Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mexico, Malaria and Elysium

In my work in Global Mission for the ELCA, part of our unit’s routine consists of receiving homework from Rafael. This can range from, “think about how accompaniment affects your life on a daily basis”, “research the political situation in South Sudan”, “read Ephesians chapter 4”, or my favorite, “go watch the movie __________.” Back in January he assigned us to watch Elysium, I hadn’t had time or the motivation to go out and rent it in order to watch it. So I let that homework assignment slide a little bit. With all the work and recent traveling for work I hadn’t found the time to watch any movies, let alone Elysium.

A few weeks had gone by when a large group of us from Global Mission went on a work trip to Mexico and I still hadn’t seen Elysium. During our time there (in addition to the real purpose of why we were there) our executive director, Rafael, wanted to help dispel the “myth of the Mexican”. Americans often looks down on Mexicans, especially immigrants that have risked their lives to cross the border without proper documentation. It is not uncommon for people to tell them to go back where they belong, to call them illegals, and to have them deported back to Mexico. People think of them living in shanty towns in a dusty dirty village with poisonousness water, who hasn’t heard the phrase “don’t drink the water in Mexico!” Our time in Mexico City was my first trip to Mexico, and I must admit very different from what I was expecting to experience. Mexico was a beautiful country, with large parks, lots of cars, well dressed business professionals, hardworking people, and DELICIOUS food. It really made me think about all the negative things I had heard about Mexico and Mexicans while I lived in Arkansas or really anywhere in the south for that matter. Where had this impression come from? And why is it so pervasive?

I returned from Mexico exactly one week before I departed for Nigeria. My favorite thing about international flights is that I can FINALLY catch up on movies that I’ve missed. Guess what movie my United flight had showing? Elysium. I thought okay, I’m traveling for work, Rafael assigned this movie…ergo watching this movie is work. (Like how that works?) This next part might contain spoilers: This movie is about two different worlds. Planet earth, where the poor people live. The planet is run down, filled with disease, and quite frankly looks dry, dusty and dead. And the other “habitat” is called Elysium, a structure that is floating off in space where the rich people live with plenty of food, lush green plants and a miracle medical machine that scans your body and fixes ANYTHING that is wrong with you.

Now one genius parallel the directors of this movie did was who lived on which planet. Earth was filled with primarily Hispanic people, and a lot of Spanish was spoken during those scenes, and Elysium was…. You guessed it, rich white people; fascinating parallels to our country and our neighbor Mexico. The people of earth frequently tried to escape to Elysium, risking everything they had to board ships that were less than acceptable, and questionable to whether or not they would ever make it to Elysium. The government officials on Elysium, with all their technology and security, could see these ships approaching and shoot them down before they even reached their atmosphere. Shooting down these ships and killing everyone on board, without so much as flinching. They were just satisfied to keep THOSE people out of THEIR perfect habitat. One ship managed to land, and as soon as the doors opened everyone scattered and ran in order to try and find these miracle medical machines. One particular mother risked her life and her daughter’s life to get her into this bed in order to heal her. I am hesitant to say the earthlings were content with their living conditions, but their real motivation for traveling to Elysium was to use their medicine and cure any illnesses they had. Which is a very reasonable thing to do! Using these machines cost no money, and there was no limit as to how many people could use them, or what illnesses they could cure. The fact that they were not using those machines to cure everyone blows my mind… but then again…

Rewind to our time at O’Hare waiting for take-off for Nigeria.

I had been trying to figure out what I forgot, I usually always forget one thing and as soon as I realize what it is then I can relax. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, and then it struck me, I was supposed to have started my malaria medication one day before I left. Here I was ready to hop on the flight and I had not taken any. I knew Rebecca, another co-worker, and I were taking the same pills so I figured I could just ask her for a pill when I saw her (as mine were in my checked luggage) and it would be close enough that I’d be fine. As soon as I saw Rebecca, I borrowed a malaria pill and would give her one back once we landed in Abuja. Of course I’m processing this all out loud with Andrea, who is also traveling with us, and she says, “Don’t worry, if you get malaria I have the cure. The pills you’re taking are prophylactics but I have the cure for malaria with me, so you’re fine.”

