Monday, August 16, 2010

Catzie's adventures in the Midwest... Part 1.

As you know I am in Minneapolis for the 1st ever Lao American Writer's Summit. It's been a long time planning, and I am so glad we have reach the point of finally seeing it come into fruition. So proud of myself right now!
My good friend, fellow Lao American writer and talented poet Bryan Thao Worra picked me up from the airport in style and with camera ready as always. I always forget how "experienced" Bryan's car is until I get inside through the back seat because the passnger side door doesn't open at all. Did I also mention it was super hot and he doesn't have AC either? Yeahhhh...
To make up for it (or maybe to be funny) Bryan bought me a lottery ticket. The scratch pictures were kinds funny, especially the "brat".

As exciting as meeting and performing with my Lao American peers and making history through LAWS sounds, I wanted to at least get a taste, literally, of the Twin Cities first before going into spoken word artist mode. My last time here I tried a Jucy Lucy at Matt's Bar (where it was rumored to have originated) and I have been plotting my meals ever since I knew I was going to be back. Since I was also super famished from my flight, Bryan told me I could choose what and where we could eat, so being the foodie that I am I asked for authentic Hmong food. Minneapolis and St. Paul is home to the largest population on Hmong in the U.S., as well as Somali (and you better believe I will be trying some Somali food too!). I've been to MN just a couple times and have never tried Hmong food, so I was really excited to make it my special tourist mission. I also did my homework and read up on some places to try (due to past experiences with unexcited hosts who do not share my love of adventure for food) though I could never doubt that a Minnesotan local who writes extensively about the Lao American community and who also works at the Lao Assistance Center would not know where to go, but hey it doesn't hurt to be prepared. After reading about some Hmong marketplace, Bryan took me to the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, but not before stopping by the Asian American Press office.
It looked like it wasn't opened so we stalked from the window outside, the tables displaying the most current issues - where I recognized some of the faces on the front pages.
As you can see the top pic is our homey Giles Li from Boston, and the bottom is LAWS co-chairperson Saymoukda Vongsay aka Mooks aka my sister from another mister, who also became the first writer to receive the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry for her poem When Everything Was Everything. Congrats Mooks! You look good girl!

Wait what's this? I don't remember approving this cheesy picture??!!! Bryan, we're gonna have to have a lil chate later on. Speaking of chat, we made our way over to the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent aka CHAT.

which had many interesting shops and stalls...

 And many different arts and artifacts...

as well as many event going ons. The Hmong community here is pretty busy!!!

I even spotted a Hmong Snookie complete with puffy pompadour!

But there was only one restaurant. Even though they had the hugest spring rolls I had ever seen...

this wasn't the place I was thinking of obviously, so then Bryan took me to yet another "marketplace" which he nicknamed "the market that time forgot".
You can see why it wasn't doing so well, there was only one cart!
But they were very functional carts, flipping backwards and everything. I felt bad because this guy took the last cart but then once we got inside we could see it just wasn't neccessary.
Even as sad and dilapidated as the empty broken down and bankrupted-looking state of things, people still managed to post signs letting future customers know where to go. After a disappointing walk around, Bryan was just about to take me to another restaurant he described as "modern Hmong sorta like fusion" when I declared that I didn't want my first Hmong cuisine experience to be "fusion". A light went up in Bryan's head as he realized we were close by to yet another marketplace. As he was navigating his way around St. Paul, I was searching my email for the name and address of the place I had read about, when at the same time he reached Como street I saw that the name of my place was just called "Hmong International Marketplace". A-duhhhhhhhhh...
 And I was happy we found it!
So, so happy... Everything in life you could ever need - clothing, toy guns, international movies...
and emotional Buddha statues, herb bundles, and lots of Hmong textiles. Also found this cute little umbrella made from Hmong textile patterns printed onto to nylon that the owner of the stall was happy to model for me - so I bought two! For $6 each it couldn't be beat, plus the weekend forecast said possible thunderstorms so why not? Afterwards the produce section.

In case you missed the signs for food, just listen for the hustle of hungry customers or just the smell of barbequed meats! Yummmmm.

And I loved that there were posters for papaya salad! You would never see that on the East Coast.

So many foods to choose from, so little stomach time.
The Hmong really like their meats. The last two soups pictured are beef tendon and chicken testicles... Skipping! Instead we settled on some Hmong sausage, bbq pork, stuffed chicken wings, chicken meatballs, some sorta tomato jaew and a bamboo soup.
Beware: that dipping sauce looks friendly but it's super spicy - it's like bad joke spicy. If you are not adept to eating high heat, you may want to skip it. Even a Lao girl like myself wasn't prepared for the amount of fire from such a small cup. But everything was really tasty nonetheless - Bryan and I liked the pork the best because of the crunchy texture. We opted not to get any rice because we didn't want to be full, but it wasn't until after we were leaving and seeing the food pictures close up that I realize Hmong rice wasn't just your regular white variety.
Also I forgot to try the Hmong papaya salad which Mooks recommended, and I didn't remember this until I saw a lady with the mortar and pestle (look beyond the meatballs and light reflecting off the glass, you can see the lady wearing a blue shirt)... Sigh, next time.

Even though I was stuffed from our Hmong meat breakfast/lunch meal, Bryan insisted on going to Cupcake for dessert, so on our way there he showed me the Witch's Hat where we also passed by an interesting van.

In case you are looking for Cupcake and get lost, just look for a giant blue coffee cup on the side of the building and whisk door handles.

Cupcaaaaaaaakes... And boy were they delicious looking! If you're not a cupcake person they have scones and brownies, as well as smaller version of their famous sweets called Babycakes. So hard to just chose one, I settled on a chai cupcake while Bryan got a red velvet with cream cheese frosting spikes. After our sugar fill, we were off to Bryan's official workplace, the Lao Assistance Center where I couldn't stop taking pictures of all the posters with Lao writing on it.

I know, it's kinda silly - but you never see this kinda stuff in Philly! Plus I think the Cough Cartoon Guy is sooooo cute!
More evidence of Summit preparations.

While Bryan had to finish signing some papers and finalizing forms for the Summit, he also made a point to show me all the cool letters written and signed by executives from Minnesota State Art Orgs as well as dignitaries from Congress. I think we did good, don't you?

Of course, I also found more press with pictures of my self that I don't remembering being asked to preapprove. Hmmmmmm....  The dangers of the internet, I tell ya.
Afterwards we had a meeting at Bryan's house with the LAWS youth volunteers and our coordinator/administrator/negotiatior for everything Ms. Chanida who helped put/get everything together (congrats on your engagement!). You might be wondering with so many names, just how do you prepare a group of youth for a National Summit where there'll be many special guest speakers in the house?
Why, pop quiz on each artist's bio identifying them only by their picture of course!

And what youth meeting would be complete without ice cream. Lotsa and lotsa ice cream. Thanks for modeling your ice cream cone, Chanida. Pheeeew what a long day. I'd also like to mention that the format for Blogger has changed since I last posted pictures, so excuse if it looks a little weird. Stay tuned for more Summit recaps and my road trip to Elgin, Illinois.


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