005: Hmong Lake

Episode 005 is live! In this episode we talk about and ask people about the Twin Cities’ Hmong people favorite hangout: Lake Phalen a.k.a. Hmong Lake; share our wanderlusting ways that have taken us to Norway, Laos, China, and across the Mississippi River from Saint Paul to Minneapolis–to name a few places; and ponder the field research of zaj in different countries and the history of zaj slayers and/or zaj trainers.

Below is the list of links for those who want to learn more about the stuff we mentioned and talked about in this episode. Apologies for not having stats about deaths at Lake Phalen; a quick google search didn’t pull up anything adequate.

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Facebook: Hoochim
Twitter: hashtag_hoochim

Any questions or comments, you can leave it in our comment box below or send us an email at: hashtag.hoochim@gmail.com


Illustration for this episode was made by co-host Paj Huab Hawj.



Mim Xyooj: Niam tais, koj lub npe hu li cas?

Speaker 1: Kuv lub npe hu Maiv no.

MX: Es, uh, hnub no ua cas koj ho tuaj Phalen Lake?

Speaker 1: Oh, kub lam taug kev kom noj qab nyob zoo xwb os.

MX: Can you tell me your name?

Speaker 2: My name is Tou.

MX: And why do you come to Phalen Lake?

Speaker 2: I come to Phalen Lake because uhm they have a beach over there so you can swim around.

MX: So what’s your name and what sorts of stereotypes do you hear about Hmong people around Phalen Lake?

Speaker 3: Uhm, my name is Mai and I hear that they drive their racer cars there and sometimes they go find a mistress (laughing).

MX: What’s your name and are you interested in a Lake Phalen hookup app?

Speaker 4: Hi. My name is Tou and I would love to sign up for a Lake Phalen hook up app. In fact, that’s pretty much the only reason why I come here, to find people to hook up with.

(Intro: Qeej music playing)

Sandy Oh: Hello and welcome to Hoochim. Today is October 11, 2015 and we’re your hosts. My name is Sandy.

Linda Hawj: This is Linda.

Mim Xyooj: This is Mee.

Paj Huab Hawj: Nyob zoo. Kuv yog Paj Huab.

SO: And we are four Hmong girls–
LH: –who like to talk about–

SO: –things that matter, such as–

All: –everything!

SO: So. So what’s new here is that we have a new donation page on our website. So please donate to us. We are a listener and reader supported podcast. That means that if you enjoy listening to our podcast you can support our podcast cost to run year round. We now have a Paypal account attached to our website donation page. Also, please email us if you want to donate food or alcohol. Thanks for your generosity.

LH: Thank you.

SO: Again, you can listen to Hoochim at Soundcloud and on iTunes. And if you have any questions or have any feedback for us you can email us at hashtag dot hoochim at gmail dot com. Or you can like us or message us on Facebook at hashtag hoochim. And of course you can holler at us at Twitter. And our Twitter handle is hashtag underscore hoochim.

MX: The other new thing on our website is that we have now a frequently asked questions page which we will continue to update.

LH: So keep asking us those questions.

SO: And we love hearing your feedback.

PHH: So, guys, what are we talking about today? What’s the hot topic for this podcast?

LH: Well, you know what matters most is Hmong Lake. Come on, who hasn’t been to Hmong Lake?

SO: That’s true. I have been to Hmong Lake a.k.a. Phalen Lake some–several times.

PHH: I live close to Phalen Lake so I live close to Hmong Lake.

LH: Is that why they named is Hmong Lake? Because you live there?

PHH: Probably.

LH: K. (laughing)

PHH: Me and 50,000 other Hmong families in the city of Saint Paul. (laughing)

MX: I used to also live near Hmong Lake. My parents still live near Hmong Lake. They live about a block away.

SV: Well, I feel like since I live in Minneapolis now, I feel like Lake Calhoun is slowly becoming the bourgie Hmong Lake. ‘Cause anyone who’s a millennial who think they’re bourg, they go to Lake Calhoun.

PHH: To get away from Hmong people?

SO: Yeah. Absolutely.

PHH: To run into Hmong people? (laughing)

SO: Yeah. (laughing) Other bourgie Hmong people.

LH: But anyways. Enough of Lake Calhoun.

SO: Yes.

LH: Because we wanna talk about what matters, which is Hmong Lake. You know it’s also interesting is that my family lives really close to Hmong Lake as well on the east side of Saint Paul. And I think we can say that three out of four Hmong person–our families–live on the east side of Saint Paul near Phalen Lake.

PHH: Yeah.

LH: So that’s why it’s called Hmong Lake.

SO: Yeah. Three out of four. So my family lives in rural Minnesota. That don’t count.

PHH: Well also in the summer for me what’s been really great is going to Hmong Lake and looking at all the shirtless Hmong men run and walk around Hmong Lake. That’s been really fun. And it’s something that I do year after year.

MX: And one time when Pa and I were doing this my brother ran by topless.

All: (laughing)

PHH: And he has a hot body.

SO: What a good brother.

All: (laughing)

PHH: So if you are listening and you have rock hard abs, please do us all a favor and run around Hmong Lake naked.

LH: Year round.

PHH: Year round.

LH: Year round.

PHH: Year round. It’s very important.

SO: Is that body shaming?

MX: That’s not body shaming.

SO: That’s body loving?

PH: I–I’m a lover of all bodies.

MX: I know people who go to Hmong Lake and walk around with sunglasses so that they can look at people without people knowing that they are looking.

All: (laughing)

LH: Would this happen to be very old creepy Hmong men?

SO: In trench coats?

LH: In trench–no–yes. That is true. That is true. So Maica, my partner who’s Filipina, I took her to Hmong Lake for the first time last summer and she was like, why–why’s that dude wearing like a trench coat and sunglasses? Like, he does know and he does feel that it’s like 80 degrees, right?

All: (laughing)

SO: ‘Cause he’s not wearing anything underneath.

All: (laughing)

SO: That’s why he’s wearing the trench coat.

LH: That is very true.

