Friday, November 4, 2011

Why Hmong Outside China Oppose the Term Miao

It is probably na├»ve of me to think that all the answers are in China, but I did. The more I dig this grave of Hmong history I’m realizing that I am biting to more than I can chew. There’s so much history yet nothing is solid stone. I’m searching for some kind of solid evidence about the Hmong history pre-Vietnam War. I thought I would find it here in China since I couldn’t find it at St. Ben’s. The facts are definitely not in the Chinese history. In the Chinese language “there are no Chinese characters for Hmong throughout recorded Chinese history” (Tapp, 2004).
The only fact I can find is that during Maoist period when China was trying to unify everyone, including ethnic minorities, “China came to recognize each other (ethnic minorities) as co-ethnics and to identify with and operate under the ethnonym Miao. Only a portion of those identified as Miao – the ones distributed over Western Guizhou and parts of Yunnan, particularly the border states – call themselves Hmong in their own language” (Schein, 2004). As a young child I learned from many Hmong elders, professionals and mentors that the term Miao is a derogatory term, much like how the word nigger is a derogatory term for the African American community.
Many Hmong outside China oppose the term Miao, but “it is utilized as a neutral ethnonym within China, and as the only term that encompasses all the subgroups” (Schein, 2004). The term Miao literally means “rice-plant shoot,” “sprouts,” and in some sources, “weed” in Chinese (Leepreecha).  I do not like to refer to myself as a Miao for this reason, but I would only do so reluctantly in China to get my point across Chinese people. What’s strange is that it seems like the Hmong-Chinese are fine with people calling them Miao.
The reason why the term Miao is more accepted in China is because during “the Maoist (1949-1979) and the early reform (1979-1989) periods, they were more caught in Nationalist projects, building a strong sense of Chineseness vis a vis the West, throwing their culture into the amalgam that was to constitute the multi-ethnic Chinese people. The Chinese state, for the most part, was seen as their patron, their benefactor, their projector form the economic caprice to which both nature and the market had subjected them in the past” (Schein, 2004). During that period “the Chinese government’s project of ethnic identification, based upon the criteria of common language, territory, economy, and psychological characteristics or sentiments, was launched after the Communist Party took power in 1949” (Leepreecha).
However, “deeply disaffected with the trajectory post-Mao reform took, however, some came to question the Chinese national project which had so acutely disadvantaged them. They have turned instead toward a transnational source of identity which could yield the possibilities for development that the reform process had denied them” (Schein, 2004). During the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong, “Hmong ritual leaders said that their ritual practices were banned. They even had to hide their ceremonial gong for funerals in a cave. However, after the Cultural Revolution, they resumed performing the rituals, in spite of the Communist government’s continued refusal to support any religious beliefs” (Leepreecha).
In fact during the early reform period in China, “more than four hundred groups of people were registered for approval in the early 1950s.  However, by the mid-1960s, only 55 groups (nationalities or minzu), including the majority Han, were officially registered.  All the rest of the groups were classified under these 55 categories.  During the Cultural Revolution, in the late 1960s and 1970s, one more nationality was added. Up to now, many ethnic groups subsumed under other nationalities and still struggle to gain official recognition from the Chinese government” (Leepreecha).
Truth of the matter is, “the cumbersome umbrella term Miao refers to a number of disparate groups totaling 7.5 million people as of 1990, speaking 3 mutually unintelligible dialects and scattered over 7 provinces in southwest China, but most densely aggregated in Guizhou, Yunnan and Hunan” (Schein, 2004). The problem lies in the fact that three ethnicities (San-Miao) in the larger entity more broadly known as Miao, “a classification originally imposed by the conquering Chinese; each of these Miao groups has their own history, and their own views about who were their ancestors and where they originated from, but these varied versions have now been combined to read like a single unified account” (Lee, 2007).

