Our van motorcade approached a monastery community with row houses, a large, black statue of the Buddha, and temples. These structures sat before a backdrop of grassy, rocky hills.
This was all for the monks.
Adjacent to the temple property were the ruins of a former refugee camp: piles of concrete on what is now empty farmland, the remains of a blue/white tile floor interrupting the plowed rows. But not all the refugees had left. Four Hmong families remained, the last standers of the hundreds–if not thousands–of families who had once lived here just ten years earlier.
We walked into their compound mixing livestock with living quarters in and around a few thin-walled buildings for the few remaining souls living here.
We met the leader, a middle aged woman who was getting ready for her morning as we arrived:
After she readied, she showed us around.
Then we toured the ruins-now-farmland.
What had been blocks of homes was now a banana tree farm.
Under the hot sun, dust billowed with each step we took. Still, it was the season for blossoms, and beautiful pink flowers decorated some of the trees. We met the others here doing daily chores under the shade of these trees.
They keep song birds. I don’t know how they attracted the first birds, but I’m told the tactic to getting more is to use one to attract the others into a cage.
We continued to more ruins.
This whole camp had been a huge grey zone (and according to the Thai government, an eye sore) on this quiet landscape an hour outside of Bangkok. The Hmong originally congregated here, because the Thai government had closed down all the other official refugee camps in the north. Forcing them to assimilate or emigrate, many were stuck in a grey zone, as they couldn’t become residents and they couldn’t/or didn’t want to leave. They came here to Wat Tham Krabok, the temple whose head monk–a Thai–was both sympathetic to the Hmong and influential in these parts. His blessing for the Hmong to build homes adjacent to his temple forced the Thai government to relent and allow the camp–though they then created a fence around the parameter.
What has been cleared out is now farmland.
Eventually, the Thai government grew impatient, and in 2004, they told all the Hmong here to leave. A group from Minnesota arrived (including Kazoua Kong-Thao, the head chaperon on our trip) to see about hosting several of the refugees (including two students in our student group here.)
The Hmong have an interesting relationship with the past. Not only do many have their homelands merely in (or i their parent’s) memory, but some have had their homes erased from the face of the earth.
Walking to the temple Wat Tham Krabok, we encountered the monk’s quarters.
Then we saw how they spent some of their time: on arts and crafts.
Then we saw their awesome temples and statues:
I didn’t find out nearly as much about their buildings, statues, or lifestyle as I would have liked. But we were here for the Hmong after all.
All I know is that it was a contrast of fates: a people whose homes were torn down, another whose structures stood impressive; a lifestyle of unsettled moving about and uncertainty, another of centered practice and solidity.