Saturday, June 25, 2016

DO YOU WANNA RIDE? A referendum for the mind.

As long as we, regardless on which side of the referendum divide we find ourselves, selfishly wallow in the misery of exterminated opportunities or foolishly rejoice in having taken the first feeble step towards that long lost, illusive “greatness”, both myopic and ostrich-inspired world-views at best, and with a straight face can deliver such grotesque statements as a pundit in the Guardian puts it:
“Vladimir Putin will be rubbing his hands in glee. The unhappy English have delivered a body blow to the west, and to the ideals of international cooperation, liberal order and open societies to which England has in the past contributed so much,” there is little hope for humanity.

International cooperation? liberal order? to which England or, for that matter, any other European country has contributed? What bullocks! Have we all but discarded our colonial history? Our rape and pillage of vast swaths of this earth? Africa anyone? South America? Asia? And let’s not pretend these are “sins of our fathers.”

We behave like penile obsessed adolescents, either staring down on our shrivelled little dick and wondering what future pleasures have been prematurely taken away from us or gallivanting a rock hard erection wondering who to whack. (I tried hard to come up with a less male dominated description and failed miserably, even the first six words of this sentence are proof of my total impotence in this matter, for which, of course, there can be no excuse.)

But so be it. The point is clear, flaccid whimperers or arrogant boners; get a life! And as long as that life excludes the vast majority of peoples and all sentient beings we share our planet with, excludes genuine concern and empathy for rather than apathy toward the rapidly disappearing environment you can Facebook-parade your pathetic triumphalism or your equally pathetic “you threw my future away” lament all you want, I won’t join you.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the musician Bernie Worrell passed away the day after the referendum. Parliament-Funkadelic gifted the world timeless advice with the words “Free your mind- and your ass will follow.”
What will it be? Will we welcome the opportunity insecurity brings and unshackle ourselves from the mental slavery that does nothing but divide? Or…?

Swing Down Sweet Chariot, Let Me Ride.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reminiscences of 2015

One more week and another year bites the dust.

If I’m honest, this is not my favorite time of the year. Nostalgia pleads with me to let her in. Her act is convincing and I am a perennial sucker. Once a foot in the door she sheds her disguise and morphs into a mix of syrupy sentimentality and cut throat cynicism before comfortably settling in the armchair of my mind. Tricked, again.

As usual, her monologue is long on regrets and short on compassion, laced with trite put-downs and half-baked truths, meant to disempower and marginalize.

But this year I’ve come prepared. Oh yes, life’s a mess but a glorious mess at that. The pull of the drain is formidable but there’s enough idiots out there to clog up the vortex with their gluttonous inertia to prevent my demise. Besides, my wings have grown this year. And you know what? I’ve met other aeronauts. Some already soar high while others slowly shed the paralyzing grip of cultural vertigo and peek over the nest’s edge.

So to hell with the “life’s-a-bitch-but-you-can’t-change-anything-so-you-might-as-well-make-her-your-bitch” crowd. I am not falling for that trick anymore baby. No matter how glorious the lace.

As for the smugness of entitlement, the insecurity-fuelled bigotry and nationalistic pride, the belittling authority of rulers and religions; whore them somewhere else. I got no room for dead weight. I’m going to fly higher.

Let’s meet up there.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


As 2015 draws to an end I am looking back on an extraordinary year indeed.
I will reflect on that in more detail in my next post but one of the more intense experiences of the past year surely must be my three and a half week on the Greek Island of Kos, assisting fellow humans in search of a future free from repression. Repression in the widest possible term, physical, emotional, political and economical.

I wrote a handful of Facebook posts while on the island and republish them here. I believe how we uphold our values in the face of the plight of our fellow 'earthizens' will define us as humans. These times are our Where-were-you-and-what-did-you-do-moment.

We are all on the move. And whether we realize it or not, therein lies our strength.

We're Not Here Anymore and, clearly, Not Quite There Yet.

My first post was on October 5:

Impressions of Kos (1)

A few tourists, high astride their iron horses, look at me like they own the place, or at least the ground directly underneath their wheels. Some though, clearly have larger ambitions. I even spot a few General Custers.

