Timor Leste

Sometimes it all seems a bit hopeless.  In one small valley, in one province of one small developing country, children play in the dust without wiping the snot from their noses.

A scene repeated all over the world. The shining goals of education, healthcare and human rights, sparkle a little less brightly when seen from inside of a cinder block, windowless home, buzzed by dengue carrying mosquitoes, where the little cash you might earn from selling an excess crop goes on topping up a 1990’s mobile phone, or buying antiseptic cream to hopefully stop the infected cut becoming an amputation.

But that’s not a reason to stop trying.

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Oro and Rabaul

“Everyone has the right to life. Hurting or killing someone because you think they are a sorcerer or a witch is against the law.”

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Yuasa

The concrete fighter plane has lost the fight as the children now play on the padded climbing frames across the harbour.

The warehouses have become the colour of a soy sauce stain, ironically, as this is where soy sauce was invented.….. and the Chuo factory is closed….although no one seems to know what used to be made there.

I don’t think Cosmo sells diesel anymore.

The train from Osaka stops less often, but the sushi rice still grows nicely beside the tracks.

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Cellar Bar

Some books I’m more proud of than others…. This one is up there with my favourites. It’s a privilege to work with with this family. Guy, Loredana, Carlo and Liz are the hardest working, most generous, most creative, most trusting clients around. Thank you to them and the extended team at Grossi Restaurants. And if you ever need the best book designer in the business….have a chat with Daniel New. It’s published by Penguin/ Lantern and out in October.

Sông Hậu

Crossing the Hậu River, the Mekong Delta.
Red broth-like water flows strongly under the flat-bottomed barge.
Did the river rust the barge or did the rust colour the river?
The water comes from the Tibetan Plateau, 2000 miles away
or Laos
or Thailand
or Cambodia
or Vietnam
or from the thick damp clouds that burst overhead.
Every afternoon. Like an outpouring of grief.
The Buddha will prevent a car crash.
The father will love his daughter for ever.
The clear plastic cape will keep the rain off.
The thing you dread may never happen.
And of course, you will win the lottery.

 

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"An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow" by Les Murray

The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly - yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit - 
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea -
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street. 

Les Murray

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Formosa

In 2016 Vietnam suffered its worst maritime pollution disaster when over 100 tonnes of fish carcasses washed up on the beaches in Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên–Huế provinces.  Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a steel plant built by the Taiwanese corporation Formosa Plastics, discharged toxic industrial waste illegally into the ocean through drainage pipes.  After denying responsibility for months, Formosa accepted responsibility for the fish deaths on June 30, 2016.

The disaster disrupted the livelihood of fishermen in four provinces in the central coast of Vietnam. On 4th May 2016, the Vietnamese government announced a ban of processing and selling seafood caught within 20 nautical miles of the central Vietnam provinces, just one day after the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had claimed that the seafood in the region met safety standards.

According to the local government of Quảng Bình, the fishermen of this province had already lost $5.2 million; in addition, the disaster also heavily impacted the tourism industry as nearly 30% of tourists cancelled their planned tours to the affected provinces for the national holiday season starting on 30th April.

The Vietnamese government has cracked down on peaceful protests and civic action from affected fishermen, including arresting Nguyễn Văn Hoá, a citizen journalist who covered the Formosa protests. He was charged for "conducting propaganda against the state" under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code and sentenced to seven years prison.  Lê Đình Lượng, another environmental activist who campaigned for just compensation for affected fishermen was arrested for "activities attempting to overthrow the state" in July 2017.

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Hòa

About 20 years ago Trần Văn Hòa built this single class room on his own land in a small fishing village, in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, Vietnam. He runs two classes at the same time, with the Grade 1 and 2 pupils facing east and the Grade 3 and 4 pupils facing west. For the last 15 years his small salary has been funded by Hands for Hope, allowing him to continue his vocation, changing the lives of the village children. Many of the pupils who have attended this school over the years have also received scholarships from Hands for Hope. Recently, two of them completed their bachelor degrees, having been sponsored since Grade 2. Small stories that make a huge difference to individual lives.

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Bru Vân Kiều

Three girls from Quang Binh Province, Vietnam. They are Bru Vân Kiều, a small underprivileged ethnic minority.
Their village is very poor. Dirt floor and sharing beds poor.
The chance of them climbing out of this grinding rural poverty is small. 
Their image now, for a few weeks, looks across the green grass and wintery trees of Union Street Park, in the affluent Melbourne suburb of Armadale.
The BMWs will park in front of the mural, the drivers mostly inconsiderate of the accident of their privileged births.
But perhaps one or two will look up and reflect.  Progress!    
www.handsforhope.org.au

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Đầm Chuồn

Thuy and her family live on a small boat on the Đầm Chuồn Lagoon just north of the city of Hue in Vietnam.
Her mother and father fish for food and if they are lucky they might catch a little extra to sell at the market. Thuy is an excellent student but living on the water in cramped conditions, especially during the wet season makes studying hard. Supported in her education by www.handsforhope.org.au the hope is that one day she will return as a teacher to her community to help others escape the hardships of subsistence living.

