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Thursday, February 25, 2016

My luck ran out

Having visited ten countries in nearly five months without any major mishap, I had my camera bag stolen yesterday, and with it, also my passport.

This happened at the Berlin train station at around 12:45AM. I had left the apartment at 3:35AM Wednesday and was waiting for the 4:27AM train on Thursday to get back to Leipzig, meaning I would be inside my apartment again at 6:15AM the next day, or after nearly 27 hours away from home. These extremely long days are not untypical for me, since I always strive to maximize my travel budget and time. Fatigue, then, was a factor, but the thieves were also extremely professional.

I believe one man had a bag that could be folded and stored inside his jacket. Once inside the cafe where I was sitting, he took it out, then placed my bag inside his bag, then walked out. There were guys outside goofing around. They may have been his accomplices creating a distraction. There might have been another guy to distract the cashier also. I had my bag on the floor, but normally it would have been between my feet. Not this time. I screwed up.

It was a tiny cafe, and though I was looking straight out, I saw nothing since my bag had been placed inside the thief's bag.

Next Thursday, I'm scheduled to fly back to Philly. I had contemplated going down to Northern Bohemia this week to check out the Gypsy situation, but obviously, that's scrapped. Tomorrow or Monday, I'll have to go to the US embassy in Berlin to get a replacement passport.

For the last seven years, I've spent almost every spare day roaming the streets to take photos and, when I get a chance, talk to strangers. The results are the nearly 9,000 images on this blog and at least 250 articles. Without my camera, this blog will have to go on hiatus for a while. If I feel an urgent need to write something, of course I'll write, but there won't be nearly daily posting of images.

Though my activities here have been frantic, no one asked me to do any of this. I'm tired.

At least this mishap happened at the end of my overseas stay, after I had written about (and photographed) Germany, Singapore, England, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Ukraine.


11:56AM 2/25 update: the embassy has responded to my request for a replacement passport, so at least I won't be stranded in Leipzig.

And a huge thank you to three regular donors for sending $180. After a few hours of fitful sleep, I woke up feeling pretty damn stupid, but the Vietnamese have a saying, "Keep going out at night, you will see ghosts." For this project, I've visited many of the worst places in the USA, such as Camden (repeatedly, even at night), Gary, Oakland and Detroit, etc., and during this stay in Europe, I've roamed completely unknown cities at all hours, so I've been very lucky to have nothing bad happen until yesterday.

In Istanbul, I was briefly surrounded by some assholes, one of whom struck me in the face. Since that had nothing to do with polictics and not emblematic of Turkey, I left it out of my article. In Istanbul, a restaurant owner also refused to charge me for lunch. Everywhere I've gone, I've met kindness way more often than rudeness, so I consider myself very blessed.

I just went on eBay to look for a replacement camera body and lens. Even used, this gear is expensive, so I will need to raise around $1,200 to get going again. It kills me that such a sum would only be used to replace what I already had, but what can I do now? From now on, I'll just have to make sure to never leave my camera bag where it could be snatched, and perhaps staying out for more than 24 hours at a time is not such a great idea, considering that I'm not getting younger. I'm 52.

P.S. Yesterday, I had gone to Hamburg, and Berlin was only a stop on the way back. A roundtrip from Leipzig to Hamburg was only 30 Euros, but the catch was a 4+ hour layover in Berlin in the middle of the night. I took some nice photos in Hamburg, including two I thought were formal breakthroughs for me. Hamburg itself, I found cold and rather charmless. Completely flattened in WWII, it appears very modern and sterile, and the famed seediness around the Reeperbahn has become pretty canned. Hamburg does have a huge foreign-born population, and that was interesting to observe. With a day pass on the subway, I was all over.

1:28PM 2/25 update: up to $200 from four donors. Many thanks!

2:10PM 2/25 update: up to $260 from six donors. Many thanks!

