Monday, June 22, 2015

Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula

In an interesting run-down of the best Draculas on cinema over at Flavorwire, Alsion Natasi mentions Zhang Wei-Qiang. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like a film to check out.

"Zhang Wei-Qiang is one of the few non-white Draculas in cinema, cast by Guy Maddin in the 2002 film Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. The Chinese actor bridges the gap between new and old Dracula, bringing a mesmerizing elegance and sexuality to the character, made all the more hypnotic by Maddin’s engaging cinematography."

The rest of the rankings are also solid. It's in interesting role. I often wonder how we would approach the matter in Lao cinema and literature. In Thai cinema, there seems to be suggestions that Dracula appeared as early as 1979 in a story with a Phi Krasue although further research needs to be done to corroborate this. It would be curious to see when a book or a short story about Dracula reached Thailand, and when an original version from a Thai perspective came out.

In some ways, of course, I think there could be some interesting takes on Dracula in Laos if you linked it to the Nyak tradition, and took some elements from the story of Phra Lak, Phra Lam where the fierce Nyak king kidnaps the beautiful princess to his island fortress, which leads to an epic war. The Nyak are typically presented as a race of giant, flesh-eating, perverse warrior-sorcerers similar to the Rakshasa of Hindu/Buddhist legend. In later centuries, many have come to be protectors of Buddhist temples.

Upon consideration, though, there are several entities in Laos that could have an counterpart to Dracula, from a Nak or more likely the carnivorous Ngeuak, and the Phi Kasu. The challenge is, most Lao are cremated and motifs such as cemeteries would be pretty uncommon. The lack of major castles or fortresses would certainly also be an element that's a little out of place in Laos, although there are remote regions and areas where superstition and black magic are thought to be rampant.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Preliminary notes on the language of dystopia

What is the language of dystopia?

A common element of modern science fiction featuring dystopias is the use of a futuristic language or jargon that signals to the reader that you're no longer in a contemporary setting, and that in the future, the language of the dominant society will be significantly different or evolved. I'll be giving a discussion on this topic at this year's CONvergence in Minneapolis because it's a topic of particular interest to me as a poet. There are definitely some significant intersections in our art form and the languages of the future.

The aim of the presentation is to demonstrate to both readers and writers that there are several different strategies to create a sense of "dystopianese" and each method has its particular strengths, weaknesses, and symbolism. For this discussion, I'll be looking at the language of dystopia in science fiction written in English. For other scholars, I would strongly hope work will be done to start looking at the dystopian language in the science fiction of other countries, such as Japanese, Chinese, Russian, French, German, Arabic, and Spanish, just to name a few.

In English-language dystopia, however, we can point to several basic textual strategies that have been popular for the last century. The English of the dystopian future often finds itself riddled with repurposed language, neologisms, portmanteaus, pidgin/polyglots, calques and loanwords, among others. Authors are typically careful not to include so many new words that the English becomes unrecognizable and unintelligible.

Prominent examples we can look at:

George Orwell's 1984 and his concept of Newspeak remains one of the classics. It was well-thought out in terms of creating a language that was repurposed and logical within that world, and the language itself was almost a character. At the very least, it was a very specific tool for creating and reinforcing the dystopia, erasing its enemies and keeping Big Brother plausibly in control. It also set a precedent where much of the vocabulary became a part of real life, such as doublethink, doublespeak, and the memory hole. Compare it to the vocabulary of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World whose dystopian vocabulary has not had as far a reach. 1984 demonstrates a case where the dystopian language is the mark of the mainstream, dominant culture.

In contrast, we have Ridley Scott's Blade Runner an adaptation of the dystopia of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It demonstrates a dystopia with a polyglot culture. In the beginning, we're introduced to the protagonist at a Japanese noodle bar in Los Angeles where a detective played by Latin American actor says "Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem, bitte!" a combination of French, German and several other languages. Interestingly, a class/culture divide is established- that only street-level, everyday people use this kind of language. Throughout the rest of the film, everyone else the characters run into use normal or formal English, with only a few idiomatic phrases to signify the future, such as the police officer who says "Have a better one."