All: (laughing)

PHH: Also I think like, I think Hmong Lake is also a really great date, you know. So like to say to your date “hey let’s go walk around Hmong Lake.” I’ve seen plenty of people who go on dates walk around Hmong Lake. For instance, an older Hmong woman who was on a date clearly with–was on a group date and she had on–she was not prepared to walk around Hmong Lake. It was very clear. She had on a really short skirt and high heels–these white high heels that were probably about maybe four inches high and she was able to walk around Hmong Lake with three other ladies and four other men all the way around. I rode my bike around Hmong Lake four times and around the fourth pass she finally made it to where they started off. And I was just really amazed that this lady can walk in high heels around Hmong Lake. And I was just like I–oh my God, even I couldn’t do it.

MX: What’s the distance around Hmong Lake?

PHH: I think it’s about a 5K.

SO: Mm-hmm.

PHH: So maybe like three and three point one–

SO: Yeah, a little over–a little over three miles.

PHH: Yeah. But, Mee, you’ve done some research. Uhm, I mean–

MX: I have.

PHH: You’ve done some hard research. Tell us.

MX: I would like share.

PHH: Share. Share.

SO: Fieldwork is hard, people.

LH: You’ve done fieldwork. This is the time. This is the platform for your fieldwork.

PHH: I know that fieldwork must’ve been hard.

MX: Fieldwork–fieldwork is hard.

All: (laughing)

MX: So–

SO: We’re serious about this.

MX: –a couple of tidbits I’d like to share about this which is Lake Phalen which is the lake that we’re calling Hmong Lake, is the only lake in Saint Paul where people can swim in. So a little history on–on the name of Phalen Lake, the name Phalen comes from this guy who was born in Ireland who moved to New York eventually came to Fort Snelling because he was in the Army, I believe. And then he lived around the Phalen area. I don’t believe he ever lived inside what we call Phalen area right now but he lived around here. And he’s also connected to the first murder in the state of Minnesota, which is an unsolved murder.

All: (gasping)

PHH: How is he connected?

MX: He–

LH: Is that why they called in Phalen Lake? (laughing)

MX: He was charged with murdering his business partner.

PHH: Oh.

MX: Uhm, he was never sentenced for it.

SO: Ah, okay okay.

PHH: They never found him guilty?

MX: They never found him guilty.

PHH: Oh, wow. They didn’t find him guilty.

MX: There’s this large book about it but uhm but I didn’t even really start reading it.

PHH: Because fieldwork is hard.

MX: Fieldwork is hard.

SO: Yeah. Reading five pages is difficult.

PHH: Well but that’s so strange. So a state or a city named their–a lake after a guy who was–

LH: Got away with murder or–

PHH: Yeah, indicted on murder charges. That’s so–is there a specific reason as to why–did you find out why did they name the lake after–

SO: I feel like Minnesota has a trend of naming their lakes after people who are horrible. For instance, Lake Calhoun.

LH: Lake Calhoun.

SO: Slave owner. Racist. Yeah.

MX: Right, and–and this guy that Phalen Lake is named after, it’s been documented that he was like he used to brag about doing criminal things and (laughing)–

SO: Wow.

MX: Yes, all this stuff. So he wasn’t an upstanding citizen, you know, he wasn’t. And lots of people didn’t like him. But I don’t know why Phalen Lake was named after him. Or Phalen Elementary School was named after him. Or Phalen Creek. Phalen Park.

SO: Wow.

LH: You know what I know–

MX: Phalen Boulevard.

All: (laughing)

LH: You know what. I think it–I think that you know the trend in America is that no matter how violent you are just as long as you have a lot of money, anything will be named after you.

SO: Oh, exactly.

LH: (laughing)

PHH: Well, when the city was constructing Phalen Boulevard there was a move and a push–somewhat of a momentum to name Phalen Boulevard uhm General Vang Pao Boulevard.

SO: Really?

PHH: Yeah. ‘Cause when they were like building that road originally they wanted a statue and then to name that road General Vang Pao and I think the momentum never picked up.

MX: And it does connect Frogtown which has a lot of–a large percentage of Hmong people to the east side, which also has a large percentage of Hmong people.

PHH: In going back to Phalen Lake or Lake Phalen, the guy’s name is Edward Phalen?

MX: Yes.

PHH: Yes. So what else did you find out about Phalen Lake?

MX: So we all know that there has been multiple drownings at Lake Phalen. And Hmong people believe that it is because–these drownings happen because of the zaj that’s in the lake. And did you guys also know that there’s a group called the Zaj Slayers?

All: (gasping)

SO: What? Really?

MX: You know it must be a secret group because I don’t know much about them. They do have a–I think they have a Facebook page?

PHH: Yes.

SO: What?

PHH: They do. They have a Facebook page. It’s called Hmong Zaj Slayer of MN. And zaj is spelled in Hmong so it’s–if you’re interested, listeners, you should definitely go on Hmong Zaj Slayers of MN and like them on Facebook and follow them. They have some really great you know tiblits with the lake, you know. Like, for instance, on June 23, 2014 they posted some facts with regards to the lake. Now I don’t know if any of these facts have been, you know, founded to be truth or if they’re all opinions of this group but they were pretty damn good right?

LH: What does it say?

PHH: One, too many damn people have drowned from Phalen Lake. Two, too many Hmong shamans have stated that the lake houses a zaj. There have been countless sightings of the zaj by Hmong people. And I think you know Hmong people around the lake really do feel like there’s a zaj in that lake. And then three, the lake is home to the Dragon Boat Festival. They think like–

SO: (gasping)

PHH: –you know.

LH: It’s a conspiracy.

PHH: It’s a conspiracy.

SO: Oh my god.

MX: You know, and I find this really strange that so Hmong people live around Phalen Lake because you know i–in Hmong culture, you know, you can’t live near a body of water.

SO: That’s right. Back in the old country we always lived in the mountains.

MX: Yeah, and Hmoob ntshai ntshai zaj and that’s why a lot of people don’t know how to swim.

SO: I think the reason why a lot of Hmong people are living around Lake Phalen is because of the Zaj Slayers. Because without the zaj slayer there wouldn’t be Hmong people at Phalen Lake.

