Sunday, September 27, 2009

And now for a little magic: Misty Lee

One of the great magicians in the US today. Some great stuff. A rising star in the US I'm also watching is Angela Funovits. We'll see where she takes her material over time.

Maha Phone Mounivong, 1918-2009

Phone Mounivong was born at 9PM on Saturday, February 10th 1918 in Vientiane, Laos. Mounivong was the fifth child in a family of 9 siblings (3 sisters and 6 brothers).

At the age of 11, he enrolled in school for the first time, attending classes at Wat Jaum Thong in Suan Mone. After completing his Buddhist education and attaining the highest venerable level of Maha, he continued to pursue Buddhist learning in Cambodia.

In 1939, he began his professional work by joining the post office in Luang Prabang as a supervisor.

Mounivong married his wife, Khamlek Sundara in 1946, and had 9 children: 5 boys and 4 girls.

Of the nine, two passed due to illness as toddlers. The couple had 20 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

In 1948, he successfully acquired a teaching position in Bangkok, Thailand, and from 1955 to 1959 he went on to teach in an elementary school district. He trained in Thailand for 6 months to further advance professionally, and was soon promoted to the Dean of Lycee of Vientiane. From 1964-1975, he established his tenure as a Professor of Lao Language, and was recognized and given four distinguished awards from King Sysavangvong, including a humanitarian award, and educational award and a national award.

The Mounivong family came to the US in 1981, resettling in Elgin, Illinois. With a great passion in Lao Buddhism and his educational background, Phone Mounivong helped create the initial interest in establishing a core base for the Wat Lao in Illinois, including those in Rockford and Elgin, and many attribute the proliferation of Buddhist temples in his state, thanks to him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Newest issue of CHA is available

The latest issue (August 2009) of CHA is now available at

CHA is one of the great online literary magazines for Asian writers.

Worth taking a look at. They've been going at it for nearly two years now, and drawing some fine work to their pages.

This month features work by: Steve Ausherman, Nigel Beale, Amy Cheng, Patrick Donnelly, Viki Holmes, Luisa A. Igloria, Lillian Kwok, Franky Lau, Larry Lefkowitz, Eva Leung, Pierre Lien, Belle Ling Hoi Ching, Christopher Luppi, Jonathan Mendelsohn, Stephen D. Miller, Nikesh Murali, Ng Yi-Sheng, O Thiam Chin, Divya Rajan, Prashani Rambukwella, Vaughan Rapatahana, Kate Rogers, Steven Schroeder, Rohith Sundararaman, Gillian Sze, Kok-Meng Tan, Anne Tibbitts, David C.E. Tneh, Lynn van der Velden-Elliott and Les Wicks.

Their second anniversary issue is due out in November 2009.

New Southeast Asian species discovered but facing extinction

A bird-eating frog with fangs, an alien gecko equipped with orange eyes and technicolor skin, and a flightless bird are among the 163 newly identified species discovered in Southeast Asia last year that are now considered at risk of extinction due to climate change, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).

Ok, this one also gets my attention because I had predicted the existence of several similar critters in some short horror stories of mine years ago. It's a peculiar validation. I'm at once delighted and saddened to see that I may in fact never get a chance to see many of these creatures alive in my lifetime.

Popularizing Ulysses

As I get closer to the release of BARROW, I spied a nice article that suggests a popular reading of Ulysses is in order. I point it out because Ulysses and Joyce were in the development of BARROW and much of my approach to writing. A fine quote on the matter:
Though Kiberd neglects to point out that Ulysses instructs us in how to cook pork kidneys and fill out racing forms, he does insist that "this is a book with much to teach us about the world—advice on how to cope with grief; how to be frank about death in the age of its denial; how women have their own sexual desires and so also do men; how to walk and think at the same time; how the language of the body is often more eloquent than any words; how to tell a joke and how not to tell a joke; how to purge sexual relations of all notions of ownership; or how the way a person approaches food can explain who they really are."
Joyce himself claimed otherwise. In 1922 he complained to a fellow novelist, Djuna Barnes: "The pity is the public will demand and find a moral in my book—or worse they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it." Joyce was not entirely serious about that disclaimer, any more than Mark Twain was when he posted his famous warning at the beginning of Huckleberry Finn: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Nevertheless, such persons need to proceed with caution.

A laugh for the weekend.

From an anecdote in the New York Times:
The German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was invited to the doctor’s home for supper.