This conversation played over and over in my head as I was watching the movie Elysium. The medicine to cure diseases whether it be in the form of vaccines, prophylactics or antibiotics exist and are well within our reach here in America. We get immunizations before we travel to most countries in order to prevent us from picking up diseases that have long been eradicated in America. We take pills along with us just in case something happens and we need them. Meanwhile in countries where we have partner churches, people are literally dying every day from simple diseases like the flu and measles, while we have the cure. But at the end of the day the pharmaceutical industry does not exist to cure diseases and make the world a better place where people do not die. Big Pharma exists to make money, and lots of it. They make money off of overcharging people for life saving drugs; they make money by patenting their recipes and not allowing others to develop similar medications. I realize that I live in a very optimistic world and think highly of every one and believe that everyone has others’ best interests at heart…and I’m aware that not every thinks that way. (And that the world does not operate in that fashion) But I can’t seem to understand why we don’t live in that world, and why others do not share my point of view.

What does it mean to live in a world where we have the answers, but not everyone has access to them? What does it mean to live in a country where people literally risk their lives to get here for a CHANCE for a better opportunity, and we round them up and send them back as if they weren’t human? What does it mean to try to make a profit for ourselves rather than truly looking out for the best interest of others? What does it mean to live on Elysium and do everything in our power to keep THOSE people from earth off our habitat?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rain and Religion

As I sit in my hostel room in Siantar, Indonesia the power is out again and the rain is pouring down outside. I can’t help but be thankful that the rain has come and hopefully it will help keep the dust settled, and the temperatures will cool off a bit.

The fact that I am thankful for rain has me a bit amazed, rewind to two years ago when I was sitting in my apartment in Tokyo. I HATED rainy days. I would always be in such a bad mood when the rainy season came, as everything was wet, laundry was near impossible to dry and my commute to work was that much more miserable. At different times and stages in my life I have revered rain in different ways, and I began to think this evening (as thinking is about the only thing I can do until my computer battery dies) why do I have such mixed feelings about rain?

As an American, who has never lived on a farm or in a farming community, I believe I am too far removed from the NEED of rain to appreciate when the rain comes. The food I buy at the grocery store in there regardless if it rains or not, I have no crops that need water, and my drinking water comes from the tap. The parking lots that occupy Chicago serve as places for water to collect and damage the concrete that has been poured. The rain seeps into buildings and floods basements, and heaven forbid you leave your car windows down. The rain to me in Chicago is a burden that will only delay my commute to work in the mornings.

Whereas here in Indonesia, I can sense the NEED for rain, the need from water to fall from the heavens. The ground is not over paved; it is not a concrete jungle. The ground can absorb the rain and use it to nourish the plants which in turn nourish the people. The need for water is still fresh and very relevant.

This concept made me think of a conversation I had with the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Singapore, Bishop Kee. We were discussing the religious context of Singapore, and what it means to have a country with first generation Christians. During his installation the Bishop from Thailand gave a great sermon about his faith journey that led him from a Buddhist family into the Christian faith. He told a story of learning about Christianity and what it means to have Christ in your life, and the concept of eternal life. He asked his Buddhist Monk uncle, “When you die, how do you know you’re going to heaven?” His uncle replied “I don’t, all I can do is try my hardest. If I do not succeed I will have another life to try.” This answer pushed him even further into the Christian faith.

As a first generation Christian, the idea of being liberated from personal acts of merit to try and earn your way into heaven, versus the Christian faith where we are saved through grace alone the moment Christ died on the cross, is like having a heavy burden lifted off your shoulders. To go from being personally responsible for your own destiny and your pursuit into heaven, to the idea that nothing we can do is ever worthy but Christ loves us SO much that his one act saves us all…is like that first breath of air. The first time air is in your lungs and you are not struggling to breathe underwater.

Then Bishop Kee said something to me that was a painful slap in the face. He said, as America, a country of cradle Christians you have forgotten why you need religion. Having Christ is your life is the norm, the status quo and you have forgotten what life is like without Christ and therefore do not appreciate the freedom that comes from knowing your sins are forgiven. The concept that we are so far removed from a time “before” Christianity that is it hard for us to see why we need to be forgiven, why we need Jesus to save us. Why we need rain.

I have always said that I find myself respecting converts into the Christian faith more than people like myself who grew up Christian. I think it is a much bolder statement of faith to have converted and have the memory fresh in your mind of what life was like before, and what a new life is like within the body of Christ. As a nation, of primarily Christians, have we forgotten the burden of trying to earn our own salvation to the extent that we take the gift Christ has given us for granted?