3:20PM 2/25 update: Ron Unz just sent me $1,000, so my goal has been met! Once I get back to the States, I will go on eBay to get a good-conditioned, used Canon 50D and at least one lens. Batteries, memory cards and a camera bag will also have to be bought. Thanks to everyone for helping me out, not just today but through the years. Without you, this blog would not be possible.

11:04PM 2/26/16 update: I was in Berlin today to get my replacement passport so I'm good to go home on Thursday. Thanks for a $25 donation from Cocoa, FL!

6:24PM 2/27/16 update: Thanks for a $50 donation from Tunbridge, VT! I'm working on an article about Gypsies. It should be up tomorrow or Monday.



Mark and Jolee said...

Linh, How awful! But as you say, at least it happened at the end of your sojourn in Europe and we are lucky you shared it with us. We're really sorry about this, though. We remember you coming into our island ferry terminal with that big camera, and what wonderful pictures it took! Take care and anything we can do to help, we're ready. J and M

Rudy said...


This is nothing short of disastrous.

Christian said...

the solution is simple: Send some Money to Linh right away! So that he can buy a new one.
I will do so immediately. If everybody who reads this donates just five or ten quid - it's done. So let's fix it for Linh here. Auf geht's! (Let's get it on in German).
Take care Linh - sorry for your loss, but you will carry on - I am sure.
All the best

Rudy said...


Christian said...

Big thumbs up, Rudy!
C'mon lads - this guy (I mean Linh) just tries to show signs of humanity in rough times and circumstances - let us show him, that humanity works in many ways!
Big thanks to all who contribute!
Bis dann

Ian Keenan said...

If you go to those no name New York photo shops where six immigrant guys are standing there in a small room and hone in on what you want, say this is all I can spend, and they know you're telling the truth because you are - the prices can be surprising, maybe not as good as eBay but maybe and for new gear. Insuring the camera may work with some company. I remember when I first saw your camera pack and was shocked you take that into all those dive bars.

But clearly one can go to the poorest rural (and often urban) places and it never occurs to anyone to commit petty theft and they don't know how. If you're somewhere where wealthy tourists consistently appear the petty theft can arrive and hone its practice. Who steals the least? "As with Jordan, the general absence of theft has to be one of the most refreshing thing about traveling in Syria. Your bags will be quite safe left unattended virtually anywhere." ('93 Lonely Planet) So maybe the Syrians will help out with that in Berlin.

Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: First thing I thought upon reading the first sentences was "professional thieves" at work with perhaps a political agenda. How distrustful I become.

So happy to reach the end (in red), displaying the contributor saviors, including Ron Unz.

Better stitch camera equipment inside your underwear while Trans-Atlantic and until home! 10 nations, an incredible journey, long may you snap.

LJansen said...

hi, Linh. pitched in a pittance. but hope it helps.

also, did you see this:

Linh Dinh said...

Thanks, LJansen!

Must run to train station right now to go back to Berlin to pick up my new passport...


Chuck Olroski said...


On the stolen passport, here's a quote from Melville, Moby Dick, "The Sermon," (Chapter 9), "In this world shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel feerly, and without a PASSPORT; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers."

Without any discernible reason, yesterday's mail had a bill from the I.R.S. for $1,600.00. have 1-month to make payment! In order to determine what the hell is going on, I must now return to Jackson Hewitt who did our income tax filing. going on. (Note: In last night's GOP debate circus, Ben Carson claimed he got audited by the I.R.S. for opposing Obamacare) In contrast, Carol and I have had Obamacare since my company showed me the door, March 2014.

When you get grounded, Carol and I will welcome your visit, and this time, I won't have to jockey cars, and we can relax & unwind in Dorko's, Remo's bar, Mount Carmel. I need to get a good package on, not worry about driving D.U.I., and best wishes with your flight home!

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

I just got back from Berlin. At least getting a replacement passport wasn't a nightmare. When I had my bag stolen, I didn't even know how long it would take to get a replacement passport.