Lee, Gary Yia. “Diaspora and the Predicament of Origins: Interrogating Hmong Postcolonial History and Identity.” Hmong Studies Journal, Volume 8, 2007. 25 Oct. 2011. Web. < >
Leepreecha, Prasit. The Construction and Reproduction of Hmong Ethnic Identity in China. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct 2011. < >
Schein, Louisa. “Hmong/Miao Transnationality: Identity beyond Culture”, in Jean Michaud, Christian Culas, Nick Tapp and Gary Lee, Hmong/Miao of Asia (Chiangmai: Silkworm Books, 2004).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Teaching English in China

Teaching Weekend in Shehong, Sichuan, China

Middle school girls touring  me around their junior high.

My middle school class that I taught English to (approx. 42 students)

My kindergarden class. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Someone Dies

I am in China right now, the Hmong homeland, looking for answers. It’s true that “everywhere the Hmong reside they refer to China as a homeland. In funerals, for instance, when a Hmong ritualist anywhere in the world guides the soul of a deceased person back to a place where it can be at rest, the ultimate destination is a mythologized China” (Schein, 2004). 

In the Hmong culture when someone dies there is a Song called Qhuab Ke, (Showing the Way) performed by playing a qeej (bamboo instrument) that is the first ritual that opens the funeral ceremony. The ritualist opens by asking whether the dead person really dies or is only faking death.  If he or she is truly dead, then the person is informed that his or her body is to be washed and dressed in mortuary costumes, and the soul will be guided back to all the places he or she has lived to show them gratitude before joining the ancestors in the After World.  Prior to making this journey, however, the Qhuab Ke chanter informs the dead person about the beginning of the world, the getting of seeds for crops and why people die.  The “Showing the Way” chant says that a pair of female and male super-beings, Nkauj Ntsuab (Gao Njua) and Sis Nab (She Na) were sent from the Nether World to fashion the world, to make the mountains and plains, the rivers and lakes; and to populate it with people without specifying who they were.  In the “Showing the Way” funeral chant, it is said that the sacrificial animals for the dead are given to the soul of a dead person for use either as food or assets to pay debts incurred while alive on Earth.  Should he or she want to replenish this stable of animals, the need will be made known through a sickness among the close living descendants who will then have to carry out an “ox ceremony” (ua nyuj dab) involving the killing of a cow.  Apart from incense, rice alcohol, ghost-paper-money and these sacrificial cattle, no other economic needs are mentioned in Hmong rituals (Lee, 2007). China is the “Homeland” for the Hmong people, which is why I am here.

Lee, Gary Yia. “Diaspora and the Predicament of Origins: Interrogating Hmong Postcolonial History and Identity.” Hmong Studies Journal, Volume 8, 2007. 25 Oct. 2011. Web. < >
Schein, Louisa. “Hmong/Miao Transnationality: Identity beyond Culture”, in Jean Michaud, Christian Culas, Nick Tapp and Gary Lee, Hmong/Miao of Asia (Chiangmai: Silkworm Books, 2004).

Paug tau ub ob...

Puag ……….. tau ub os………….ib tus ntxhais Hmoob txiam txim siab tias nws yuav mus kawn ntawn nqib siab tos lub tsev kawn ntawn College of St. Benedict. Nws muaj 18 xyoo. Nws paub hais tias lub tsev kawn ntawn feem ntau yeev yog Mekas xwb; nws tshai heev tabsis nws muaj peem xwm heev. Tau nws mus txoj tog lus tsev kawn ntawn ntawn lawn no nws hais tias:
            “Where are you from?”
Nws tes: “St. Paul, Minnesota.”
Lawn nog duas: “No, where were you from before that.”
Qhov no ua rau nws tus siab heev. Nws tsis pom nqa yuav teb li cas. Nws tias mus rau teb chaws Suav mus nhriav nws li Hmoob keevkwm. Lws zaus lawn no nws duas nws tias paub teb lawn.