LH: Oh my goodness.

SO: Yeah, I–I kind of wanna say thank you zaj slayers. If it wasn’t for you guys’ hard work there wouldn’t be Hmong people.

PHH: Maybe it’s because it’s the only lake in Saint Paul that allows swimming that’s why there’s so many deaths. But yes, there’s been a lot of deaths, and predominantly Hmong deaths that have drowned in that lake. I don’t have the numbers right off but if you go on our website and listen to this podcast uhm we can find that out. Uhm. But there’s been a lot of deaths that have been associated with the lake. You know a lot of drownings. Uhm.

LH: The drownings are always in pairs, right? Does that have any significance to anything related to the Hmong myths or folklore?

MX: I think–I think Hmong people want to believe that. I don’t know.

PHH: Yeah. I mean even like some of the stories that I’ve read on Facebook, some of the Hmong horror stories, with regards to Phalen Lake, the story is that there’s a couple zaj that lives in that lake who likes to take kids to be their children.

All: (gasping)

PHH: You know.

LH: (gasping) That reminds me one time my mom had told me that there was Hmong couple who were walking at the lake and it was dark and that they had saw the silhouette of ib tus zaj in the lake.

SO: Is the zaj really big?

MX: I don’t know. I suppose it depends on if it’s a Chinese zaj or a European zaj, right.

SO: That’s true. It’s a very important question.

PHH: Just to move away from this subject because we’re gonna come back to it, I wanna talk about people in Laos listening to our podcast.

SO: Oh yeah.

PHH: Woot, woot.

SO: First of all, I didn’t know people in Laos have internet.

PHH: Oh, Sandy, they do.

LH: Oh my goodness. Where have you been, Sandy?

PHH: Yeah, Sandy.

SO: I’m American. I don’t care for anything outside of America.

All: (laughing)

MX: People in Laos have unfiltered internet. They do.

SO: (gasping) Even though they’re a communist country there’s no censorship?

MX: Yes.

PHH: Yeah.

SO: China, do their job.

MX: So they can google porn stuff.

SO: Ah.

PHH: Nyob zoo los tsuas teb chaws. Right? Am I saying it correctly?

SO: I have no idea.

LH: I don’t know. They will–they will let us know. They will let you know–

PHH: Teb chaws los tsuas.

LH: –listening to this podcast.

SO: People in Laos, thank you so much.

All: Yeah.

PHH: Ua tsaug ntau ntau cov neeg nyob hauv teb chaws los tsuas.

MX: It’s really exciting that they’re listening but it’s also very scary because I hope that I can still get into the country.

All: (laughing)

SO: Oh my god, are they monitoring us? Now the real question is do they understand English?

PHH: Well, guys–

LH: Hello. Sandy! Where have you been?

SO: Again, I’m American. I don’t care for anything else besides America.

PHH: Yeah. Yeah.

SO: God bless America.

PHH: I don’t know, Mee. I hope that we can get back into the country. I do want to go back to Laos and visit the cities.

LH: So I’m just thinking like do I wanna go to Laos.

SO: Yeah.

PHH: What–

LH: ‘Cause I’ve never been to Laos. (laughing)

PHH: What you don’t want a Hmong teb chaws? (laughing)

LH: Oh… You stop it. You stop it. So the question is, as Hmong Americans who are born here, most of us at the table. I’ve had conversations with other Hmong Americans my age who went to Laos and I think that the main question is you sort of wanna find what is this Hmongness, right. And what are both of your experience being that you both have been to Laos. Was that sort if in your mind? Did that sort of gave you the answers you were looking for? Or, uhm–

SO: Are you still looking for it?

LH: Yeah. Are you still looking for it? Does every Hmong American person you know need to go to Laos to find what is this Hmongness?

PHH: So I went to Laos because in my head the work that I was missing was in Laos, right. And so I went to Laos thinking that I was going to find whatever it was that I was missing here in the United States. And my perception of Laos was–I–thinking back now and being reflecting on like conversations that I had with my parents and with my grandma and also like seeing video, old video tapes of Laos, I would say that it was a very romantic idea of Laos. Right. So I went to Laos thinking that it was going to be this really romantic place and then also like thinking about like, like going back to the place where you’re placenta was buried and like touching that land and feeling one with the land. Like, I had these really romanticized idea about Laos that did not exist once I landed in Vientiane whatsoever. I think for me Laos is really slow and I have to really force myself to like that about Laos. And that there isn’t time. Like the time is the sun. You know people wake up when the roosters crow, really. People go to sleep you know when the sun falls down, right. And so it really depends. I went there–I’ve been there three four times traveling by myself and with Mim and also traveling with my grandmother. But, yeah, Laos is like really romantic. I mean, Mee, how was your experience? I know that we went–you went there by yourself and then–

MX: Yeah, I–

PHH: –we went there together.

MX: So, I’ll just try to say this really quick, but when I first went to Thailand I really wanted to go to Laos. But you know everybody tells you that Laos is dangerous. You cannot go to Laos.

SO: That’s what I’ve heard.

MX: Especially if you’re a woman alone. You cannot go to Laos. It’s dangerous. People still die there. And they do. Hmong people die there all the time.

PHH: All the time.

MX: Because of like–not just because of natural deaths but people disappear–

PHH: People have gotten murdered.

MX: Yes. And there is sort of this ethnic genocide that continues to happen that is unrecognized, right. And so people are like Laos is the wild west and you can’t go there because you could possibly die. But I went there anyways. (laughing) I didn’t–

SO: Rebel.