A few days later, Humboldt found himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat reserved, and didn’t go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly, while making horrible faces.

When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his host. “I like your lunatic,” he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The host frowned. “But it’s the other one who’s the lunatic. The man you’re pointing to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

[MN] Whistling Shade Takes On MN Poet Laureate

Whistling Shade, one of my favorite Minnesota literary journals, posted a piece by Dylan Garcia Wahl regarding our Poet Laureate. It's an honest critique, and this, along with prickly Dan Schneider's no-nonsense This Old Poem essays at Cosmoetica, reminds me why I love the vibrant poets culture of Minnesota.

Without frank dissent, grumbling, constructive criticism and needling, we can't grow as artists or produce anything worth reading among the Immortals. We get safe, maudlin tripe that will keep boring the piss out of people. Dylan's column was a refreshing wakeup. I concur, we can and MUST expect more of our Minnesota Poet Laureate.

Under the Thumper principle, I'm not going to point fingers at other states who have severely underwhelming Poet Laureates. The ones who come to mind are struggling enough. I will say many of them are at least -trying- to do a good job for such a title, given how little support most states provide. To deliberately do -nothing- as a Poet Laureate in Minnesota strikes so dissonant a note it is not unlike the Angel of Death belching through a penny whistle to collect a wayward Muse.

As one of the two NEA Literature Fellows from Minnesota this year, as I've traveled, I sincerely hope those I met emerged with a stronger sense of the amazing potential and joys of poetry. It's not formally my responsibility to advocate in that way, but I think we would all agree it's an implicit aspect of the role, as it is for those who've received Minnesota State Arts Board funding.

To momentarily play the devil's advocate: Perhaps in doing nothing, this does piss off the rest of our poetic colleagues as to be more effective than if our Poet Laureate were actively doing something. But it's not a strategy I'd employ, and I hope future Poet Laureates will consider something different from current precedent.


A great line from My Dinner With Andre, quoting Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata:
"I could always live in my art, but never in my life."

[Laos] Epic Lao Literature: Phra Lak Phra Lam

One of the great classics of Lao literature is the Phra Lak Phra Lam, an adaptation of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. I admit, for a long time, I hadn't looked too closely at it because the reputation of the Ramayana as a long-winded, convoluted bit of storytelling made it quite daunting to consider.

But this weekend I finally had a chance to read it, at least in an English translation, thanks to the great Center for Southeast Studies at Northern Illinois University, and it was quite fun.

I AM glad I put it off until now because I can appreciate more of the structure and decisions that were made in comparison to the Indian, Thai and Khmer versions of the story.

What's intriguing to me is how the Phra Lak Phra Lam blends an origin of the Lao nation with a jataka, or story of the previous life of the Buddha. It's also interesting to see which side stories are given greater emphasis compared to other variations.

A notable departure I've noticed so far is the how the monkey son of Phra Lam is handled, especially in regards to courting the mermaid princess, who is the daughter of the King of the Nak.

Perhaps it's just my own sensibilities, but I find that as serious as the subject matter is, being a sacred jataka to our culture, there's a fantastic absurdity to many elements of the story that should be met with great humor and imagination. I found myself laughing out loud frequently.

And I remain affirmed in my sense that all Lao literature should really try to be both fun and deep, honest about the quirks and failings of living beings and the contradictions we find ourselves entangled in.

There's a phrase the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman once wrote that suggested that all stories eventually return to their true form. This was a particular swipe at the neutering and sanitizing of many classic fairy and folktales in Europe and America. And I can see some arguing it would be better if the Phra Lak Phra Lam had stayed closer to the Indian version, but I disagree.

To me, Phra Lak Phra Lam provides a unique glimpse into our culture and where we place our priorities, what it suggests about what we found boring and what we found exciting. It's very telling and provides intriguing insights.  The tale of Khoun Bolom is probably more helpful for specific Lao customs and ideals, but I feel all of these should be read and even spoken aloud together, along with the other great folktales and legends of old.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Thai life insurance commercial

I don't typically post these, but here's a really touching life insurance commercial from Thailand that has a great approach and message. It took the Grand Prix for TV at the Asia Spikes Awards this year. Worth a watch.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Remembering Dixie Riley

Dixie Riley, a long-time friend and fellow community activist passed away this weekend at the age 58 at her home in Brooklyn Park.