Much like the rains that come, and we know are necessary, but in our daily lives we do not fully appreciate, I wonder if the gift of grace is often looked upon with the same feelings.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

Allah is greatest. I testify there is none worthy of worship except Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. I testify that Ali is the wali of Allah. Hasten to the salat. Hasten to success. The time for the best of deeds has come! Allah is greatest. There is none worthy of worship except Allah.

The adhan, call to prayer, rings out for the third time I’ve heard it today. As the men rush to Mosque on their scooters and stand shoulder to shoulder, touching one another, as to say we are one and we are in community together, they pray to Allah. They pray to God. They begin their ritualistic motions, kneeling, prostrating before God announcing His holiness and His omnipotent presence in their lives.

The women continue to go about their daily business, I see mothers walking their children home, sweeping the roads, selling petrol to the motor bikes that pass by, all of them wearing their hijabs, a physical sign of their religious background and their conservative upbringing. It’s easy to tell who is Muslim as I walk through the town of Siantar. They are not trying to hide their religion, they are screaming it (quite literally) five times a day throughout the town, as the muezzin grabs the microphone and begins the call to prayer, (otherwise known as my Indonesian alarm clock.)

Now, traveling across the ocean, I can think of more than one occasion where I’ve been in a restaurant out to dinner with some friends from church, where we’ve grabbed each other’s hands discreetly and uttered a prayer slightly louder than a whisper, but yet somehow audible. As if we’re afraid to flaunt our religion, for we might be accused of being “showy” or pushing religion on someone else, or bringing God into a public domain. I can’t but be slightly in awe of the Muslim cultures’ devotion to their prayer.

In Chicago where I’m currently living, I have watched taxi drivers pull over, place their mat on the ground (of course pointing in the direction of Mecca) and pray their afternoon prayers. I have watched the men on the corner of my block, move all their cars into one garage and gather in the other to listen to someone (who I can only assume is an elder or possibly an imam?) and break the fast of Ramadan. Riding north on the redline track, I can see into the room of the women’s section of a Mosque, watching them have community and pray together, I can see it. I can’t help but be in awe of their confidence in their faith.

Yet when a Christian, for example Tim Tebow kneels in prayer after scoring a touchdown, he is ridiculed by other Christians. The fundamentalists praised him for giving God the glory for his athletic ability (we can argue sports another time) while most mainline protestants were not comfortable bringing God into their living rooms on a Sunday afternoon, after all didn’t we just spend the morning with Him?

We live in a culture now where the cross and crucifix pendants we wear around our necks have become more of a sign of fashion than a proclamation of our faith; I can’t help but wonder where the confident Christians are hiding? Why do our church bells not toll louder? Why do we not gather in public to come together to pray. Now, we can argue the relevance of it all, and the fact we do not NEED to, but what if we were making a public scene as if to let everyone around us know yes, we are Christian and we are unashamed of our belief. Christianity has left a bad taste in the mouths of many, and I wonder if that has crippled us from announcing too loudly what we believe.

I’m guilty of this as well. During my tenure in Japan, after being asked “what are you doing here anyway?” I would do a quick read of the room before I answered. To some I said merely,” I’m teaching conversational English”, to others I would give a quick laugh and say “What every other foreigner here is doing, teaching”, to some I would say “I work for the church”, and on days where I was feeling particularly bold I would admit, “I am a Lutheran Missionary”. Why did I feel the need to give separate answers depending on the group I was with? Fear of judgment? Fear of running into yet ANOTHER atheist and being torn apart for my faith, when all I wanted to do was finish my drink and go home? I admit sometimes I’m not as bold as I should be to announce and proclaim my faith, and that’s my issue. But I can’t help but be in awe of the call to prayer right now, as it’s so raw and real, albeit slightly off key, and ringing in my ears, but at least they are being honest and public about their faith.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Riding trains with strangers in Thailand

When people want to hear about my travels, I frequently hear the same question. “But they don’t speak English, how did you get around?” Despite explaining that people do speak English, and there are books and signs to help you, I also find myself thinking about the fact that you do not always need language to get around. Language is nice, but after living abroad for years, and not always having the words to talk with the people I wanted to, I have realized, you do not always need to talk.

There is one particular memory that comes to mind. During my backpacking adventure and my second time in Thailand, I felt pretty confident in most of my city choices and knew how to get from point A to point B. I had been traveling for several weeks at this point and thought I had it down, but Ayutthaya posed a new challenge for me. Ayutthaya is about an hour north of Bangkok and is a well known city for their temple ruins. It’s a beautiful city with lots and lots of ruins, and I had just happened to be there during Songkram (I’ll save that for another post), which in itself was an intense experience.

