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
It’s hard to imagine a ship so far inland. I was walking through this valley in northern Japan shooting photos and from a distance I noticed this ship sitting atop a great deal of debris. I could not help but want to explore. I came up to it and climbed on board investigating it. It was tilted and pointed it’s bow towards the valley. There were many punctured holes in the hull, but all seemed fixable. Surprisingly the cabin and bridge looked fine. Although taken in by the tsunami it was remarkably in relatively good shape. As it was carried in, it must have collided with buildings, houses, vehicles, and other structures. It’s likely reason for survival was that it offered no resistance to the forces around it and was moved about fluidly. It’s one of the sights I’ll remember for a lifetime.
Yesterday’s typing for the Blog came off the insensitive smooth flatness of my iPad.Words are difficult to conjure when your finger tips are slippery and the analog sensation of keys is gone. Tonight, I’m back to the familiar notches and grooves of my keyboard.
I’m still taken by last night’s walk through the narrow streets Ishinomaki’s main shopping and entertainment district. Low storied buildings with a small town feel and a mom and pop’s sense. Now destroyed, the remnants in the shadows still cast the warmth and attention given by small business owners. Without the Japanese writing and some architectural styling, this place could be Mayberry RFD from the Andy Griffith Show.Most of the time there was nobody else there. A few vehicles roared past and left the scene.
Once gone there was only the background noises which are normally drowned away by the sounds of nightlife. We are left with the echos of scattering dust and the rattling bits of broken buildings. Doors and hinges swing open and shut with the heavy winds coming in from the ocean. As I once described before there is still the pounding, scraping, humming, hissing, and clatter of steel which reverberates with the sporadic gusts.
As I walked between the buildings I could not help but feel a phantom presence peering out of each doorway or window. Shadows in the darkened interiors trick the mind into seeing shapes and forms. All of which heighten perception. There’s a stench of decay, dampness, and rotting fish. Most buildings are either smashed, bashed, collapsed, or pounded by cars, boats, and even ships.
Yes, there are boats and ships on main street. If you saw the videos online of on TV which mentioned Ishinomaki and the tsunami. I’m walking where many of the iconic scenes played out. Even now, it’s still surreal. I turned down a corner to reach the waterside. The waters slap alarmingly over parts of the seawall onto service road. The seawall now is more or less a street curb.
I heard that the coast of Japan sunk by 1 meter during the earthquake. I’m certain that what I’m seeing is proof as the barrier has shortened. As the cold night air began to sting an old injury of mine, I knew that rains were on their way. By this reason decided to go back. I walked through the ghostly maze to a small business hotel. I chose to stay here in town with the primary intention of supporting local businesses. The hotel was run by an older couple who had recently been able to get it up and running. It was nothing fancy, but good enough. The pair spent a lot of time sharing with me their experiences during the earthquake, tsunami, damage, cleanup, and related experiences. For this I’ll write more later. Once in my room, recalled my route as I decided to come back in the morning. A few hours later in the early morning light, I went out in the rain to shoot some of the places I ventured past in the darkness of the night. At dawn I went back out and did just that as you can see below.
What I did notice in these early hours is that the ghost town was starting to regain living residents. There were a few people out cleaning and fixing their shops and homes. Slowly but surely the part of Ishinomaki is starting to come back to life. It’s hopeful…
It’s amazing what can survive an earthquake and a tsunami. Spring has reached Tohoku and so has the Sakura. Right in the midst of this disaster zone, flowers are blooming. Although many trees have been snapped in half or destroyed by sea water. A few have remained and defying the gloom with their vibrant colors.
On the way up to northern Japan from Tokyo, I noticed that the sakura had reached this northern area of Japan as the migrating blossoms edged northward with the warming spring. They were seen along the hillsides and around the inland areas as expected. But I was taken by surprise to see them here.
As fierce as nature can be, it also can remind us that it can be beautiful when it wants to. It’s an odd moment as I usually welcome them when they come each year. When you stare at a single blossom its an intricate grouping of 5 delicate pedals.
Each one slightly different, light, and airy. When you stare at tree as a whole, it’s as if the branches have been engulfed by a subtle pink cloud.
This time around I can’t seem to allow myself to get lost looking at them. The best expression to describe my feeling is “Stark Contrast.” Seeing them this year gave me no sense of comfort. It’s sad as when they arrive it’s usually a time for celebration and lightheartedness.