She was retired from Anoka County and Northwestern Bell. Dixie was one of the first people I met among the Asian American activists of Minnesota when I moved up here to Minnesota in 1998.

She was always a supportive, warm and generous friend who impressed me with her knowledge and her passion for change and justice. I'll always remember her happily bringing her children with her to community events and getting them involved with our activities. I know they'll continue her tradition.

Dixie was involved with PPSEAWA, NOW, Sister Song and the Bootjack Saddle Club, and I'll always remember running into her at Dragon Festivals, readings, rallies and any community events where her presence was needed.

Bao Phi has a fine tribute to her at the Star Tribune this week. Strongly recommended reading, but I also have to say that I don't know if any tribute can really do her justice or express how much change she inspired out here in Minnesota. She will be greatly missed.

Th Mass of Christian Burial will be held 11:00 am Thursday, September 24 at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, 7025 Halifax Ave N., Brooklyn Center (763-561-5100). The Visitation 5-8 pm Wednesday at Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7835 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Park (763-560-3100) and one hour prior to Mass. So long, Dixie, you made a difference.

Yu Zhenhuan in the news again

In an increasingly tragi-comic story, one-time Canto-rocker Yu Zhenhuan, one of my favorite near-celebrities, made headlines again recently when he went in for some laser hair removal .

Born in 1978 in Shengyang, in the chilly province of Liaoning, Yu Zhenhuan spent the early part of the 2000s rocking out. He learned to play the guitar and saxophone, wanting to be a classic triple threat of playing, singing and writing his own songs. Although his websites have since been taken down, a few images crop up now and then showing us how he wows the ladies.

By all accounts, Yu Zhenhuan is a real sweet guy, and is spending some time looking for love like everyone else after breaking up with his girlfriend of three years. ““I feel like King Kong” he told website Zhejiang Online “Hideous, but with a soft and tender heart”. Don’t we all!

In 2007, he made a great attempt to be part of China’s Olympic build-up by starting a campaign to participate in the traditional pre-Olympic torch relay.

There’s no word on when he’ll return to movies, the last one he did being a child star in the 1984 “A Hairy Child’s Adventure” which tragically isn’t on IMDB or available on DVD. He doesn’t say which role he had, but we think it might have been the lead. It was tough that year, going up against international blockbusters like Ghost Busters, Purple Rain and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Oh, don’t forget! Yu Zhenhuan was a one-time Guinness Book of World Records holder as the world’s hairiest man back in 2002, because he’s got hair covering 96% of his body. He lost the title to two Mexican brothers, Victor and Gabriel Ramos Gomez, who have hair covering 98% of their bodies, but he’s still a winner in our book. Besides, after the first 95%, you’re really just splitting hairs.

Yu Zhenhuan has a condition called atavism, but he doesn’t let that slow him down, and he takes ownership of it. It wasn’t easy as child, because people would point for some reason. Today he sees it as a mark of pride, something that really sets him apart and makes him unique. Yu Zhenhuan dares to be different. And in the old days, having a lot of hair was a real sign of masculinity!

Previously, he had to have some treatments to remove some hair from his ears and nose. It was a close shave. Before his four hour ear operation, he had problems hearing conversations under 40 decibels. Now Yu Zhenhuan can hear over 20 decibels. But if he hadn’t had the operation, an infection in his inner ears might spread to his brain if they hadn’t done something about it.

Unfortunately, it would appear Yu Zhenhuan's latest surgery is part of a tragic effort to show up a director who rejected him for a role as the Monkey King in an upcoming retelling of the classic Chinese story. Word has it he's even planning on some more radical plastic surgery to make the director regret his decision. Here's hoping he doesn't end up on

Yu Zhenhuan is keeping mum about when he’s going to drop his next album, but I imagine it will show up on iTunes any day now!

New Southeast Asian American Blogs starting

As a quick heads up: Twin Cities photographer and community activist Sai Vang has just started a new blog for the community, I'd previously interviewed Sai Vang for Bakka Magazine, and admire her approach. With a biting wit and some great perspective and talent behind it, I'm looking forward to seeing more from her team in the coming months ahead.

A new Lao American blogazine has started up:

It's already starting to fill up with a lot of articles and commentary. I've sent a few articles and interviews their way. We'll see where it all goes.

More Hmong Cops for North Minneapolis?

My one-time colleague Jeff Skrenes recently posted a great commentary on a September 12th meeting to discuss the findings of a U of M report calling for more Hmong police officers in North Minneapolis, particularly near my neighborhood.

