Reconciliation, Biology, and the Second Indochina War

Of all the things I’ve written on this site, this remains one of the most meaningful to me. (May 29, 2017)

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” …………………………………………………………………………– Mohandas K. Gandhi

On my desk sits a spoon I bought in a restaurant in northern Laos. It’s lightweight, bigger than a tablespoon, and full of tiny dents that some unknown metalsmith hammered into it. The owner was bemused that in addition to the bowl of pho noodle soup, I also wanted to buy one of her utensils. But I had my reasons.

Earlier on my trip, my guide1 informed me that people in the town of Phonsavanh half-jokingly called these ‘B-52 spoons,’ as they were made of metal recovered from bombs dropped decades ago by U.S. planes during  ‘the Secret War. To me, the spoon was more than a quirky souvenir. Instead, it represented an attempt by Laotians to take the physical remnants of a tragic period in history and forge them into something more positive, in effect turning swords into plowshares (or bombs into spoons). Continue reading

Killer Ghosts & Broken Hearts: The Mystery of Sudden Unexplained Death in Sleep in Asian Men

One of the strengths of a biocultural perspective in anthropology is its broad approach to understanding human biology and health (Wiley and Allen 2008). Such a framework seems particularly appropriate when looking at the fascinating phenomenon of SUDS (Sudden Unexplained Death During Sleep). Though SUDS first appeared in the medical literature 1917 in the Philippines, where it is referred to as ‘bangungut’ (Guazon 1917), it was largely forgotten until the late 1970s when it regained notoriety as an important cause of mortality among Southeast Asian refugees in the United States, particularly among young men (Baron et al 1983).

Continue reading

Laos: The Not So Secret War

Map of bombing record in Laos (from organization UXO Lao)

Below is a clip of a 1970 CBS  exposé of the war in Laos, which had only become known to the American public  shortly before it was aired.

I had not seen most of this footage before, and find it pretty riveting. At the time this was shown, the war in Laos really was still pretty much a ‘secret war’ because of the 1962 Geneva Accords which declared Laos to be neutral and largely off-limits to foreign interference, specifically foreign troops. Of course, that wasn’t quite the way things played out. There are some really interesting tidbits of history in there that video conveys in a way that merely reading about history cannot, such as:

Continue reading

Breaking through barriers

Hmong children playing on a tractor in Javouhey

The Hmong in French Guiana are a interesting population – refugees from Laos who earn a living by farming and selling their produce in the urban centers of what is essentially a French colony in Amazonia (technically, it’s an ‘overseas department’). I’ve not been back there for a while, but miss it and think about it often. One memory has been on my mind lately: a young couple  (Étienne and Marie*) that my research assistant, KaLy Yang, and I met in the village of Javouhey.

Continue reading