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.