At the Berlin station, I watched the Gypsies with extra interest, considering what happened. I think I will write a piece about the Gypsy situation after all.


Chuck Olroski said...


I thought getting the passport reissued was going to be a tortuous ordeal. Glad I was wrong.

In lieu of the equipment theft, writing on Gypsy situation is a good idea. I am for one wondering how organized they are? As you know, here in the US there's Heinz 57 varieties of ethnic mafias. In fact, there's a new lurid cops & robbers movie called "Triple 9." In the film, a character mentioned the Atlanta, Georgia-based "Kosher Nostra," the Russian-Jewish mob. I do not know the fate of the character who said that, but it's probably not good.

To date, the world's top historical robbers and rogues probably learned a lot of valuable techniques from the gypsies.

Lastly, early this morning, I talked with Joe "Remo" Remash on the telephone. He was seated upon Dorko's Cafe stool, and watching favorite, The Andy Griffith Show. Remo asked if I could join him in Freeland, PA tonight, a regional dart throwing competition is underway. Could not, must rise early for Kitchen duty.

A long time dart-hurler, Remo plans to compete in Freeland, and maybe you and I can go to Dorko's when you get rest and ooze into the crazy & numb Empire life.

Remo said hello, said he'll never forget your visit, pictures, and the Centralia Postcard. Wish you well!

David A. Powell said...

Hello Linh,

At exactly the same time you were sitting in the cafe in Berlin, I was writing a mail to you. After finishing my mail, I looked at your blog and realized what had happened with your camera, etc. - probably not long after the fact. Finally, I'm very glad everything has worked out as well as it has.

On the other hand, I was a bit sad that I didn't discover your blog or residency here in Germany a bit sooner (but then, things - in my experience - usually happen in their own time rather than when and how we'd prefer). Your Kiev photos really knocked me over (and I've still not fully recovered from it). OK, I have very personal connections with Kiev as well as a particular person in Kiev (a very good friend for a number of years). But I won't go into this here.

At the same time (from what I've learned through two of your interviews), we seem to have quite a lot in common in terms of "worldviews" (and here I'm not merely speaking about "compatible political opinions"). When you talk about the tragedy of destroying and throwing away priceless cultural heritages - this is exactly where I live with my thoughts a great part of the time (and the main reason I'm involved with what occupies me...). In short, I don't come across many others who are as concerned with the vital importance of "creative preservation." Yes, I had the same reaction in 1989 to Prague as you did - I was astounded.
I may be dirt poor - but the building I live in was built in the early 1700's - and this allows me a very "rich" spiritual connection with things, people and ideas I've valued my whole life. This, to me, is worth a lot more than having a lot of cash (although having an extra Euro or two never hurts).

I'm an American artist living permanently in Germany since 1990. Unlike you, I DID become a painter (among other things ... but I won't go into this just now, either). My German partner (a writer) has been urging me to start a blog of my own for quite some years now. Well, it seems the exposure to your blog was what I needed as a "final push" in this direction. Needless to say, my partner is very pleased now...

Of course, the blog is still in its infancy - but one has to start somewhere.

I sincerely hope you can make it back to Germany at some point in the future. And I wish you a safe return trip. Above all, take good care of yourself regardless of where you are. You are very much need on this planet.

David Powell


David A. Powell said...

correction: "You are very much needed on this planet." (sorry, it has been a long day)

Linh Dinh said...

Hi David,

Many thanks for your email. I had too eventful a week, so need to unwind a bit.

Cultural losses has been an ongoing theme of mine. In my story "!" [from Blood and Soap] I wrote this:

The war was an outrage, Ho Muoi thought, not because it was wiping out thousands of people a day, the young, the old, and the unborn, but that it could exterminate a man of destiny like himself. And yet he understood that wars also provide many lessons to those who survived them. A war is a working man’s university. Knowing that, he almost felt grateful.

