætsende Vietnam-roman The Quiet American.  I 2013 satte  vi hinanden stævne her på Lam Son pladsen foran Operaen og tilbragte som så ofte før en meget lang aften i Saigon.

“Det var Jens, der skulle have stået her i dag. Men han er her jo også. Hans bog ligger derovre, og jeg vil gerne forære den til jer. I aner ikke, hvor meget han arbejdede med den. Den sværeste opgave, han nogensinde havde givet sig selv. Det er blevet sådan en smuk bog.”

Så peger Maria mod det lille bord foran sofaen. “Minefelter” er lagt parat i små stabler til de gæster, der er inviteret hjem for at fejre udgivelsen af Jens Nauntoftes erindringer. Og fejre er netop ordet til trods for, at vi nok alle står med en klump i halsen.

Mon ikke Jens er glad for resultatet af den årelange skrive-proces. Omend det kun er nogle måneder siden, at han i en mail udtrykte bekymring over den redaktionelle ‘sensations-lyst’ på forlaget. Han mente selv, at titlen skulle være ‘Efter Deadline’ – slet og ret.


“Minefelter” er forlagets påhit. Jens’ egen oprindelige og foretrukne titel var “Efter Deadline”.

Hjemme i hulen
Vi står der så en tirsdag eftermiddag med Maria og mangler intenst Jens, måske fordi han jo på en måde stadig er der meget,  i den cirkelrunde lejlighed på 14. etage i den gamle ombyggede Carlsberg silo på Frederiksberg.

Her er køkkenet, hvor Maria har lavet de mest fantastiske retter til deres gæster.

Ved siden af er stuen, der er tæt pakket med relikvier fra Jens’ utallige rejser og Marias lange, lange karriere på teatrene. Her er den lille bænk, hvor Maria for to somre siden lod sig fotografere med sit nye album ’Fly me to the moon’ – en samling evergreens par excellence, sunget med Marias underspillede råstyrke – den styrke som måske bærer hende gennem denne eftermiddag.

Ved siden af stuen er “hulen”, hvor Jens’ bibliotek dækker væggene fra gulv til loft. Blandt Jens’ enorme samling af  kildemateriale, står vennernes, ja forbilledernes bøger: Leif Davidsen, Jan Stage og Alex Frank Larsen. Selvfølgelig er der også den lille snes bøger, som Jens selv fik skrevet, på de tæt pakkede hylder.

De fleste handler om Mellemøsten. Der er også hans elegante dokumentariske håndkantslag “Reagans sidste tango” fra sen-firserne.  Dengang deltes vi om samme kærligt-brutale forlagsredaktør, Vindroses Erik Vagn Jensen, rebellen der brød med Gyldendal.  Erik fremhævede jævnligt “Nauntoftes professionalisme” og gav mig et eksemplar af Reagan-bogen til efterlevelse.

Jens’ fænomenale dagbogs-debut “Gul Stjerne over Vietnam” mangler vist nok i hans hjemme-bibliotek.

Han tog efter eget udsagn sit sidste eksemplar med til Vietnam, fordi han mente, at den hørte bedre hjemme hos os i Hanoi. Vi passer godt på den.

Det er her i hulen i den gamle kornsilo, at Jens arbejdede en stor del af tiden med sine bøger efter pensioneringen fra DR – en tilbagetrækning der i virkeligheden blev en tilbagevenden til Jens’ udgangspunkt som den hyperenergiske freelancejournalist, forfatter – og nu også som rejseleder i Asien og Mellemøsten for landsmænd, der vil opleve og forstå verden omkring os.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 20.25.22.png

Niels Vest, en gammel ven havde en stor oplevelse med Vietnam og Maria som rejseledere i Vietnam.

Det kreative makkerpar

I de seneste år var Vietnam flere gange målet for disse rejser med Jens og Maria som det kreative makkerpar. Jens selvfølgelig med de velkendte causerier med både anekdoter og kompetente analyser fra tidlig morgen til sen aften. Og så midt i det hele: Marias daglige tusmørketime med de fineste digte fra Vietnams egen kulturskat.

Det er smukke minder at tænke på, når man stå der er i hulen og suger den fabelagtige udsigt over Københavns tage til sig. Udsigten, som Jens elskede.

”Her kan man holde styr på, om København nu også ligger der, hvor den skal,” som han sagde.

Her i biblioteket er også det rigtige sted at give Maria et minde mere at holde styr på. Et guldindrammet foto af gråskæggede Jens med et foto af unge reporter Jens.