(Translation: Once … upon a time… a young Hmong girl decided that she was going to attend college at the College of St. Benedict. She was 18 years old. She knew that majority of the students will be White; she is intimidated by this but she was also very courageous. When she arrived at the college they asked her:
            “Where are you from?”
            She answered: “St. Paul, Minnesota.”
            They asked again: “No, where were you from before that.”
This made her really sad. She didn’t know how to respond to this question. That is why she decided to come to China in search of her Hmong history and heritage. Next time when they ask her this question she will know the answer.)

I wanted to tell “them” that I was Hmong and that my family resides in America but we were originally from Thailand, but we are not Thai people, because before Thailand we (the Hmong people) were in Laos and Vietnam, but we’re also not Laotian nor Vietnamese, because before that we were in China, but we’re not Chinese either. I didn’t have enough time or knowledge to tell them. So I shut my mouth about the history.

I answered: “I’m not an international student. I’m from the Twin Cities. I am Hmong.”
They said: “I’ve never heard of that.”
End of Conversation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

One Question leads to a million Questions

Ashley Cooper, one of the Breakthrough Staff members said to me in an email: "I was walking around Barnes & Noble a couple months ago and was appalled to see that there were only 3-4 books about the Hmong culture. Granted, it's something isn't surprising for many Hmong people but I would love to see the younger generations debunk this trend and being publishing their experiences for others to learn from."

It is moments like this that really ignite the fire inside of me to write.

Being in China and just being far away from home this entire year has really hit me how important my identity is in this world. Our biggest project this semester for our China study abroad seminar is this thing called the "One Question Project" where we pick one question and dissect it. My classmates are tackling issues such the One Child Policy, Buddhism in China, Chinese Tradition Marriages, etc. I decided to focus my one question on the Hmong-Miao minority population in southwestern China. I've read up on the history of Hmong people in China - I've learned so much about what happened to the Hmong people before the Vietnam War. Anyway, one of my biggest discoveries about this one question is: SO WHAT, WHY SHOULD PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THE HMONG PEOPLE? WHY SHOULD IT MATTER?

The more I dig into the Hmong history, the more I wonder why I am even doing it. The more I talk about the Hmong history to people, the more I realize how unimportant it is to them. So why bother educating people about things they don't care about? Just because it matters to me does not mean it matters to the world.



If we don't write our own stories, others will write it for us. For the longest time, especially growing up in the States, my identity and cultural heritage as a Hmong person had always been neglected and put down - when I speak Hmong and practice Hmong traditions it never seemed as valuable as speaking English or practicing "American" traditions (Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Independence Day, etc). As time went on and I grew older, I began to believe that my story, the Hmong Story, was not as important as other people's stories. I began to believe that my story was not worthy of telling, not worthy to record down in history and not worthy of researching.

 Who are the Hmong people, anyway? Why do they cling so tightly to their culture? Why can't they assimilate to their surrounding and accept their new environment is their new identity? Why are they so defensive? 

I'm still trying to uncover the answers to these questions. But it’s exactly like what Ashley said; it's really up the younger Hmong generation to fill up those bookshelves at Barnes and Noble. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear Niam, You are my Center of the World

My center of the world began inside of you, Mom. To be honest, my center of the world still revolves around you. When I think of the beginning of the world I see April 7th, 1991. I was born the year of the sheep according to the Chinese zodiac. I was born to a Hmong mother in a refugee camp somewhere in Thailand. We don’t get to pick and choose our skin color, racial background, class status, country of origin or parents – but if we could, I would choose you a million times over. I would choose to be Hmong a million times again.

To the world the Hmong people were inexistent.  But I never knew that. When I tell people I was born in Thailand they automatically make the mistake of categorizing me as Thai. Mom, you were my center of the world and you reminded me each and every day that I was Hmong. We spoke Hmong. We ate Hmong food, peb no mov nrog kua txob . We celebrated Hmong festivals such as No Peb Caug. We practiced Hmong shamanistic traditions. We sacrificed chickens and cows to our ancestors. We made ghost money and burned it to the spirit world. We watched Hmong movies and listened to Hmong music. As a little girl I knew that knowing my culture and heritage as a Hmong person was the most important thing to remember. To me being Hmong was the center of this universe because you were my mom and you were Hmong.

