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Hmong Contemporary Issues
Hmoob cov Xwm Txheej rau Tiam no
Les Problématiques contemporaines des Hmong

The Three Pearls Facing Unfaithfulness
by Kao-Ly Yang

 published in Troubling Borders.  An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora
Edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen, 2014
For more, click here

Il m'a lancé un coing, 
Je lui ai donné un pendentif en jade ; 
Non pas tant pour le récompenser,
Mais pour que notre amour perdure Il m'a lancé une pêche,   
Je lui ai donné une émeraude ;  
Non pas tant pour le récompenser, 
Mais pour que notre amour subsiste, 
Il m'a lancé une prune, 
Je lui ai donné un jade noir ;     
Non pas tant pour le récompenser, 
Mais pour que notre amour demeure,    

Chinese Poem by Bette Bao Lord in Lune de Printemps (Spring Moon), livre de poche, 1981 p. 251.

The phone kept ringing while Malee was driving back home, to Fresno, California on the freeway number 5. Her heart was smashed like mash potatoe. That morning, her boy-friend, Koua, called her to tell her that he was going to marry somebody else, a 16 year-old girl whom he now loved. Despaired, she was, and totally, and incapable to think more about what to do. She decided to drive home instead of staying alone in Los Angeles.
- I hate him, I hate him! she kept repeated in her car. How could he do that to me?! He came to see me last week. He did not say anything. I was stupid, I should have known. I could not trust any men. They are all bloody idiots.

Malee, former school teacher and now graduate student, was the first child and daughter of her family to reach higher education. Last year, she obtained a scholarship to study at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her family, everyone loved her. She was the pride of her parents.

She drove as faster as her broken heart beat, feeling confusely fear, humiliation and hunger of revenge in her stubborn mind. She was 26 years old, and was afraid of not meeting another handsome and interesting man like Koua. She also thought that because of her good education, she was above any betrayals on behalf of the man she loved. She was now unable to conceive that her boy-friend chose to marry a 16 year-old teenager instead of her. Her body was tremblying of hunger and sorrow. How could a man who has some education --because Koua was also a school teacher-- fell into traditional patterns in marrying a under age girl. She could not understand his choice.

Her frantic mind made her doubt of her own choice of pursuing a professional career instead of immediately marrying a man. Last summer, her mother advised her to marry him because he might not have the patience to wait for her until the end of her Ph.D. She did not listen to her because she trusted Koua.

-Should I not listen to my mom? I loved Koua. I cannot live without him. What is the purpose of getting a PhD if I lose the man I love? That was her question, reflecting regret and despair.

The car went on very fast, but fortunately, it was Tuesday afternoon and the road was empty. She would have to miss several classes.

Her tears began dropping unreasonably when she reached Visalia. Impossible to decide whether to go to Koua's house, and confront him or to go to home. When she reached Fresno, she accidently missed the exit to Koua's house. She then slowed down and went to her's.

Mother and daughter looked at each oth
er. Then the mother said:
- Did you eat?
- No, no.  I am not hungry.
Malee kept her voice low. Her face however was dark and painful. Her parents knew something happened.
-Sit. Mom said.
Malee burst out tearing. It was a long river of sorrow for herself. She whispered non senses. Her mom touched her hair, and cried with her.
Her father did say no word.

Hours passed before we know the outcome. What advices could one give to Malee?


While Malee pitied herself, her cousin, Cheela, learnt in the same day that her husband was going to marry a 16-year old teenager too. For months, the couple's relationship went from bad to worse. The husband, Tengpleng, went out every night, and always came home very late. When he reached house, he only shouted at Cheela: "-Bitch, when you will die! Why did you wait for me? I don't need you. Who would need you?" Sometimes, he did not speak, just rushed to beat her until he felt tired.

Silence. A long and deep silence accompanied her determination to make things work. "A good wife kept her mouth shut while a husband is angry". That was the advice of her mother. Cheela kept quiet whatever happened during the past 10 years. But the new event changed her mind. She could not deal with a second wife. He could beat her, rape her, she would tolerate, but could not accept to have a younger girl having sex next to her room. Her first daughter was almost 10 years old. The new wife would be only 6 years old older than her. It was not acceptable to Cheela who finally reached the edge of reason. Enough was enough.

Cheela, 29 years old, with her 4 children seemed having married for more than 100 years even if it was only 10 years. She cried of the missing opportunities: she did not finish high school. She was a beauty. Although her several lovers at her young age, she chose to marry Tengpleng for his handsome body. He was a tall man with a pretty face. It was only after the wedding that she realized that Tengpleng had addiction to bad friends and prostitutes. During the first months of their honeymoom, things went smooth.
It was during her first pregnancy at the third month that their relationship lost its magical charm. Tengpleng started to come home very late when he did not travel to Thailand or China. During the past 10 years, she hid her conjugal problems, bruises of her body and soul, only showed her quiet and peaceful face to avoid questions and humiliation. But she now needed to face the fact: her husband had had affairs with teenagers, and now with some newly arrived girls, from Thailand, whose  parents still thought that girls could marry at the age of 13 years old and become a second wife, ignoring American laws regarding polygamy. These grils often called him at home. Her husband usually lied, telling them that Cheela was his sister.