As they cycle past the dense cluster of tents lining the narrow section between the bicycle lane and the beach in the centre of town, I see the disapproval in their eyes. And I see the fear.
I try to put myself in their shoes, or shall I say in their saddle? They have become unwilling participants in a reality show they no longer can switch off. Didn’t see this one coming now, didn’t you?

At least they are dressed. One of the most bizarre sights of the past week was a voluptuous, bikini clad woman, cycling past the tents housing mostly young men from South Asia who had made the perilous crossing from the Bodrum side only days earlier. Paradise anyone?

To convince the people surrounding us to form a line, instead of crowding us in and blocking the bicycle lane in the process, I offer a smile, a “Good Morning how are you?” sometimes followed by a gentle push. I see familiar faces. The crippled boy from Afghanistan greets me with an outstretched hand. The frail Pakistani man with the glasses; two days ago I warmed his hands, minutes after he stepped ashore, after an arduous 5 hour crossing in a rubber dingy I would barely dare to use in a swimming pool. Five hours paddling, soaked to the bone and in shock. He is fine now, he assures me. And yes, he’d like a banana.

Down the waterfront, beneath the imposing Fortress walls, I spot the group of Syrians we welcomed a few days earlier. How could I not? The young woman’s brightly colored hijab acts as an unmissable beacon. She made the crossing together with her husband, his brother and a friend. Young and bright, full of hope for a future no more certain than the weather. We hug, we chat. They will be leaving soon on a boat to Athens. Beyond that they don’t want to think.
Life’s uncertainties take on a whole different dimension here.

I continue for the far corner of the Fortress to check on a gentle Iranian man. I have a soft spot for him, and for Iran for that matter.
Halfway down the thick, impenetrable wall, built ages ago –no doubt to keep someone out - a sign, hastily stenciled on what looks like some kind of electrical box, reads: “We are all immigrants. Our homeland is the earth.”

It’s about time we realize.

My second post was on October 11:

Impressions of Kos (2)

The Petzl on my head turns a triangle of night into day. I rotate like a human lighthouse and scan the ground for debris. Anything really that has the potential to ruin a good night’s sleep. No rocks, check. No slope, check. High ground, sort of.

I have a hard time remembering the last time I went camping. Pre-dome period anyone? The pang of anxiety caused by my lack of experience dissolves the moment I unroll the package. Together with Steph, my fellow camper, I can do this. Two foldable poles bend the fabric into shape and in a matter of minutes the tent announces its presence in the park.
A home away from home.

Kos is a quintessential holiday island. A mild, Mediterranean climate, historical architecture, a picture perfect port lined with ships of all shapes and sizes.
Dive boats advertise the wonders of the underwater world, party boats entice with cruises to Bodrum across the narrow straits separating Kos from Turkey. Plenty to do for a restless soul.

The day had started like a dream. The sun a painter who lets loose her accumulated inspiration on the first canvas she finds. Broad pink and purple brushstrokes colored the awakening sky and silhouetted a group of people paddling across the tranquil waters.
A shot I would use on a postcard.

The tents pitched I tell the boys to enter. There are five of them, from Afghanistan. Aged between 13 and 17. Unaccompanied minors as far as the fog of the moment allows us to establish. If that really is the case the chance they end up in the jail is high. By law these kids have to be with a police officer at all times. Locked up at the station is by far the easiest “solution”. Having seen the medieval dungeon that passes for a jail here doesn’t help establish peace of mind.

We have notified the UNHCR people. Maybe they can prevent this travesty of law. To say it mildly, I’m not a fan of the paralyzing bureaucracy and power politics of the UN. But right now, there’s nothing else we can do for these boys. We hand out sleeping bags, mattresses, food. And wait outside their tents.
A home away from home.
A bit at least, I hope.

Oh, and the group of people at sunrise? 6 Iranian men. Crossing from Bodrum in a tiny rubber dingy. After the engine failed they paddled for 3 hours across treacherous waters. A darkness that has already swallowed numerous lives.

Not quite the picture postcard I imagined.

The third post I made on October 18:

Our rental pulls up on the beach next to The Lighthouse. A rather pretentious name for the oversized bulb I see flickering atop three iron poles that sprout from a concrete block perched on the water’s edge.
Blink – blink – blink – pause. Blink – blink – blink – pause.