My identity as a Hmong person imprinted itself permanently into who I am and shaped how I saw the world. 

(To Be Continued...)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What does it even mean to be HMONG?

I’ve always known that I was Hmong. You know, attending the Hmong New Year festival, participating in the ua neeb (spirit calling) and hu plig (soul calling) ceremonies, eating sticky rice with Hmong sausage, speaking Hmong, etc: The point is, growing up in a Hmong household I pretty much knew what my expectations were and obeyed it.

BUT – I never knew how HMONG I was until I stepped outside of my Hmong community. Of course this epiphany has hit me various times at various points of my life (Hmong Women’s Circle/ Girls Scouts, HmoobTeen, Youth Leadership Initiative, college, Breakthrough Saint Paul, India) but it has never hit me as hard as now.

Here in China were my Hmong ancestors originated, I feel more Hmong than ever. How so?

This semester we are assigned a project called the ONE QUESTION PROJECT where we zoom in on one question we have about China and research about it while we are here. My One Question Project is on the Hmong-Miao people in Southeastern China. Through this I’ve had the opportunity to educate my peers about the Hmong people, culture, religion, history and values.

I’m sure my peers are annoyed about my constant “Did you know that in the Hmong culture…” I redundantly educate people who are unfamiliar about the Hmong people about how we got to the United States. I’ve told the story of the Vietnam War so many times, I bet I could recite it back and forth from A-Z and Z-A. I’ve also given them many facts and tidbits about what the Hmong people believe in.

When my peers have dreams about things like someone they love died or they are pregnant, I usually tell them what the dream means in the Hmong culture:
-          Dream that someone died: It means that the person who died in the dream is getting better and healthier; their sickness will die away.
-          Dream that you are pregnant: It means you will have a lot burden to carry such as a long to-do list, a lot of preparation for an event or exam; basically a lot of stress weighing you down.
-          Dream that a snake bit you: It means you will get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse. If you already had sexual intercourse, it means you will definitely be pregnant.
-          Dream that an animal bit you: It means you need to be cautious of the people around you because there are people out there who are intentionally planning to physically or emotionally hurt you.
-          Dream that an attractive opposite sex person wants you to go with them to an unfamiliar place: It means a wandering ghost wants to take your soul from the human world to the spirit world. If you go with them you can possibly die.
-          There’s more but I’ll stop here.

When someone bruises out of nowhere and can’t recall how they got that bruise it usually meant that the person’s spirit is trying to run away because it’s unhappy about where it is at that point in time but the body will not allow for it go leave so people get bruises without knowing how they got them. It just means that their spirit is not in tune with their body.

When you scoop rice out of the rice cooker don’t scoop straight from the center. It means that you are greedy and your mother-in-law will dislike you.

When you see someone’s belongings out in the street don’t pick it up because it’s probably a ghost trapping you. Ghosts are wandering spirits and if you pick their bait you’re basically giving them permission to take your spirit away.

Don’t ever exchange blood with your boyfriend, significant other or anyone else. If you do you are making a promise (a covenant) with that person saying that you’ll wait for them after you die – this means you can’t enter the gates of heaven without them if you die first. Vice versa.

There’s more but I’ll stop here.

The more I dissect these ideas and values in the Hmong culture the more I realize how much I know (and don’t know) about the Hmong people. I ask myself: First of all how do I know these things? And how did I remember them? Then: Why am I still holding on to these values? Finally: Why am I not questioning or doubting these beliefs?

At the end of the day being Hmong isn’t about having dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and peach skin. Being Hmong isn’t about eating rice, attending the Hmong New Year festivals or killing chickens to make sacrifices. Of course these things contribute to the Hmong culture and customs but it does not define what Hmong is.