One might look at the post-Apocalypse dystopia of poet Cathy Park Hong's award-winning Dance Dance Revolution for a more expanded sense of where this could go interestingly. Of course, A Clockwork Orange features the Russian-influenced Nadsat language used by the delinquents in that story, which was, for its time, a radical, almost vulgar proposition.

In Farenheit 451, language is at the heart of this dystopian tale, and the language in books that prompt too much emotion is blamed as the source of humanity's suffering. What becomes interesting here is that the language of the future remains largely unchanged, except for a few instances, where it is repurposed and inverted. A "fireman" is no longer someone who puts out fires, but someone who sets them. In the end, the rebellion is revealed to be a process whereby everyone becomes a living book.

Joss Whedon's short-lived Firefly series takes a lot of heat for it creating the society where the Chinese are the dominant culture, even though there are barely any Chinese actually seen in the series or movie. When the Chinese ARE see n, it's as bar girls and coolies. Most of the show is done in modern English with occasional Chinese loan words or Chinglish phrases. One interesting point, however, is the reference to Shan Yu, a warlord-philosopher apparently in the tradition of Fu Manchu, Shiwan Khan or Genghis Khan, whose writing is remembered centuries later with an orientalist cadence: ""Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man."

Overall, the Firefly show subconsciously raised the interesting question: given that we are watching this world unfold from the viewpoint of the outlaws/mercenaries, should we read their use of English to represent an act of subversive rebellion, where they lapse into Chinese only when absolutely necessary? Of course, if this were the case, they would surely use formal Queen's English or a closer semblance to that, I suppose. One might consider the world of Star Wars where everyone in the Empire speaks Queen's English with no slang or casual vernacular. On the other hand, the Rebel Alliance is filled with people who can make out the language of Wookies, Sullustans, Rodians, and Jawas without protocol droids. Ewoks and Hutts, not so much, for some reason.

So, knowing that, what future directions might we take with dystopian languages that haven't been fully explored yet? What happens IF a rebellion succeeds. Does everyone then go back to using the former dominant language, or does the rebel dialect take over? Many options could play out.

But what are some other thoughts or notable examples to add?

APA Author Interview: Krysada Panusith Phounsiri

Lao American poet and artist Krysada Panusith Phounsiri was interviewed this week by Molly Higgins for the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association regarding his debut book of poetry from Sahtu Press, "Dance Among Elephants." 

Higgins asked some great questions regarding his early years and what drew him to poetry. Krysada Panusith Phounsiri discusses how dancing fits into his life when he's not writing or working. They also discuss the process of how "Dance Among Elephants" came about, and I think it's something many emerging Lao American poets should think about as they prepare their own manuscripts.

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri also discusses his literary influences and the role of libraries in his life. He shares some solid advice for emerging writers to get into the proper mindset. There can be whole books written about this, of course, but I think his advice is spot on. Be sure to check out his collection at the Sahtu Press website and be sure to follow everyone at twitter: @bboylancer and @sahtupress

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last call for 2015 Rhysling Award votes!

As a final reminder: Votes for the 2015 Rhysling Awards are due by Midnight today on Monday, June 15th! For active members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, remember:

There are two categories: Short Poems and Long Poems. We ask members to pick three in both categories from the Rhysling Anthology which has all of this year's eligible nominees.

You may abstain from making a selection in either category or from any level within a category, if you choose. You may not list the same poem more than once. First-place votes count five points, second-place votes are worth three points, and third-place votes are worth one point. The poems with the most points win.

 Please vote by sending an e-mail to with your choices.

Nominees for each year's Rhysling Awards are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Each member is allowed to nominate one work in each of two categories: “Best Long Poem” (50+ lines; for prose poems, 500+ words) and “Best Short Poem” (0–49 lines; for prose poems, 0–499 words).

All nominated works must have been published during the preceding calendar year of the awards year. The Rhysling Awards are put to a final vote by the membership of the SFPA selection from all nominated works, presented in the Rhysling Anthology.

The winning works are regularly reprinted in the Nebula Awards Anthology from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and are considered in the SF/F/H/Spec. field to be the equivalent in poetry of the awards given for "prose" work— achievement awards given to poets by the writing peers of their own field of literature.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Building a tradition of Lao American stories

This year, the Living Arts Outreach project is a special capacity-building program for the Harrison, Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods where Lao refugees have had a historically significant presence over the last 40 years since the beginning of the Lao Diaspora in 1975.