The beach, too, fails to conform to the quintessential image the word conjures in my mind’s eye. The soothing symphony of waves caressing palm fringed powdery sand replaced by the crackling staccato of black and grey pebbles unable to escape the suffocating pull of the retreating water.
I close my eyes and for a moment feel I’m listening to a giant deepfryer being fed at regular intervals.
Fed what?

It’s a moonless night and my eyes, hopelessly inadequate, scan the void in vain. I know someone’s out there. Just like the previous night. And the one before that. The wind shows no mercy either and continues crying. If I am cold imagine what it would be like wet and exhausted. Scared to death. Unable to cancel due to bad weather because the smugglers refund policy is, well, non-existent.
Imagine that you have scraped together all your family’s money, sold your house. And your bridges; someone has already burned them for you.
I simply can’t.

At first light I scout the horizon. You know it’s a boat when you see one, a tiny speck with other, even tinier, specks on top, disappearing, then reappearing and disappearing again.
I scold myself for losing sight only to rejoice as we reacquaint. I can make out the orange of the adult life vests now. Is that the yellow of a child’s vest? I have often seen them on the beach. Read the warning printed on the back: WILL NOT PROTECT AGAINST DROWNING. NOT FOR USE IN BOATING.
What a fucked up world we live in.

When the boat finally lands it’s almost impossible to get everybody to disembark orderly. The team tries to carry crying babies first. Help the disabled, the elderly, women. But in all reality, it’s chaotic. Some refugees jump, others stumble. A man collapses on the sand praying. Another tries frantically to rip through the six layers of taped plastic foil protecting his phone, to let loved ones know he made it.
I turn around and see a father removing his young boy’s vest. Then they hug. In that instant time ceases to exist.
They are not the only ones crying.

Before we head back to the apartment I take a last look at The Lighthouse. It no longer looks pretentious. The beach no longer second rate.

And I no longer see refugees and volunteers, only beacons of humanity.

Then on October 21:

Impressions from Kos (4)

Linear time is a concept of the rational mind. The notion that our history is a straight line towards ever greater levels of sophistication and refinement is at best just that. At its worst, the myth that tells you to work hard and everything is possible is nothing but a giant pacifier. Suck on it, work hard, keep quiet and don’t disturb the dream. The American Dream, The European Dream. A Fool’s Dream.

Progress depends on your point of view. And if we start from different positions the race is skewed right from the beginning.

I am nearing the end of my work here on Kos. Three and a half weeks. Or was it three and a half days, three and a half hours, three and a half years? It’s hard to distinguish one day from the other. Time is cyclical. What will happen tomorrow has already happened yesterday. What changes is how we react. Our action determines whether the spiral we’re in is moving upwards or downwards.
Pinnacle or abyss, we choose.

What do I tell a father who has just made the perilous crossing from Bodrum with his 12 year old son, fleeing “I don’t really want to know but need to understand what” and wants to go to Germany?
What do I tell a young pregnant woman, four months she says, practically doubling up with abdominal pain yet determined to leave on the evening ferry for Athens?
What do I tell a bright young man who wishes to further his studies somewhere safe, where the bombs don’t fall, and build a future you and I take for granted?
What do I tell about the road ahead?

Hungary closed its Southern borders. Ostensibly to protect Europe and its Christian values. Shutting out the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the persecuted. Fine values indeed. Oh, the irony. With a mindset like that there isn’t anything worth protecting.
Nothing. Europe is dead.

Time is cyclical. What will happen tomorrow has already happened yesterday.

In the book I recently wrote, a little baby girl is rescued from her drowning mother’s arms by a Dutch sailor who later adopts her. Based on a true story - Vietnamese boat refugees anyone? – I fictionalized the sailor’s response.

Here’s part of the story, as told by the baby girl, a young woman now, to the book’s main protagonist:
“…All around people are drowning, screaming, disappearing. The scent of fear is palpable. Cong co em, cong co em. A woman, a young Vietnamese woman, eyes like eggs, round, filled with fear, hope, determination. My baby, my baby, she shouts. Help me, my baby, help me. Dad looks at her, she barely manages to stay afloat, she holds a little girl, pushes her upwards, pushes her towards my dad. He hangs over the railing of the lifeboat and hooks his arm around me. Cam on nhieu, the woman whispers. Thank you. Then a wave rolls in and swallows her.”