It’s mid Golden Week here in Japan and a lot have people have used their time off to do volunteer work in Tohoku. For many Japanese, Golden Week is among a few times in the year where they take vacations. Therefore the entire country shuts down together. Unlike other places where people schedule their time off according to their own requirements. Japanese take time off in mass at times such as Golden Week, Summer Obon (Ancestral Holiday), and New Years. Therefore everyone travels during these days and peer pressure usually prevents many to not take time off at other times. This year a lot are joining volunteer teams in order to contribute. It’s good and I hope that the flow of philanthropy continues after the holidays. I hope that the influx of volunteers are used efficiently. It’s very common here to see an inefficient use of man power. On tasks that require only 3 or 4 people, you may see that 12 are assigned. On a whole a lot of redundant tasks here are not as effectively administered as they should be. My point is that because there will be a lot of available human resources this week; I hope the orchestration and organization of the clean up/assistance will be efficiently and effectively rendered.
My other wish is that those who see for themselves what’s happened to this beautiful country come back on their own when there are no scheduled holidays. At times like these, employers and co-workers should be more understanding in allowing their colleagues to take time off during non holiday weeks. This will be helpful as there will be a steady flow of contribution and it’s not a one week trend. For those who are going this week, be moved. Be moved to come back on your own and do as much as you can. As for me, I’ll be back in a few weeks. I was slated to go tomorrow, however I see that the group that I would be going up with already has too many people. I’ll go when I know I’ll be better needed and make a difference.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave today and or your own little private secret mansion with a walled compound in Pakistan; you’ve noticed that there’s one less evil terrorist in the world. Midday today, when I clicked on my favorite source for news online, I could not believe it at first. As report after report regarding the death of the terrorist mastermind was posted, I felt vindicated. Then the president came on. Although I’ve never been a fan of teleprompter driven political speeches, President Obama’s speech was moving. Actually his speech/announcement did not even seem political. He was upfront and inspiring. Today I’m proud of my president. Finally and a long time coming the U.S. Forces got Osama Bin Laden. After all this time of wondering if he was even still alive, we find out that he’s been shacking up quite comfortably in Pakistan. Oddly his not so humble abode was right up the road from the Pakistan’s primary military academy. I wonder how in the world you hide a large walled compound in the middle of a city that’s close to your capital. Upon doing some research on Abbottabad I discovered this area is a scenic hot spot. Well, If you are the most wanted man on earth, hide in style. I can’t help but conclude that the Pakistani government are suspect. If some mad serial killer was hiding in your back yard in a Winnebago and you had no idea he or the motor home was there, I’d start to be concerned. Anyway, a few days ago his address was Abbottabad, Pakistan. Tonight he’s the newest high profile resident in “Hell” (Crackle Crackle)
Now with all seriousness, 9/11 was one of the worst days in each of our lives. Everyone has a memory of exactly when and where they were. It’ll be something the keeps us reflecting back forever. It was not and act of war, it was an act of cold cruel murderous terror.On that day, I was on a flight to Beijing and landed in the evening. It was about 10:00 PM when I arrived at my hotel in the Wangfujing district right near the Forbidden City. I came to my room and put on the TV. As I opened my bags to settle in, I was using CNN as background noise. At first I thought I was watching a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Then I was amazed that the film’s news report looked liked a real news report. With closer inspection and as I saw the iconic antenna and tower fall into a dark cloud of gray smoke, it hit me. This was real. I called a friend who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He gave me an update and it all became clear. Even as we spoke the other events of that day were unfolding. I was up all night watching news and taking calls. The next day I met my friend at the Embassy and we had lunch in the shopping alley nearby. There was an air of silent rage. At that point everything was speculation. In Beijing, our access to information was limited.
When I finally returned to the U.S. later that winter I visited my beloved city of New York. As I drove in on a rainy night, the ground zero site had banks of lights illuminating in the footprint of the old towers. The ghostly beams plowed upwards into the sky at heights even surpassing the original towers. With the rain, the beams of light were even more luminescent. It was powerful.New York has always been a part of me as I studied there in college. The World Trade Centers were always a landmark I used to figure out where I was. My best friend’s wedding reception was held atop one of the towers in the restaurant Windows on the World. Good memories and even now as I glance at the skyline on each visit. It just feels empty. I’m not sure if the new Freedom Tower will ever fill that void.
