Category Archives: 2015 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

So Where Do I Stand?

According to Shaman is defined as “(especially among certain tribal peoples) a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc.” which I do agree with some of the definition but I would not say that they use “magic” to cure illness. In my opinion the word “magic” does not state exactly how illnesses are cured. I would have to say that because I grew up in a family where shamanism is a big part of our culture and my step mom is a shaman herself, “magic” is not used to cure illnesses but what I see from experience is spiritual calling. It is funny how I claim myself to be Shaman but when someone asks me what Shaman is, I always hesitate to explain. I can’t be a Shaman if I don’t know the deep meaning about it right? But I grew up participating in the rituals and my whole family is Shaman, so where do I stand?

Although I still have not truly understand the religion I grew up in, I am willing to explore and learn about other cultures, like Buddhism. After the monk chat, I have learned so much about what Buddhism is and how beautiful their belief is. There are just really three things that they focus on their life on and it is abstain from bad, do good, and cleaning the mind. They may seem so simple but they are hard to obtain without being a true believer in doing all those three things. I feel so connected to Buddhism in many ways and I loved how it presents itself throughout Chiang Mai.

A big part of me wanted to come to Thailand because there are many Hmong people here so they would be able to help me understand more about my culture… well at least that was what I thought. I was so surprised that Shamanism is not practiced as much as it used to be or as much as it is in America. But I also understand the fact that the Hmong people we visited needed to adapt to what will help them survive and in this case it is being Christian. Shaman may and will always be the root of my family culture but I can and will always explore my beliefs.

why do we even care about the differences

Coming to America with a perspective that everything will be just like what they display and commercial on Television about U.S culture. I will see everything white, white teachers, white friends, and white neighbors. My assumption was everybody would be really friendly and no segregation regarding social classes differences. However, the reality is always surprise and opposite from your expectation. I was lost in a culture shock and confusion in the fact that America has the most greatest culture diversity in the world compare to my origin homeland, Laos. There are so many cultures, races, and people from everywhere in the world live together in America, which creates a complexity and competition.

Because the existing of multiple cultures in U.S, people tend to enhance their individualism over developing the community base. I remember throughout my time of living in U.S; people always complete with each other. For example, I took a college course, “Multicultural perspectives”, and we had a reading about the role of women in Islam religion. There was an open discussion in the class where we allowed to collaborate opinion and thought about the role of women character and her actions in the reading. I don’t remember exactly what was going on in the reading, but we had have a heat argument between the classmates. One of the students was an Islam and the other was Christian. Both of the students tried to make an argument that their religion or culture is better than other. An Islam students believe that what the women did was a right thing to do, but the Christianity students argued that it was a wrong and inappropriate action regarding to his culture. So that moment made me realized about how American living system that emphasize on individualism. I see this concept almost every day in my life living in U.S. People always assume and jude about other about my ability because I can’t speak an efficient English. That why there is always competition between group of cultures and people from different back group compete each other to make themselves look superior than others. And this is how I adapted and live my life in America.
But coming to Thailand has opened me to see a different perspective on how people live their lives in other place. Thai people really live their lives as simple as how the Buddhism principle play a role in their lives. I remember when we went to Wat Chedi Luang to meet with Jo lee, a master monk in the temple, and had a valuable conversation with him. There he was giving a speech about what Buddhism is and how it play role in people lives in Thai, but one thing that struck me the most was his example about why do we need to argue about the differences of religion and which one is better than other. He used “sugar” as his example to explain his concept and principle of Buddhism. There are many ways and term in implying to the word sugar. For example, in English we called sugar, but in Thai they called “Num Tan”. We could see the differences between the two country of how they pronounse and spell the word sugar. We might say that American sugar is more quality or better than others just because we are develop and civilize country. But one thing that we forget is all sugar taste the same which is “sweet”. Therefore, why are we even arguing about who is better than who. Every religions teach people who to be good, love, and share to one another. And This is why people called Thailand is a “smile country”.