I packed up my backpack at the hostel, and headed towards the train station. I bought a train ticket to Bangkok and was ready to leave in 20 minutes when the train came. 20 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes. 1 hour. No train. I was starting to get confused and anxious. Had I missed the train or bought the wrong ticket? Was I in the right place…. I had no idea what was going on. I waited it out for about 2 hours before I started getting nervous. There was a group of foreigners not too far away from me, but when I travel I try to avoid being seen in large crowds of foreigners. (I can’t explain why, but if you travel enough, you know what I mean). Instead, I sat on the bench with a group of Thai women, and tried to casually look over their shoulders at their train tickets. Not to Bangkok, dang. A woman in all white saw what I was doing and came over to me and smiled, tapped my hand indicating she wanted to see my ticket, and I handed it to her. She then showed me her ticket, which was the same train as mine, destination กรุงเทพฯ (Bangkok). She handed my ticket back and motioned that it would be okay. And in her motion, I heard, “It’s fine, the trains are late, this is Thailand. I’ll find you when it is time”, and with that I relaxed.

I cannot remember now how much longer we waited, but when the train finally came, I could not find my new friend in white. I went and stood with a cluster of people on the platform, and she came up behind my, grabbed my hand and started walking across the tracks, and after traveling for so long you start to think, okay, let’s see what happens. I crossed the tracks with her, and walked quite a ways down the rail to a tiny wooden platform, that was barely standing. We waited there together to board the train, and the spot we chose to get on the train was significantly less crowded than where all the other foreigners had decided to get on. Ha! This is why I do not follow the other foreigners around.

We squeezed onto the seats and I held my bag in my lap. The seats were not the best, but we had seats, which a lot of people did not. I closed my eyes, took in the sounds and smells on the train. I watched people get on, animals run about, people walk through selling different drinks and snacks. After 20 minutes, the woman grabbed my hand and we were off again. This time to seats of our own, next to windows, where we had a great view of the scenery passing us by. It was a beautiful train ride, and this woman helped me through the whole process. I do not speak Thai and she didn’t speak English, but somehow we had managed to understand each other and she helped me find when and where I needed to be. Half way through our journey, she looked at her wrists, took off a turtle bracelet and clasped it onto my wrist, and smiled.

She got off the train a few stops before me but made sure to show me in my book which stop I was getting off, and to put me at ease about where I needed to get off. She got off the train and that was that. We shared only a few hours together but her hospitality and generosity spoke louder than any words we could have shared.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Motorbikes and Trust

One of my colleagues just posted a video of him riding around on a motorbike in Chiang Mai, Thailand and it had me reminiscing about a time I was riding motor bikes in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. It also made me think of how I blindly trust so many people, but when you travel abroad it is exactly those crazy situations you put yourself in that are often the most rewarding, and make for the best stories! Lord knows I have millions of those, so I’ll take a break from serious entries and retell a fun story from Vietnam.

My friend Carolyn and I decided to couch surf our way through Vietnam last March and our first host in Ho Chi Minh was a Sri Lankan man. He was an amazing host, and we had a great time staying with him. In the mornings he arose early and headed off to work, or was just coming home from the clubs…either way we rarely saw him in the mornings. We took our time in the mornings and gathered our plan for the day on where we were going to go, and what sites we were going to visit and what delicious new fruits we wanted to try that day.

This particular morning his cook had made us breakfast and we were discussing how we wanted to get to the market. Having both traveled throughout Asia, and lived in Japan we weren’t too concerned on the logistics of where we were going. The cook noticed us looking at maps; she didn’t speak much English, and told us in a few methods of conversing, (sign language, pointing, limited words…) that if we waited for her to finish she’d give us a ride on her motorbike. After living in a country where the dominant language is not your own, you get rather used to conversing without words, so this wasn’t as hard for us as it would be for first time tourists.

Carolyn and I are both rather adventurous travelers so we thought this would be fun. We started to ride down the elevator to the parking garage and it dawned on us that there would be three of us on a bike. Now for those of you, who have traveled in Asia, you KNOW there can be MANY people and animals on a motorbike…but we were a tad nervous.
This picture is from the internet, but you get my point.

