Cambodia IV, The Countryside

An ARI study tour would not be complete without visiting the rural areas and we did so by visiting our 2009 graduate Ven Ban in his village Trapen Tasom in Takeo province. Ban runs an organic farm with his family but it was originally started by his father after he had come back from a Thai refugee camp after the civil war. They welcomed us with fresh coconuts to drink from and delicious vegetable form the fields. The farm is a beautiful place with Ban concentrating on chicken raising. We observed his fields and learned about the huge differences between rainy and dry season farming.

Not everything was peaceful, though. There are still landmines in this region, with the latest ones discovered and removed from the farm just days before our visit. Another one was still somewhere hidden meters away under a pile of rubbish. Ven Ban’s father then told us about his escape from Takeo to the Thai border during the Vietnamese invasion that brought an end to the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.

This was my first time to visit the countryside of a South East Asian country and it was a big learning opportunity. To feel the hot sun and get the dust in your eyes gave me such an immediate impression of the realities of the grassroots farming Ven Ban and the people of his community are practicing each day. It is extremely difficult for him to promote organic farming, but through the support of many people he will manage to create a training center soon.

Cambodia III, Small World Family

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my study trip to Cambodia was the “home stay” experience at a kind of youth community center called “Small World Family”. I went there with no idea what the young people who started this project two months ago were doing there, only to be surprised, inspired, delighted by what I saw.

It’s a bit difficult to explain what SWF tries to achieve. Basically, young people like college students can become a member and utilize the space for sharing ideas with others – ideas for businesses or social projects, for example. They are also free to use internet and get drinks so they don’t need to spend their money in cafés. Then, once they’ve come up with some plan they can further make use of the office space or facilities of the SWF building and expand from there. They also organize events and hold workshops. Some of the members actually live in the house and invest their money to pay the rent.

Everybody I met at SWF radiated with enthusiasm and energy. During the last two months these folks had cleaned the compound from ground up, sowed grass, planted trees, decorated walls… I felt as if I was meeting the most progressive young people of the whole country. They seem to be brimming over with ideas how to connect to young people and offer them opportunities. To feel their dedication to contribute something meaningful to their society was really uplifting after learning about the sad history of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge time and the civil war that followed.

Most of the SWF folks were at my age, and I felt there was a kind of mutual understanding that this can bring despite cultural differences. During my homestay, two of the founding members of SWF, Theary and Chhunny, made time to show me around in Phnom Penh. Thanks to them I felt very comfortable. I did not expect such hospitality, let alone to be so touched by their passion. My prayers are with these great people.

These are some impressions from the Small World Family house. They asked my co-participant Mr. Tamura and me to sow some seeds and we carved our names into the bamboo vessels.

This link leads to Small World’s Facebook page.

Cambodia, II: Goel Community Weaving Project

The Goel Community is located in the countryside South of Phnom Penh and was started by Korean missionary Mr. Han Jung-Min.

Women who join this project can secure themselves a stable income by weaving and dying fabrics made of natural material. This fair trade and fair labor concept helps them especially during the dry season since farming activities are limited then. Mr. Han revives traditional weaving and dying techniques which had been lost during the Khmer Rouge time. To him, this project is not just a business but a vehicle for sustainable community development, as he slowly gives away all responsibilities to the Cambodian people themselves and sets limits to the commercialization of the products. I was quite impressed not only by the high quality and beauty of the natural clothes but also by Mr. Han’s approach to rural development which was quite in line with the philosophy of ARI.

We visited some of the women at work in their houses, so it gave us opportunity to get a few glimpses of their everyday life.

Cambodia, I: Ancient Ruins

When I close my eyes I can still see Cambodia: how the bustling streets of Phnom Penh rush past me on a tuktuk drive, or the views of white cows grazing in the green plains, each mist-shrouded horizon beckoning to follow a mystery, an ancient city perhaps, a group of obedient elephants, or a purple sunrise. I hear the chatter of crowded markets, the cacophony of traffic noise mingling with street vendors’ voices, the discussions replaying in my mind, conversations with people, at times disturbing, but mostly inspiring.