Ho Muoi also had the superstition (or the inspiration) that if the war eliminates a single book from this earth, then that would be a greater loss than all the lives wasted. The death of a man affects three or four other individuals, at most. Its significance is symbolic and sentimental, but the loss of a single book is tangible, a disaster which should be mourned forever by all of mankind. The worth of a society is measured by how many books it has produced. This, from a man who had never actually read a book. Ho Muoi had seen so few books, he could not tell one from another; they were all equal in his mind. He never suspected that war is the chief generator of books. A war is a thinking man’s university.

David A. Powell said...


Thanks very much for your response - and the quote (it was unexpected since I've long ago gotten used to being ignored or passed over when I write someone).

You do seem exhausted and in need of winding down (yes, I know full well how it can go, being someone who relentlessly pursues something to the point of total collapse...). I'm sure (I hope) you'll get what you need in this sense in the coming time.

The passage which struck me was in your piece about Brighton:

"While I’m no progressive, I agree with Dan that we’ve lost a huge part of our core humanity and capacity for basic pleasures. In the name of progress, human nature has been deformed and beauty shattered, burnt or bombed into oblivion. It’s as if we can’t stand our magnificent heritage. Just look at what Europe did to itself in the 20th century. Visiting Prague for the first time, I was astounded to see what an intact, major European city should look like. As Lewis Mumford pointed out, man should study his entire past, even the most distant, for lessons on how to move forward. Instead of lunging ahead, he should walk backward as much as possible."

There is too much to be said about all of this. However, I especially like Mumford's idea of walking backward as much as possible (of course, it's an "impossible" idea given the ongoing state of things ... but "impossible" describes our dilemma ... as well as the direction needed if we are ever to really get serious about dealing with our dilemma).

Cultural artifacts (buildings, books, paintings, eating utinsils ... you name it) fall into different categories. Specialists study these things for what they reveal about "human culture" and put the old examples in museums and archives to preserve them for future study (or whatever). A very small amount can be called "art" - but for the most part it's all just a lot of objects which no one uses any more (even the painted images). Sometimes, what is no longer used turns out to be "art" when the veneer of use value falls away (so a fork might end up being almost as valuable as a third or fourth-rate "old master").

In one of his texts, Kasimir Malevich writes: "If it were possible to extract from the works of the great masters the feeling expressed in them - the actual artistic value, that is - and to hide this away, the public, along with the critics and art scholars, would never even miss it."

What I'm getting at is this: in a world determined only by "use value" - how something (or someone) can be USED to reach an exclusively MATERIAL end ... well, one hardly needs catastrophes such as wars for destroying what feeds us spiritually ... what Malevich calls "feeling" (whether it is transmitted by a painting, poem or person). This, as I see it, describes the real threat we face as a species. Finally, when we no longer feel anything, destructive events such as wars (or indeed immanent nuclear annihilation) simply no longer reach us; we are already effectively dead.

I don't expect you to respond to this - but, as you know from your own experience - when you have to write something, you just have to do it. So, I just had to write it. And you can always come back to it whenever you want or have the time, etc.

Take care

Linh Dinh said...

Hi David,

The walking backward is actually my image!

In Austin, TX, I once saw a graffiti, "I don't know if you or I exist, but somewhere there are poems about us." After quoting it in a piece, this quotation has been attributed to me and posted all over the web. My most memorable line, then, is one I never wrote!

Anyway, getting to the meat of your comment. I think our speed culture has made people numb to every sort of pleasure, including aesthetic and spiritual ones. If people can't even enjoy food without being molested by distracting stimulants, as in TV, music or the smartphone, what can they appreciate?

Since slowness and silence have become intolerable, poetry and painting cannot be contemplated.

David A. Powell said...


I thank you for your response - and the interesting information about "walking backwards." I had to laugh when I read it because I wrote something very similar to someone not long ago ... I wrote that it's time we went backward (instead of FOREVER FORWARD) to discover, finally, where we took a wrong turn going in the wrong direction. But Mumford is worth reading too (another subject, though). My comment, by the way, was made with a very broad brush (but, being a painter among other things, I sometimes fall into this sort of thing).