We have experienced so many amazing things since we arrived here! I have been struggling to articulate my thoughts, partially because of jet-lag, but also I find myself at a loss of words to describe what I am seeing, hearing, etc. Trying to choose a topic to write about is like sifting through a hundred beautiful photographs, looking for the best one. What I find has been driving my thoughts most recently is the ideas the Buddhist monk shared with us. 
He discussed the concept of “cleaning your mind”, which means taking care of both mind and body. Happiness is created by finding a balance between the two. With that stated in front of me, I started to think about whether or not I have balance. Of course the answer is no, but what I really started to think about is why: why is it that I don’t have a sense of balance? I eat pretty well…I drink moderately…exercise often enough. As I list those things off, I think about the idea the monk discussed of not clinging to unnecessary things, what we would call “stuff”, and I have that ah-ha moment. My balance between mind and body is interrupted by the unnecessary items I rely on: my phone, computer, etc. This week I have been thinking a lot about the excess of things in my life, and how difficult it has become to be in the moment. In many ways our society trains us to be be this way, because we are guided to be consumers of “stuff” and media. It is difficult for me to picture what our world would be like if instead of striving for success, we began striving for balance. 
As I am out of my normal environment here in Thailand, I hope to continue to explore what it means to find balance and how to find it in a society filled with “stuff”. 

Qub Teb, Qub Chaws; Old Land, Old Home Place

Since landing in Thailand, the feeling of being in a foreign country seemed so surreal. However, now it has really hit me of how far away I am from home and how this country has become my temporary home. Through all the friendships I have made and peers I have met on this beautiful journey, Thailand has been amazing thus far and words cannot explain how I feel.

Growing up in a rather traditional Hmong family, I have seen my mother garden for multiple years now. As a way of earning extra income, my mother grows vegetables to sell at the weekend flea market near our home. My mom’s garden reminds me of the agriculture in the Hmong village in the Chiang Dao district that we visited yesterday. I have always wanted to visit a Hmong village and reconnect with my roots. As I was looking into the scenery upon entering the Hmong village, I saw mountains in the distance. After clearly looking among the mountains, I noticed there were acres upon acres of land for gardening/farming. Later on I learned that the Hmong people in the village do agriculture in those mountains. There is a road they travel on by truck in order to get to the land. A portion of the agriculture they do is for selling in order for the village people to make a living as well as other things. 

Driving up in the mountain to visit their land used for farming made me feel very sentimental. My immediate reactions to seeing the village and garden was that in a way, I felt a little closer to home. From listening to my parents talk about their qub teb, qub chaws (pronounced ‘qhu-thay-qhu-kaw’) or old home place of Thailand and Laos, they would mention how their village and scenery looked like for me as a little child. They would also describe the acres of land used for farming and growing food to eat. From this experience, I saw the connection from the agriculture and land for farming relative to my mom’s acres of farming land. Seeing the squash vines from their agriculture land they let us tour made me think of how happy my mom would be if she were to see them. I know the greens from the gardens, acres upon acres of land, and beautiful mountain scenery would excite my mother if she were to be there with me and remind her of home as well.


