Ntsuab Zeb’s Shot


“For as long as I could remember, a long table lived in the middle of my parent’s dinning room and stretched out to the living room. Black metal folding chairs were crammed around to fit as many people as possible. People sat around this long table during all events: New Years, spiritual callings, healing ceremonies, and funerals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served at this long table. And yes, drinks!

Hmong liquor, herbal soaked liquor, homemade rice wine, all types of liquor, poured into a pair of green shot glasses served on a white plate and passed around. Each round full of speeches and people stalling. This was my world, my practice. A way of life I grew into and carried from Laos to America.

I’m now an eighty something year old diabetic with high blood pressure. My long overdue dentures are ready for pick up any day now at my dentist’s office. I can no longer drink the same. I’m forgetting certain dates and names. It’s becoming difficult to summon clear memories and past events. I’m someone who watches the house all day long while everyone who is left living in the house has gone to work or school. I spend most of my day in a slumber, occasionally taking small walks at the YMCA alone. I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who I don’t see at all.

But tonight, finally, tonight, I have a house full of my children and their children, sitting around my long table, eating, drinking, making plans to visit me more, and recalling memories of my drinking legacy.

One of my oldest daughters recounts an event where she met men of my generation, and upon learning that she was my daughter, they asked her to show them my shot. When she brought out regular sized shot glass, they refused it and said that was not MY shot. How quickly she learned the repercussion of not knowing about me that day.

My son-in-law’s reveal that before marrying my daughters, their families warned them about me, telling them to be careful at their weddings because they will be stepping into my home. “That guy loves to drink!” Oh, if only I was younger, then they would have truly seen love.

I stay up late with my children tonight, breaking my sleep routine, teaching them how to pour a shot because they are imbeciles. Drinking was different back then. The intimacy and rules of drinking have changed for the worse. It’s only right they learn the proper way now before they ruin my image in the future.

And lastly, before I never get the chance to again, before the night ends and they return to their normal lives and I to mine, I show them what my shot looks like so that those fools don’t embarrass my name the next time someone asks them to show Ntsuab Zeb’s shot.”



Mom’s Library

Lost in a sea of green, I waited.
Though Mom told me to go on ahead, I didn’t see a path so I waited. Surrounding me was a field of leafy greens, all growing in every direction, all wild and free.

Where is the path? Where are the mustard greens?

When I told mom last week that I wanted to learn how to make zaub pos, pickled mustard greens, I didn’t expect that she would take me out to her plot of rented land to pick the mustard greens in her garden. For some dumb reason (myself to blame), I thought she would have the ingredients ready and I would just come over to her house to make the zaub pos. I was not discouraged by the new task though. More time with mom! Since I had had free time and needed a break from writing in the library,  I met up with her on a Wednesday afternoon at her plot of land to handle this task.

“Why haven’t you started picking yet?” Mom demanded when she found me unmoved, searching for some direction in this crazy garden. Empty was the bucket by my side.

Unlike the library, there was no “call number” to search up where an item was in this garden.

“All these are zaub ntsuab,” she informed. Mom marched ahead of me to the tree stump next to the patches of zaub ntsuab, and in one quick motion, she struck her knife into the stump like a great Amazonian fighter. The blade sunk deep enough to keep the knife upright. I noted multiple knife marks on the stump as Mom immediately bent right on top of a patch of greens, snapping a head of mustard green off its root. Swiftly peeling off the bug bitten leaves and flicking them to the ground, she tossed the remaining good leaves into the bucket and grabbed for a new head. After plowing through a few, she stood up. “Here you continue.”

She walked back to the stump, plucked her knife out like King Arthur, and commanded, “Make sure to pick the young ones. They make for better zaub pos.” She jabbed her knife in the air towards an unspecified area up the hill. “I have some tauj dub I need to get.” With that, Mom marched deeper into her garden, occasionally slashing her knife at any leaves or twigs that stood in her way.  In a few seconds, the kawm that was swinging on her back disappeared into the thick vines of string beans, and silence surrounded me.

What are tauj dub(s) again?

Ashamed at my disorientation in Mom’s garden, I turned to the patches of mustard green. It had been years since I was in a garden or farmed with Mom. The leaves were all green in color, but there were not the same shapes, so I knew they were all not mustard green. Tentatively turning over leaves, I realized some were smooth and round, some trimmed with jagged edges making them look like they were prickly, and some had yellow flowers growing out of them.