Jeg fangede Jens og Jens en aften i 2013 på Lam Son pladsen foran den gamle opera i Saigon: Gamle Jens holder billedet af unge Jens, der står på sin altan i April 1975 – udenfor Værelse 214 på Continental Hotel.

Her boede Jens i Vietnam-krigens sidste uger – på det værelse hvor selveste Graham Greene siges at have skrevet The Quiet American om det franske koloni-regimes endeligt og USA’s forkludrede start i Vietnam. Jens havde en hel stak fotos fra 1975 for at understøtte sin hukommelse. Han var allerede da i fuld gang med sine memoirer. Planen var at skrive der, hvor han havde oplevet tingene.  Han lod sig overtale til at posere for et hurtigt Iphone shot. 

Maria griber billedet af Gamle Jens med Unge Jens og kysser Jens endnu engang, der i den cirkelrunde hule.

”Jeg elsker dig,” siger hun med en stille ømhed, som man håber Jens kan høre, hvor han nu måtte være.

Lort på vagternes skosnuder

Tre dage senere har jeg lige lagt “Minefelter” fra mig i luftrummet over den arabiske halvø.

Efter fem timers rejse er der ikke flere ord fra Jens tilbage. Sært tilfælde, at de 335 sider slap op i luftrummet over den heksekedel, som drog Jens til sig igen og igen – som en af sin generations bedste journalister.

Var det ikke fordi en moderne Airbus flyver så højt oppe, ville jeg have kunnet kigge ned på Yemen, mens jeg læste bogens næst sidste kapitel, hvor Jens i en alder af 71 år sidder på gulvet med en voldsom diarré i en celle hos landets berygtede efterretningstjeneste.

Jens er mistænkt for at være spion for israelerne, og forhørsmetoderne er ikke af de venligste. Da Jens ikke kan holde sig længere, nægter vagterne at lade ham i fred med sin nødtørft. De bliver bare stående og nidstirrer ham, mens han sætter sig på hug med bukserne om hælene. Det er en noget ufrivillig hævn for ydmygelserne i fængslet, at Jens lader sin afføring sprøjte ud over vagternes skosnuder.

I bogen skælder Jens sig selv ud for at være en amatør, fordi han er blevet knaldet for at rejse ind i Yemen på turistvisum – i stedet for at spille med åbne kort og fortælle myndighederne på forhånd om sit filmprojekt om den danske opdagelsesrejsende Carsten Niebuhr.


Jens: “Så rød var jeg nu ikke, ikke engang så rød som dem her!”

De røde lejesvende
Der er også et andet sted i sine erindringer, hvor Jens tager sig selv ved vingebenet. For et par år siden blev han hængt ud i en DR-udsendelse for at være en af fortidens Røde Lejesvende.

”Jeg var faktisk mere velorienteret end venstreorienteret, og i hvert fald ikke så rød som dem her,” sagde Jens med et grin, mens vi en sommerdag kæmpede os igennem et ordentligt læs fjordrejer nede i Petersens Familiehave, Jens’ favoritsted på Pile Allé. Med øl og snaps til.

Jens tog balladen om lejesvendene nært, meget nært. Han følte sin egen og de andre ’lejesvendes’ ære krænket. Han ærgrede sig i måneder over, at han ikke havde forberedt sig ordentligt til konfrontationen med en ung, ambitiøs kollega fra sin gamle arbejdsplads.

”I Jagten på De Røde Lejesvende smagte jeg min egen medicin og mærkede afmagten over journalistikkens beskidte kneb. Det var præcis sådan, det måtte have været at medvirke i nogle af mine egne interviews. Jeg begyndte at huske hvordan nogle af mine egne gæster havde kigget hjælpeløst på mig, når kameraet var slukket,” skriver Jens.

I bogens allersidste kapitel løfter Jens endelig sløret for slutningen på en historie, som han gennem alle årene har holdt for sig selv med sit legendariske drilske smil: Hvad der videre skete mellem ham og Nhu, den djævelsk smukke vietnamesiske fixer, som hjalp ham rundt i det afsindige og livsfarlige kaos i Vietnam-krigens sidste dage. Jens kaldte hende sin Mata Hari for sjov, og det viser sig i hans erindringer at være alvor.

Det er faktisk helt i tråd med “Minefelter” at kommentere bagvendt på Jens’ sidste hilsen til os alle. Han er sluppet ret godt fra at have valgt en kalejdoskopisk fortælling med pludselige spring i tid, rum og geografi.