The photo above represents a lot of what I have learned about Thai culture so far. It was taken at a park near Flight of the Gibbon zipline adventures, and the time I spent there calmed my spirit and inspired a feeling of connectedness I have not yet known.
There was a definite path leading up to the top of the waterfall, which was appreciated by all of us who traveled there to experience its majestic beauty. As I walked up, I started to wonder what “path” means to me, and why I have certain expectations about what a good path should or should not be.  When I came to a section of the path where water was flowing, I stepped through the running water without even thinking about it – we had all gotten drenched in the rain earlier that day anyway. I found it made me very happy, to feel like I was a part of this natural beauty instead of just admiring it from afar. In the US, most parks will put up walls or stones to redirect the water when they make a path for tourists. That way people can still observe nature, but don’t have to really participate in the natural phenomena that are happening all around them.  Here, however, the water is allowed to flow over the path and continue on its way down the mountain, and those who visit must adapt to the environment in order to reach their goal. If your feet get wet, they get wet. Water is here, and so are we.
I have found the Thai people to be very fluid in their ways of living with and adapting to the environment around them. This is true of the natural environment, from accepting moths and other flying creatures on food outdoors to wearing cool clothing and driving on rural mountain roads that are more nature than road. I have also experienced this with the flow of people; driving here is much less structured, as is walking. Where we are staying there are no sidewalks, but street vendors line the busy roads. People walk on the side of the road, just far enough away from the speeding cars to not get hit. Dogs and roosters roam the street, and people simply move around them as they would anything else in the environment. Drivers flow between lanes and around slower vehicles with a deftness I have never experienced, and one that is not created by having strict rules on traffic etiquette as we do in the US.
The harmony of the Thai people with the environment around them is remarkable. So often I feel in the US we work to control and/or avoid interaction with our environment; we climate control our homes, put high fences around everything, and pour concrete paths with barriers to protect us from the environment. Here people use what they find, live together with other creatures that are not their pets, and go with the flow of time and nature. They also seem to have a strong sense of community, and welcome new visitors with open arms. I have felt welcomed by all we have met here, and have learned so much already. I am excited to experience more of this beautiful culture and environment, and hope to be more like the Thai people someday.

Human Trafficking

While on the plane to Thailand, I had the chance to watch the first movie of Taken. In the movie, a daughter is kidnapped into sex trafficking and how that came about, I thought, was quite Hollywood. She and a friend met a guy outside of the airport, to which they shared a cab with. The next thing you know, these men dressed in black suits rushed in and grab both girls, in broad daylight. Amazing isn’t it. I mean, these things only happens in Hollywood. Right?
My first ever official lecture in human trafficking blew my mind. Yes, foreigners can be kidnapped, stripped of their identity, and forced into sex labor. These things just don’t happen in movies, they are real life issues. In Thailand, people like the poor are targeted into human trafficking. They go in looking for any kind of job available and trafficker advertise these trafficking as a job or an opportunity. The people that take these jobs aren’t able to return and forced which ever business that are put into. These jobs ranges from being a fisherman on a boat to being a prostitute on the street. Even parents would sell their flesh and blood into trafficking.  All men, women, and children are victims to this gruesome nightmare. They are stripped of their identity, stripped of their human right, stripped of their power, stripped of everything.
All I was thinking was, “Wow, what an unfortunate thing Thailand is facing.” As lecture continued on, I begin to realize that human trafficking is actually a world phenomenon, globalization. In an article I read, America is actually “second largest region of destination for trafficked women and children, with as many as 50,000 trafficked victims annually”(Garrett-Akinsanya). American GIs were the one who introduced trafficking to Thailand. Human trafficking affects America as much as it affects any other country and I believe that because some Americans have the mindset of the “Almighty Americans”, we think that something like human trafficking would never be a problem with in the US. “The Twin Cities is the 13th most heavily trafficked metropolitan area in the U.S”(Garrett-Akinsanya). North Minneapolis is my home. I’ve lived on Morgan Avenue for eight years. Something so serious like Human Trafficking is happening in my backyard and yet, I had no idea whatsoever about it. It’s quite scary.
Let us all rewind and think about this. Human trafficking is a global problem and it has much to do with globalization. It is an illegal business that is operating internationally and each and every country in the world is connected to trafficking one way or another.
Garrett-Akinsanya, Bravada. “Human Trafficking: The New Slavery.” Insight News RSS. Insight News, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 May 2015.                         
          Our first mini lecture about Human Trafficking done by Achran Linda and Achran Cathy

Hmong Village Visit- Personal Experience and Thoughts

 5/22. Each day spent in Thailand has been a roller-coaster of emotions, observations, impressions, and outcomes. I have felt excitement and fun as well as discomfort and confusion. The most specific experience that has me comparing life here to life at home was our visit to the Hmong Village in Chiang Dao District. Immediately what I noticed were the style of homes, next, as we climbed the mountain more in the van, I noticed the nature and views. My thoughts throughout our stay changed drastically as we explored more and got to know some of the locals.