As for the Pentagon, I know that building quite well as I started my career as an engineer there. Some of my best experiences and learning was done in that building. When I was there, they were renovating the section which was where the Army had its offices. The helipad was right on that side as well. A few years after I had left and just as they had completed the work, it was leveled by a plane filled with innocent people. It’s been about 10 years, and 10 years too long for the man responsible to enjoy his freedom and status. Even in death it seems that he’s receiving undue treatment. I read that in observance to his Islamic faith they gave him the proper rites of body washing, wrapped him in a white, cloth and dignified him with a burial at sea. Now I’m not saying don’t bury the guy. But why worry about his dignity. What about all the unburied that he’s killed. Many of the people who died because of him were Muslims and Jews who shared the same requirement in terms of funerary traditions. Many did not receive any amount of concern or respect. Dumping his body into the ocean from a ship is nice way to make sure he’s not enshrined. But it’s also a good way to fuel the imaginations of the kooks and conspiracy theorists out there. They should have brought him back, put him in a viewing and then dispose of him in a way where he’ll never have pilgrims.
If there were any earthly rewards for doing what’s right, I think the feeling received from the ladies in this photo is beyond measure. It’s a bad time for these people and as you’ve all read the aftershocks and quakes don’t seem to cease. As of yesterday, they have completely shut off the 20 kilometer radius near the reactors. Now the 80,000 people whose homes are there can not go back to check on their homes and many of the animals that lived on the farms are completely abandoned. There are a lot of challenges ahead that require a run rate of support.
So, as noted earlier I contacted 2nd Harvest Japan and was able to receive a list of what a shelter required to operate for 1 week. Most of the list were foods and perishables. So, last night I met with my good friend who is a partner and founder of a consulting company “Adept Group.” With he and his company we are self sponsoring a run to Tohoku. We will rent our own truck, travel in a group of 3, collect the goods/donations, make purchases at COSTCO; and go. 2nd Harvest will give us the point of contact and location in the Ishinomaki area where we are expected to transport the supplies. As I said earlier, why wait around to do the right thing. I don’t see an obstacles in our way and we will be well prepared and equipped should anything happen while we are en-transit.
What’s nice is during my planing I found out from the group I had traveled with 2 weeks ago that I am slated for another run the week after next. Again, I’m happy to contribute as much as possible. Either going it alone or with another team, it’ all good. What are the reasons, what are the rewards? Look at the photo, if you look closely you’ll understand.
It’s Golden Week here in Japan. This means it’s a week full of public holidays which are dated next to each other. Think of it as a Spring Break for all of Japan. Most Japanese have taken a few days off in order to have the entire week free. Many go on vacation and many go abroad. What I’ve read is that there is going to be a mass of people going north to do volunteer work. The government has noted that traffic may be heavy on the Tohoku expressway. Good news as it seems that a lot of people are going to be helping out with distribution and clean up efforts. It’s a turning point as things are gaining momentum. This surge will make a difference since cleaning up enables the rebuilding of the infrastructure. One step at a time as the difficult journey back is a long one. This photo which I shot speaks more than my words can regarding this topic tonight. It captures the current spirit of things here as we are all rising above this situation together.
In a few hours I’m leaving with 2 friends and the 3 of us are going up north to northern Japan to help with the destruction from the Tsunami. We’ll start off by making deliveries. As I’ve written before, I feel that I owe it to this place and to the good people in Japan to do something positive.
It’ll be 2 months in a few weeks and things have steadily improved but there’s a long way to go is ahead. What struck me was that a few foreigners that I know had asked me the same question. “Do you think you make a difference by going up there…?” It’s an honest question and a perhaps the right one to ask. What gets me however is that I’m confident in saying the ones asking me have done nothing. Other than leaving Japan and returning, talking about it from afar, or telling me how it’s good that I did what I did; they’ve done very little. In the life of each of us when the time to do the right thing comes, the voice you hear does not come from people.
As for that question, my answer to all of you is “Yes.” My answer to those few who “asked me in that manner is “Ask yourself the same question…” Well, I just wanted to put those words down as they somehow lingered and bothered me today. I’m not a disaster tourist. If I wanted to thrill seek; trust me I can name a lot of other things I have done and would prefer doing.
What I’m doing comes from the heart. Now it’s getting late and I’m packed. You never know what to expect so I’m packing well and making sure I’m prepared. Plenty of food, water, MRE(s), and harsh condition gear. You never know if an earthquake may make us stranded up there. Last time I went up a 7.1 magnitude quake hit. So, you never know, you just never know. I’ll put the same words down as I did prior to going up. Nothing can go wrong if you do what’s right.