At the very end of the day being Hmong is when the values of the Hmong culture are glued so tight inside of me to the point where I don’t even question it. I don’t think there’s even a ‘definition’ to it. It’s something you know deep in your soul. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

On the flip side…

Today was a great day in Beibei, Chongqing, China. And since it turned to be such a great day my roommate Deanna and I expressed that we could definitely live here for a long time. Then Deanna innocently said, “I can totally live like this. The only problem is if I were to learn to speak Mandarin fluently and live here forever, people would still think that I can’t speak the language due to my physical appearance.”

It hit home for me right then.

In the United States I experience that all the time. I speak Hmong and English fluently but people (college peers, employers, normal U.S. citizens) still doubt my communication skills due to my physical appearance (my black hair, almond-shaped-eyes, tan skin and shortness). In fact, many of my peers in the states have commented on my English proficiency skills.  “Thank you.” I’d reply. But seriously it’s demeaning, it sucks and it’s offending.

The funny thing about this situation is that for the past 16 years of my life I have experienced this sort of treatment. Today for the first time this thought ignited in Deanna’s head. It’s not Deanna’s fault at all. Fact of the matter is, if you don’t experience ‘racism’ then it doesn’t exist for you.

All I have to say is, “Welcome to my world.” 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Being Hmong in China

My hypothesis: In China the Chinese people will be able to quickly pick out that I am not Chinese because Asians are pretty good at distinguishing different Asian groups.

Conclusion: Wrong.

I have only been in China for a little over two weeks but I am already realizing how wrong I am about my hypothesis. I thought being Hmong in India was hard. Being Hmong in China is much harder.

Here in China everyone expects me to be Chinese and to already know the language. At the stores and markets they’d come up to me and say things to me Mandarin and all I can reply with is, “Wo bu zhi dao” while shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders. I am pretty ‘dumb’ here.

When I start telling people that I am Hmong, that I am sort of related to the Miao minority in China people react differently to me. I remember one night we went out for dinner as a whole group with Professors from Southwest University (the University we’re studying at in China). The topic of my ethnicity came up because the professor was interested in my background. He was wondering if I was Chinese American. I said, “No. Keep guessing.”  

Then finally I said, “I am Hmong. It’s closely related to the Miao Minority here in China.” He was taken aback. Then he said that in his village there are a lot of Miao people and that they are very poor. He mentioned how beautiful and expensive the Miao’s clothing was. At the end of the meal he said, “I’m surprised you’re Miao. I would not have been able to guess it at all.”

Somehow deep in my guts I could sense that he was shocked at how education and literate I was compared to the Miao people he knew. I wasn’t sure if he was praising me or insulting me.  

All of this really makes me wonder: Where do I stand in this world? Where does the Hmong people stand in this planet?

But I guess when we measure our lives against eternity our lives are nothing more than just a speck of dust. So how do we want to spend that time? How can we maximize our experiences here on earth?

So here I am here in China. Hmong girl. Pursuing my dreams. Traveling the world. This is how I choose to spend my time on earth. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Materialistic China

I don’t think I can survive this “materialistic” culture; especially this year when my New Year’s Resolution is aimed at being “non-materialistic.”

About 99.99% of all the women I’ve seen in China wear makeup, high heel, cute skirts/dresses, and straighten/curl their hair. They act as if the world is a runway. About 99.99% of the men are out to get “stuff” out of those materialistic women. There’s nothing wrong with people having fun. I am just saying I don’t think I can survive in this culture.

I would like to think I’m a pretty open-minded person who is always willing to try new things and adapt to my surrounding. But here in China … I don’t know.

The youth culture in China is very shallow. People judge others base on appearances. You must cut your hair a certain way, dye it a certain color, where certain brand names and etc. to attract people of the opposite sex. This happens with the youth culture in America, too, but I feel like it’s waaaay more extreme here in China. College students drink every single night. Every single night. They party at the clubs, they stay up past 3 AM and they party like there’s no tomorrow.