MX: I didn’t tell my parents until I was actually in the country. But I have to say that, you know, I think similar to Pa, I–and lots of people say this, you know like when they go back to their–what they feel is their country that they hope for something that they–and are disappointed because they don’t actually feel a connection in the way that they kind of think they will feel. And sure, I felt that too, you know. But I have to say that when I was on the plane flying from Thailand to Laos and we were flying over the Mekong River I got really emotional, you know, because I was like this is the river that thousands of Hmong people died in as they were like running from the communist forces in Laos, running to the refugee camps in Thailand. This is where like thousands of Hmong people died. So I do agree with Pa that a lot of Hmong people romanticize Laos. A lot of Hmong people who were born in, grew up in, and fled Laos, they–and who have never been back. Lots of people have never been back. Most of Hmong people have never been back since they left. And I do agree that they romanticize Laos. I also feel that white people romanticize Laos. White people like to go there and they say stuff like, Laos is so beautiful. You know when you compare like from airplanes, when you compare the countryside or the mountains of Laos to the mountains of Thailand, or–or just the landscape, Thailand is all cultivated and Laos is not. And the number is that 80% land of Laos is uncultivated land. And I used to think, wow, isn’t that great. And then when you hear that oh you know why 80% is uncultivated? It’s because Laos is the number one bombed country in U.S. history, you know. And there–there are unexploded bombs all over Laos. And this is why their land has not been uncultivated.

PHH: Yeah, so Mee and I stayed in Luang Prabang, Laos for seven days and every night of that–of those seven days we would go to the uhm night market that was like not far from us. And we met this–

MX: Okay, like Pa really loved going and I would’ve–it’s the same thing every night. Almost.

All: (laughing)

PHH: Okay we went there to eat dinner. It was like a great place to go get–you can get like a fish for $3. And I was eating a fish every night for $3.

SO: Luxury.

PHH: And Mee doesn’t eat fish.

LH: You mean you couldn’t have fish at Hmong Lake and eat it every night too.

PHH: No.

LH: (laughing)

SO: It’s not the same.

PHH: It’s not the same.

SO: It has to come from the motherland.

PHH: Yes. Well, anyways. So there was this lady that was there from Texas, right. Was she from Texas?

SO: Yes.

PHH: Yes. She was from Texas and it was really funny because she was like telling Mee and I about all her travel because she’s a wanderlust because she’s been traveling since the 1960s. And, you know, uh, just going from place to place to place to place to place and she had asked us what our nationality were. We told her we were Hmong. And I guess she probably thought that you know I was saying “monk” and not “Hmong.” You know, it wasn’t like–

MX: The “k” is silent.

PHH: The “k” is silent. And the thing was she told us this great story about how in Luang Prabang every morning the Hmong, the monks would come out and beg for food and–and that was such a great thing. And I like didn’t get it, you know, because I had said–she had asked us “what’s your nationality?” And I was like “oh, we’re Hmong.” And then that story came right after I told her that we were Hmong and it wasn’t until I went back to our hotel that I was like, holy shit this lady thinks we’re monks.

All: (laughing)

PHH: And then we saw her again the next day and–and it was also really great. Then she called us her friend. Her monk friends.

SO: (laughing) Monk friends.

PHH: Uhm, the great thing about Laos and the thing I really like about Laos is sort of you’re alone but you’re not really alone because you’re like in a sea with all these other foreigners that are trying to backpack their way through Southeast Asia too, you know. And, I don’t know, we–we could have another podcast about backpackers but, you know there’s–

SO: Wanderlusters, you mean.

PHH: Yeah, wanderlusters. But that was really great too. I mean, we met so many interesting people.

MX: Oh, we have so many stories.

SO: You two, thank you for sharing your Lao trip stories.

LH: Yeah, you’re finding your Hmongness in Laos.

SO: Yeah, I think one day I will like to go. Uhm, but again I’m very afraid of bugs and I get really hot easily and I have fear of burning. Uhm–

LH: Man, you are truly Hmong American. (laughing)

MX: No, I have to tell you. Uhm. I hardly used sunblock when I was over there and I’m in the sun for hours on end.

SO: Yup.

MX: There was no sunburn.

PHH: Yeah, look at her face.

SO: I know.

MX: I was like, holy cow.

SO: I know, you’re really white.

MX: I’m like, I couldn’t do this in the U.S.: walk around for hours at a time in the sun without sunblock without getting burned. There was no sunburn. I–I think that kuv haum like that–

SO: (laughing)

MX: –that atmosphere.

SO: I’ll just–I’ll just. If I do go I’ll just bring an umbrella.

LH: You won’t need an umbrella.

MX: People walk around with parasols. That’s fine.

SO: Really? (laughing)

MX: Yeah.

SO: Well, the thing is that I was really into Thai pop culture when I was younger and so like I can read and write the language. And I’ve never been to Thailand.

LH: Oh my goodness.

PHH: Well, you’ll love Bangkok because Bangkok is very much like the U.S. Like any–like metropolis city.

MX: No, I tell people this all the time that Laos is a third world country but Thailand is not.

SO: Yeah.

MX: Bangkok is just like New York City.

SO: Okay.

PHH: Yeah, I mean it’s just as busy and the stores are very similar and I mean it’s–it’s like a–it’s–it’s huge. Yeah.

SO: You know what. I kind of want to put a poll out there because I’m wondering–I wanna ask like the Hmong folks, you know, would you want to go visit Laos or Thailand or would you go to South Korea. ‘Cause I feel like every Hmong person has taught a year or so in South Korea.

PHH: None of us.

LH: I think they’re trying to find their Hmongness there.

SO: Yeah. I’m assuming.

PHH: In South Korea?

LH: Yeah.

PHH: You know, uhm, my–I have a cousin that uhm taught a year there and a story that he likes to tell us is how like he went and there’s like–he’s sees this sea of black heads, right. And he feels like, he thinks like he’s one of them, right. But the reality is that he’s not. You know, and it–like he, like in a country where he should feel the most connected, he felt the most disconnected. Uhm, and my cousin loves to tell this story. And you know I–I wonder a lot too because I’ve never been to South Korea, and I don’t know I don’t have really any interest in going to South Korea, like maybe not as much as you, Sandy. But–

SO: Okay. (laughing)

LH: But pop culture is so real in our Hmong Americans like lives.

SO: Yeah.

LH: And that–that disconnect, it does speak truth to the representation.There needs to be more than just representation.

SO: Yeah.

LH: You know, that’s why there’s a disconnect.