The home where I was raised is in Minneapolis and while it may be considered small compared to some of my neighbors and friends, it would seem large and excessive to some of the Hmong villagers. Many of the homes we drove past were very small and some in pretty rough condition. My immediate reaction was that the village was all low-income, and while some may be, I have come to learn that there homes do not reflect the amount of money they make or their ability to work hard. This is different from many places in the U.S. as so many homes truly do reflect how much it’s owners make. However, when I thought more about it, my grandparents also choose to live very simply and grow food in their own garden and live in a smaller home. This connection was neat to make between my grandparents and some of the Hmong villagers as they are both extremely different people raised in not-so-similar areas of the world.

Overall, I came to find so much beauty in the culture and the area they lived. I thought to myself when we made it to the top of the mountain “wow- why would you need anything else if you had this view??” The nature and surroundings were breathtaking and my heart felt such joy from the beauty. If the Hmong have their community, their family, their religion, their pride, and their mountain I can see how simple happiness can come to their lives. I look forward to comparing this experience to our next Hmong village visits.

Peace and Gratitude

My mind was filled with cluttered thoughts a few days ago. I was worried about my grades, feeling anxious about whether or not I will be graduating this summer, and stressing over scholarships. My body was in the beautiful land of Thailand, but my mind was far away. I wasn’t fully present. I observed my surroundings and took some time to reflect on my experiences, but I noticed that there were always voices in my head interfering with the present moment. I was constantly worrying about something, or planning for the days ahead. It wasn’t until we visited the Hmong village where I began to realize that often times, Americans are encouraged to be fearful, efficient, and needing to always be on the move with constant planning. With this system set in place, it is difficult for us to be in peace with our minds and bodies.

Experience in the village:

We drove into the village and were welcomed by the beautiful mountains and fog. The houses were very different from the buildings in America. The homes had brick walls and metal rooftops. The dirt roads were wide and bumpy, and there were various stray dogs walking on the road. The village was also surrounded by mother nature. But most importantly, there didn’t seem to be wi-fi in the area.

I looked around and noticed that there were Hmong women on the side of the road selling hand-made clothing and accessories. I approached them and were greeted with warm smiles. It took some time for me to switch from the American mode to the Hmong mode. I was so embedded into the American bubble (speaking English, conversing about American issues and media, and thinking with an American mindset) that it sometimes require some time to switch over to the “Hmongness” in me. But after a few moments, I managed to gather the confidence and interact with these wonderful ladies. It was fascinating. I learned that one of the woman spent one whole year making the Hmong skirts, shirts, and other pieces of clothing. In her free time, she would sit outside and stitch Hmong clothing for her family and for profit. It’s amazing to see how resourceful these women were with their surroundings. They maximized what they had, and were grateful towards what was available to them. The conversations I had with the Hmong men were also very interesting. I learned that though they had to worry about providing for their families, living in the present moment and making the most out of each day was most important.

The experiences and conversations I had in the village were inspiring and life-changing. It helped me reflect on my life in America and gave me a better understanding of the system I live in. This also made me realize what I need to do in order to be in peace with my heart, mind, and soul. I realized that the American system places great emphasis on success, efficiency, and independence. Though this may bring in wealth, riches, and achievements; it doesn’t necessarily bring in happiness and peace. In the village, my mind felt at peace. I interacted with the people around me, embraced mother nature, and my mind was free of cluttered thoughts. I wasn’t worried about what I needed to do the next day, did not think about checking my Facebook notifications, nor was I distracted by external stressors. I was in the present moment, and I was grateful. I was grateful to be alive… To see, smell, taste, hear, and feel the wonderful creations around me. I was smiling and laughing with the villagers and our group… I also dedicated a few moments of silence to this land. This was unlike any experience I’ve encountered before. For the first time ever, I learned how to be in peace with my heart, mind, and soul… And I realized how crucial it is to stop, breathe, and be grateful for what I have.

