About Linh Vien Thai
Linh Vien Thai is Amerasian, born in Dalat, South Vietnam, where he continued to lived during the war. He left for the U.S. and is now an American living in Tokyo. He enjoys adventure traveling and doing what's right to make the world a better place.
Latest Posts by Linh Vien Thai
Spent the day cleaning and clearing mud, debris, and materials from Mr. Moto’s home. It was hard work and extremely hot inside the waterproof gear we had to wear. The soil we bagged from the silt and sludge was toxic. It’s full of oil, sewage, chemicals, decay, and things that smelled awful. First all the debris had to be carried away. Then underneath anywhere from 4 to 6 inches of mud had to be shoveled into sandbags and carried to the roadside. The team worked nonstop and were amazing. I’ll post more details later. Too tired to write anymore. Below is just and example of one small section. There were lots more here on site.
I think I’m going to sleep well tonight.
It’s been 2 months since the Japanese Tsunami and the time has passed like a blur. Although not as present in the news and world media, the situation remains dire.
The situation with the nuclear reactors confirmed that one of the reactors had a full meltdown on the first day. We’ve been given the news but on information regarding what this means and what dangers this poses. With this there’s still the situation of displaced people and refugees in shelters.
From conversations I’ve had with people who’ve recently returned, there’s a lot of refugees in shelters still not receiving sufficient support. Even now many shelters are not able to provide hot or properly cooked meals. Most meals served have been limited to rice balls, instant soups, and food brought in by volunteers.
Many refugees remain uncertain about their immediate future. It’s important that people here are aware of these things. With this in mind;
I’m departing for Tohoku again Sunday to volunteer in clean up assistance and to work as a photographer. I’ve been asked by a company to go with a team to the area around Ishinomaki in order to document and assess the current situation. Afterwards the report and images gathered will enable them to coordinate aid and address critical needs. Unlike the other trips I’ve made, this time the team will take the Shinkansen to Sendai then rent a 4×4 for the excursion to the disaster area. Instead of a 5 to 7 hour drive, the Shinkansen will get us to Sendai in about 2 hours. We’ll go to the disaster relief command center for the NGO Peace Boat.
At which point we attend several briefings and will be given our clean up duty assignments. We are instructed to be prepared with head lamps, rugged clothing, leather gloves, boots, dust masks, rain gear, and safety goggles. Going inside the structures will have hazards that require proper protection. I look forward to this trip as it’s yet another opportunity to make a difference. Whether it’s cleaning a home, a business, or public building; it all contributes to bringing the community back to life. It’s round 3, I look forward to the next.
Today I left Tokyo at dawn, traveled to Sendai in Tohoku and then took a rented 4×4 to go to the disaster area. Filmed and shot a remote makeshift aid station. The desolate neighborhood had lost over 150 local residents. More abandoned homes than inhabited ones. Someone from the relief group walked the streets with a bullhorn to announce the meal distribution. At which point tired and haggard people came to collect portions of rice, pickled Japanese plums, stew, and boil cabbage.
They brought their own pots and bowls to bring home. The aid station was in a dilapidated community center. A small tarp served as the clean serving area. The smell here is pungent. It is of spoiled seas, dead fish, mildew, decay, and marshy earth. It’s raining today. It’s chilly and damp. Here there is still no electricity and water. The people here are not refugees but they are stranded in their own homes. Food deliveries here come every other day. Many still miss meals and the ones served are very basic in terms of subsidence. I can’t believe it’s been 2 months. Tomorrow we wake up early again and go assist in clean up. We are to wear rain gear, steel soled boots, masks, leather gloves, head lamps, helmets, and goggles. It will hard and dirty work. Conditions filthy, muddy, and hazardous. It is hard to imagine that people live in this situation. Now more than ever help is needed. The over crowded trend of Golden week volunteers have left. There are less here now. Rainy season comes soon…
No matter how stressful and hectic life gets something always comes around to lighten things up. It hits when you least expect it and you’ve just got to laugh out loud and enjoy doing so. Hence this picture. I was sitting in a car staring out the window and being just a bit too serious. Then literally out of the blue comes this thing. This car is a corporate campaign character called “ぴちょんくん” (Pichokun). The vehicle is for the Daikin Air-Conditioner company’s Eco Seed project. These cars distribute sunflower seeds to people all over Japan and their aim is to deliver seed packages to 100,000 people. The premise is that sunflowers consume a large amount of C02, thus making the environment greener. Who ever dreamed up this hare-brained idea had good sense to them as these character cars seem to have a positive energy about them. All along the highway this car was turning heads, having people snap impromptu mobile phone camera shots, and causing a lot of pointing. I’m not sure what the Daikin Company is all about and if their products are indeed greener. I’m not even the least bit interested in plugging or endorsing these guys via my blog. What I can say is that seeing this thing rolling down road was funny. As life here has been somewhat intense lately this was a much welcomed distraction. With that in mind I took it easy today.
If I were a 6’6″ über-rich maniacal leader of a secret society (and I’m not saying I’m not) poised on world disruption and domination; hiding from the CIA, NSA, MI6, FBI, and the IRS. I believe I’d pick a better place to hide than in a massive walled compound 1000 meters from the military academy of a country that’s working with the U.S. on the War on Terror. I would find it a bit too bling and less incognito to have a $1,000,000 mansion located in a country where the average annual income Per-Capita is $1,051. I would do my best to blend in and stay off the radar. Likely live in a cave or the dense foliage of a jungle. In a place like Afghanistan and or Pakistan, I may even cross the line and wear a burkha. In short I would be in a less conspicuous locale laying really low. Hiding and living simply.