SO: I mean, the one–I have to clear something up. I love Korean pop culture and K-dramas and all that jam but uh I don’t like being somewhere where I can’t kind of speak the language. So I have no idea how to speak Korean. I would like to go to like somewhere that is like Chinese related. Yet. But I also felt the same because I went to China and then like everybody looks like me. Hmong people are–Hmong people are kinda Chinese. Uhm, and so, I still also felt that oh, you know very different.

LH: Well, I haven’t been out of the country but I’ve been in Minneapolis and (laughing)–

SO: Wanderluster.

PHH: Wanderlust.

SO: Hashtag. I’ve been to Edina so that’s different.

MX: No, I–I have to say that there’s this saying about Saint Paul and Minneapolis. And it’s that people don’t cross the river.

SO: Yeah.

MX: So if you go–if you live in Saint Paul and you make a trip to Minneapolis, that’s a big deal.

SO: Yeah. It really is.

LH: To go to Lake Calhoun, though.

SO: Yeah, yeah.

LH: ‘Cause that lake is just full of Hmong people.

SO: Exactly. You know what, people from Saint Paul, come to Lake Calhoun. You’ll have a good time.

PHH: Also–

LH: Two Hmong Lakes. Come on, we have over 60,000 Hmong people.

SO: We claim that damn Lake Calhoun. Make it Hmong Lake.

PHH: And also, guys, like I don’t–I only go to Uptown.

LH: (laughing)

SO: Well Lake Calhoun is in Uptown.

PHH: Oh.

All: (laughing)

PHH: I mean, I knew that. I’m just saying I only go to Uptown. If I want to have fun I only go to Uptown.

SO: Oh that’s true.

LH: To Sushi Tango.

SO: Sushi’s the only place–

PHH: And Chino Latino.

SO: The overpriced food. Yes. Pa, wow. Wow.

PHH: I’m such a wanderlust.

SO: You are. You–you’re living the Hmong American dream.

PHH: Yes. Absolutely.

LH: But make sure to check out the night market there. Or upcoming night market. (laughing)

SO: Oh yeah, upcoming night market.

PHH: Wait. There’s an upcoming night market?

SO: Yeah. In northeast Minneapolis. Northeast is having a night market. Run by white folks.

PHH: Well, guys, it only makes sense that a night market would be run by white people. I mean, come on.

SO: On their most diverse area ‘cause Central uh Avenue in northeast is super diverse with like Latino fare, like food fares like Indian and Asian. Of course it has to be run by white people.

LH: But I mean, come on. You know, the white people are feeling like they don’t have a space. So they will take night market to get their space.

All: (laughing)

SO: No shit. No shit. Remember hipsters, man–

MX: Well–

SO: –histpers.

MX: When we talk about night market–I mean when I talk about night market I think of night markets in like Southeast Asia. But, like, do European cities or like African cities or like Latin cities have night markets?

LH: European have their street markets or flea markets.

PHH: They have like Saturday markets and–

SO: Yeah, yeah.

PHH: –but they close at night. (laughing)

SO: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s different in different regions. But in Taiwan I went to a night market and it was just like any night market that I see on t.v. in Southeast Asia.

PHH: Yeah. When uhm last year when I was in France there wasn’t any night markets and also like in the U.K. there wasn’t any night market. There like–there was like markets that open during the daytime and there were sort of these like uhm tent markets but they closed at night. So I think like night market, I would say, are–

SO: Mainly an Asian thing.

PHH: –mainly an Asian thing. Yeah.

LH: It’s because of all the tourism.

SO: Yeah. And also we don’t sleep.

LH: The bargaining of items being sold and like–

MX: You know what’s so sad? Like in the night markets in Laos I’ve seen Hmong people selling uhm silver bars. I was so heart broken. And I was just like, oh my gosh.

PHH: But were those silver bars real?

MX: No, no. They look like and felt like the silver bars that like my parents carried over from Laos when they fled.

PHH: Yeah, but are they real?

MX: Like, in terms of silver? Probably not. But in terms of like–

SO: The significance.

MX: –the meaning behind it, yes.

PHH: Yeah but who would wanna buy silver bars except for like maybe Hmong Americans.

LH: Yeah, Hmong Americans who wanna find Hmongness.

SO: Yeah, and get it for cheap before they disappear.

LH: If I was like you know a wanderlust then I would go there an–and I’d buy them and then bring them home to my mom and be like mom, look, I bought you some silver bars. And then my mom would be like, niag ruam es twb tsis yog tiag tiag na. (laughing)

SO: Yeah, pretty much, that’s the response.

PHH: I mean I know like uh uh when Mee and I went back this last time Mee and I–every city that we went to we went to a night market.
LH: For–for the fish.

SO: For the three dollar fish.

PHH: For the three dollar fish. No, but–

MX: And they sell Hmong stuff in Cambodia, ya’ll.

PHH: Yeah.

SO: Wow.

LH: Oh, Hmong people are spreading.

SO: Yeah, there are Hmong people in Cambodia. There are Hmong people in Cambodia.

PHH: And what was really great too was that we were in Siem Reap and uhm the ladies would like they I guess they’re learning how to speak English but not really knowing like the context of the things that they’re saying. So they would say like, hello darling. I love you.

LH and SO: Aww.

PHH: You know like but like to like tell people to like come to them you know.

MX: To their stalls.

PHH: To their stalls.

LH: Who the hell are teaching the–these women this horrible way of greeting people? Like, too intimate. And you know, I mean, like Southeast Asia, likeThailand is such a–also a huge sex trafficking space.

All: Yeah.

LH: And, ugh. It’s just–yeah.

PHH: I mean, come on guys, it’s no secret.

SO: Is it–

PHH: Men go there to have sex.

LH: I wonder if any wanderlust Hmong Americans go there for that.

SO: I think so.

MX: Well, you know in Laos it is illegal for foreigners to have sex with a Lao national in that country. But people do it all the time.

SO: Exactly. ‘Cause who’s gonna regulate that? Nobody. Trust me.

PHH: Oh we know Hmong men. We know. Let’s keep it real.

SO: Yeah.

PHH: Hmong men take advantage of–

SO: Hmong American men.