Det kan nok være vi kommer verden rundt: Fra den barske barndom i Viborg til de mange øjebliks-beretninger fra hans møder med Mellemøstens brogede magthavere, USA’s Sorte Pantere, håndtryk med Ulrike Meinhof, syretrip i Thy-Lejren og meget andet.

Erindringerne fra Vietnam-krigen fylder så meget, som det nu skal, når denne blodige konflikt mere end noget andet gjorde Jens til den første klasses reporter, han blev. Vi får også historien om Hugo, Jens’ beundrede storebror der kæmpede i den franske Fremmedlegion i Vietnam i 1950’erne.

Hugo havde det noget svært med Jens’ dagbogsblade fra krigens sidste dage. Lillebror var altfor Hanoi-venlig, mente Hugo. Jens på sin side ærgrede sig meget over, at han og Hugo aldrig fik lavet den Vietnam-tur sammen til de steder, hvor broderen havde kæmpet mod Viet Minh.

Kvinderne – og Maria
De som kendte Jens, ville nok blive skuffede, hvis bogen ikke også havde kastet lidt lys ind på flere af de mange skønne kvinder i Jens’ liv.

Deres fortrin til trods kan ingen af dem hamle op med Maria, der har sit helt eget smukke, smukke kapitel i ’Minefelter’.

En vinteraften i 2015 leverer Maria en kraftpræstation på scenen som billedhuggeren Anne Marie Carl Nielsen, som fædrelandets kulturhistorikere har ladet stå alt for meget i skyggen af hendes mand, komponisten Carl Nielsen.

Jens havde gemt sig blandt tilskuerne.

”Jeg så på den kvinde, jeg havde elsket et halvt liv, denne aften, hvor du stod på højden af din karriere. Jeg elskede dig i dette øjeblik så højt, ja måske højere end nogensinde. Vi fulgtes hånd i hånd med en kurv med dit manuskript hen mod scenens bagdør for at favne den snehvide verden. ”

Hånd i hånd. Det er lige præcis det, de to har gjort siden 1982, da de blev gift under en jordomrejse med vennen Erik Wedersøe.

Den allersidste side i “Minefelter” har Jens overladt til Tom Kristensen-digtet ’Græs’, der også blev læst ved bisættelsen for få uger siden.

Et punktum, som Tom Kristensen nok ville være godt tilfreds med at bidrage til.

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Et dejligt minde med Jens hjemme hos os i Hanoi i 2013. Sammen med ham havde vi besøg af 25 andre danskere, der fik et fantastisk foredrag, og i tilgift to af Jens’ fremragende dokumentarfilm fra Vietnam


 Against all odds, Lê Minh Châu has become an artist in his own right. 


“I do not like to be looked at as a victim of Agent Orange. I cannot deny that the chemicals made me what I am, but I am Châu, the artist. I am not Châu, the victim. I do not want people to feel sorry for me. I do not want gifts, I do not want support – give it to people who need it.  You can buy my paintings, if you like them. Do not buy them, if you just feel sorry for me! I can take care of myself.”

Lê Minh Châu (25) softens his clear message with a disarming grin, once again stressing his point by tapping on his cigarette pack with his tiny, disfigured fingers right on that black and bold lettered warning SMOKING KILLS.

Yes, smoking kills – and so does Agent Orange, the dioxin contaminated chemical, which the US forces used to defoliate the dense Vietnamese jungle during the war. During 9 years, from 1962 to 1971, 72 million liters were sprayed over Southern and Central Vietnam. You can check this link  A letter to Obama for an exhaustive essay about the consequences then and now for Vietnamese and American victims of Agent Orange exposure.

In the past 30 years I have met scores of Agent Orange affected families all over Vietnam and recorded more pain, more misery, and more fear than you can imagine.

Never before have I encountered someone like Lê Minh Châu.

We meet up at Café Yumi, a trendy one of its kind in modern Ho Chi Minh, District 2.  Chau is sort of a typical Saigon youngster, sitting there sipping Caphé Sua Da (ice coffee). His laptop is open and idle.  During the conversation, Chau mostly sticks to the smartphone next to him, sms’ing now and then, while we talk.


Châu’s beautiful smile frequently turns into a mischievous grin, serving as a magnet for your attention. Somehow you forget his disfigured limbs – that is until he starts moving around, and quite adeptly so.

Châu wants me to take a photo of his new tattoo: Yesterday, he had his own signature done on his belly.  Châu jumps up on the café bench, and I lie down on the floor to get a good angle. Châu’s hands won’t really help him pull up the t-shirt, so be bends forward getting hold of the fabric with his teeth – throwing in that lovable grin in the process.  It looks like the tattooed skin must be quite sore with that reddish shadow around the thick black lettering.

