The End of Summer

By Pao Saechao

I recently took a trip to Portland to see some old friends. I guess that’s the gist of my trips these days. I’m not really looking for new adventures, I’m just looking to keep those old relationships. Maybe I’m doing it wrong but I can live with that for the time being.

I didn’t do much up there, but as I said I’m not really looking for any new adventures. I did get to meet up with several friends for drinks, food and general merriment. I probably drank a little too much, but hey, I was on vacation.

I did happen upon a random bar after walking a friend of mine to work when we finished coffee. “Where can I find a drink?” I asked.

“There’s a little bar two blocks down,” she pointed. “It’s a little red house on the left side of the street. You can’t miss it.”

I turned the corner and there it was, a little red house on the left side of the street. I didn’t miss it. There were two doors at the front of the building and I took an educated gamble by choosing the one with a door knob. Whenever I walk into a bar I’ve never been before, I generally take a glance at the beer taps. It’s just an old habit to orient myself (For my first round, I usually just order whiskey with a few ice cubes and a cheap draft beer to chase.), besides I wouldn’t want to accidentally stare down someone when I’m a stranger in the place.

I got startled when a woman screamed my name.

“Teresa!” I yelled back when recognition came.

She was with her husband and a couple other old drinking buddies, but they were far from the neighborhood I was used to seeing them. I bought a round and they bought a round and I bought a round and we were back to our old dance.

That sums up my summers now. It just seems like an old dance.

I remember when I was younger and summer seemed to last forever, each filled with its own little adventures. There were years when all we did was run around the neighborhood until dinner was ready and then we’d get out and run around again until the sun went down.

Okay, maybe that’s more routine in retrospect.

There were several summers when it seemed like I spent almost every waking hour either fishing or at the park playing basketball or volleyball. All with my older brother. I think his summers are stilled filled with adventure. He has kids who’ve picked up those activities of our youth, plus he’s a high school teacher so he still has a built-in summer vacation.

My summers now seem no different than any other seasons, especially now that I work from home and rarely get to see the change of seasons aside from the few cigarette breaks I have on my apartment balcony. But I still have the memories of summer from my youth.

It was during summer when I almost drowned… twice.

The first time, I was playing in an irrigation canal on a pig farmer’s property. My cousins and I were walking in the canal when I stepped beyond the concrete floor and dropped under the water’s surface. I flailed a couple times in a horrified panic, and when all hope was lost the pig farmer’s daughter caught hold of my arm and pulled me out. My parents and I went back to the farm a couple days later to sacrifice a chicken to appease the nature spirits and retrieve my soul.

The second time was also at an irrigation canal. My friends and I rode our bikes a couple miles from our apartments in hopes of catching minnows with the wire mesh from a screen door. Instead we found a whirlpool where water was released from a small dam. Some of the older kids got in the water, which couldn’t have been more than thigh high. No one mentioned how slick the ground was where they stood. The second I had both feet in the water, my legs were swept. I was on my way down the canal but luckily one of my friends, Ou, was in my path and snatched me by the arm. We all swore not to tell anyone because we weren’t supposed to be that far away from the neighborhood. Of course, my parents found out anyway and a week later we went back to the spot to sacrifice a chicken to appease the nature spirits and retrieve my soul.

A year later, it was at the beginning of summer when I learned how to swim.

At the completion of fifth grade my friend Liz had an end-of-the-year pool party to celebrate the beginning of summer.

There must have been 20 some odd kids there and a few parents. We were all in our swim trunks and swimsuits. The girl I had a crush on was unable to make the party so I was already kind of bummed. One of my other classmates who lived next to her would have to give her my gifts: a box of chocolates from See’s Candies and a sappy cassette single by The U-Krew called “If You Were Mine”. I was the opposite of smooth in my youth. I hung out on the shallow end of the pool and watched all the other kids jump off the diving board. They didn’t know about the drowning incidents. Well, my aunt (who’s the same age as me and was in the same class) knew, but unless all the kids were good at being hush hush, none of the other kids did.

It wasn’t long until the kids prodded me into getting on the diving board, and I stood there for all of them to see. I can still hear their cajoling and see their smiling faces. It seems like I was up there forever, but it couldn’t have been more than ten seconds or so.

I still remember my thought process. It’s a small pool. Jump in head first and swim underwater until you reach the shallow end like you’ve done at the community pool at McNamara Park. The parents are only 30 feet away if you don’t make it.

