I will tell
you about one culture shock I had and that was at the Butcher
Shop. All the animals were dead (almost at least). They
were hung by one foot and killed. You may think that’s
brutal, but would you rather be on a conveyor belt getting
killed one by one over and over? Or one quick slice to the
neck, a short death but happy life? You pick.
The butcher shop wasn’t
too bad. It was just different from what I was used to.
I had many encounters like that. For example, at the Union
Oriental Market there were lots of weird foods like lion
head! The Hmong funeral was very different from anything
I have ever seen in my life. The dead body lay peacefully
on the floor, dressed in lovely traditional Hmong clothes.
A spiritual guide sang to the dead lady. The Hmong believe
that when somebody dies they go back to Laos to find his/her
placenta, then he/she is reborn. The Hmong funeral changed
my understanding of Hmong culture forever.
I got to make egg rolls with Hmong ladies! Now that I know
the recipe I sometimes get to make egg rolls at home...
The blacksmith was incredible... Did you know that I got
to learn a Hmong dance? Did you know some Hmong kids our
age taught it to me? The shoe factory mostly taught me how
hard Hmong people work...
I learned a LOT about Hmong culture this year but I definitely
did not learn everything.
At first, when I saw a
Hmong face, I thought they were Chinese or Japanese. I have
known Mark since third grade, but our class didn’t
really talk about his or anyone’s culture. My first
real knowledge of Hmong culture was when I was in fourth
grade, when Mr. Wagler started talking about it. I had so
many questions, including:
1. Who are the Hmong?
2. Where are they from?
3. Why haven’t I heard of them before?
Now I have all those questions answered,
and since I’m on the topic, here are the answers:
1. If the Hmong were lucky, they would get to go to America.
As they arrived over the years, they brought their cultural
traditions with them, making the country a more culturally
2. The Hmong are a culture that originated in China. Then
it migrated to Vietnam, where they had to flee because of
the “secret war”. They moved to Thailand [and
Laos?], which was very hard because of the long walks through
the jungle and the deathly crossing of the Mekong River.
Then they had to live in refugee camps where they were hardly
given enough food to survive.
3. They are a minority group that not many people have heard
of, but just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t
mean they don’t exist.
Our class read a great book called a Hmong family...Also,
I LOVED the Tou Ger Xiong video. He is such a good example
that the Hmong culture isn’t all playing the qeej
(pronounced kang) and going to funerals and weddings. It’s
a lot of fun and games too! Tou Ger Xiong had a way of making
it [the story of the Hmong people] funny. If somebody else
had told the same story without Tou’s jubilant attitude
it might have been quite depressing.
One of my favorite places was the Blacksmith. He put it
[a knife?] in the fire 18 times and pounded it countless
times. “The more the better,” he said. When
we told him that he put it in the fire 18 times, he said:
“What? Only 18?”
There are still a lot of things I don’t
understand about Hmong culture, though. Like some of the
traditions of a Hmong funeral. I believe that killing roosters
is wrong, unnecessary killing, but if they believe that
the rooster guides them to the spirit world, then I guess
I think I have finally grasped the idea that
when you play an instrument, it’s actually speaking
the Hmong language, and I have a theory: Maybe, when the
Hmong culture was just starting, they formed their language
around the music. For example, the word for “long”
is a high note almost, and there is a note on the qeej that
sounds like it...
...I understand that
the qeej speaks to Hmong people and the spirits and that
it is very important to the Hmong people and very difficult
to learn to play. I also understand that qeej playing is
dying out, bit by bit, more and more, along with many other
traditions. Hmong elders are afraid. If it dies, what will
they have left of Laos?...
One of my favorite places on the trips was
Dr. Bee Lo’s house. Dr. Lo is humorous, fun to be
around, and educational at the same time. He is very skilled
with all types of medicines and cures, naturopathic especially.
He told us about all sorts of cures for all sorts of pain,
sicknesses, and diseases (even cancer!) and occasionally
would joke about something or other. He let us try some
of the cures (put on by grownups, of course) and looked
at our eyes and told us what kind of people we were, and
will be. Although nobody understands why he said Sara K.
wasn’t talkative, not even Sara K herself!...
I used to think that
“Hmong” was just a word, spelled “mung,”
and used for a bunch of kids who wore colorful clothes with
coins and danced at assemblies. I had never even heard of
Laos or the Mekong River. Then came the project, which completely
changed my thinking...Truth be told, I wasn’t very
keen on going on tour #1. I knew the notetaking wasn’t
going to be fun...But by the end of the trip, my knowledge
had doubled. I knew about marriage negotiation, the similarities
with Bosnian refugees, games, clans, stories, paj ndaub,
cooking, old villages in Laos, and more. I wrote reports,
studied more, and prepared myself for the other tour yet
I thought Sue Bassett’s presentation
was especially interesting because I’m interested
in Hmong healing, herbs, and medicine. I felt sorry for
all the injured and sick people, some with deceased family
members. I thought about how I would feel if half my family
were lost to bombing, sickness, etc.
Finally, when the second tour came, I felt
tired of going around studying the same things over and
over. I thought it wasn’t worth the effort and work
just for a web page, good reports, learning materials, and
a couple other things. But I felt I had to go...My favorite
place was Dr. Bee Lo’s house. I got to see and taste
some of the herbs that Dr. Lo uses here in America and that
were used back in Laos. Some of them were ginger root, garlic,
onion, tomato, and Gingko. I tasted ginger root and garlic.
They were both rather spicy, but the ginger had a special
After three days and two nights of being
away from home, I was dead tired. I thought I would never
survive the hard job ahead of me without assistance. I felt
like giving up. But I didn’t. I came to my senses
and it felt good to know that most of it was over and done
I experienced a great deal on my trips, and
I learned more about the Hmong in one school year than I
have about any other culture (except my own) in 9 3/4 years.
And the end isn’t here—yet!
When I was young, I
didn’t know what Hmong was. But I had Hmong friends
the whole time...When I first heard the word Hmong, it was
in class. Mr. Wagler wrote HMONG CULTURAL TOUR in big letters
on the board. I was like, “Huh-mong?”
The first real Hmong experience I had that impacted me was
the butcher shop. When I went in, the smell of blood and
carcass filled the air. They were talking about how they
ran the business. I was thinking of any possible reason
someone would want to take some kids to a place where there
are a pig’s guts, eyeballs, and eyes on a tray...After
the butcher shop, what I remember best is learning about
Shamanist practices, like how they connect to the spirit
world. They light incense, burn money, and give eggs to
the spirit world to show respect. They also kill cows, chickens
and pigs to help guide people to the spirit world. They
use split horns and big heavy rings with red fabric tied
on to communicate with the spirit world. They flip and throw
the horns to understand what the spirits say. I thought
all of these tools were pretty weird at first—killing
an animal because someone died and taking bullhorns and
throwing them around. I was confused about [why] shamans
sit and stand blindfolded on a bench and yell things. But
after experiencing a lot of this, I understand it differently.