The woman, her name is Max, continues:
“My dad wouldn’t let go of me. Back on board. He kept holding me, rocking me, saying I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Finally the doctor took dad and me into the ship’s infirmary for a checkup. I had no papers, no identification, no name. I was wrapped in a large sheet, turned out to be a tablecloth. In one corner there was a name, a logo really. A crown, and written underneath in capital letters MAXIM’S. My dad later found out that this was the logo of a nightclub and restaurant in downtown Saigon. For him it was a sign, there was no alternative. My name would be Maxim. I was his little princess.”

A few days ago - or was it a few hours, perhaps a few years? - I carried a little baby girl ashore. Her mother, eyes like eggs, filled with fear, hope, determination, had given her to me when the little rubber dingy that had carried her across landed here on Kos.
I held the little princess close as I waded knee deep through the water. At that moment I understood all that mattered.

Pinnacle or abyss, we choose.

The final post a few days later on October 25:

Back home. This is what I wrote just after leaving Kos.

I am having an out of body experience.
A few months ago, in Peru, in the jungle, I had a similar journey. While my body was firmly on the ground in the Maloka, the large, circular space used by Shipibo shamans for sacred Ayahuasca ceremonies, my mind was exploring higher realms.

This time though it is a little different; my body soars 30,000 feet in the air but my mind is firmly planted on the ground, on the Greek island of Kos to be more precise.

My mind is on Kos.
The flight attendant demonstrates the use of the life jacket and I have to suppress the urge to rush over and rip it off.
My mind is on Kos.
A passenger on my flight wears only socks and I wonder what size of shoes to give him.
Mind on Kos.
The food trolley passes and I hear someone shouting: “ONE LINE, ONE LINE!”
On Kos.
In less than four comfortable hours I cover a refugee’s journey of days, if not weeks. Less than four hours, and I am a world away.

I have been hugged and kissed, prayed for and sung to more times than I can remember. People I only knew for three days parted as lifelong friends.
Now I am the one who is leaving, and it feels like I’m abandoning those in need.

Four weeks ago, inspired and fortified by Ayahuasca, I decided to come to Kos. To round out the circle, to return some of the kindness bestowed upon me by total strangers somewhere along this road I am traveling, this road called life.

Do unto others…

There is plenty of opportunity in today’s world.

Monday, August 12, 2013


We are nearing the end of the summer holidays in most of the Northern hemisphere. Doesn’t mean it will get colder. The sensation of temperature is a state of mind and over here where I am it is definitely rising. By all accounts this is going to be one hot fall! In ten days my latest book, Burmese Light, will have its coming out party at the big AsiaBooks in the Central World Department store in Bangkok.

Then it is on to London for a solo show in a fantastic gallery right on the banks of the Thames before heading back to Bangkok for… Respite, who says respite? Respite locks the joints just when the going was supposed to be getting easier and, more damaging; it freezes the mind. So onwards and upwards it is with the book fair in Frankfurt coming up in October followed by a 10 year anniversary for Bikes of Burden.

Do I see a special edition in the making? Possible. And if you’re a fan of the amazing bikes of Vietnam, it is something you do not want to miss. Stay tuned, come back every now and then. Let’s share the warmth of the greatest heat source known to us: the human mind and it’s limitless capacity for seeing possibilities.

Our engines are running the moment we realize that we’re not here anymore and are actually encouraged by not being there yet. You feel the heat?

© Hans Kemp 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Burmese Light in Motion

With Burmese Light on the way to shops and online stores worldwide it is time to ramp up the promotion. I made a book trailer from video shot while I was traveling around photographing for the book. That is one advantage of the digital camera; switching to video is easy. That is, switching the camera to video. Inside your head it is different. No longer looking for the decisive moment that says it all in one frame, video is about anticipating movement. I still prefer stills. Knowing that you have captured that one instance when everything was just right is a great feeling. Especially since such moments are so elusive. Looking for them keeps me moving, always finding myself
Not Here Anymore Not Quite There Yet.