If Berlin Were a Stirred-Up Showcase


“Dein Herz kennt keine Mauer.”

Around this time last year, I was watching a bike light peer through the dusk, wheeling down a dirt path saturated with that evening’s blue-gold color scheme. Sunbeams — all spectral and river-bent and free-falling ultraviolet — plunged into the Landwehrkanal.

My cloud eyes closed for a blink.

Opening again, they revealed a refracted version of what was previously there: a lawn, a path, a canal that flowed like a continuum and ended on the same one.

Continue reading “If Berlin Were a Stirred-Up Showcase”

Laos Dam Collapse Sparks Compassion amid Criticism

Disaster relief agencies and environmentalists were quick to respond.

A dam under construction on the Nam Ou river in northern Laos.
A dam under construction on the Nam Ou river in northern Laos. | Tbachner

In the evening of Monday, July 23, an auxiliary dam of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower scheme in southern Laos’ Attapeu Province collapsed from monsoon rains that overwhelmed its holding capacity. Local communities had just hours or less to evacuate to higher ground before a torrent of reservoir water rushed downstream, submerging their houses and temples and washing away their livelihoods overnight. Initial reports put the number of displaced residents at over 6,000, with many killed or missing and countless still trapped without food or water on roofs and in trees. Fortunately, NGOs like Vientiane Rescue were ready to respond – but need your help to continue.

Based in Laos’ capital, Vientiane Rescue operates a free ambulance service staffed by volunteers and funded entirely by private donations. They provide a desperately needed EMS service in a city where driving-related injuries and deaths have soared in recent years. Since its founding in 2010, Vientiane Rescue has expanded operations to the southern city of Pakse and widened the scope of their services. They now operate fire rescue and diving rescue teams. The organization won a highly prestigious Ramon Magsaysay prize and dedicated it to the Lao people, and recently made headlines by helping save 12 boys trapped in a cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Other Laotian and international disaster relief efforts were swift. Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith travelled to the site, declaring it a national disaster zone and directing the police and army to lead rescue-relief operations. Thailand, Vietnam, China, Singapore, and the United Nations Development Programme all offered aid to bolster the first response work of the Lao government and the crucial efforts of Vientiane Rescue, and other NGOs like Phasouk Rescue, Houamchai Foundation, and Lao Red Cross.

Look no further than these organizations’ Facebook pages to have your faith in humanity restored. The outpouring of generosity and solidarity supporting these organizations in their first response efforts was awe-inspiring. One fundraiser hosted by Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao (BCEL) raised nearly double its ₭2 billion LAK ($238,000 USD) fundraising goal within a week. United States-based organizations like The SEAD Project and Indigo Threads mobilized their networks to raise thousands of dollars each.

Relief efforts are still underway and in need of further help. One week after the dam collapse, rescue teams were only been able to cover a third of the affected area. For those with the means to assist, there are several ways to do so:

  1. Donate directly to any of these reputable organizations in Laos:
  2. Support international relief/development efforts in southern Laos:
  3. Like, follow, and spread the word on social media about these orgs’ good work.
  4. Stay informed about the #LaosDamCollapse and your global neighbors in Laos.

Advocacy group International Rivers has criticized the company’s failure to implement an adequate early warning system and safeguard against the climate-change-linked storms that toppled the dam.

Some steps have been taken to remedy the disaster in Attapeu. SK Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd., the South Korean majority shareholder in the power company operating the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower scheme, provided assistance in initial relief efforts and will accept culpability after the ongoing probe into the cause of the breach is completed. This government-led investigation will inspect all planned dams in Laos and review the country’s overall hydropower strategy. Meanwhile, the longer-term reconstruction phase in Attapeu has started by building temporary settlements and will allegedly compensate residents of the 13 flood-affected villages for their lost land. Funding for this will come from the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power company, although it’s unclear how compensation will address social justice concerns, as the lives lost from the collapse can never be replaced.

Originally written for (Co)Action Lab and reprinted here with permission.

Descriptions to Moutern


Not certain if my memory of Phongsaly is real or fake.

Because the ends and starts of the conversations I observed in Moutern seemed similar enough that I think I might be misremembering the whole thing.

In my memory, discussions followed a schematic: a greeting and introduction (delivered in a particular fashion and with particular physical posturing), then the conversation proper (when the back-forth of the speakers’ exchange falls into a repetitive pattern where one person speaks while the other listens and performs reactive acknowledgement), and finally the winding down of the speaking (when sentences are short and staccato until one party chooses silence).

The beginnings and ends, with their apparently more defined behavioral rules, seemed to resemble each other because of those rules — likely because I couldn’t understand a single word being spoken.

Continue reading “Descriptions to Moutern”

An Agreement


A friend once observed that many bodies and forms live in us: heads and hands and hearts and lungs. And feet that we use to keep on walking.

After nearly two years of reflection, I agree.

Those bodies and forms dovetail into the one entire person that we each actually are.

It sounds simple but was by no means a straightforward process;
we were like a lump of unshaped clay at first (thank Earth for giving us even that much), born as funny-looking babies with oversized foreheads. Then we got molded and prodded into an adult-sized human and eventually hardened like molten lava into sulfurous igneous rock.

And so there we were for some time, thinking we’re all shapely and set in stone until an older soul points out that there’s more to us than just the outward form and that our various body parts are interrelated pieces of our overall whole.

Which is some wisdom, man.

But I totally agree — there are definitely sections and subsections to our whole-ness, you know?
And I also agree that changing physical locations can help a person better experience life because it puts them into situations where they’re obligated to use the multiple bodies of themself to cope or enjoy or feel.

The tough part, I figure, is uncovering which specific facet could and should be presented in each context. Like when walking down a dirt road like the one in Muang Mai for example, I would use my feet and eyes but also my ankles and toes to keep me from tripping on the larger rocks and holes. Easy enough. But when conversing in English, I definitely use my head and mouth and lips as well as my tongue and heart to hate and/or accept the person I’m talking with. That’s more ambiguous.

But, again, those body parts exist and are all incorporated into us regardless of what gets displayed on the outside, and that is like the truest affirmation of our clay-like selves I’ve ever heard.

So then maybe I’ll use a different metaphor from now on (like a conglomerate rock or a whitish-tan sandstone boulder flecked with differently sized pebbles…) and continue trying to embrace the forms and entirety of myself and others.

Friend, if you’re reading this, I want to let you know that my life has changed a lot and I imagine yours has too but I miss you like hell nonetheless. I hope you’ve kept your sandals dirty para seguir caminando.