Jeff's summary is making the rounds, including The Adventures of Johnny Northside, which is a must-read blog for most folks interested in the no-bullshit comings and goings and not-goings of North Minneapolis.

A big thanks to Yia Yang, Melinda Yang and Jay Clark for doing so much great organizing on this issue, and I look forward to seeing future developments on this issue.

I hope eventually we will get to see the perspective of other Hawthorne Neighborhood Council staff and board members as well as our city council representatives on this issue, as the case is quite compelling.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen

It's September 21st, so that brings us again to Leonard Cohen's birthday!

One of the key musical influences on my work, I've appreciated the way his voice has been able to shift and evolve in different ways over the extensive span of his career. One of the great albums that can serve as an introduction to his artistic themes and priorities is his "Best of"collection which indeed contains so many of his songs that are now often covered by other musicians and artists.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kong Children Receive Memorial Markers 11 Years Later

Nearly 120 people gathered on Sunday, September 13th at Forest Lawn Cemetery to pay their respects to the six children of Tou Kong who were murdered eleven years go by their mother. A year after it had been brought to the community's attention that after 10 years, gravestones still had not been placed to mark the graves of the Kong children, a committee formed to raise funds for the grave markers had succeeded in their mission.

It was a warm, sunny day as friends, family and community members gathered to pay their respects, with remarks from the father Tou Kong and a leader of the Kong clan, Gna Dou Kong. Pat Hogan, Superintendent of Forest Lawn Cemetary gave a particularly moving testimony about the meaning of the children's burial eleven years ago.

Ka Houa Yang, Chairman of Lao Family Community and Yang Pao Moua, President of the 18 Clan Council spoke, as did members of the St. Paul Police who first responded to the call and its aftermaths.

A letter was read from the children's mother, who currently remains incarcerated. During the open remarks, community members called for unity. Pastor Jerry Soung of the Saint Paul Hmong Alliance Church closed with a prayer and a reading of a psalm.

The grave markers were then unveiled and family and the audience paid their respects by placing white roses on each of the six markers. A brief reception was held afterwards in the Forest Lawn Cemetery Chapel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Combat Paper Reading: MCBA, Saturday Afternoon 9/19

I'll be reading at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in honor of their upcoming Combat Paper residency. Combat Paper is a collective that works with war veterans all over the English-speaking world making paper from their uniforms and developing artwork and writing from them. Jim Moore, Deborah Keenan and Jude Nutter will also be reading with me on September 19th from 2-3:30 PM. I hope to see you there! You can learn more about the Combat Paper project at

In September of this year, Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) and the Susan Hensel Gallery will host The Combat Paper Project for a week-long residency in MCBA’s studios.

This unique project, based out of Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vermont, is made possible by a multifaceted collaboration between artists, art collectors, non-profit centers and military combat veterans. Through papermaking workshops, local veterans are given the opportunity to use uniforms worn in combat to create cathartic works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beat and formed into sheets of paper. Later, text and imagery created by veterans are printed on the sheets. The goal is to use art to help individuals reconcile their personal experiences and challenge traditional narratives surrounding service, honor and military culture.

MN Community Honors Dr. Bounlieng Phommasouvanh

On Saturday, September 12th, the Minnesota community honored the service of Dr. Bounlieng Phommasouvanh and his wife, Dr. Samlong Inthaly-Phommasouvanh at the Buasavanh Restaurant and Banquet Hall, 7324 Lakeland Avenue in Brooklyn Park. The evening began at 5:30 PM and went until midnight, and included a traditional Lao baci ceremony, as well as short presentations from community members and his family.

Born in Laos, Dr. Phommasouvanh has had an extensive role in the community in education. Dr. Phommasouvanh served with the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning and the Minnesota Department of Education. His other professional experiences also include time as a high school principal, ESL/Bilingual Education teacher and a college professor. He has frequently presented on issues of community development and education.

Dr. Phommasouvanh founded the Association of Positive Promotion of Lao Ethnics of Iowa (APPLE) in 1977. He was instrumental in organizing the Federation of Lao Associations of America and the creation of the Lao PTA of Minnesota. He is now retiring and moving to San Diego, California with his wife.

Cha Lee, on behalf of Congresswoman Betty McCollum presented Dr. Phommasouvanh with a special Congressional certificate thanking him for his service. Guests were then treated to an authentic Lao buffet dinner, followed by live entertainment from the live band, Lucky Star.