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People

In ten years time when I look back on three hot weeks in Vietnam I will remember the smells, the sounds, the sweat and the scenery, but I also want to remember the faces of the people who enriched the journey.  Some of these faces won't be around anymore....some of of the school kids will be doctors and teachers, and some of the babies will be earnest students. Life IS just a journey not a destination. www.handsforhope.org.au

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Cham

The Cham people of Vietnam descend from refugees of the Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Gao Ha in the north and Bien Hao in the south. The Cham developed under both Hindu and Muslim influence in their early history. The imprint of these two civilizations, although altered by local tradition and superstition, is still evident in the customs, and religious practices of the Cham. Cham adherents of Hinduism and of Islam call themselves Cham Kaphir and Cham Bani respectively. The Vietnamese have historically considered the Cham culturally inferior, backward, and lazy. The Cham themselves prefer to remain separate from the Vietnamese; they strongly believe that only through isolation can they retain their cultural identity. www.handsforhope.org.au

 

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Hat Economics

In the developed world the conical bamboo leaf hat has become a trite symbol of the rural poor of South East Asia. And yet here in Vietnam these much loved hats are beautifully constructed examples of where form and function intersect.  A group of women working together intensely, can make about one and a half hats a day per person. This earns them about $2 each, which believe it or not is well above the “poverty line”. They are sold to locals not tourists and act as sunshades, umbrellas, fruit baskets and fans.

Thủy (pronounced "Tway")

Thủy lives with her mother in a village in Quảng Trị Province, Central Vietnam. She has never known her father. Their simple two roomed house was built by the government as they are too poor to afford their own.  Her mother hardly ever leaves her bed, probably because she has severe depression. Thuy looks after her gently, cooking, washing and tending to the neighbour’s cows. She made a deal with the neighbour that if she looks after his two cows for free, then she gets to keep the first calves. So she now has two small ones of her own…….   And she wants to become a doctor.   Today, this ambition became a lot more realistic as HandsforHope.org.au has just agreed to fund her education. Hopefully, one day she will understand much better what has made her mother so ill.

 

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Thanh Ha

About an hour's walk inland, along the Thu Bon River from the film set, that is Hoi An, you come across a dawn fish market in the village of Thanh Hà. As usual it’s the women doing all the work....bargaining, carrying, gutting, washing....their voices make a sound track to the sunrise. It doesn’t take much, to step off the well beaten Lonley Planet track, and feel a tiny but real connection.

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Hanoi In June

“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam - that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.” 

Graham Greene, The Quiet American

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Food and Celebrity

Generally I'm not a big fan of the cult of celebrity when it comes to food.  Something inside me says food should be about tradition, locality and sharing, rather than competition, ratings and winning. But some famous chefs put cooking first and talking second, and these ones I admire.

Thanks Guy Grossi, Nobu Matsuhisa, Heston Blumenthal and Dregory Doyen

 

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The Ruben Centre, Mukuru Slum Nairobi.

 It costs about $850,000 a year to run the Ruben Centre in Nairobi's infamous Mukuru slum. This money goes to running a primary school, (2,700 children with 60 teachers, all fed daily), a medical centre, (85,000 treatments a year), a vocational training centre, a special needs unit, a radio station, a sustainable urban market garden and so much more. On Wednesday 16th May one of Ruben's greatest supporters, The 500 Supporters' Group, will hold its annual lunch at the MCG. Its great to be asked to donate a print of an image I made in the maternity clinic last year. Hopefully Melbourne's business community will be tempted to bid big and often!

It costs about $850,000 a year to run the Ruben Centre in Nairobi's infamous Mukuru slum. This money goes to running a primary school, (2,700 children with 60 teachers, all fed daily), a medical centre, (85,000 treatments a year), a vocational training centre, a special needs unit, a radio station, a sustainable urban market garden and so much more. On Wednesday 16th May one of Ruben's greatest supporters, The 500 Supporters' Group, will hold its annual lunch at the MCG. Its great to be asked to donate a print of an image I made in the maternity clinic last year. Hopefully Melbourne's business community will be tempted to bid big and often!

The South Coast Track

It's 85 kilometres from Melaleuca Inlet deep in the South West Corner of Tasmania, to Cockle Creek on the East Coast, two hours south of Hobart. Between the two, is a track famous for its mud, its beauty and the rugged barrier of the Iron Bound Range, which rises almost a kilometre above sea level to bar the way of the ill prepared walker. Sal and I set out in early April to make the nine day trip.... We saw one other human being during the journey. The weather went from OK to terrible, the mud was thick and cold, the hail  stung our faces as each squall spun off the southern ocean and yet the magnificence of this liminal world will effect the way I live my live for years to come. If you're interested in the extended story, including a dramatic surprise ending, visit Sal's blog at http://www.nakedemperor.com.au

In the meantime here are a few images that might to give you sense of the isolation