I chose not to prepare myself for this ARI-organized study trip, but to let myself be surprised. And surprising a journey this was indeed. It was my first time to a country in South East Asia, and the first time to what some people still call “the third world”. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, to get a taste of the ‘real’ world, as I experience the Western affluance in which we “developed” people live more and more as mirage, a Scheinwelt (illusory world) of artificial fabric well-detached from the realities of the people from whom it sucks its wealth.

I come back with many new impressions, and I let them sink in with their inconsistencies and superficialities with which I perceived them, not yet able to grasp the deeper truths this country holds. I have nothing but gratitude for the hospitality of people and their smiles.

First gallery: Ancient Ruins of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat

六ヶ月間の放射能生活 – Six months of living with radiation

A half year has passed since March 11. My mind is still not able to decelerate and give a decent reflection of what has happened. The struggle continues, though we have regained something that you could call a normal life – just that a slight amount of radioactivity has become part of that normality. For lack of spare time between the last aftershock and the next, pictures have to stand in for words, brief glimpses of my life at Asian Rural Institute during the past six months.




On March 11, I was in Kyôto, far away from the tremors that shook Eastern Japan and unleashed floodwaves of biblical proportions onto the coastal areas. It was from this tv in a small Chinese restaurant that I got a first impression of what was going on.


I moved to Asian Rural Institute on March 26th. The members had evacuated to the seminar house nearby and set up a crisis central, following the developments at the Fukushima I power plant with growing concern. Every morning started with information sharing: Wind direction, radiation levels of air and water, etc.




Since strong aftershocks continued, almost all of the ARI community members stayed together in the seminar house. We reduced outdoor activities to a minimum for fear of radioactivity. Throughout April, serious discussions about ARI operations went on. We decided to temporarily move the training program to Machida, a safer place west of Tôkyô.


Dr. Tasaka from the International Christian University helped us taking the first soil samples from our fields for radiation checks. The hydrogen explosions at Fukushima 110km away had released radioactive material into the atmosphere, polluting our fields with iodine and cesium.




Not knowing whether this year’s rice would be edible or not we nevertheless completed the transplanting of rice seedlings. The harvest will feed the community members for one year and is one of the most important community works at ARI.


A delegation of politicians and scientists from Korea pays a visit to get a closer look at our microorganism project. The tanks in the background are part of a company’s experiment using microorganisms to reduce radioactivity. ARI agreed to provide some of its paddy fields to try it out – so far with meager results.




During the evacuation in Machida I often went to Tôkyô city for distraction and errands. Tiny alterations in the people and the city’s appearance indicate that the traumatic events are changing Japan. On this day, fundamentalist Christians had posted themselves at the Shibuya crossing telling the citizens to repent.


Each plant absorbs contamination differently. The mushrooms we sowed in spring had to be thrown away as they easily accumulate radioactive particles. The onions are alright. ARI lies in a low-contamination zone, but the effects on our farm are substantial.




Beginning from April, ARI had been heavily involved in a citizen’s movement called “Kibô no Toride” (Fortress of Hope). The members of Toride project conduct thorough radioation measurements and decontamination throughout the Nasu area, since the local government’s responds are lackluster. In staff meetings we share the latest results to take appropriate action.


The evacuation of our training program ended at the end of July. The participants, staff members and volunteers moved from Machida back to the ARI campus in Nishinasuno – a huge work.




Sunflowers are part of phyto-remediation, a decontamination method tested around Chernobyl. These plants absorb radioactive cesium from the soil. The sunflower seeds can be used for radiation-free oil and biodiesel, while the rest of the plant is burnt in special incinerators.


Soy beans are another means of land decontamination. Much of our daily farmwork these days is spent on weeding the many fields on which we planted them.




ARI staff members started organizing public study sessions related to atomic power and the pollution that comes with it. Hundreds of citizens have attended to listen to guest speakers and watch documentaries.