Art making with Lao American artists is at the center of this project. Almost 8,000 of the 12,000 Lao living in Minnesota are in or near the North Minneapolis neighborhood. This project is necessary because few of their stories are documented. Thankfully, this year we have some wonderful support from CURA's ANPI program and the Lao Assistance Center to try and make a change.

There's an old Lao proverb that says a pretty knife can't cut meat until it's sharpened. That's a deep metaphor for Lao culture overall and building an appreciation for experience and the wisdom of the elders, even as we search for relevance and add to our experiences, that we might share them with the next generation.

There's a great love for the fantastic and the imaginative in world arts and letters today. And there's a deep need for these stories, but we also have a need for well-told stories grounded in reality, even when those stories risk exposing sensitive subjects. Our community cannot take story telling for granted when we have so much at stake. And in our journey to create greater civic engagement we have to remember that life in a demoracy where we have freedom of expression, we have an obligation to write to the very limits of our imagination when so many others can not.

How few of our youth can be bothered today to take the time to listen to our stories and why they matter? When they feel like the adults are dragging them to Boun Phr Weht and other festivals, there's a part of it that comes from kids just being kids, but another part of it falls on us if we're not making an effort to make these events relevant to them, to approach them with an eye for inclusion and social instruction.

It's important for us to tell our children about our roots, and our journey, and for our children to tell their children, and for their children to tell the next generation. We're here not simply to remember but to speak. But what does it mean to remember? There's an urge to shield our youth from a knowledge of the suffering and traumas of war that defies comprehension, but that's not constructive or realistic. Yet how do we  ensure the next generation never forgets, and more importantly never repeats the worst of what has happened to people most of us have never met, an ocean away and over 40 years before they were even born. What is it about the war in Laos that still calls out to us after all of this time?

Honoring the survivors and trying to learn from past mistakes is certainly a part of this, but the war for Laos also highlights growing problems for today's youth.  We need to see that it is a story about human nature, which reminds us that each of us is susceptible, each of us can be othered, each of us can be drawn into conflicts of identity and destiny.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Machine Dreams Symposium this week!

This week I'll be reading at the Machine Dreams Symposium! I'll be reading with a host of other incredible luminaries on robots, arts and difference. The event was listed a one of the 21 Best Things to Do in LA this week.

We have over 700 people expected in attendance already. Our keynote is Minsoo Kang, professor of History at the University of Missouri, and author of "Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination."

I'll be doing a live reading of my Rhysling-nominated poem "The Robo Sutra" and I'm very excited to be seeing everyone. Many I met through Facebook first, so it will be something to see them in person.

My fellow readers on Thursday will include: Neil Aitken,  Kenji Liu,  Kima Jones,  Takeo Rivera,  Margaret Rhee, Miyoko Conely,  Chiwan Choi, Mark Marino,  Jilly Dreadful, Isaac Schankler, Saba Ravzi, and Pablo Lopez. Their eclectic bios can be spotted at:

Meanwhile, I'm putting together some of the songs I'll be playing in the car on the way down, naturally:

Lao American populations across the US

By now, many of us are familiar with the Census 2010 assessment of the Lao population across the US, at least at state-by-state level.

The information is particularly well-consolidated in the 2010 SEARAC statistical profile. I think it may be helpful to compare it from time to time with the 2000 SEARAC statistical profile to see where we're experiencing growth and changes.

One thing not found in the SEARAC statistical profiles is the metropolitan breakdown for the Lao community. Dr. Mark Pfeifer took the time to collate that data for us, and I think it's worth a peek. It's been 5 years now, so there may have been some changes since then, but it looks like the top 10 Lao cities in the country are:

1. Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville, CA Metro Area – 12,758
2. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX Metro Area – 10,074
3. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA Metro Area – 9,850
4. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA Metro Area – 9,131
5. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI Metro Area – 8,676
6. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA Metro Area – 8,079
7. Fresno, CA Metro Area – 7,967
8. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA Metro Area – 7,120
9. Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN Metro Area – 6,210
10. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metro Area – 5,806

Oklahoma City, OK, with a population of 971 Lao was #50 among cities with large Lao populations.