That’s of course if I were not being helped by say the Pakistani ISI or Inter Service Intelligence agency. Is it me or do these guys have a lot of explaining to do? How in the world can a man build a massive mansion 40 miles from their capital that’s completely distinctive from the other structures in the neighborhood and no one had questions for him. Is it likely that no one came by to see what it’s all about? I’m sure the concept of zoning permits has not hit Pakistan, but gee wiz; didn’t a few drunken military cadets stumble upon it and try climb in to check it out? “Hey guys this place may have a pool…” As if no one knew… Goodness even a guy named Sohaib Athar with a Twitter Account tweeted about the SEAL TEAM’s helicopter on the night of the raid.
Am I to believe that there was no assistance in hiding Binny. It’s amazing and will be quite interesting seeing what happens next. I read that Pakistan claims that the raid violated their sovereignty. Well as our supposed friends I think aiding and abiding Osama Bin Laden violated our sovereignty. As well as this your country sat and did nothing as we lost soldiers fighting the war on terror. Let’s not forget the other terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11. If Pakistan knew and assisted al-Qaeda then there should be no holds barred when it comes to the war on terror in their back yard. If for some odd reason they did not know; then the are complete incompetents.
|In front of the supply depot with the volunteers of the Peace Boat NGO|
We arrived in Ishinomaki the late afternoon from Tokyo. Our destination was Ishinomaki Senshu University where various relief groups were staging their supplies and coordinating volunteering efforts. Our contact here had sent us a list of things which were needed by the various shelters and groups assisting the earthquake and tsunami survivors. These items included cooking oil, soy sauce, soup stock, noodles, eggs, broth, as well as hardware for clean up work. Sand bags were one of the most requested items on the list. These were used to contain the mud and sludge which were shoveled from homes. We purchased nearly 2,000 of these. As well as sandbags, garden hoses, crow bars, work gloves, masks, goggles. and ropes were requested and given. These supplies were stored in a warehouse and a large white tent with the UN’s WFP (World Food Program) markings on it.
We organized and executed this delivery run on our own as I did not want wait for some coordinator to decide when and if I could be on a list of volunteers to come to Tohoku. Did not think waiting was a productive option. So with many calls and emails, here we are. I’m honored to have been able to get 2 friends together to collect the funds and donations for our run. In order to make sure we made a difference, I made sure we contacted and worked with the right people. In Tokyo, I contacted 2nd Harvest who then put me in touch with the teams at the university. One active group was Peace Boat; who had a lot of youth volunteers.
Driving into the campus I was happy to see a lot of cars and a tent city which made up a crowd of volunteers. The license plates and signs showed that many had traveled from all over Japan. As volunteers it’s nice to know that we are not alone so that the ones who need us are never alone. The first task was to sign up for the following day’s work on a clean up crew. The second task was to drop off the hardware at the warehouse. As we unpacked I never thought I’d see people so excited to see hoses. When we showed them that we brought a few hundred meters of garden hoses a few of the depot workers cheered. Of course the sand bags and other items were also gratefully received.
With the hardware unloaded we drove over to the tent to unload the cooking supplies. Both of the storage facilities were well organized and workers hastily recorded the inventory and marked them for future distribution. Everyone on site looked exhausted but still very motivated. Any donation, effort, contribution, and assurance will definitely contribute greatly to the needy and the rebuilding of the surround area. Once we finished we left for Onagawa. I wanted my friends to see for themselves why were were there. The drive from Ishinomaki to the coastal town of Onagawa took us through a few hills and inlets. The damage had gradients which match the elevation of the places along the way. At some points there could be total devastation, then with a slight incline up a hill the area was untouched. Once back into a valley, it was again filled with wreckage. When the road opened up to a flat plain that stretched to the sea. It became difficult to find anything that was not broken or ripped apart. People’s homes were nothing more than splinters and shells. The roadside and blocks were piles torn pieces ranging for cars, clothing, household items, and structures. It was as if everything was put through a shredder. There was an uncomfortable silence then a mix of bewildered words. Why did this happen became a paradoxical question. Why we had come all this way and if we were doing the right thing became clear. When you witness the remains of this type of disaster you know that entire lives were torn to bits. People are physically and emotionally ripped apart. The depth of where the tectonic plates slipped and shifted can be measured as well as the tsunami; but the pain and human cost of it all is unfathomable.
There are many events like these in the world today. I read that in the US there were many tornadoes have ravaged towns in the mid west. It all gives each of us reminder of how fragile life is. It also brings out the best and worse in us. I tend to seek out the good. At times like these anywhere, I fundamentally it’s important to do something right and give what you are able. It doesn’t matter if it’s here or there; it just matters.
A few weeks later, I returned to this site to explore. I noticed that there was yet one more train which was dragged down the valley. This third car was orange and on its side. In its path it had snapped concrete with reinforced steel rebar telephone poles in half. I imagined the sounds and energy it took to move locomotives and defy gravity. I walked around them and climbed into them. Inside the seats, rails, and hand straps were in disarray. Something ordinary that we feel safe and secure riding in on any given day can be tossed about like a toy. There was a silence inside the cars and you can’t help but recall and wonder about all the passengers that have shared the seats and boarded. Just standing in the midst of all this puts how fragile we are in perspective. When things like a tsunami strikes, it doesn’t matter how much power or physics we’ve been able to resist, use, or harness. We’ll never be able to control nature.
I continued the walk and followed the tracks to see that they led to a tunnel in which a slight glint of light from the other side could be viewed. At dark moments like these, perhaps it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel that matters, but the light within. These are times when I feel people need to find a way to turn all this into something better. I shared this story not to reveal shocking imagery. I did it to raise awareness and shed some light on what’s within this dark place in time. It’s hard to see, but I have faith it will get better.