PHH: Hmong American men take advantage of this like–

SO: All the time.

PHH: –nobody’s business. And I’m sure that if they did, Lao government regulated these rules and Hmong men would be the number one uh–

SO: Yeah.

PHH: –like–

LH: Persons on the list.

PHH: Yes. Absolutely.

SO: They’d be banned from the country.

MX: Or second to white people.

PHH: Second to white people.

SO: Yeah. White people go there for–for sex. Sick ass bastards.

MX: Let’s be honest. Who’s at these night markets? White people.

SO: (laughing)

PHH: Absolutely.

LH: Just like here in Minnesota.

PHH: Yes.

SO: Since we’re talking about you know going overseas and stuff, Pa, we know that you recently went to Norway.

PHH: I might or might not have gone to Norway.

SO: Did you–

LH: I only have one question: Did you open the gate for Hmong people to be in Norway?

SO: Yeah, since you were hashtag the first Hmong there.

PHH: Well, guys, there was a very important Hmong man who posted on Facebook that he went to the historical society and had lunch with Norwegians.

SO: (gasping). What? I’m sorry. So I guess he beat you to the punch.

PHH: He did.

LH: Here in Minnesota.

PHH: Here in Minnesota.

SO: Because Minnesota is technically Norwegian.

PHH: Technically. Yeah. Yeah, so I went to Norway at the very beginning or mid-October. Mid-September? Sorry, I went to Nor–it feels like so long ago. I went to Norway mid-September for two weeks and I stayed in this town called Skien, spelled s-k-i-e-n. Which is in the county of Telemark. I had a show there with another artist, a Native American artist by the name of Wendy Red Star. And it was really great. I went there for two weeks. It was a cultural exchange of sort. You know we went up to the mountains. We hiked. We ate bacalao, which is like this Norwegian dish. So we did that. We went to Oslo. You know went to see the sea across the fjord. I think it’s called fjord. And… and then I had a show. And it was really great. The people there were really sweet, really wonderful. I went as a pilot for this art exchange that Norway’s hoping to have with the state of Minnesota. And so what’s going to happen maybe the next three years is they’re gonna send a couple of artists over and then we’re gonna–the state of Minnesota will be sending some artists over to Norway and there’s gonna be sort of this exchange within the arts and culture. And, yeah, it was just a really great experience. I have nothing but like really wonderful things to say about the people. And so it was like this sort of jam packed two weeks of having studio visits, you know going up to the mountains and doing all these Norwegian things and learning about the Norwegian culture and then I came back home.

MX: So did you find out why so many Norwegians came to Minnesota to colonize the land?

SO: (laughing)

PHH: Yeah.

LH: And is there a difference between the Norwegians in Norway versus the Norwegians in Minnesota?

PHH: Yeah. Okay. So, Mee, your question first. Yeah, so, I had this conversation with the–the people that were hosting myself and the other artist. And they said that they came to the United States fairly late and by then people had already sort of occupied the east and also–

SO: It’s the Germans.

PHH: –also the west. And the midwest was the only place that was left. So they took on the midwest specifically Minot. Like, there’s a huge Norwegian population in Minot, North Dakota and then there’s also a huge population in Minnesota. And I can clearly see, having gone to Norway, I can clearly see why Norwegians would prefer Minnesota. I think that our landscapes are very similar. Our weather is very similar. They have four seasons, we have four seasons. And so if you travel up north to uh Duluth and the Boundary Waters the landscape is very similar to the mountains in Norway. Now granted we don’t have mountains here, but very similar. I think that much like Hmong people moving to California because of climate and so Linda, yes, they’re all very–I mean I think that they’re all very similar. I think that the only difference is our Minnesota nice and we’ve really adapted that. And you know we had a lot of conversations in Norway with regards to Minnesota nice. The conclusion has been that Minnesota nice is we can’t be upfront and we can’t be blunt so we beat around the bush. You know, it’s sort of like I will give you directions to anywhere you want but not to my house. The Norwegians that I was with, they were really wonderful and really nice and really welcoming and invited us to dinners and but they were also artists you know and so I think that that’s like the difference.

MX: So there seems like there was not a language barrier while you were in Norway. Is that because having lived in Minnesota you could understand Norwegian?

All: (laughing)

LH: It’s the Minnesota nice.

PHH: Yes. No. Okay. It’s funny. I asked one of our hosts, Line, who’s like really wonderful, who I saw like almost every day, I remember she’d like drive us around and I’d ask her like, oh, how do you say tree or like how do you say how do you say bye, right. And I remember going, yeah, how do you say coffee? Oh, it’s “coffeek.” And it’s just like, oh, okay. Well, then how do you say sugar? Oh, it’s “sugark.” You know, so it’s just like the same word. I think like it was really easy to sort of understand Norwegian too. They take on, like, English. I don’t know if English came before–

SO: No. Englished derived from those languages.

PHH: Okay. So, yeah, like we stayed across this sunglass store. And I knew right away that it was a sunglass store because it said like optical something, right. And so like I was able to identify some Norwegian sounding words.

LH: So really you just had to adjust your Minnesota Norwegian accent.

PHH: Pretty much.

All: (laughing)

PHH: Pretty much. Pretty much. And you know I studied very well. So that’s it. Yeah.

LH: You know, as you were talking it made me–as you were talking about the landscape and the large population of Norwegians in Minnesota, and then it made me think about how there’s–how Norwegians living here is not–have not been seen as a big problem, you know. Or a concern. But then Hmong people, right, somehow it’s a huge problem and it has a lot to do again with like our race, our color, and like the racism that exists here and how–how whiteness is accepted and yeah, so it just made me think about how Norwegians are a group of people that came from a different country to live here and there’s just no problem in the media or conversations about whiteness, you know.

SO: Yeah. I mean there’s a lot of Russian immigrants here that do only speak Russian but there hasn’t been any like sort of news or any sort of shaming of them because they–they look white.

PHH: One thing that I found really interesting while in Norway was that there’s a clear separation between Norwegians and Vikings. You know.

SO: Really?

PHH: Yeah, like–

LH: So what is the clarification?