This now leads us to some interesting questions about how we keep each other engaged and develop our national and local outreach and development efforts. What will it take to build each other up and to assist expansion efforts so that we are not only active participants in our democracy but we are effective in getting ahead of the curve, going forward.

Scenes from the Bay Area Book Festival

On Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8th, in Bekeley, CA Sahtu Press and I had an opportunity to attend the first Bay Area Book Festival. It was a massive gathering, drawing participants from across the country, including Seattle, Washington and other states. Our particular focus this time was an observational one, but soon shifted to the work being presented for the children's section of the festival. We were particularly impressed by the number of Asian American children's book authors presenting.

Among those we were able to meet included Thai American author Dan Santat, whose 2014 book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, won this year's Caldecott Award. He also wrote The Guild of Geniuses and created the Disney Channel animated series The Replacements.

Dan Santat was great and personable, engaging the children and their families positively while also providing a great demonstration for the kid about how to draw, using everyday shapes and lines, making everything from swiss cheese, to a house, and even a self-portrait of himself. There was a lot to learn from his example.

One of the elements of the Bay Area Book Festival that stood out was the Lacuna, or the Temple of Books, an interactive art installation created by the Bay Area-based Flux Foundation, which has also produced works at the Burning Man festival and the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. It was a giant circular temple of books 50 feet in diameter and built from 50,000 books. The idea was to encourage a certain type of happenstance we don't get in the digital world. They wanted people to "embrace the happy accident, either of content or community." You can learn more about the project at

I also had the opportunity to stop by the famous Eastwind Books of Berkely. This was the first time I'd gotten a chance to do so, and it was wonderful to see this legendary bookstore still going strong, and to see so many selections of interesting Asian Pacific American writing available. Nothing by Lao writers, although the Hmong American Writers Circle anthology, How Do I Begin? was on hand.

I was impressed by the joyous energy and presentation of LeUyen Pham, a Vietnamese American writer and illustrator who was presenting at the festival. Formally speaking, she is the illustrator of over fifty children’s books, who has worked on titles from  Julianne Moore, Desmond Tutu, and others. She has also written several of her own books such as the recently released Little, as well as Big Sister, Little Sister and A Piece of Cake. She's exceptionally talented.

We also had a chance to get in a visit with Mike Wu, who just released his first book, Ellie, about an elephant who is trying to help her friends save their zoo. He is an animator at Pixar and has worked on films such as the Oscar-winning The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and Toy Story 3 among other films. He is also illustrating a debut middle-grade series titled Oona finds an Egg. In addition to his animation and book work he is the proud owner/designer of a children's clothing line called Tiny Teru.

Overall, there was a lot to take in and process. There are still many concerns I have as a writer and publisher about the state of our literature ecosystem and the difficulties we have getting an effective reach.

We have 9,850 Lao in the Bay Area, and I'm pretty sure we didn't see anywhere close to those numbers or even a fraction of those numbers at this event. And it makes me wonder: Where are we? What are the barriers, and how do we reduce those? What will it take to build and create a vibrant Lao literary culture that meets our needs and builds lifelong success? This, of course, is the perpetual question not only in our community but many others.

The Bay Area Book Festival, like the Oakland Book Festival, was energizing and exciting.  We'll be happily attending this one again in the future, but I also know that in the next 12 months we have to do much more to help Lao writers and readers get traction and to fully be a part of the arts and society.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Ghosts of Laos, or Phi

The term phi is usually used as something of a catchall term for supernatural entities in Laos and Southeast Asia. But within this broad category, they include but do not seem strictly limited to ghosts in the way that most Europeans and Americans are familiar with.

There are of course hundreds, if not thousands of different types of these phi documented by Lao folktales and other sources. Some of the more common ones include the Phi Ban ຜີບ້ານ, who are the village spirits. There are spirits for the heavenly realms and the sky, such as the Phi Fa ຜີຟ້າ and Phi Thaen ຜີແຖນ. The Phi Tonmai ຜີຕົ້ນໄມ້ have trees as their domain, and there are a variety of nature spirits who are usually referred to as Phi Thammasat ຜີທັມະຊາດ. The Phi Hai ຜີໄຮ່ and Phi Na ຜີນາ are spirits who are believed to empower and guard rice fields.