Finally, I took the steps and jumped into the water. I immediately came to the surface, but my arms circled, my body twisted accordingly and my legs kicked. No chickens would need to be sacrificed.


A Concrete Garden Named Hope

By Evar Saelee

I find inner solitude by giving outward gratitude 

Child of a refugee, son of a Mien farmer 

Raised on concrete unbreakable by the shovel of my father 

Uprooted and ripped from the ground

They came half way around the world, searching yet again for what they had already found

Planted seeds in the moist soil, raised by the warmth of the sun

Grow and grow they did, until the dark night covered the sky

The planes swarmed, sending the air into endless waves of vibrations 

The bombs dropped, obliterating any chance for preparations 

With every flash, the earth’s soil became turmoil 

Sending grains of rice that fed generations of kin 

Flying through the air like spirits condemned by sin

A final incense was lit, the shaman took to his knee

Will the ancestors follow, despite this sacred land they were forced to flee?

The farmers took what they could grab, and across the dense fields they stumbled

As they stood around to witness their high mountains crumble 

When daylight finally broke, they found themselves amongst uncertainty

A chilling gust rushed over their skin with unfamiliarity 

The ground that was once damp, full of life 

Was now abrasive and cut the soles like a concrete knife 

The lifeless trees did not grow as high and tall

Nor did their leaves sway with the wind at all

Welcome home, they were told

How am I to replant my seeds? Will they ever grow in this unbearable cold?

But they weren’t just Mien farmers, they were displaced refugees

Either grow or dwindle, and thrive they all agreed 

Live and die by the harvest, this hope shall set them free

They found moist soil in the cracks that riddled the concrete pavement 

They planted all that was left and sent their prayers above as payment

A tiny leaf sprouted and its roots latched onto the earth

Grow and grow they did, they called this the rebirth

The smell of sweet roses came with spring 

It wasn’t a rice field, but such blossoming hope they would bring 

Although the concrete pavement shattered the farmer’s shovel

The enduring seeds he planted brought the teetering world to level

This is a new home, a new breath of air

A beautiful garden that arose from a bedrock of despair 

In these grains of freedom we give gratitude

And in this garden of hope may we always find solitude 

1992 US Iu Mien Youth Summer Camp Trip To China

By Tomm Phanh

I remember when we visited the two Yao cities called Liannan and Lianshan. Both are in Guangdong province. Each village greeted us so well. We also visited a Yao kindergarten school, and we visited teachers and students class by class. They announced to all the students that the U.S Yao are coming to visit them in their school. They were all excited! 

When we left, all the elementary school students came out waved goodbye to us (See picture below). Today they’re in their 30’s. I met a few of them on WeChat. I showed them their young faces in the photos and we all look at them and laughed with joy. 🙂 

image2 (2)

We also took a van up the remote mountains to visit Bandong Yao Village. It was raining the entire time. The road was muddy up the hills; our van got stuck. Somehow, we made it to the village; we saw the people and they were very poor just like our village in Laos. Some of us rolled up our sleeves and started helping them planting rice in the rice field; deep muddy farm water up above the ankles. 

The Yao rice field above (1992) with the Yao village in the background. Since then the Chinese government decided to give that remote Yao village a new facelift. Bandong Yao village and rice fields had been completely converted into a lake. See picture below. 

image3 (2)

Majority of the Yao people from Bandong Village had been scattered into the surrounding mountains; some are living in the nearby towns. 

image1 (4)

Bandong Yao Village is now a lake. 

image1 (3)

连南板洞勉-盘宗威 Pan Zongwei and his family now live in Liannan, Guangdong. He was only 9 years old when we visited his village, but he remembered well (he said).

image2 (3)


By Pao Saechao

My father visited me in a dream a couple weeks ago. We went searching for a fountain in a business park because I found a penny next to a bench. It must have fallen out of someone’s pocket while they ate their lunch. Instead of a fountain, we came upon a wishing well and he told me to make a wish. I don’t know why but I handed him the penny. He smiled and tossed it in.

“What did you wish for?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Well, the wish won’t come true.”

We sat in his car waiting for my mother. I could feel the breeze through an open window. I must have been young and he was young, too. He told me a story about something that happened to him when he was younger, probably the same age I was in the dream. He talked as he looked forward as he was prone to do.