Wat Lao in Texas Burned, Community Rebuilding

The Wat Lao in Saginaw, Texas, Wat Lao Thepnimith, caught fire on August 24th, destroying the campus temple. The Wat has been a part of the community for over 20 years, originally only a mobile home trailer for the 11,000 Lao estimated to be living in the North Texas region. An 18-foot-tall Buddha sits melted amid the debris. Several small statutes depicting the first Buddhist monk to arrive in the Laos region were also destroyed, and damage is estimated at $350,000 to $400,000. The community continues to work to rebuild the temple at 7105 Marvin Brown St.

The Star Telegram has some additional details on the story.

Best wishes to everyone who is involved with the restoration project.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two standout magician acts at FISM 2009

An interesting act from this year's Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques convention in China, Ms. Huang Zheng:

Also notable is Charming Choi from Korea who won this year's FISM award for Most Original Act. I can see how he won:

SEDA launches 6 Week Awareness Campaign On Poverty In Laos

From Asian Week:

Vientiane, Laos: The Social and Economic Developers Association (SEDA) Laos, is launching a six week awareness and fund raising campaign, from August 21st until September 31st, to draw the world’s attention to poverty in Laos.

As preparations continue for the South East Asia (SEA) Games, being held in Vientiane, the capital of Laos in December, SEDA is urging people not to forget about the ongoing struggle against poverty.

SEDA is asking that people around the world donate as little as $1 to the campaign. The money raised will go towards one of SEDA’s main project areas; Micro-Finance.

SEDA’s innovative Micro-Finance project provides small loans to entrepreneurs in Laos, particularly farmers wishing to expand their businesses and women with craft skills. Unlike many micro-finance schemes in developing countries, SEDA offers a very low rate of interest, of between 1.5% and 5%, and provides the necessary training to participants for their businesses to become a success.

“People in Laos are very excited to host the Games; it is a great honour and an opportunity for improvements to the city. But with the eyes of the world on Laos, we must not forget the real problems that people here face every day. We are fighting for a long term solution to poverty” Souly QuachAngkham, Founder and Director of SEDA

Laos has the lowest UNDP human development index of all South East Asia, with 75% of people living on less than $2 a day. Education remains poor; the Laos government allocation for education is among the lowest in the world. Lack of food and clean drinking water also huge problems; 50% of children suffer from malnourishment, and 40% exhibit stunted growth.

SEDA helps the poorest families, with special attention on women (including, single mothers and widows), no income families and people with disabilities.

For information or contact

The Social and Economic Developers Association (SEDA) was created to bring sustainable economic and social change to the disadvantaged people of Laos. SEDA is a non-profit Laos-based organization, dedicated to improving education and health, and providing economic opportunities for a long-term solution to poverty - and a brighter future for the Lao PDR.

Marking the passing of Maha Phone Mounivong

My condolences to the family and community of the late professor Maha Phone Mounivong of Elgin, Illinois, who passed away recently. He was deeply respected by many members within the community. I will try to share additional details about his life later.

10/10 BARROW Book Release Party: Free!

At long last, the BARROW book release will be held, this time at the True Colors Bookstore, formerly known as the Amazon Bookstore, in Minneapolis on Saturday, October 10th, from 5 to 7pm.

The True Colors Bookstore is located at 4755 Chicago Ave. South, Minneapolis. Previously, the one-year anniversary party for On The Other Side Of The Eye was held here. A very special thanks to the new owners who've been so supportive. Plus, they have agreed to sell copies of BARROW on consignment here, making them one of the first bookstores to do so.

There will be guest readers, as always, and free drinks and a cake from Cakes By Fhoua. Tyree Campbell, editor and publisher of Sam's Dot Publishing will also be on hand during the event.

I look forward to seeing you there!

In the Twin Cities, BARROW will also be available at Micawber's and the Source Comics and Games. We'll mention more stores as they become available. It will NOT be available at Barnes and Noble or Borders at the moment, except through special order. It's a distribution thing.

And as always, you can order directly from me for a signed and autographed edition, or from Sam's Dot Publishing via the Genre Mall (

You can see a few examples (not the whole book) at Scribd.Com

The future of teaching?

An article by Zephyr Teachout in Slate's Big Money section recently suggested that in the future, universities may get dismantled by the net as more classes get taught online, or people seek education from many different institutions.