Phi Taihong ຜີຕາຍໂຫງ are spirits of the violently killed and not to be trifled with. Phi Borisat ຜີບໍຣິສາດ are nameless evil spirits.

Of course, we've also discussed entities such as the Phi Kasu, with their floating heads and viscera.

There are the grandmother ghosts of Phi Kongkoi, Phi Ya Moi, and the cannibalistic Phi Ya Wom. As noted before, the Phi Kongkoi ຜີກ່ອງກ່ອຍ: is a terrifying ghost known for her cries of "Kok kok kok koi koi koi" (“Hungry! Hungry!”) The usual depiction of her is as a ravenous elder spirit often encountered out in the jungles, but she should definitely not be considered the same as a Phi Phed, or hungry ghost found in Buddhist hells. There are some accounts that many of these ghosts, like Phi Ya Moi and the Phi Kongkoi have feet that are on backwards. Some say there are Lao grandmother ghosts who have only one leg.

In some of the Lao ghost stories, there are suggestions that defeating a grandmother ghost in wrestling will transform her into a beautiful woman who “marries” you. The odds that this in fact turns into a happy ending for all involved seems dubious. Some suggest that some of the Lao grandmother ghosts can take on the form of small children or monkeys. Newer forms are also being discovered on a somewhat regular basis.

An examination of some stories suggests that in the old days, the Phi Kongkoi only attacked those who ate the meat of pregnant animals, but obviously, over the years, she has expanded her taste preferences. There are some folklorists who suggest she is similar to the Bogey-man of Europe and the Americas. There aren't any clear, consistent ways to dispel her, however.

Phi Ya Wom ຜີຍະວາຍ was a cannibalistic grandmother spirit who was using her granddaughters as unwitting lures to waylay strangers traveling through the woods. She tried to eat her granddaughters, but when she was defeated, fell from a great height and broke into thousands of small pieces that became the carnivorous animals of the earth that still plague humanity.

Little children have become ghosts such as the Phi Kowpoon, who sells noodle soups by her banyan tree.

The Lao also Phi Pob, and the Phi Am, who squats on your chest. Lately a number of other reports have been coming up Scholars note that many phi defy traditional taxonomic classification, and the nature of the underworld seems to suggest a certain fluidity regarding their purpose and the extent of their powers. Because many can change shapes and imitate or possess other entities, dealing with them can be a frustrating process without the assistance of specialists, such as a Mor Phi.

Hopefully we'll see more scholarship emerge over time to take a look at the way these spirits have interacted with humanity over time.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Lao Zodiac, 1975-2027

So that we're all on the same page here, here is the Lao Zodiac for the last 40 years, and up to the next 12 years. US year is listed on the left, Buddhist years are listed on the right. Keep in mind: If you were born between January to to April 15th of the year, your animal is the one earlier. I hope this is helpful for you. For my Khmer colleagues, please note that the Khmer calendar is one year ahead in most communities. For the Lao, the current year is 2558, for the Khmer it is 2559.