PHH: You know so and I think it’s because Vikings have like this horrible history with like going around and like raping and killing men, women, and children and then coming back, right. So like a lot of Norwegians like have a really hard time talking about the Vikings.

SO: Are there still some Vikings left? Like with Vikings blood?

MX: Are you saying that they have a hard time admitting and talking about their history?

PHH: Yeah. Absolutely.

SO: Okay, so–

PHH: But I think like, but they want to make a very clear separation between like Norwegians and Vikings.

LH: So what’s the difference? Is it like Viking and like Viking-land and Norwegians as in Norway or like where are the categorizations or the you know between the two?

SO: Actually I saw this documentary. Uhm. They said that the Vikings–sorry. Sorry. I saw this documentary on about like the Vikings. It’s because the Vikings trains their dragons.

All: (laughing)

LH: Differently?

PHH: Wait was this how to train your dragon one or two?

SO: Wait. That’s a documentary, guys.

MX: That–One last question about Norway. Do they also have zaj?

SO: Yeah. Exactly. The documentary said that Vikings have dragons, have zaj. So that’s like the difference.

PHH: Yeah, it’s really interesting. So the last week I was there we went up to the mountain to go see an artist house and we passed by this huge lake. I mean it is was this huge lake. And there’s uh you know there was like apparently a myth. They call it the sea-worm. But it was this lake where it’s like believed that the sea-worm lived. And I was like really confused for a like the car–it was like a two-hour car ride and I like kept on going “sea-worm, like what do you mean sea-worm,” you know. And so like the–Line, who drive us, was like “oh, the sea-worm.” Like, they believe in this creature that lives in the lake and people have spotted it and you know there are people from all over the world that do come to this part of the country just to spot out this sea-worm. And so when I went up I spoke with these ladies who lived in that area all their lives and we were just having lunch and I casually asked them “well, do you guys believe in the sea-worm?” Right, because I’d already asked Line and Line was like, no I don’t believe in the sea-worm, you know. So I’d asked these ladies and like all of them–there were four of them–and they automatically was like “yes, of course we believe in the sea-worm.”

SO: Did they blame the Vikings?

PHH: I don’t know.

SO: ‘Cause the Vikings had the sea-worm. The documentary is true you guys.

PHH: I am sure it is. Did you watch two–part two of the documentary?

SO: I did. I did. I watched both of them.

PHH: Yeah, but there is so–

LH: Was it made with CGI or animation?

SO: Uh, it’s uh it’s an animated one so that younger folks could digest it better.

PHH: Yeah, and so I like I did. I was like, oh, this is so interesting. The dragon. You know, I saw this picture and the sea-worm, half of it was a dragon and the other half was a mermaid. It was like really interesting and I said oh you know in Minnesota, in Saint Paul where my family lives, you know we have a lake called Lake Phalen and in that lake we also believe that there’s like a dragon, right. There are a lot of younger folks who don’t believe in the dragon but then there are also a lot of older folks who do believe that there is a dragon that lives in there. And they were like, oh well what do you call it and I said we call it a zaj. And then they also told me what they call it and I don’t remember.

MX: So there seems to be a lot of connections between Norway and Minnesota. Which–which–which there is. And I like how you asked those four women if they believed in the sea-worm. And so my question to the rest of us is do you believe in Lake Phalen tus zaj?

SO: Uh, no, I don’t believe in it.

PHH: I do. I mean because like come on like the deepest part of Phalen is 91 feet deep and that’s pretty deep. I believe in it.

LH: I believe in it too because when I go fishing there I catch no fish and I’m sure the dragon eats all the fishes. (laughing)

MX: I do believe in it.

SO: Uh, I don’t because–

LH: Koj yeej yog Hmoob Meskas tiag tiag li los.

SO: It’s because I need evidence.

LH: Yeah, that’s true. I think I’m 50-50. I mean I wanna believe the stories that my mom tell–my mom and dad tell me cause that it makes me feel part of like Hmongness. But a part of me is like, come on like okay I gotta see it to believe it but then at the same time I really don’t wanna see it.

PHH: So when you think about like Phalen Lake what do you guys think about?

SO: What comes to my mind is that uh one, there’s a lot of Hmong people. And two, shootings. Because I was at Phalen Lake and there was a shooting actually on the other side of the lake while I was there.

PHH: How long ago was this?

SO: This was in like 2008.

PHH: Oh.

SO: Yep. No, the cops–there was like a bunch of cops like around the area. It was like a young kid with a gun and decided to shoot somebody.

LH: Was it a Hmong kid?

SO: Yeah, it was a Hmong kid in broad daylight. So I realized that–

LH: What happened? You know, follow up, or…

SO: No I didn’t. All I know is that you know the shootings that happen on Phalen Lake always happen in the morning. At least you know who shot you.

PHH: I mean, you know, a couple years back there was a lady that was mugged while jogging at night. And then just really recently the was a guy who the police said committed suicide at the lake but you know his parents like believe that there was foul play. And but he was found at the lake. You know, uhm–

SO: With no like actual injuries to the body?

PHH: No. There was a gunshot wound.

SO: Oh.

PHH: And. Yeah. You know like there was a lot of different circumstances that happen but…

MX: So I find it really interesting that all of these bad things happen at Lake Phalen and yet Hmong people are still drawn to it. Like on a good day you can go to the lake and you will see tons of Hmong people like shoulder to shoulder walking around the lake.

SO: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the thing is that even though bad things happen it doesn’t deter people from enjoying a good time because again these are like really rare sporadic instances and it doesn’t happen on an everyday basis.

PHH: Well, yeah. Not only do you see them walking around the lake you see them really using the lake, utilizing the lake, right. They’re there swimming you know even though there’s a zaj in the lake, they’re there swimming. People are playing volleyball, kato that gets played at the little island. You know people are really utilizing the lake and I think that’s one of the great things about that lake is that uhm like regardless of all the horrible things that we may have heard and that we may have seen on the news, it doesn’t really deter Hmong people from going to that lake. Maybe it’s like, maybe it’s our, it’s our–

LH: Loyalty.