Referencing the ones Mom had already picked and mindlessly blaming Mom’s disorganized way of planting to make me feel better about myself, I hesitantly picked the ones with jagged edges. My bucket wasn’t even half way when I saw a thick worm gliding along the roots of the greens making me wished I had chosen a pair of rubber boots instead of flip flops. I definitely was more comfortable at a library than at Mom’s garden.

But at the garden, I was in Mom’s world, and the bucket on my side was not the only thing being filled with contents as questions began filling my mind too.

I imagined gardening in her plot of land was like leisure reading to her. Before eating organic became a health trend, Mom had already been eating organic. Long before I learned about GMOs and health regulations through reading, Mom already knew the differences through taste and experience in the garden.

A place to let her mind wander, a place to escape the harsh realities of life, I wondered about all the knowledge she had stored in her garden. Motherless at a young age and the oldest daughter, Mom took care of her younger siblings until she married as my dad’s second wife when she was “already into womanhood or “tiav hluas nkaj lawm,” (18- to 21-years-old according to what she previously told me).

How did she learn to navigate the garden like how I navigate words on a page? How did she come to be the person she is today? Did her mother ever get a chance to teach her what she’s teaching me? And who taught her how to make zaub pos?

Soon my first bucket brimmed with what I hoped were mustard greens, and Mom returned caressing a bundle of some other leafy vegetables I could not identify. She helped me pick enough mustard greens for zaub pos until we filled all three buckets.

“Come help me with the tauj dub,” she commanded, which my memory of the word came back then. Lemongrass! Duh!!

On the pathless way to the tauj dub, I noticed Mom wore flip flops like me too but waltzed through the garden like she was waltzing on carpet. She lead me deep into a hip-high, grass-like field of lemongrass where we uprooted a dozen stalks. Within a quick five minutes, our kawm was completely stuffed.

Before retiring home, she grabbed an armful of zaub paj, Chinese mustard greens, for me. I even got inspired by the fruitful garden that I plucked a plastic bag full of string beans and broke off two qe taub from the vines for myself.

My amazing mom may not know how to read, but in this garden, she read the garden like literature.

Unplugged Conversations Part 1

21192765_10214783210400425_8797841902535207477_nWe often eat meals while our eyes are glued to a screen or with our left thumbs scrolling through Facebook. My trip to Dallas allowed me to tuck away my smartphone and to engage in conversations during meals. Here is my series of Unplugged Conversations – Travel edition.
Place: McDonalds at MPS Airport
Food: Grilled Chicken Burger, fries, and coffee
Topic: White Castle as Hmong Funeral Food
Fast, affordable, and easy when on the go, I’m usually stuffing a McDonalds burger down my throat while sitting in my car with the windows rolled down. At the airport, it was a nice change to sit on a table with my food spread out in front of me, friends, and an ample of time to burn before the flight to Dallas, TX.

Most my girlfriends and I are newly married folks and we are slowly navigating our complex roles as the Nyab. At the airport that day, upon realizing that most of my friends had married the oldest son, making them Nyab Hlob, we discussed the role of the Nyab Hlob. My mom emphasized to me about my younger sister being a Nyab Hlob, so based on that interaction, I just knew it was an important job but never really understood what made it so important.

In this conversation, I learned that one of the jobs if you’re a Nyab Hlob (according to a friend (I’ve done no fact checking here)) will eventually be to coordinate a special meal at your in-law’s funeral. Our idea started with catering through Lemon Grass because one of our friend recently catered her wedding with them and also because they make bomb-ass food.. However, we finalized that the best way was to get White Castle’s Crave Case because they all come in individually packaged boxes – easy to serve. We will put the burgers – still in box – on a plate with forks placed around the plate. The centerpiece of the table will be a pyramid created by stacking the case or small burger boxes together.
On some more serious notes, I don’t know how our mothers do it where they can cook a meal to feed hundreds of people at an event! It’s quite amazing!

