MARLIN L. HEISE
Since working with high school student Chia Thao in May 1981, I have felt closely connected with Hmong all over the world. In 1982 I lived in Ban Vinai with his uncle and family. How could they care for such a “white elephant” for a whole month? A few trips later to Thailand, I crossed the Mekong to Vientiane in early 1998 and became connected with Hmong college students that continues as a very rewarding life experience. Later in June, I had the golden opportunity to retire early and became involved with Yuepheng L. Xiong in Hmong Archives as its chief volunteer for daily work since we became a nonprofit in February 1999.
When Ban Vinai closed in 1992, many Hmong who were undecided about repatriation or resettlement found their way to Wat Thamkrabok. My first trip to the Wat, I do not remember very clearly, other than I took a bus from Bangkok to Saraburi to stay in a hotel, then a morning bus for Lopburi, but only as far as the highway gate to the Wat. From there it was a short, hot walk to the Wat and a new world where Chia’s brother Khoua and family lived beyond the open market/soccer field. In the last house on a road to the southeast, we also found neighbor Toua’s mother and family, all people I had first met in Ban Vinai in 1982! There are notes and photos from many more trips, but where among my boxes and boxes?
There was a second Saraburi trip before I began to stay in Lopburi, monkey city, at the Nett Hotel with Mr. No at the reception desk. The routine became songteo to the bus station, bus to Phra Phutthabat to bong the bells, songteo to the gate to Wat Thamkrabok, walk under the elephants and globe to the Wat, talk with Monk Gordon a little, then over to the Hmong settlement. Was it in 2003 that I met “cousin” Noel Kee and wife, of Keystar Productions, filming a movie that included Hmong Thai singer Houa Yang? Or 2004 when with Chia’s cousin Chou Yang at a soccer field restaurant we met Mo Chang, Saint Paul people preparing 15,000 Wat Hmong for their new lives in the United States? In 2005 I was only able to meet Toua’s mother and family outside the barbwire that surrounded the camp. Another memorable trip was in 2006 with my Hmoob Meskas hero (air conditioning, hot water showers, cold Pevxij, mild fawm) to rediscover his childhood in refugee camps and to find his relatives in Laos.
That was my first real scavenger year at Wat Thamkrabok, 2006. A few Hmong families remained, and my hero enjoyed talking with children and shopkeepers, even if this got to be emotional for him. And me? What should I do nearby while he talked and talked? I have always watched where my feet were stepping, so I noticed beads, marbles, thread, broken dishes, melted cassettes, snail shells, and dozens of other unusual objects that I stuffed into my shoulder bag and washed in my Nett Hotel room at night. To me, they were a treasure more valuable than gold, a treasure that might tell a story if seen again far away from this “home” that was our Wat Thamkrabok.
As you page through this section of materials at Hmong Archives, I hope these images will generate some stories of experiences and emotions that you can express to yourself, your family, and your grandchildren—and ideally also share with the Archives for our next book about Wat Thamkrabok, the center of our mutual world experience.