Cheela cried all days long before making up her mind to divorce. It would be a loss of face, a humiliation for her who was so beautiful. She  took her courage with her two hands, packed her bags then drove to her uncle's house with her 4 children -- as her own father passed away years ago. She hoped that Malee's father would support her in her decision. She would divorce him.

Hours passed before we know the outcome. What advices could one give to Cheela?

Having two lovers made her days full of surprises and at the same time of torments. It was a kind of game that she was the core of interest.

She first met Tengpleng a year ago at the Water festival in May. Since, he had been driving her home everyday after her classes. He appeared to be a good lover: he bought her flowers and candies, and bags of rice for her parents. Laura worried a little bit because he was too awesone at his age of 32 to be still single. At this age, men are usually married. But Tengpleng usually lied well, proclaiming that he was still single: he wanted to marry his soul mate, and she was his soul mate. And Laura believed him.Then during the New Year of 2007, she met Koua who introduced her to his family. Koua was a school teacher. He also bought her everything she wanted. He came to pick her up the days Tengpleng would not be available.

Both men did not know the existence of the other.

A month ago before the end of the classes, Koua offered to marry her at the same time Tengpleng did his request.

Which one will be the best husband? She wondered. Her mother was laughing at her, repeating to neighbours that her daughter was so lucky to meet such handsome and generous men. No one dared warning her of the danger. As for Laura, she wanted a wonderful life with a faithful husband who would love her forever, take good care of her in providing materialistic and financial security. She was only 16 years old. She was not aware of men's lust and her sex-appeal. Naive, she was, and more regarding her emotional immaturity and judgment.

Her old parents, lacking common senses, and quite poor because newly arrived from Thailand two years ago, did not know how to protect her. They were unable to advise her wisely. They only said: "Sooner or later, a girl must marry, so better to marry sooner and with the best party". They did not do their homework --as usual-- in checking the background of each man. Their appearance satisfied them; they both liked the two men. Their favored Tengpleng because he appeared more mature and spoke better their native language.

Maikia worried a lot because she loved both men, and did not want to make a wrong choice. She would need somebody to help her to choose wisely. She then remembered one of her school teachers, Malee, who used to be of good advices. That morning, she called her several times but nobody answered. Laura knowing where Malee lived, asked her brother to drive her to Malee's house. It was 4 o'clock of the afternoon.

Hours passed before we know the outcome. What advices would one give to Laura Maikia?

(End of the story)


Author's Comment:


Love. The three women only hope for happiness with a faithful man. Even if men only give them fruits, these women seem capable to change them into pearls. Their love is inconditional.

Betrayal. Intentional or not. The destinies of the three women are all tied together. What one does impacts the other's fate.  Their experiences stitch like a gallbladder that injects bitterness into their liver or love life. Laura Maikia did not know that she dated Malee's boy-friend and Cheela's husband. That will be her discovery or excuse. It was not intentional. But in these heart affaires, there will be no gain, only loss. Loss of integrity. Loss of self-respect. Loss of trust to men. Her heart, limpid like a diamont, has lost his shining of love and innocence. Too playful and conceited because of her youth, she does not know what she will lose yet. Soon, she will regret bitterly. Laura's heart aches because she feels she has lost her true love, and ... not really because of him, but more of her. She has been studying too long. She then doubts about her professional choice, pushing her to compare the uncomparable: love and education. She confusedly regrets everything that defines her good choice in life and pride: a modern woman having the courage to go beyond the social norms and gendered roles. As for Cheela, is her choice of husband bad? As she cannot turn time back, what can she do now to overcome her feelings of humiliation, loss and betrayal? As a woman lacking coping skills and profoundly hurt, she has lost self-confidence, the trust in her beauty, to start again, ... . Can she change her perception of life and notion of "eternal love" with one soulmate, and grow the courage to accept life as an individualistic path with some particular experiences, bad or good, then accept to move on?

All three women have something in common: they all feel like precious jade pendants, but only to the men they love, not to themselves. Without the men, they feel like they don't exist or cannot pursuit their life. Can they learn to perceive themselves as precious individuals with freedom of thought and choice. Can they see themselves as women with potential growth and chance to live the life they want, dream and hope for? Can they live their life beyond the social interdependence that tie them to make concessions to some of the social expectations in their community that don't always take them to the level of intellectual, social or emotional growth and success?

Unfaithfulness.  Is unfaithfulness a cultural issue, otherwise related to the patriarchal system? Or is it an individual's issue? So leave it to the individuals to deal with. Moreover, what can be done to increase more awareness among members of the community regarding this issue of unfaithfulness between genders? Is it possible to awake men's understanding of their wives' needs?

All characters and plot are fictional. This short-story highlights some of the Hmong current issues: not only between men and women because of their unfaithfulness, but also between women. The lack of reciprocal support between women in general, otherwise said the competitiveness socially installed between women often lead them to lose more at the end. Laura dating Cheela's husband and Malee's fiancé makes her lose self-respect, friendship, integrity, etc. Is it possible to increase more women's self-awareness of the need to collectively fight men's infidelity, unfaithfulness in respecting each other?

Copyrights © 2007 Kao-Ly Yang
All Rights Reserved.


first love
freedom of choice
higher education
love life
true love