We hopped on the bike and she put on a helmet, and so did Carolyn. But for some reason I'm pretty sure I did not have one…but hey, it’s Vietnam they do this all the time…right? The three of us rode out of the parking garage on her bike, which was actually rather scary and not at all comfortable.

We get to the top of the parking ramp, and she motions for us to get off, so we oblige and get off the motorbike. Now we are standing in a parking lot, and she is on the phone. Okay, now what, we thought.

***Now, let me interject some points you need to realize. 1) Carolyn and I do not have the phone number of our host. 2) I have an iPhone so on occasion I could get Wi-Fi to message him on the couch-surfing site, but that was about it. 3) I have our hosts address, Carolyn does not. 4) Neither one of us are positive where we are going. And 5) We do not have an emergency plan for what we should do if we get separated, keeping in mind at this time Carolyn has NO contact information on her whatsoever. ***

Back to the story, a man on a second motorbike pulls into the parking lot and the cook motions for Carolyn to get on his bike. We both look at each other and shrug, in the “let’s see what happens next” kind of way. I hop back onto the bike with the cook, and we’re off.

Our drivers stay pretty even with each other so we’re close to each other. Then we get on the highway…going AGAINST the traffic. If I have ever been close to death it was during this time. This is when your faith and prayer life is strengthened, in those moments, of oh dear God, PLEASE don’t let me die here. That terrifying act only lasted for a few minutes, but as I’m sure Carolyn would agree, a few minutes too long.

We are then off again, it’s at this point Carolyn’s driver gets way far ahead of us and I realize… I cannot see Carolyn…I do not know who this woman is, or where I am going, Carolyn is lost. I’m sure the same thoughts are going through her head. But what can you do? You’re along for the ride, quite literally. I tried to enjoy the rest of the ride on my first motor bike in Vietnam; riding on motorbikes is really quite exhilarating. But I am also thinking, I’m not wearing a helmet, I still cannot see Carolyn, and I don’t know where we are going.

Needless to say, I am a bit too trusting. I trusted this woman and that man were taking us where they said they were. I trusted that she was a safe driver and I wasn’t going to die. I trusted all the other crazy drivers not to hit us.

I trusted that God was watching us and keeping us safe. I was trusting a lot of things at the same time. And as most of my stories end, everything worked out perfectly. We both arrived around the same time at the designated location, we were both alive. We thanked our drivers and then discussed how we should probably have a meeting plan if that situation should happen again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tribal Exploitation

Throughout history, many different civilizations have lived a nomadic lifestyle. Moving around from one location to another based off where the resources were that they needed to survive. Over time, societies have moved away from this tradition and have established borders and boundaries thus creating a permanent residence. We’ve drawn lines to keep people in one area, or out of another. We have citizenship, documents, and papers stating where we “belong”. The most well-known nomadic group are the Roma, a subgroup of the Romani people, sometimes pejoratively called Gypsies, who live primarily in Eastern Europe.

This is Heidi a volunteer in Szurte, Ukraine with her Romani friends.

However there are many more nomadic tribes living in obscurity. In April of 2012 I was traveling through Southeast Asia, and during my time in Laos and Thailand I began to take notice of their nomadic tribes. One in particular that struck me was the Kayan people, who are a subgroup of the Red Karen tribe. This name might mean nothing to you, but if I showed you a picture, you’d know exactly who I was talking about.

All familiarized now? Many of us have probably seen someone from this tribe on a National Geographic magazine cover, or on some exotic travel show. Treating these individuals more like animals in a zoo, than a culture.

The Kayan live predominately in Northern Thailand in a small village called Mae Hong Son and few in northern Myanmar; although many have fled from Myanmar due to political turmoil and have chosen to live in refugee camps along the Thai border. Due to their nomadic life style, many of these people do not have citizenship. Let me explain what that means. It means that Kayan people do not “belong” anywhere, thus preventing them from receiving a formalized education, health care, or being able to find a job that would allow them to provide for their families. As is the norm in many Asian countries, people tend to live in small villages and provide for themselves and are generally left alone. Unless there is money to be had by someone in power, which is exactly what is happening to local tribes in Thailand.

During my visit to Chiang Mai, I had the chance to talk with some Western individuals who were living and working in the area. They were bringing Christ to these nomadic tribes, and trying to provide some sense of security to them. Although I will not discuss or argue in this post my feelings on how they were doing this…let me just say I do not think they were focusing on the most important issues that should have been addressed. (If you would really like to know, write me a comment and I’ll shed some more light onto this issue).

