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.