PHH: You know it’s our loyalty to the lake or maybe it’s the fact that we are warriors. Right. (laughing) You know. I don’t know.

LH: Or does any of this violence change your perceptions and thoughts? Have you not come to Hmong Lake after a lot of drownings, the zaj appearances, the violence?

PHH: Okay, so, yes. Just to like just to piggyback off of you Linda. I also know a lot of people that think that Hmong Lake is like freakin ghetto as heck and they make every excuse to not come to Hmong Lake. And they would rather go to Como Lake or Beaver Lake or you know Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles. You know like because like those lakes are better and cleaner, you know. I know a lot of people that think Lake Phalen is dirty and disgusting and would not let that water touch their bodies.

LH: Yeah but Hmong Lake is usually pretty clean when I walk around there.

PHH: Hmong Lake is very clean.

LH: The–the lake or… well, do any of you know where this toxic poison water came from? Yeah, so I’m just trying to find or understand why the water in Phalen Lake is so quote unquote toxic that people don’t wanna swim or be around it.

PHH: But I think it’s–that comes from–like I don’t–

SO: Prejudice.

PHH: I don’t think the water is actually toxic.

SO: People swim in it.

PHH: Uhm. You know I mean just like we all know somebody who refuses to go to Phalen Lake because it’s like it’s so Hmong. You know just like people who don’t go to Checkers because there’s too many Hmong people at Checkers.

SO: Yeah, and it’s not a hip thing to do.

PHH: Yeah.

SO: Is to attend white places.

LH: Oh, so it’s like the perception is more so… it’s–it’s a common thing.

PHH: Yeah. It’s common.

LH: It’s not a rare thing–

SO: Yeah.

LH: –and I need to be in spaces that are not.

SO: White. Pretty much white.

LH: The bourgeois or hip or whatever.

PHH: Yeah.

LH: ‘Cause Hmong people are like not–

MX: Like the soccer tournament. It’s dirty you guys.

PHH: Gross.

SO: But all your music festivals are not dirty.

PHH: Too many Hmong people.

MX: Have Hmong people done any fieldwork about the zaj?

PHH: No.

LH: It’s all based on hearsay and folklore.

SO: But I think the Zaj Slayer of Minnesota they’ve been doing hard working like fieldwork.

PHH: How do you know this, Sandy?

SO: It’s because I read their stuff. If you read all their posts it seems obvious that they’re doing their research.

MX: And I think we mentioned before but I am very, very curious to know this zaj in Lake–in Hmong Lake, is it a Chinese zaj or is it a European zaj? Like, could it be a sea-worm from Norway? Did the Norwegians bring it with them?

SO: Yeah, exactly. Like how they blame the Vikings for the sea-worm.

LH: Yeah, I think the Hmong people brought zaj here.

SO: Were we dragon trainers? That documentary is supposed to be for us.

MX: I–no I think I think we’re zaj slayers.

SO: Oh…

LH: We’re zaj slayers. We’re warriors alright.

PHH: But you know I think that that’s a really great podcast maybe to think about whether or not Hmong people were zaj trainers.

SO: Yeah. And if you could name the zaj what name would it be? So folks we’ll be posting out some polls so you can like write down what you think we should name the zaj and if the zaj is an Asian zaj or a European zaj.

MX: I also want to mention that in Harry Potter they have lots of different kinds of European zajs.

SO: Oh that’s right. What great documentary. I haven’t watched all of it yet.

LH: How many documentaries are there–

MX: There are lots of–

LH: –by this sir Harry Potter?

SO: Oh yeah–

PHH: Who is Harry Potter?

SO: I hear–I hear Harry Potter’s a really good documentarier.

MX: Pa I think you should know who Harry Potter is because you’ve been to the U.K.

SO: You–you should. You’ve been to his homeland.

PHH: Oh, I have. Well I don’t think I’ve ever met him. Is he still alive?

SO: I think there’s a zaj zoo that you have to have like uh certain prestige to get into.

PHH: Is this town called Hogwarts?

SO: Uh..

MX: That’s the school.

LH: Narnia.

SO: Yeah, that’s the school–

LH: It’s Narnia. You have to go to Narnia.

SO: No, Narnia’s another place where like–

PHH: Guys, we’re getting like really out of control.

All: (laughing)

SO: But like if you go down to Diagon Alley you will be able to get a ticket to go to the zoo.

LH: Does that lead you back to Laos though?

SO: Yeah, it will.

MX: Right, I think that is a good question too. Like do all these–

SO: Laos is Narnia.

MX: You know all this white history, does it have anything to do with Southeast Asian history?

SO: Yeah, I think Narnia is Laos. And how we get into Laos is we get into a closet. And that’s how we get into Laos.

MX: But I don’t know that there are any lions in Laos. I think there are tigers because I heard that there’s–there’s this girl named Ntxawm who–

PHH: Who married a tiger?

All: (laughing)

PHH: Yeah, that’s true.

MX: But–but there are no lions.

PHH: Yeah but you know I think it’d be really interesting to uh to think about like sort of these mythical creatures and folklore and see if there are any in relationship to uhm like the Hmong history and tradition.

MX: Yeah. Pa, I think it’s great that you’ve taken on fieldwork on documenting all these zaj in different countries.

PHH: Yes, well you know as a wanderluster uhm I think it’s my duty to you know uh…

SO: To educate us.

PHH: To educate–to educate the three of you ladies.

SO: Thank you so much.

LH: Maybe through finding the different types of zaj it will inform you to figure out if the Hmong Lake zaj is actually a Hmong zaj. And maybe, maybe, maybe then you can also share the secret to what is being Hmongness.

SO: So that’s a wrap up for Hoochim, our fifth episode. Uh thank you so much for listening to us. And you can send us some feedback or just leave us some questions. Our email is hashtag dot hoochim at gmail dot com. And you can like us or send us some messages on Facebook. It’s hashtag hoochim. And our Twitter handle is hashtag underscore hoochim. And you can listen to hashtag hoochim at SoundCloud and iTunes. Thank you.

(Outro: Why are you watching them take a shower?)


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