I realize I am privileged to even be joking about the matters of being a Nyab or Nyab Hlob without feeling stressed. I feel thankful that I married into a family that is so understanding and respectful of me. I don’t feel pressured to become someone different or judged. It’s a much different narrative from the one that I was so afraid of and used to hearing about when I was growing up.

I forgot to wear my nipple gel petals

I was wearing my sage color shoulder-cut dress when my cute ass pranced into the Bruegger’s to order my normal smoked salmon sandwich on plain bagels and a house blend coffee. My hair was pinned up into a messy bun; I was feeling good. After about an hour sitting at Bruegger’s, I got up to use the bathroom, and when I looked at the mirror, I almost dropped dead!

I forgot to wear my breast gel petals!

Two beads perking clearly from underneath the thin cotton dress, the sight caused me to search the bathroom for anything to help me cover up, my mind retracing all the human interactions I had at Bruegger’s bagel that morning: The elderly woman in line, the man behind the counter, the people who looked at me when I moved across the room, the high school girls who sat next to me, the mom and son sat who sat across from me and ate their bagels and slurped their pink colored iced teas. The man behind the counter!! And he looked at me twice, asking if I wanted cream with my coffee!

Mortified, I had a scarf in my car and used it to cover up myself as I continued to do my work at Bruegger’s bagel, lamenting that women are subjected to buy and put on so many different pieces of clothing items! “We can’t just buy basic bras and wear it, we gotta buy stick on bras, strapless bras, bras for halter tops – even accessories for bras like that piece of plastic thing that cinches the bra straps together – all these different types of bras we gotta wear just so that it can look like we are not wearing them.” I wished I could have channeled an inner bra-burning attitude or even SAY aloud the word “nipple,” but I’m not gonna lie, I had to cover myself up my scarf to continue sitting at Bruegger’s bagel. My sister thought that I should have left when I later told her the story, and frankly, I don’t know how I was able to continue, but I guess I was not about to leave just because of that since I was finally sitting at my favorite spot by the window.


Tips for Traveling within Tokyo

My two weeks in Tokyo were so good that I wanted to move there. The people were so polite, scenery was gorgeous, food was sumptuous, and travel was super efficient. If you are planning to travel Tokyo, I have provided the following tips to help your experience be as enjoyable as mine was:

1. Download a map of Tokyo’s train and subway system on your phone. I was struck with confusion when the station I wanted to go to didn’t appear on the map of the station I was currently at. I found out that because different companies operate the transportation system in Tokyo, not all stations include the other company’s stations on their map – confusing right? You’ll get a hang of it soon! They do have a paper version that shows all the lines, but it gets complicated trying to fumble for a piece of paper especially when you’re in a rush. Therefore, I suggest downloading a PDF version on your phone. It simplified traveling Tokyo for me.
2. If you’re staying for a week or longer, get a Pasmo or Suica card. My family and I didn’t want to use our brain cells during our vacation. This included doing simple math to figure out the amount to pay per ticket for a bus or train ride. Therefore, we got Suica cards which allowed us to charge the card with money and scan through the ticketing gates instead of buying tickets each time we used the metro system. The cards work for trains and buses. It was such a time saver and efficient way to travel around especially when we had vacation brain. Plus we felt cool acting like we were locals living in Tokyo.

3. Bring cash. Your mother may have warned you to not carry a large sum of cash across seas, but I made it okay with $1000 in cash, so I’m sure you will too. (If you’re related to me and reading this, please don’t tell my mother!!). Japan is still very much a cash society, so make your life easier without the fuss of figuring out how much your credit or debit cards will charge for overseas withdrawals. And skip all that travel check stuff.
4. Invest in some good walking shoes. If I was diligent in playing PokemonGo in Japan, I would’ve hatched hundreds of eggs because I walked so much! I wore these cute sandals for a day, and by the end of the day, I ended up purchasing a random 500Yen pair of shoes because my feet could not stand the sandals anymore. #LessonLearned I survived with my Nike running shoes. #ThankYouNike080
5. Rent a pocket WiFi! This trip was the first time I used a pocket WiFi, and seriously, Pocket WiFi, where have you been all my life?? The Airbnb apartment we stayed at provided one for us to use, and it was a life saver! With this pocket WiFi, we easily found hot springs, coffee shops, mountains, shopping centers, and restaurants within seconds after getting lost. The pocket WiFi we had charged slowly, but we simply plugged it in overnight; in the morning, it was fully charged and lasted the whole day. And no, this is not a paid advertisement 😉
6. Make your first stop a stop at Daiso. Daiso is Japan’s dollar store. Most items are 100Yen (1 USD), and they are pretty good quality stuff. You might find that you will need items that you normally do not need in your home country such as an umbrella, a coin purse, and a cardholder (for your Pasmo or Suica card). Get them all at Daiso for cheaper. You can purchase souvenirs at Daiso as well.