I understand I’ve only been in China for a week. But within 1 week all I have seen are these things. I can’t stand this culture in the US. How do I expect myself to be able to stand it here in China, especially when it’s three times as bad. It’s going to be a hard semester.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feeling like a Foreigner in my own country

I am traveling with Korean Air to go to Beijin, China. There are a lot of Koreans on the flight (or so I would think). It’s strange to say this but I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I will be traveling a group of Koreans (Asians).

I’ve been in the Seattle airport for about 12 hours and I must confess I feel like a foreigner in my own country. In no way am I point fingers at Seattleans, I’m just speaking from personal experience. The people around me (majority are White travelers) would give me pitiful looks as if I didn’t/couldn’t speak English. They would avoid speaking with me in on the flight here. Sometimes they would avoid eye contact. It’s one of those things where people don’t have to speak a word but can feel their negative vibe in the atmosphere.

The flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seattle was interesting. My seat assignment was 27A but I accidently sat in 27F because they were both window seats. When the lady and man (both looked like they were in their 60s) came to their seats and saw that I was in her seat she threw a tantrum and made a scene in the airplane. She said, “She’s in my seat! Can’t she read her boarding ticket correctly?” Then the old lady called the flight attendant. I was like, “Sorry, Mam. I can move. I knew my seat was 27A but it completely slipped out of my mind.” I felt embarrassed. The other passengers on the other end of row 27 had to get up to let me in. The old lady was pretty upset about the fact that I had “stolen” her seat, 27F.  It was such a small matter; all she needed to do was tell me I was in the wrong seat. It wasn’t even necessary for her to add the comment that I was illiterate.

After my disastrous incident returning home from India I am more cautious about being a minority American traveling internationally. In college we discuss issues of white privilege, social construction and the skin-color-hierarchy in class about how unfair it is for people to judge others base on factors we can’t control. I can’t control the fact that I am Hmong, a minority within minorities; I can’t change the fact that my eyes are almond shape; I can’t help that my skin color is peach; I won’t dye my hair blonde and put blue-eye-contacts in just to fit in with the norm (because then I’d look more abnormal).

But here in the “real world” I don’t have time to discuss issues of white privilege, social construction and the skin-color-hierarchy to people about how unfair it is for people to judge others base on factors we can’t control. And truth is, they don’t have the patience to listen.

So I travel cautiously knowing that I have two eyes in the front and one in the back. It’s sad that this is the reality of this world. I travel knowing that people will question my ability to do things; as a minority I have to go twice the mile just to prove that I am just a competent as people who are White. And if I mess up, my entire 'race' looks bad. This is why I say it’s strange but I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I will be traveling a group of Koreans (Asians). At least they won’t discriminate my ability to read. I guess this is why all of us need to go college – to learn to respect differences.

Before releasing me to the big big world my mom warned me: “If you cannot learn to respect differences then you are nowhere near intelligent.” 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Study Abroad Twice?

Many of my friends, relatives and family members have asked me, “Why are you studying abroad twice?” To cut a long story short I usually reply with, “Because I can.”
Yes it’s true that I am studying twice because ‘I CAN’ – because my Communication major allows me to; because I have ‘extra credit’ from high school; because I can fit two study abroads into my four-year-plan and still graduate on time; and most definitely because Mr. Bill Gates is covering for all the expenses thanks to Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship.

But that’s not the only truth. There are many reasons why I am studying abroad twice, and there are many micro and macro reasons why I intentionally chose India and China.
Fact of the matter is I’ve always wanted to do this ever since I was a little girl. I remember in sophomore year of high school after I’d return home from my 2 weeks trip in French Guiana (small country at the tip of Brazil with1% Hmong population) with Girl Scouts/ Hmong Women’s Circle – I would go to bed every night and plan out all the countries I would visit in the future.
That 16 year old Kia created a “DREAM LIST” of all the countries she wanted to see when she grew up. After French Guiana she went to Guatemala with her Spanish teacher, Ms. Helmen, and a group of other Johnson Senior High School friends to volunteer with Habitat For Humanity during her Junior year of high school.