I want to talk with Châu about his other tattoos, in particular the one on the right side of his throat. Courtney Marsh, it says, in thick black italics. A bit hard to read.

“I had it made that way so that most people cannot really see exactly, what it says. I want them to ask, so I can tell the story again about Courtney – the woman who will always be in my heart. Courtney knows why I put it there. She helped me change my life, and I changed hers, too.”


“Courtney will always be in my heart.”

Courtney Marsh is the American film maker, who made Châu world famous with her documentary Chau – beyond the lines.   My good friend, the Agent Orange campaigner for decades, dr. Charles Bailey calls it the best documentary ever made about About Orange. As Charley says: “I know, because I have seen them all.”

‘Beyond the Lines’ has received a staggering amount of awards, among them an Oscar nomination, and screenings around the world, including the UN. The current US ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius worked the diplomatic ropes to promote the fim.

For Agent Orange veteran campaigners, this is quite a development, considering that it used to be an important objective for US diplomacy to suppress any support to highlight the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. That all changed during Obama’s presidency.  In May 2016, he rock’n rolled like a superstar through Vietnam – addressing the painful Agent Orange issue officially in a speech to the Vietnamese people. That was a first ever for a US President.

No politics, please “I love Courtney’s film because it is not about politics. It is about me, my life, my art, my dreams, my hope.  I have given many speeches, after the film made people know about me. I speak about harmony, peace and hope. Not politics!”

Châu pays tribute to the film with another tattoo, located on his neck.

“I want to talk a little more about Courtney. How she moved into my heart. How we are  linked.  Her name and my name start with a ‘C’. That’s good.”

“I met Courtney a long time ago, when she came with a group of American film students to the Peace Village – the care center where I stayed along with other disabled children. The Americans – I think there were 10 of them – wanted to make a film about us, but they could not agree on the project.

I learned from Courtney that the project would be cancelled.  I pleaded with her not to give up, and she agreed to try and make the film. It took us eight years to finish, but it was worth all our efforts. I love the film, and I love Courtney and the producer Jerry Franck for what they did. It changed so much for us.”

With Châu’s celebrity status new experiences has entered into his life. He was invited to the UN in New York to the screening of the documentary. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art Châu beamed at his first sight of an original Picasso. Courtney Marsh recorded some fascinating footage of Châu in his wheel chair, totally absorbed in the works of the old Spanish master.


The coffee-break has come to and end. Châu is busy today and invites us along to his live-in studio behind the café.

“Having my own place is very important. I left the care center, because I do not want other people to take care of me. I can do most things myself – and I want it to be like that.”

The studio is evidence of Châu’s amazing creative energy.  Paintings are in the process everywhere. Portraits, landscapes, star studded night skies, butterflies and cats, abstracts.  Completed works are stacked up against the walls.

Sushi is my favorite Châu is kind of hungry. “I skipped lunch,  but these chips will do for now.”

Watching Châu open a bag of chips gives an immediate insight into his daily challenges. He clamps the slippery bag down with his one disfigured arm, clutching a small razor sharp knife with the tiny hand on his other arm,  trying to puncture the bag. He keeps loosing the knife on the floor. Looking at Châu makes it increasingly hard for me to resist the urge to do it for him,  but I know by now that such a small gesture would be very unwelcome.

Finally, Châu gets a chip out of the bag, the mischievous grin flashes again, as he swallows the first one.  Then he crunches on.

He obviously reads my thoughts that he really should have a more healthy lunch and says: “Actually, I like sushi better than chips.” The grin is there again.


Châu gets ready to work. An almost complete painting is on the easel. It is from his visit to Sapa in Northern Vietnam. A small ethnic minority girl is seen from the back staring at the night sky.

“I love the clear night sky in Sapa. I want to paint it again and again.”

Châu picks up a brush and dips it into black color finalizing the grass below the feet of the little girl. The brush is moving quickly and firmly on the canvas.  Châu’s strong jaws work just as well as any artist hand.

“I have painted since I was nine years old. In the beginning I tried with my hands, and it was very difficult for me. I saw other disabled children in the Peace Village using their feet, making beautiful calligraphy, but my feet were to weak for that. So I got the idea to use my mouth.”


“Who is this?” I ask, pointing to a portrait of  a pretty young girl standing on another easel on the floor. Châu agrees to move over to her so I can get a shot of him and the girl.

