DR. KOU YANG
A Fulbright Scholar and Sasakawa Fellow, Dr. Kou Yang is Professor Emeritus of California State University, Stanislaus. He is also a recipient of Hmong Studies’ Eagle Award and is listed by Legacy of War as an expert of Laos and the Unexploded Ordnances from the Secret War era.
Professor Yang is the author of “Sayaboury: Land of a Million Elephants,” “Nuj Yob: The Hmong Jungle Book,” “The Making of Hmong America: Forty Years after the Secret War,” “根连万里情依依” loosely translated as "Root Connection from Ten Thousand Miles,” “The Hmong and Their Odyssey,” and “Laos and Its Expatriates in the United States.”
The thought of writing a book about Sayaboury came to me during my first visit to Sayaboury in July 2002. I realized then that I had been away from Sayaboury for almost three decades and had become a stranger to the town and people of Sayaboury. I found only a few townsfolks who still remembered me and called me by name. A few of my former teachers and classmates still lived in Sayaboury Town, informing me that many of our friends and teachers had passed away. Many, like myself, left Sayaboury Town to either become refugees abroad or start a new life elsewhere. The residents, who are younger than 35, did not know me, and I did not recognize them. It felt like not only did I leave my town, but my town had also left me. Moreover, the language accent from the people in the market places in Sayaboury Town indicated that most of them did not have the traditional Sayaboury accent, which meant that they moved to town from elsewhere after 1975, at the end of the Secret War, when people were able to move in and out. Since 2002, I have made many more visits to Sayaboury and traveled to many districts in the province.
I have learned and observed that the town and province have caught up with many changes. Firstly, the population has doubled since 1975 with the introduction of many foreigners, specifically Chinese, who have come to town and now have their own commercial district. Secondly, there are many new developments including roads, dams and other infrastructure. Thirdly, social and moral values have also changed; the Lao traditional strictness on sexual behavior and moral conduct has been altered by many internal and external influences; it appears that a sexual revolution is currently in process. Lastly, learning and paying attention to the history and folk legends of Sayaboury is no longer a priority.
These impending developments made me realize how important it is to document the memories of Sayaboury and its local folktales, so the locals can cherish and preserve them for the next generation. It is also important to educate tourists and visitors about Sayaboury and its people, so they can enjoy it as I did when I was in my youth. I want to be part of the development of Sayaboury Province, and the only thing that I can do is to write what I know about the land and the people so others can enjoy them and build upon them.
The year 2018 marks my 43 years of living outside of Sayaboury and Laos. Time does contribute to the fading of my memories, so I need to record what I know as soon as I can. I also believe that writing something now is better than having nothing for the next generation. Moreover, I have always wanted to contribute my expertise and skills to the development of Laos, especially Sayaboury, so writing the story of Elephant Mountain along with many other aspects of Sayaboury Province might be the best thing I can do for the people of Laos.
Since 2002, I have compiled what I could recall about Sayaboury, the history, land and its people. Additionally, my many more visits to Sayaboury and continuing research led to the completion of this very simple book, which is based on memories from my youth, my research, and observations. Thus, it is not entirely a scholarly work. I hope it will provide readers a better understanding of the history, the land, and the people of Sayaboury — the Land of a Million Elephants….