Chapter VI: Phanat Nikhom Transition Camp to America

The rice paddies stretched away on both sides of the orange bus, fields of green met the blue sky, thin lines of eucalyptus trees divided the paddies, thatched roofed field houses stood on stilts in the far distance. The entire journey felt like I was looking at a television screen (I had seen them at the one-baht movie houses: a big room with a dirt floor and a TV propped up in the front). There was distance. The scenes outside did not look real to me: the houses looked like little doll houses waiting for little doll farmers; the grass looked like plastic grass waiting for plastic gray buffalos, and the children looked like little toy children walking behind toy adults. I held up my index finger and I could block out a whole human being. This bus ride is my first memory of not belonging to Thailand. I had heard the Hmong adults say that we had no country and that Thailand was not our country. In Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, I did not know what this meant. But on the bus I saw that there was a whole life that was different from the one I knew in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp.

I looked out of the window, and I noticed that in the hot sun there was a breeze. I could see it in the waving of the young rice stalks, whole fields shimmering in synchronized motions. The people in the bus were talking in whispers or else sitting silently looking out the windows. Some of the people were sick because they had never been in a car before. I had never been in a car before but I was not sick because I was trying to remember the feeling of being in a car. The road was getting eaten by the tires and we were sitting but I thought it was like flying fast to a place I did not know. My right hand, without my realizing, waved to the stalks of green rice. I was waving and waving. My father’s hand stopped its motion…

Kao Kalia Yang, originally published in XCP 18 (2007)

The Latehomecomer:A Hmong Family Memoir was published by Coffee House Press in 2008.