Which is an idea I've felt was the future trend for years- that teachers will one day once again be sought on the basis of their expertise much like the ancient academies. A student would no longer be restricted to getting an education from, 'just whoever happens to be loitering nearby' but could be more selective in who they gain their knowledge from, if they so choose.

But this could become both an exciting and dangerous free-for-all as some try to get students by short-selling their services, others going the route of rock-star, exclusive high-end mentoring of bright students.

We could either see an amazing transformation in the learning process or an increase in academic mavericks and fauxcademics. Which isn't too different from the current intellectual marketplace, but just the same...

My question ultimately has to be: How can teachers be best braced for either future? One where they are are confined to institutions without necessarily budgets to allow great outside travel or to bring outside guests in, or a future where it's basically every academe for themselves, pushed to be either among the best or the cheapest.

[Laos] Saola antelope nearly exctinct

In news that really doesn't strike me as much as a surprise but a profound disappointment, Reuters is reporting that new-found species, the Saola antelope, discovered in 1992 by scientists in remote valleys on the borders of Laos and Vietnam, is on the brink of extinction from hunting. It looks like the desert antelope but is more closely related to cattle. And admittedly, probably tastes great, but that doesn't make a great case to hunters to stop them from chasing it.

Scientists examine role of imaginary worlds as indicators of highly creative children

In a nice affirmation, Scientific American recently posted that scientists have found imaginary worlds are early sign of highly creative kid.
"This detailed, sustained "world play" may be an early marker of broad, general creativity (as opposed to creative excellence in one field such as music), according to two professors from Michigan State"
Which in many ways a lot of us have known already for a long time, but it's fun to see some science behind that. Next up: Butter may stick on bread if applied firmly enough.

In other more interesting news, fairy tales may have even more ancient origins than many scholars had previously thought, according to The Telegraph.

Laos In The New York Times

The New York Times has an interesting article that captures many of the complexities regarding the modern shape of Laos.

Among the more intriguing points was that the Obama administration three months ago had declared that Laos had “ceased to be a Marxist-Leninist country.” According to the article, public spending makes up only 11 percent of the country’s economy, but politically, Laos remains authoritarian, and dissent from the party line is banned. But at the same time, it looks like there's increasing openness in Laos, and this can be a positive sign. This particular article was written by Thomas Fuller.

Fun Video: Robot Republic

I adore the retro look of this great short based on the classic Schroedinger's Cat dilemma. I hope we see more Robot Republic cartoons in the future.

[Idle Musings] On Lao Names

People say Lao names are complicated, but it's not like we have a monopoly: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Wislawa Szymborska. Yusef Komunyakaa. Picasso's full name? Google THAT and say it. I've seen people screw up names like Dumas.

If people care enough, they learn to say it right eventually. If not, so what?

Films: Hanuman vs. 7 Ultramans

I file this firmly under the category of: Films I wish I'd written but can't quite bring myself to see:

Hanuman vs. 7 Ultramans

It captures many of my great loves: the kaiju eiga, giant monster genre and the legends of the Ramakien / Ramayana, notably the character of Hanuman, the monkey king.

I have to admit, I'm somewhat surprised there isn't a video game like Street Fighter that allows you to play different characters from the Ramayana. Or perhaps there is, and I just haven't looked very far.

As an interesting note, it seems that Hanuman takes on a different character in different countries. In Bali, he's a mischievous, adorable and heroic figure. In India, he's a fierce warrior who can only be worshiped by men.

In the stories in Laos, the most popular involve him trying to romance a mermaid using spells when she won't return his affections. Which is certainly an interesting message to be sending out. One part of me says that isn't really progressive thinking, and 'no means no,' and the fantasy story writer in me can't help think, there's a lot of directions that could go afterwards. But that's a discussion for another time.

A naga photo 'debunked'

For a time, you couldn't visit many Lao houses in the US without spotting this photograph:

Most captions for the photo read:
"Queen of Nagas seized by American Army at Mekhong River, Laos Military Base on June 27, 1973 with the length of 7.80 meters."

Now, for a while, most of us have known it was in fact the mysterious oarfish, but Trevor Ranges has an interesting article on the subject that is well worth the read.

The Fortean Times also has a great article from 2003 about a hunt for the naga I've always enjoyed, and you may want to check it out too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quote of the moment

It is, however, not to the museum, or the lecture-room, or the drawing-school, but to the library, that we must go for the completion of our humanity. It is books that bear from age to age the intellectual wealth of the world.- Owen Meredith.