1975 Wood Rabbit 2518
1976 Fire Nak 2519
1977 Fire Snake 2520
1978 Earth Horse 2521

1979 Earth Sheep 2522
1980 Metal Monkey 2523
1981 Metal Rooster 2524
1982 Water Dog 2525

1983 Water Pig 2526
1984 Wood Rat 2527
1985 Wood Ox 2528
1986 Fire Tiger 2529

1987 Fire Rabbit 2530
1988 Earth Nak 2531
1989 Earth Snake 2532
1990 Metal Horse 2533

1991 Metal Sheep 2534
1992 Water Monkey 2535
1993 Water Rooster 2536
1994 Wood Dog 2537

1995 Wood Pig 2538
1996 Fire Rat 2539
1997 Fire Ox 2540
1998 Earth Tiger 2541

1999 Earth Rabbit 2542
2000 Metal Nak 2543
2001 Metal Snake 2544
2002 Water Horse 2545

2003 Water Sheep 2546
2004 Wood Monkey 2547
2005 Wood Rooster 2548
2006 Fire Dog 2549

2007 Fire Pig 2550
2008 Earth Rat 2551
2009 Earth Ox 2552
2010 Metal Tiger 2553

2011 Metal Rabbit 2554
2012 Water Nak 2555
2013 Water Snake 2556
2014 Wood Horse 2557

2015 Wood Sheep 2558
2016 Fire Monkey 2559
2017 Fire Rooster 2560
2018 Earth Dog 2561

2019 Earth Pig 2562
2020 Metal Rat 2563
2021 Metal Ox 2564
2022 Water Tiger 2565

2023 Water Rabbit 2566
2024 Wood Nak 2567
2025 Wood Snake 2568
2026 Fire Horse 2569

2027 Fire Sheep 2570

[Poem] Vocabularies

I'm looking at the florid words of Xue Di
thinking of the words I'd stopped using in my own work.

Gone and departed are the bleak and stagnant streams,
grown limpid with moss and dying memories
of Nineveh and Nihilism.

Blasted into the oblivion of the unused page
are the stoic reflections on Marcus Aurelius
and the Cappuccino monks.

Dreaded Mahakala no longer comes in like the Kali Yuga
to plunge his timeless hands into my heart
that it might fuel the cryptic mandalas
and labyrinths I once understood so well.

I can't buy a cup of coffee from the Starbucks mermaid
with even half of my latter verses
and a dollar in change.

Where is my poem to commemorate the Dalai Lama's visit,
when a decade ago, I had fought like that Persian lion Rustam
to see him in Ann Arbor?

When was the last time I spoke of arhats and boddhisatva vows?
Melancholy creeps over me like a giant kudzu.

I'm rotting from compromise on the vine, and if I don't turn it around,
I'll be an unexploded raisin
or pressed into some unsavory vintage
stored in the distended corner of some discount cellar.

But as I open the papers to the limbless youths of Iraq
and the broken Buddhas on the Afghan plains
it's hard to take writer's block seriously.

What is a lost word to a boy without a hand?

What does a missing sentence mean
to the condemned man in Congo who will die without even a last meal?

Despair over a dearth of words is despicable.

To be wrapped up in semantics while semi-automatics chew apart
The youth in the heart of our cities is ... well, I've lost the word.

But I have no right to lament, and lift my pen to write again...

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A crisis in Lao American education

As much as I enjoy working with my colleagues in academia and in Southeast Asian American refugee resettlement, recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora this year  has me looking at our quantifiable numbers frequently, and I find them wanting.

By our best estimates, only 13.4% of our community over 25 has a bachelor's degree or higher. In 2010, this meant 17,264 out of 232,130 Laotian Americans. That's almost 9 in 10 Lao over 25 without degrees, or 97,726 Lao.

That's enough Lao to make a city the size of Boulder, Colorado. And they're without college degrees. While I obviously have the perspective that a college degree is not necessarily the end-all, be-all of our Lao American journey, I still think that as a community we might want to have a conversation about this.

Comparative Lao province populations and overview

One of the key challenges for the current generation of Lao youth is understanding what many of the Lao provinces are like, beyond the abstract. So, I wanted to provide an overview that might begin a deeper conversation for those who are curious about their heritage and where many parts of our experience stand in relation to the modern world.

1. Attapeu ອັດຕະປື has a population of 112,097 people, which is close to the size of the city of Berkeley, California, or the capital city of Bridgetown, Barbados. Once part of the Lan Xang Kingdom under King Saysethathirath, Attapeu was a home to wild buffaloes. Locations of interest include Wat Sakae, which houses a particularly ancient Buddha. King Setthathirat of Lan Xang is buried at the temple of Wat Pha Saysettha. Tigers and Clouded leopard are known to prowl here. Alak, Katang, Kaleum, Katou, Suay, Nge, Lave, Tahoy, and Nyajeung can be found here.

2. Bokèo ບໍ່ແກ້ວ has a population of 145, 216, close to the size of Syracuse, New York, or the capital city of Port Louis, Mauritius. Previously known as Hua Khong, meaning "Head of the Mekong," Bokeo is the smallest and least populous province in Laos. Currently named after the sapphires mined in Houay Xai District. A stele dated to 1458 is located in Wat Jom Kao Manilat. The Bokeo Nature Reserve was created to protect the Black crested gibbon, previously thought to be extinct but rediscovered in 1997.