“This is really nothing special. I did this by customer order. I am not so interested in making portraits. I do a lot of other things of my own choosing.”

Châu’s art school Châu is also running his own little art school these days.

“At the moment I have six students, ranging from 12 to 30 years of age. One of them will be here very soon for her lesson.”

In comes 22 year old Nguyen Thi Phuoc Thao – pretty and shy as most young Vietnamese women.  She sits down in front of the easel and gets out her smart phone with a photo of a complete version of the painting that she is working to copy with her own brush.


Thao picks out her half finished painting from the stack next to her and puts it on the easel. It is the face of a cat – in a multitude of colors.  Châu sits quietly behind her for a while, observing her strokes carefully. He is not entirely happy with Thao’s work and moves closer to explain how to use the brush properly. Still not satisfied he then takes the brush from her, puts in in his mouth and demonstrates to Thao how to apply the paint evenly.


Thao has made her way to Ho Chi Minh City from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, some 1.600 km to the north.  She learned about Châu during the Vietnamese media frenzy, when ‘Beyond the Lines’ were nominated for an Oscar.

“I connected wth him on Facebook, and he accepted me as a student. I am very happy with my lessons. Châu is a very good teacher,” Thao says.


Body painting coming up Châu’s own painting, six art students, and frequent guest speaking assignments and interviews – a full agenda for most people. Not for Châu.

“I have been studying Japanese for three years. I can converse in Japanese now.” The grin is back again.

“Art is my main thing, though. This is what I want to do with my life. I am starting a new art form for me now.”

Châu is sizing up Hien, my strikingly beautiful translator.

“I will begin body painting next week. Hien, you can become a very good model.”

As Hien’s blushing evaporates,  I enjoy one more time Châu’s mischievous grin.


Lê Minh Châu paintings are one the market. You can order specific works, if you like.

Contact info: chauleminhdesign1008@gmail.com

For more on Lê Minh Châu and ‘Beyond the Lines’, here is a link to the compelling interview with director Courtney Marsh and dr. Charles Bailey.

The essay above mostly refer to Châu by his first name. In Vietnamese the family name comes first.


Grinning with Châu.
























Oliver Stilling har lavet et vidunderligt interview med vores Lea.

Her er et link:


Interviewet fik mig så også lokket ind i on-line magasinet Føljeton for første gang. Det er noget af det mest vedkommende og velskrevne, jeg længe har mødt på nettet. Kan varmt anbefales til alle, der går op i det med samfundet, eller hvad det hedder nu om dage hjemme i Fædrelandet. Og ja, med Deadline-kommentator m.m. Lars Trier Mogensen ved roret, hører de vel hjemme et pænt stykke ude på Venstrefløjen. Men så kan man jo bare læse The Economist bagefter som en modgift. Samme irriterende Mogensen har iøvrigt et fortræffelig Brexit-indslag i Føljeton’s weekend-udgave.

Jeg måtte love Føljeton ikke at copy-paste hele interviewet med Lea, for de vil forståeligt nok gerne have nogle flere betalende surfere. Men jeg tror lige, at jeg stjæler et af de dejlige pix, som Oliver tog af Lea, mens de gik rundt på Assistens kirkegården.


Lea taler om det hele med Oliver Stilling. Det er også hans pix.

Assistens Kirkegård er et fantastisk sted at gå og fundere over livet. I sommer gjorde jeg det igen-igen med Lea og hendes tre søskende. Efter lange gode og sjove samtaler på kryds og tværs, endte det sådan her:


De fantastiske fire – Nederst Anna Cecilie (13) og Andreas (24). Øverst Lea (28) og Joachim (34)

Jeg kunne fortælle meget mere om disse fire og Assistens kirkegården, men det må blive en anden gang. Lige nu må jeg videre med at godkende en stor stak fakturaer, mens monsum-regnen trommer løs og skyller det støvede Vientiane rent for en altfor kort stund.



Lea læser op ved udgivelsen af ‘Nervernes Adresse’ hendes debut i 2014. Nu kommer ‘marts er bedst’.

Kl 6 i  morges vågnede jeg op til nogle screen shots i læsbar so-so opløsning. Vores Lea er klar med sin nye digtsamling ‘marts er bedst’, der udkommer på det meget lille forlag Ov Bi Dat i 200 håndsyede eksemplarer. Syet af Lea selv med venners hjælp.


Lea har givet mig lov til at vælge ét digt til deling her, forud for udgivelsen. Jeg tog det, der gjorde mest ondt og mest godt at læse. I kan glæde jer meget til også at læse de andre.