Dr. Fujimura Yasuyuki (leader of the Toride project), Inaba Mitsukuni (organic farming NPO leader), Murakami Moriyuki (organic farmer and religion expert), and Dr. Kawata Masaharu (Chernobyl decontamination expert) answer questions from the audience and discuss alternative ways of energy production.


Komatös, doch auf den Beinen (der Komaläufer spricht wieder)



Es gibt keine Zeit (für myself), keine Zeit, das Schweigen zu brechen. Ich setze mich nicht hin, denke nicht nach, ordne das Nichtgedachte nicht in Sätze, reflektiere nicht was ich tue und wie mir geschieht. Alles Gedachte passiert meinen Schädel, ist auf Durchreise von und in andre Köpfe ohne meins zu werden.

Fünf Monate seit dem Beben, viereinhalb seit ich hier am Asian Rural Institute zu leben und arbeiten begann. Es war so unglaublich viel los in dieser kurzen Zeit, und ich habe mich vielleicht absichtlich nie umgedreht, als ich den Berg hinaufrannte. Ich fange mit kurzsichtigem Blick auf was mir zugeschmissen wird, Arbeit, Gespräche, Abgründe, ich denke nicht nach. Ich mache einfach, mache, jongliere mit dem Greifbaren und werfe es dem nächsten zu. Nichts bleibt lange in meiner Hand, außer vielleicht die Kamera und die saugt gierig auf, ist ein Vielfraßauge, das ich mit Menschenlicht füttre. Ich seh nur das, was vor mir liegt, alles übrige fliegt davon, Atomkraftwerkskatastrophe, Strahlenkrankheit, Nachbeben, die Zeit, ich verfüge nichts außer über die Gegenwart, und sie eigentlich über mich, den Augenblick leben heißt hier Flaschenhals sein, den Sand durchschleusen, aber nichts festhalten. Am Ende dieses Jahres – so hoffe ich jedenfalls – werde ich zurückblicken und verstehen, was all dieses und ich uns gegenseitig bedeuten. Bis dahin ist das einzige, zu dem ich jetzt in der Lage bin, den Fluss auf Sprungsteinen zu überqueren, indem ich einen unsicheren Satz nach dem andern mache. Ich muss mir die Worte leihen, und auch die Gebete sind geborgt, weil nicht nur mein pausenloser Alltag zusammen mit dem unaufhörlichen Codeswitching mein Sprachzentrum blockiert, sondern auch wegen der Betäubung, der Lähmung, die von dem unsichtbaren Übel, das 110km Luftlinie nordöstlich vor sich hinwütet, sich im Hals festgesetzt hat. Das Gespenst hat sich festgesetzt. Ich kann heute nicht weiter darüber und darüber, was mit diesem Land passiert, sprechen, ich brauche länger Anlauf dafür. Dies hier ist wie der erste Schritt zurück.

Ich habe lange geschwiegen weil ich alle Hände voll zu tun habe und nichts richtig zuordnen kann. Doch es geht mir sehr gut, bin glücklich, trotzdem unsere Wirklichkeit nach und nach von dem von uns geschaffenen Irrealen penetriert wird. Für heute sollen ein paar Bilder genügen.






Im Blick zurück entstehen die Dinge, die dazu führen, dass wir uns finden.






最後は「教会広場」に到着。もちろん、教会というものは宗教と関係なく、「塔」に設置された液晶スクリーンに現れてきたのは、聖人でもイエスでもな く、マイケル・ジャクソンの顔だった。




Under the Sky Tree / 大きなスカイツリーの下で

Supported by veins of steel grows the Sky Tree at the outskirts of central Tôkyô – a new tower meant to spray endless streams of television signals to millions of heads under it. TV Babylon. With a planned height of 634 meters it is going to take the title of Japan’s tallest structure over from the Tôkyô Tower, a replica of the Eiffel Tower which has been standing in the middle of the city since the late 1950s.
The Sky Tree has already reached more than half of its height and currently stands at proud 398 meters.