So “WHEN I GROW UP” which is “NOW” I am trying my best to fulfill that DREAM LIST. I can finally put a check mark next to India and China. Little by little I will fulfill my DREAM LIST. Step by step, I am quenching my thirst of traveling this world. This is the long reason why I am studying abroad twice: I wanna travel the world and educate myself at the same time. Don’t we all wanna do that?

Countries I’ve visited:
Thailand – April 1991 – July 1995 (4 years)
United States of America – July 1995 – Present
French Guiana – July 2007
Guatemala – June 2008
India – January – June 2011
People’s Republic of China – August – December 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

I am a Bamboo

I am a bamboo. We are all bamboo. Bamboo is a mystical plant as a symbol of strength, flexibility, tenacity, endurance and compromise. Bamboo can grow up to 4 feet within an hour – depending on the type of bamboo it is. Bamboo is a fascinating plant and humans who live around bamboo are amazed at how resilient this plant is. But what we don’t know is that before bamboo sprout they have spent many, many years under the ground creating a root system. Then when the bamboo actually sprouts out, it shoots up very fast. Even if they get chopped down they grow right back up.

So, this is why I say I am a bamboo. Right now I am still under the ground building my root system – my foundation, my support system, my values, my beliefs, my likes, my dislikes, my future. College is really the time for me to create a base for me to stand on. That’s exactly what I am doing, especially with studying abroad, twice.

Throughout Asia, bamboo has for centuries been integral to religions ceremonies, art, music and daily life. It is the paper, the brush and the inspiration of poems and paintings. Among the earliest historical records, 2nd century B.C. were written on green bamboo strips strung together in a bundle with silk thread. Instruments made of bamboo create unique resonance.

For ancient Chinese for whom Dao, Buddha and Confucius formed boundaries of actuality, a measured, meaningful life was defined and created in terms of, in relationship with, bamboo.

The Chinese said, believed and knew that "it", meaning quality of life, began with bamboo and ended with bamboo. To study bamboo, to master its many modes, its many utilities, its aesthetic dimensions defined a lifetime well lived.

Bamboo is a natural. Like grass it grows rapidly and propagates itself if left alone. Like wood it is strong, grows many places and has many, many uses. Given its way, bamboo will hold hillsides in place against raging waters unleashed from above. It is here to shelter, to fashion tools, to weave baskets, to help water obey, to provide beauty and sounds.

I’m a little obsessed with Bamboo. As you can already tell.

Got some of my information from

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oak Among the Bamboos

Bamboo Among the Oaks is the first Hmong American anthology of creative writing, published in 2002 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Edited by Mai Neng Moua, Bamboo Among the Oaks features the work of 23 Hmong writers from across the country. Until the 1950s the Hmong did not have a written language in the course of their 4,000 year history. Due to the war in Laos between 1954–1975 and the subsequent refugee years, it was not until the 1990s that a significant body of creative literary work began to emerge from the Hmong community.
In her introduction, editor Mai Neng Moua posited that most of the writers included in the anthology shared the following characteristics:
1.     They are emerging
2.     They are young.
3.     They write in English.
4.     They are from the Midwest.

I titled my China Blog “Oak Among the Bamboos” in contrast to the book “Bamboo Among the Oaks.” For those of you who don’t understand the metaphor, let me break it down for you.

Bamboos mostly grow in Asia. That’s why there are pandas there (duh). Oak trees mostly grow in North America – especially in the Midwest. That’s why there are squirrels here (duh). So when you bring a bamboo to the Midwest (Minnesota, to be specific) this bamboo is among the oaks. As referred from above, Bamboo Among the Oaks is an anthropology written by many Hmong American writers about their experience in the United States.

Let’s reverse that and put an oak tree (Minnesota gal like me) among the bamboos (Asians from Asia). Here’s my journey about my experience among the bamboos. There are many other reasons why picked “Oak Among the Bamboos” as my title for this Blog that will capture my China study abroad experience. You’ll find out in the next blog.