7. Buy a coin purse there (at Daiso) or have something to carry your coins. My nephew was dropping coins all over the place because he thought he was too cool for a coin purse, but I strongly recommend one. For those of us who live in the U.S., $1 is the lowest dollar bill. However, in Japan, it starts at 1000Yen which is similar to $10. Therefore, you will end up with a handful of 100, 50, 10, and 1 Yens all in coin form. A coin purse is the way to go!

8. If you’re a cheap shopper, visit Harajuku first. Honestly, most places sell the same things. I found the best deals at Harajuku compared to all the other places like Shibuya, Akihabara, Ameya Yokocho, Asakusa, etc.
8419. Learn some useful words. I’m not suggesting you to learn Japanese, but knowing certain words will make your communication with the locals easier. I noticed when we were at bars or restaurants, the workers said certain words to us, expecting us to know what it meant, for example nomihodai which means all you can drink. We were lucky we knew what those words meant and it made our experience much more pleasant. Also, learn the names of places you will be going to. However, if that’s too much because you’re running on vacation brain, at least know the
name of the station you will be staying close to.
10. Research before you go. Congratulations if you have read this far. This means that you are one step closer towards a better experience in Tokyo because you are preparing yourself for a smooth travel. I found that because I had researched ahead of time, my navigation and communication experience was seamless, contributing to a better overall experience.
This is not a tip, but perhaps a strong suggestion: From what I experienced, Japanese people are so nice and hospitable that the most basic human thing to do is to return the favor by respecting their way of life. I provide this opinion as a caveat because I’d seen some foreigners ignore the country’s way of life and those foreigners look like they were struggling.


That is all I have to point out. Keep in mind, I traveled only within Tokyo, not throughout Japan, so these tips are intended for those planning to travel Tokyo. I’m also not an expert, but I hope you drew out some useful tips. I hope you enjoy your trip to Tokyo and create wonderful memories with whoever you will be traveling with!



TIPS: Cancun – The Scary Airport

Navigating Cancun International Airport 

1. Keep the immigration form – They will not let you leave Mexico without your immigration form when you are coming back from your trip. Otherwise, you will have to pay a large fee. Your airline should pass these immigration forms out once you are near landing. Fill it out and present it to them when you go through customs. They will tear off the bottom portion and give that part to you. Just keep it safe with your passport.
IMG_30662. Don’t make eye contact, ignore everyone, and go for the exit doors – Once you pass immigration customs and grab your check-in items, you will encounter a noisy hallway full of tourists, currency exchange desks, taxis and bus ticket booths, and timeshare sellers and scammers. These timeshare sellers and scamming folks are masked as airport workers, business men and women, or information desk workers. To be safe, do not linger to talk to anyone unless you want some timeshare or an expensive ride to your hotel. Ignore everyone who approaches you. Go for the exit doors. Outside is where your ride will legally be.
3. Arrange rides before getting there – This is sort of a no brainer, but the important thing is that your tickets should have instructions on how they will pick you up. It also helps avoid expensive taxi rides.

When I went, I bought a roundtrip ticket off of Bookit.com for $19 to reserve a shared IMG_3556
shuttle bus to pick me up. It was smooth, they take good care of you, and you just have to tip a dollar or two. There are cheaper options, but research thoroughly before you do it.

4. Exchange money just enough to get to your hotel / resort – You can make a stop at the currency exchange desk at the Cancun airport after you get pass immigration and pick up your bags (yes, in the scary hallway)! The rates are not the best so I suggest exchanging just enough to get by before you get to your hotel. Your hotel will have a better rate.

Things to know
Cancun is a resort designed for tourists. If you are looking to experience Mexican culture, Cancun is not it! You might have to travel outside of Cancun.