Reflection about Hmong people and culture in Thailand and in America

          I came into Thailand with the mind set that the Hmong people in Thailand will be more ‘traditional’ Hmong, meaning they will speak Hmong and know the culture better than the Hmong in America.  However, the truth took an unexpected turn and hit me hard. 
          Some of the Hmong people in America struggle with how to speak Hmong and those that know it speak very little Hmong and know very little about the culture ad practices.  Hmong Americans speak more English than Hmong because we live in the U.S and English is the primary language.  There were also great number of Hmong Americans that have converted to Christianity.
          When visiting the Hmong village in Chiang Dao district, the Hmong people there still wear Hmong clothes and still do some of the things that they did in the past such as the wooden cart rides, wooden archery and farming.  There are two facts that hit me the hardest.  The first fact was that about 90 percent of the Hmong in the village converted to Christianity and only about 2-3 families still practice shamanism.  The second fact is that many of the Hmong youth in Thailand don’t know how to speak Hmong as much as I thought they would and those that do know how to speak Hmong know very little of it.  One example is when I visited the Hmong museum.  I talked to the grand-daughter of the Hmong woman and I noticed that she would speak very little Hmong to me once she knew that I could speak Thai.  When I asked her something in Hmong, she would say a few words in Hmong then switched back to Thai automatically.  I don’t think that it is because she knew that I could speak Thai that she choose to speak Thai to me.  I said so because I could tell that she doesn’t feel comfortable and confident to speak in Hmong and struggled each time she tried.
          It’s not wrong to convert to Christianity and to not know how to speak Hmong, it is their decision.  These two facts were so surprising to me because I went into it with such a close-mind and my expectations were the total opposite of what the truth is.  The Hmong in Thailand speak and learn Thai because it’s the primary language just like Hmong Americans, we speak and learn English because it’s the primary language. 
          Even though I do accept these facts, I will admit that I am somewhat disappointed although I have no right to be disappointed about it whatsoever.  These facts led to many thoughts and these thoughts led to many unanswered questions.  I got very emotional thinking about what would happen to our Hmong people, our language and our culture.  I could see that it is slowly disappearing in both America and in Thailand.  What will eventually happen to the Hmong culture, language and writings?  What will we answer others when we identify ourselves as Hmong but don’t know the language and culture?  The thought of our Hmong people slowly disappearing from the face of the earth scares me, I am fearful of what to come to our Hmong people and what we will become. 


Human Trafficking: A Universal Issue

Being in Chiang Mai for the past week I’ve made many interesting connections from all the activities that we’ve done. The one most interesting thing to me was the discussion about human trafficking. Learning about human trafficking from ajahn Catherine and  ajahn Linda helped me gain a better understanding that it’s a major universal issue. However, I’ve never really experience or come across any person who’s been traffic or know someone who had.
After doing some research about human trafficking I found out that Thailand is one of the top countries known for trafficking girls into sex trade. Some of the reason why Thailand is a main target for human traffickers is because of high poverty rate and little opportunities for people to be successful. Thus, in some cases families will sell their daughters or force their daughters into prostitutions and possibly leading them into sex trafficking.
            My first real experience witnessing prostitutions and human trafficking was in a restaurant in Chiang Mai. The first thing I notice coming into the restaurant was two girls standing by the stairwell in the restaurant, but I didn’t think anything was odd until I saw a man approach them and stood next to them. I saw one of the women and the man chatting and then a second man approached them. Afterward the women went upstairs with the second man. As I kept observing the whole restaurant I notice an older white male in his 40’s sitting alone drinking and keeping his eyes on the ladies who were standing by the stairwell. Then I realize that the older white male must be the pimp and the guy who was talking to the girls was probably a watcher. This made me felt uncomfortable and confuse because I didn’t want to assume anything about this situation, but I had a strong feeling that it was sex trafficking.
            In the U.S human trafficking is a huge issue too, but it’s not very visible or apparent. I think in Thailand a majority of people here know or had experience human trafficking because it happens so often and in local clubs, bars and restaurants. As for the U.S the human traffickers seem to be more on the down low where they operate secretly and quietly. I had many questions that rise during the human trafficking discussion and being at the restaurant. My main question is how can all the countries come together to find a solution to this issue, especially since this is a universal problem.