I went to see the growing tower from up close. When I stepped out of Oshiage Station (which curiously means “Up-Thrust/Push”) I immediately ran into a line of people – eyes glued to the tip of the tower – standing outside. In fact, the whole vicinity around the construction site was crowded with Saturday strollers who had the same inventive thought as me. I walked along a small channel that cut the site from the small houses around it.  The sky was a glaring white surface.

The Sky Tree is a tree without branches, thus it stretches to the heavens as the ultimate phallic symbol. Will its striking sight stimulate our slacking economy and blow fresh excitement into trade liaisons? Will the erected Sky Tree spread warm seeds of vigor into our aging population and animate the youth to get all steamed up for a fruitful future? Will visitors from overseas recognize it as an image of regained potency and trust Japan again? Whatever hopes and funds the Rising East Project is pumping into the tower, the venture will reach its climax in spring 2012, when the construction finally opens.




Gaijin Express


Tôkyô, Japan. 25 May 2010.

You shouldn’t listen to UNKLE when you get off Shinagawa Station to catch the bus to the Immigration Bureau. The Bureau lies two islands away, the islands are man-made. Rectangles in the sea, from straightened  and piled-up concrete and waste, only to carry more concrete and waste. A bus filled with silent foreigners rolls through the valleys of an industrial landscape where seagulls appear and vanish between the vertical shadows of monorails, gray towers and mile-long highways stretching over the waters. I can see a large chimney on the near horizon, breathing new clouds into the sky. It belongs to a chemical facility that has a clamped-in globe at its heart.

JR Shinagawa Station resembles an airport. The baffle gates channel the passengers into a spacious architecture which allows sunlight to drop on the heads. A lavish number of flat panel displays leads my passage out to the bus stop. That was two weeks ago. I need to take the same route again to pick up my working permit. That is tomorrow.

Entering the Tôkyô Immigration Bureau for the first time evoked a remote echo of Meredith Monk’s movie “Ellis Island”. A tower of blue glass hosting convenience stores, ATMs, a small restaurant and dozens of facilities to process the needs of hundreds if not thousands of foreign residents each day. Cameras prohibited. The sheet I am handed carries the number 203. Fifty numbers of time to read a book or to have my mind whisked white by the humming sound of different languages in the waiting area. An Austrian couple sits in my back, that talks about a professor they need to see here.
I don’t need to see a professor, I need my working permit.The song by UNKLE drowns the noise down to a gray murmur.

My mind is in a state
‘Cuz all I seem to do is tempt my fate
Well I try a real space
But all the while, I’m crashing at the gate

This time I’m with God. I can collect my visa tomorrow morning. Shinagawa Station. I will take the Gaijin Express to that rectangular pile of trash again. Maybe the chimney coughs me a white cloud that I can sit down on to sail to that wooden window of yours. I miss you, too.

Beam me up ’cause I can’t breathe


Japan, Tôkyô. May 2010

Hast du dich an die Luft in Tôkyô gewöhnt, fragt er.
Seit zwei Wochen hämmert mir ein Husten ans Innere der Brust, so dass mir in manchen Sätzen die Wörter übereinanderpurzeln. Vielleicht ist die Luft hier tatsächlich anders. Doch die Schuhschachtel hat Löcher zum Atmen. So gewöhnt man sich auch an sie.

Die Oststadt zeigt mir jeden Tag neue Gesichter. Die Vielzahl ihrer rechteckigen Augen starrt auf mich herab, aus Türmen, aus Gebirgen aus Glas. Sie verschluckt mich durch ihre Poren, osmotisch, schießt mich in weit verzweigten Adern verschiedenen Organen zu, und spuckt mich wieder ans Tageslicht. Sie ist keine Maschine, wie die Lang’sche Metropolis. Sie ist ein Geschwulst, das von Blutkörperchen aus dem ganzen Land genährt wird.

Der hagere Mann am Fenster dreht das Gebiss im Mund mit seiner Zunge herum. Das Gebiss und das Fenster klappern.

