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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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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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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.


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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.



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
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


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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


goldsmiths, university of london 2019






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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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.