Hmongtown: Taking a Trip to Southeast Asia in St. Paul Minnesota

Yer and Young at Mr. Papaya in Hmongtown

Yer and Young at Mr. Papaya in Hmongtown

“Ua tsaug.”

Clunking through the Hmong phrase that sixteen-year-old Young Lee just taught me, I press my hands together and lean forward, doing a sort of semi-Geisha bow to thank her mother, Yer Xiong, for my delicious and cheap bowl of noodle soup. I nudge my eight-year-old son Eddie to do the same.


© John Rawlinson

“I’m not quite sure why I just bowed,” I blurt out to Young, thinking perhaps that’s not the appropriate way you thank someone who is Hmong.

“Yeah. We’re not Japanese,” she says.

“But that’s okay,” she adds with a smile. Despite wearing a hair net, she looks sassy with her lip piercing and with her hair in a high somewhat unkempt trendy bun. She towers over her mom who, wearing a more hard core hair net resembling a shower cap, remains silent.

Over standard white button down shirts, they both wear matching black aprons with Southeast Asian style embroidered trim. Young has fashioned her white shirt into a ripped sleeveless look, and she wears a hot pink tank top underneath. It is the same hot pink as the smart phone she had been texting on earlier during her brief break.

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