I was anxious and petulant as we waited for my mother. I’m not sure what she was doing, probably running errands as mothers do. But my father was calm as he told me about a trip he took with my grandparents and uncle to see the big sequoias up near Yosemite. His words always had a way of settling me. I watched his mouth trying to get a glimpse of his white teeth.

My legs were weak because I was young and not used to walking up those trails. Your uncle was just a few years older but strong enough to keep up with the adults, so your grandma and grandpa took turns giving me piggyback rides for the latter half of the hike. When we reached the General Sherman Tree we stopped to have lunch. Your grandma packed sticky rice, drumsticks and beef jerky. All things you can eat with your hands. It was one of the best meals of my life.

You wouldn’t believe how big those trees are. We took pictures of me with my arms spread out in front of the tree and got scolded for walking on the ground near the tree’s roots. The ground was softer than you’d expect. Those pictures are gone now. Lost in that house fire years ago before you were born. A lot of things were lost in that fire.

Some people say big trees never die of natural causes. They get struck by lightning, get caught in a fire, get chopped down. Sometimes they get so big the ground just gives and they uproot themselves. I guess that was why I got scolded.

After eating we played around the area, throwing rocks but mostly looking up at the treetops. Then I found a little sparrow who had fallen from its nest. It wasn’t big enough to fly yet. Just a chubby little thing hobbling around unsteadily. I called your grandpa over to take a look as I cupped it in my hands. We tried to find its nest, but your grandma said it was probably a bad idea to put it back. She was worried the little bird would get pushed out again because it had my scent on it. I didn’t quite understand but I knew I couldn’t just leave it. After much pleading, I convinced your grandpa and grandma to let me bring it home. During the drive home I watched him hop around in a carton from a case of soda. They warned me not to touch it too much for fear of getting it sick. I giggled as it jumped skittishly each time we hit a bump on the road.

That night I slept on the ground in the living room next to the sparrow in its soda carton. Your grandma helped me dig for worms in her garden, and I watched that little bird peck at its meal of rice and worms. Every hour or so, your grandma would come pat me on the head and remind me not to touch the bird. That’s all I remember. Sleeping next to it and feeding it.

A few days later the bird got sick and died. I would learn much later in life it was probably my fault for overfeeding it, but at the time your grandma and grandpa assured me it wasn’t because of anything I did. Regardless, I was inconsolable.

We buried that little sparrow in the backyard near where we found the worms.

After a few days of my moping, your grandma promised to get me some pet birds. That Saturday we went to the flea market and found a vendor with two parakeets, a blue and yellow one in a white cage. I chose them because they weren’t much bigger than the sparrow. They were beautiful. I don’t remember giving them names, but after school each day I would watch them jump and fly around their cage from the lower bar to the upper bar and back. They took turns chasing each other and ate from the same feeder even though they each had their own.

I tried teaching them how to talk. I asked them questions about their parents and any siblings they may have been separated from. They chirped back in their own language and I mimicked their responses.

Some months later I woke one morning to see that the blue one was gone. The twisty tie keeping the cage door closed was on the ground below the cage. We had moved them outdoors when the weather warmed. I remember twisting that tie the night before after filling their feeders so I was convinced someone had snuck into the backyard and taken him, but your uncle heard him chirping in the tree. He wasn’t too far up and your uncle was sure he could catch him and bring him home. Keep in mind, your uncle was a climber. When we were even younger he used to climb this chestnut tree to shake the nuts onto the ground. He would get so high he looked smaller than the chestnuts dropping from the sky. That gave me hope. I thought he would be able to catch him as well, but that blue bird would just fly to a higher branch each time your uncle got close. Eventually, your uncle was so far up the branches bent with each of his movements, and your grandpa and grandma talked him back down when they heard a branch crack. Once he got down, the bluebird flew to low branch where we first saw him.

I watched that blue parakeet the rest of the day sitting on that branch chirping with the yellow one. When your grandma made me go to bed that night those birds were still chirping away.

The next morning the yellow one was gone as well. The twisty tie on the ground. I was baffled until they chirped at me. I turned to see them in the tree and then they flew off. Those damned parakeets. Maybe I just wasn’t very good at taking care of them. No one believed me when I told them the story, but it’s the truth and you know I would never lie to you, son.

Then my mother appeared in the distance. She was young again and smiled as she walked toward the car with my brother in hand.

So when I woke up as the dream ended I knew I didn’t have to check her room to know she was gone.