3. Bolikhamsai ບໍລິຄໍາໄຊ population is 225,272, or close to the population of Reno, Nevada, or the capital city of Gaborone, Botswana. Located in the middle of Laos, Bolikhamsai is home to the Nam Theun 2 Dam. The province endured many invasions throughout its history. The rare Saola (spindle horn) or Vii Quang Ox, is often reported here. At Wat Phabath a very large “footprint” of Lord Buddha and numerous murals can be found here.

4. Champasak ຈຳປາສັກ at 607,333 is close to the size of Seattle, Washington, or the United States capital city of Washington, D.C. With a rich cultural heritage dating back to the 9th century, Champasak has at least 20 wats are here including Wat Phou, Wat Lunag, and Wat Tham Fai. The ruins of Muang Sirichiempang are said to be here, named after the goddess Nang Inthasirichiempang. The Li Phi Falls alternate in the seasons between stunningly beautiful and scorching, and are believed to trap ghosts and spirits in the rapids. Many corpses floated through Li Phi Falls from the north during various wars.

5. Houaphanh ແຂວງ ຫົວພັນ with 280,898 almost the size of St. Paul, Minnesota, or the capital city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. This province is home to the Viengxay caves, an extensive network of caves, and fine textile traditions. The Viengxay caves are also referred to as a “Hidden Cave City.” Hintang Archaeological Park, is dotted with 2,000 year-old menhirs and megaliths considered "the Stonehenge of Laos,” referred to locally as Sao Hin Tang. Funerary burial sites with artifacts of ancient trinkets and other evidence of ancient rites have been unearthed here. Overall, these archaeological discoveries suggest cultures older than those found at the Plain of Jars. Local animists believe stone discs at the site once fed Jahn Han, a sky spirit.

6. Khammouane ຄໍາມ່ວນ population of 337,314 is almost the size of Honolulu, Hawaii and slightly larger than the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. Mostly forested mountainous terrain, many streams flow through Khammouane to join the Mekong River. Tham Khonglor Cave (meaning: “Beauty in the Dark”) is part of the Nation Protected Forest Area in Hinboun Mountain. A branch of the nomadic Tongluong forest people dwell here. That Phanom dates back to the 5th century.

7. Luang Namtha ຫລວງນໍ້າທາ with 145,289 is close to the size of Kansas City, Kansas, and slightly larger than the capital city of Podgorica, Montenegro. Literally "Royal Sugar Palm" or "Royal Green River," from 1966 to 1976 it formed the province of Houakhong with the province of Bokeo. The history of Luang Namtha Province is traced to inhabitants from 6,000 years ago, evidenced by archaeological finds of stone implements discovered from the Nam Jook River Valley in Vieng Phoukha. There are at least 20 temples in Muang Sing.

8. Luang Prabang ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ at 407,012 or the size of Omaha, Nebraska, and slightly larger than the capital city of Tallinn, Estonia. The capital of Lan Xang Kingdom during the 13th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang is listed since 1975 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for unique architectural, religious and cultural heritage. It has a blend of the rural and urban developments over several centuries.

9. Oudomxay ອຸດົມໄຊ has 265,128, so it is a little bigger than Buffalo, New York, and slightly larger than the capital city of Paramaribo, Suriname. Long the home to many Khmu, Oudomxay has a highly revered Buddha image at Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. Muang La is an important Buddhist pilgrimage for Theravada Buddhists in the province. It is 400 years old and reportedly has supernatural powers. Chom Ong Cave, the longest cave in Laos, was explored by a team of cave researchers during between 2009-2011 and reported to be 18.4 km long. The cave is considered the second longest in Laos and 9th longest in South East Asia.

10.Phôngsali ຜົ້ງສາລີ with 165,926 is close to the size of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and slightly larger than the capital city of Tiraspol, Transnistria. Over 28 different ethnic groups live in Phôngsali, notably Khmu, Phounoy, Akha, Tai Lue and Hor. Its culture is historically heavily influenced by China and was relatively untouched by the wars of the 20th century. Many undiscovered species are suspected to live here among the remote rugged mountains and lush forests. The Nam Ou is the largest tributary to the Mekong River. At 1,400 meters above sea level, Phôngsali Town is considered the highest town in the entire nation. The province is acclaimed for its green tea.