Es gibt ein Lied, dass auf diese Stadt, auf meine Gefühle ihr gegenüber, derzeit genau passt: “Spaceman” von Babylon Zoo. Ich weiß nicht, warum ich mich nach so vielen Jahren wieder an dieses Lied erinnere. Doch ich höre es fast täglich, wenn mich die Stahlwürmer in ihren Eingeweiden durch die Tunnel der Stadt tragen. Mit offenen Augen schwebe in die Geschichte hinein, die es prophezeit.

It’s time to terminate this great wide world
Morbid fascination / Television takes control
Decimation / Different races fall
Electronic information tampers with your soul

There’s a fire between us / So where is your god?
There’s a fire between us / I can’t get off the carousel / I can’t get off this world

Spaceman / I always wanted you to go into space, man
– Intergalactic Christ –

Ich frage mich wann das Raumschiff kommt, das uns mitnehmen wird. Genau wie ich und die Millionen Pendler durch die Tunnels der Stadt wird es sich durch ein Wurmloch bei den Sternen zwängen, um plötzlich am Horizont zu erscheinen. Ein Weg von acht Millionen Lichtjahren. Ein Korallenriff am Himmel, das leuchtend seine Bahnen zieht. Die Entrückung als Teleportation. Was, wenn Christus in einem Raumschiff wiederkehrt? Zwischen uns ist ein Feuer.

Das Licht der Stadt verschluckt das der Sterne. Doch das Riff am Himmel zieht seine Bahnen, und scheint in die Augen der Türme.

Shoe Box


Ein mehrstöckiger Highway, unter dessen farblosen Betonwindungen das weiße Stablicht der sich aneinanderreihenden Convenience Stores pulst. Ein breiter Fluss, der an den von wehender Wäsche gezierten Batterien von Wohntürmen entlang in die Bucht fließt. Ein Zimmer, so groß wie eine Schuhschachtel, zwischen dessen muffigen Wänden sich abermals Buchseiten, Wäschestapel und Erinnerungen zu noch mehr Erinnerungen verschachteln, neu verschachteln, neu ordnen. Seit drei Tagen lebe ich in Tôkyo, das Gästezimmer, das ich mir mit einem indischen Computerfachmann teile, ist für die nächsten paar Monate meine Bleibe, bis ich umziehen kann. Es passt nur zu gut, dass das Viertel, in dem es sich befindet, Hakozaki heißt. Schachtelkap.

Schachteln, Schächte, Schachzüge, die Gott lenkt. An die Wände meines Schädels pochen Worte aus dem Klezmer “Song of Ruth”: She lived inside a shoe box… lost in the wheels of Chicago… a woman that spoke six languages survived as a factory girl… wait for me, and I will come for you…

Zwar fühle ich mich nicht mehr “wie ein Drachen, der ohne Schnur im Wind taumelt”, aber noch lange nicht geerdet. Tôkyô, die Oststadt. Um der unbekannten Stadt ein wenig Vertrauen abzugewinnen übersetze ich mir die japanischen Ortsnamen in deutsche um. Manche lassen sich willig umdrehen. Aus Shinjuku wird Neuenheim, Yotsuya ist das Vierstal, aus Shinbashi wird Neubrücken und Ôtemachi lässt sich nach ein, zwei Biegungen in Prankstadt wandeln. Wenn aus Ueno Oberwilden und Roppongi Sechsbeumen und Aoyama einfach Blauberg wird, fühlt man sich nicht mehr ganz so fremd. Gleich nach dem wüsten Schachtelkap folgt die belebtere Puppenstadt. Die meisten Namen lassen sich allerdings nicht ganz so bequem umdeutschen. Deswegen bleiben Hanzômon und Suitengû-Mae, die Stationen, die mich von jetzt ab täglich ein und aussteigen sehen, von meinen Verdrehungen vorerst unbehelligt.

Noch ist alles neu, vor allem ich hier. Wenn man Freunde trifft oder mit ihnen skypet, geht es besser. Und wenn man betet und die Wände der Pappschachtel von einem Licht erhellen lässt, das lebt.

She hides inside a shoe box earrings and a corsage. A box of receipts and postcards on a shelf in a Chicago garage…