What you say about slowness and silence having become intolerable is a colossal understatement (which does not make it any less true ... it's only that there are mountains of aspects to it). What I mean is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I've been living with what clearly concerns you as well for a very long time.

I hope that we can keep in touch because I'm certain we have a whole lot to exchange (but everything always comes in its own time).

Do you know the Berlin philosopher Byung-Chul_Han? If not, maybe you should get to know his thoughts(or maybe you can even somehow arrange to meet/talk with him on your next trip back to Germany). I was reminded of Byung-Chul Han by your graffiti "I don't know if you or I exist, but somewhere there are poems about us." (SURE WE EXIST - it only takes some time to find out where we are!)

One final thing: my blog has grown somewhat. I have some photographs as well which might interest you. Here's the recommendation I posted at google:

I've never forgotten a book I encountered in my hometown public library during the early 1960's - and which served as one of my earliest introductions to the world as it actually is...

The First World War: A Photographic History was edited and published in 1933 by Laurence Stallings (1894-1968), playwright, screenwriter, novelist, literary critic, and journalist.

Here is a small selection of photographs from this now largely forgotten book...

David A. Powell said...

PS -

The First World War: A Photographic History.

"Stallings criticism of Victorian and Wilsonian optimism and sense of progress is apparent throughout the work. It is, in fact, evident in the title of the book ― The First World War: A Photographic History. In 1933, there had only been one world war. Stallings, through his title, implied that there will be more world wars. In addition to its use in the title, the phrase "first world war" appears twice in the introduction. Also in that introduction he alludes to the next war not being so distant. In addressing Africa's absence from the book he says, 'There should be more pictures of Africa? In the next war, experts assure us, there will be.' "

― Aaron J. Gulyas

David A. Powell said...

... and there are some drawings:

Letters From Nowhere (I)
71 Drawings

... and paintings:

10 Paintings

David A. Powell said...

Life and its manifestations have hitherto been considered from two different standpoints - the material and the religious. It would seem that a consideration of life from the standpoint of art ought to become a third and equally valid point of view. But in practice art (as a second-rate power) is relegated to the service of one or the other first two standpoints. This state of affairs is curiously inconsistent with the fact that art always and under all circumstances plays the decisive role in the creative life and that art values alone are absolute and endure forever. With the most primitive means (charcoal, hog bristles, modelling sticks, catgut and steel strings) the artist creates something which the most ingenious and efficient technology will never be able to create.

- Kasimir Malevich, “Suprematism” from: The Non-Objective World

For Malevich there is a direct relationship between representationalism, idol-making, deceptiveness and image cults in art - and a false consciousness, a dangerous capitulation of man to the world of objects, possession and power greed which ultimately all merge into a totalitarian cult of the leader, enslavement and war.

- Aage A. Hansen-Löve "Kazimir Malevic - Gott ist nicht gestürzt!", Hanser Verlag, 2004, page 444

Für Malevic besteht also ein direkter Zusammenhang zwischen Gegenständlichkeit, Abbildlichkeit, Scheinhaftigkeit und Bilderkult in der Kunst - und einem falschen Bewußtsein, ja einer gefährlichen Verfallenheit des Menschen an die Gegenstandswelt, an Besitz- und Machtgier, die letzlich allesamt in einem totalitären Führerkult, Verknechtung und Krieg münden.

- Aage A. Hansen-Löve "Kazimir Malevic - Gott ist nicht gestürzt!", Hanser Verlag, 2004, Seite 444


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I lived mostly in the US from 1975 until 2018, and have returned to my native Saigon. I've also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), a novel, Love Like Hate (2010), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six collections of poems, with a Collected Poems soon to be released from Chax Press. I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in Tokyo, London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.