11. Salavan ສາລະວັນ with 324,303 is close to the population of Santa Ana, California, and close in size to the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. Significant mountains and wide valleys were formed by volcanic activity in ancient Salavan. It is home to the Bolaven Plateau, a key agricultural area with coffee as the dominant crop. Tahoy town is where 30,000 Tahoy reside, who practice shamanism and animism. Tigers are a common sight in the region.

12. Savannakhét ສະຫວັນນະເຂດ with 825,879 is close to the of Indianapolis, Indiana, and the capital city of Lome, Togo. The name is derived from Savanh Nakhone, "City of Paradise" or "Land of Fertility." Prehistoric culture is evidenced by stone tools dating between 100,000 and 12,000 years old, with bronze tools from 2000 BCE. The Pha That Sikhottabong stupa is situated on the grounds of a 19th century monastery. At least five fossil sites are in the province, including one dating back 110 million years ago.

13. Sainyabuli ໄຊຍະບູລີ at 388,833 is close to the size of Wichita, Kansas. It is slightly larger than the capital city of Bujumbura, Burundi.: The home to Laos’ majority of domesticated elephants, approximately 75% of the nation's 560 domesticated elephants work in Sainyabuli. Wat Simungkhun in Hongsa is reputed to have a hole "'leading to the end of the world". Rumors of “Yeti” similar to the Vietnamese Người rừng persist in the region.

14. Sekong ເຊກອງ at 84,985 is a little smaller than Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is comparable in size to the capital city of Nicosia, Northern Cyprus. The second smallest province in Laos and among the most remote areas of Laos. Many of Sekong’s largest villages are virtually inaccessible by road for at least half of the year. Home to the Dakchung Plateau, five Lao Teung cultures make their home here, many citing spiritual links to the land.

15. Vientiane ວຽງຈັນ The city itself has a population of 698,254 is close to the size of Detroit, and slightly smaller than the capital city of Astana, Kazakhstan. The District population of 388,833 is close to the size of Cleveland, Ohio and close to the capital city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The great Laotian epic, Phra Lak Phra Lam, claims Prince Thattaradtha founded the city of Vientiane when he left the legendary Lao kingdom of Muong Inthapatha Maha Nakhone. The Vangxang Cave, also called the "Elephant Court," contains remnants of an ancient sanctuary of the Lane Xang Kingdom. The That Luang Stupa was initially built in 1566 during the reign of King Saysethathirath.

16. Xieng Khouang ຊຽງຂວາງ, with 229,521 people has a population comparable to Lubbock, Texas and somewhat larger than the capital city of Porto-Novo, Benin. The “Horizontal City" found on the Xieng Khouang Plateau, home to the Plain of Jars. The creators of the massive jars are unknown. Many ghosts reputedly reside here from various conflicts over the centuries. Some histories of Xieng Khouang suggests links with the Tai Phuan.

Laos is often referred to as a "tiny" kingdom: In terms of physical landmass, with 236,800 square kilometers, or 91,428.991 square miles, Laos is just slightly smaller than the United Kingdom, about the same size as the nation of Romania and just slightly larger than the state of Minnesota (225,181 km²). "Tiny," indeed.

[Poem] Anthology

If I will not
write of white rice
or shades of yellow,

they tell me there is no
place for me.

Without a Mekong river of tears
trailing down a mountain of
black hair and stale sushi,

I will not be Asian enough
to fit into this volume
of Eastern voices for Western coffeehouses.

You no good if you no talk like
cereal box-tops about transitions and the old country,
or grandma and her wizened fortune-cookie wisdom
amid a comic bevy of oh-so-tragic
hard-working,heartbreaking restaurateurs
and cunning launderers
wandering a crooked Chinatown street.

They will tell you:
“You may have been an English major,
but you’d best keep these nonsense thoughts private
and give the audience what they want, for god’s sake.”

Don’t rock the boat, people!

A woman walked up to me recently and asked:
“What is the name for your yellow hue?”

I said: “Color me Pissed.”