The tourism industry of Thailand has basically decided to “pimp out” these local villages, by making them a human zoo. They have relocated certain members of the tribe to a more tourist-friendly location and require them to live in this make-shift village. For a price, you can walk through the village, take some pictures, and buy some of the hand-crafted items made by the local artisans. This is all well and good, HOWEVER, the Kayan people must agree to live in that area, keep their rings around their necks and stay as “tribal” as possible in order to make sure the tourists pump money into the economy, and in return the Thai authorities will not arrest these individuals for being undocumented in their land.

With times changing and even small villages becoming more progressive by the influx of tourism to Asia, and the increase of NGO’s working in the area, even the smallest villages are becoming aware of modern technology and the benefits they could receive by becoming a bit more modernized. If people in any village, town or country wish (on their own accord) to become more modernized and join the technological revolution, that is great; but if you are being prevented from doing so by being forced to remain in your former ways in order for a government to financially gain by exploiting your tribal rituals…. I think we need to take a look at what our tourism patterns are doing to the countries and villages we chose to visit.

For further reading on this issue check out this article by BBC: Thai Human Zoo In my next entry I'll tell you all about my village-exploitation trip to a Hmong Village in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Passion for all things Asian

I'm a citizen of the United States of America by birth, and a citizen of the world by choice. When I was 15 years old I took my first international trip to Europe with a group of friends from school. Ever since then I've been hopelessly addicted to traveling and learning about other cultures. My first and main interest: Asia.

I've always had a passion for Asia. Several examples of what I mean; when I was about 6 or 7 years old I met my best friend, Mariko Mizumura. Her family had moved from Tokyo to Milwaukee so her father could continue his medical research. After becoming friends I was invited over to her house many times where her mother gave me my first pair of chopsticks. In case you were wondering, they were pink and had Snoopy on them. I was then given two bowls. One filled with some type of hard beans, and the other one empty; I was charged with the task of moving all the beans from one bowl to the other. So bean by bean I learned how to use chopsticks.

The friends I have surrounded myself with have also made an impact on my cultural understandings. In Jr. High School my best friend happened to be Laotian. I spent every weekend at her house for probably a year. Learning the proper way to make noodles, eating sticky rice, and understanding that a good bowl of noodles required a box of kleenex while being eaten.

Then I went to college and became best friends with a Cambodian. He and I celebrated Cambodian New Years together with his family. In addition to that wonderful celebration we also often ate many home made Cambodian meals, his mom even taught me how to make egg rolls from scratch! Then my sophomore year of college, I decided to study abroad. No surprise to anyone, I chose Asia...more specifically China. I fell in love with Asian culture up close and personal. So when I announced I'd be moving to Japan after my college graduation, there were few people who were surprised. However not many people knew what sparked my interest in Asian cultures. It began long before China or College or even Jr. High, and has nothing to do with boys.

As most of you know, I grew up in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a large population of Hmong refugees. The Hmong people are an ethnic group in several countries,mainly China, Laos, Thailand and Southeast Asia, believed have come from the Yangtze River basin area around Hunan, China. During the Vietnam war, the CIA secretly used Hmong soilders to fight the North Vietnamese that were invading Laos. The Hmong soilders were very dedicated to helping the US, but suffered large casualties. After the US pulled out, Hmong people were being forced out of their home countries. The US, probably feeling guilty, helped to relocate them and many were placed in Milwaukee. Why, you ask? I have no idea, good question.

The point to that long explanation is that Milwaukee has a high concentration of Asian individuals from all over Southeast Asia. My elementary school happened to be an Asian Immersion school. In a sense, I grew up with Asian culture. Our talent shows consisted of traditional ethnic dances in full costume, and listening to traditional music. I remember eating rice treats steamed in a banana leaf, and playing a cool jump rope game with long cords made from rubber bands. I never knew that my experience was an exceptional one, and thought all schools were that diverse. I was only 5 and didn't know any differently. All of these experiences and opportunities have led to my love of Asia and all things Asian, and it is with this passion I want to share my experiences with you!

(So that's not me, but that is a real outfit of what the girls wore at my school on special occassions)

Join me back here to read all about my adventures traveling throughout Asia these past 6 years and to learn more about a culture you might not know so much about. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer them, or get opinions from my educated friends throughout the world I have come to know and love.