Or at least, you're far less likely to find books marked up with the usual expletives you find in the average forums on the Internet these days. And I, for one, will say, this is a good thing.

Ketsana Releases New Album

Lao American rocker Ketsana recently released her new album The Best of Ketsana ELaoTronic Rock, a collection of her greatest hits stretching across two decades of performing. The popular singer's new album contains songs in both English and Lao, including a moving rendition of the Lao classic Champa Muong Lao and her ethereal I Hunger.
Considered the 'Lao Madonna' by many, Ketsana has continued to thrill and entertain audiences with her powerful and eclectic style. She can transition as easily from a soulful Lao tune to high energy power ballads and New Wave standbys, with a repetoire of many stunningly original compositions that embrace all of her modern and traditional sensibilities.
Ketsana was born in Savannakhet, Laos and immigrated in 1978 to America with her mother, grandmother, and 4 brothers. The Vilaylacks first arrived in Chicago during a night blizzard in April. She traces her early years to the city of Algonquin, Illinois, where she started singing for a local choir. By the age of 11, Ketsana became a member of The Strangers, one of the earliest and most influential Lao rock bands led by the acclaimed singer Silavong Keo.
Now based in Tennessee, Ketsana went on to record nine albums, touring internationally in US, Canada, France and Laos. She recently returned to Elgin, Illinois on August 22nd to support several Lao community events, and performed several times in Minnesota this Spring.
Community leaders and her peers actively praise her for her generous support of Lao American organizations and events. Ketsana has been noted for her pioneering work to highlight other Lao musicians and artists across the US. She was responsible for bringing many Minnesota-based talents together during the International Lao New Year Festival, including Gumby AKA Pryce and the rapper Lila T. Rising stars in the Lao music scene such as Alex San Dinero, Malyssa and Evin After also perfromed at that event.
Her new album is available online through Amazon.Com and includes samples to listen to. You can also visit her website at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Center for Lao Studies First Annual Banquet: 9/12, San Francisco

The Center for Lao Studies' First Annual Banquet: Spreading Wings is coming up on Saturday, September 12 from 6pm - 12am at the Women's Building, 3543 18th St #8, San Francisco, CA 94110

Dinner will be served between 6.30pm to 7.30pm, followed by performances and lamvong Lao dancing. Each guest will automatically receive one free raffle ticket for a chance to win 17 different prizes, ranging from a hotel stay to Wicked tickets. Additional raffle tickets are available for only $1/each.

Tickets are still available! ($25 general, $50 VIP) for more information visit

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

VA: Screening of "The Betrayal" in support of Lao Heritage Foundation: 9/18

If you're in Virginia on September 18th, come support the Lao Heritage Foundation as it hosts a special screening of the Oscar-nominated film, Nerakhoon: The Betrayal.

Filmed over 23 years, "The Betrayal" is the directorial debut of renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras in a unique collaboration with the film's subject and co-director, Thavisouk Phrasavath.
Your generous donations upon entrance will support the Lao Heritage Foundation's critical mission to promote, preserve, and transmit the Lao culture through the arts. With surprise guests.

You can visit the Lao Heritage Foundation at

The screening will be held at 7:00pm - 10:00pm at the NRECA Conference Center, 4301 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Virginia. Be sure to tell your friends and family, as well!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

AAJA Media Access Workshop: 9/16

Want to get your news out to the media? Get reporters to cover your issues? Effectively communicate your message to editors at major news organizations?

The Minnesota chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association is hosting a Media Access Workshop for Asian American community groups Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Rondo Library, 461 N. Dale St. (University Ave.), St. Paul, MN. Refreshments will be served.

Come listen to editors and reporters at Minnesota's top news organizations discuss strategies on how to pitch stories and issues important to your organizations. The event is also a great opportunity to network with people who can influence public opinion in Minnesota.

Panelists include:

Duchesne Drew, Managing Editor,
The Star Tribune in Minneapolis

Phil Pina, North Suburbs Editor,
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Tom LaVenture, News and Managing Editor,
Asian American Press

Susanna Song, General Assignment Reporter,
KSTP, Channel 5

For more information, contact Thomas Lee at 612-673-7744 or

Two quotes for the moment.

"Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." -Eugene Debs

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.- Charles Horton Cooley