Our mascot, a happy mouse

James, formerly known as Theng

He honed his English at Big Brother Mouse

James with a kaen, a traditional musical instrument of Laos James was born into a family of rice farmers in a Hmong village high in the mountains. His village had no running water, electricity or school. Along with his seven brothers and sisters James initially worked on the farm before following his older brother to live in Luang Prabang. As happens in many rural villages, his birthdate was not recorded; when he began working at Big Brother Mouse in 2008 he guessed his age to be 16 and went a step further: He chose a birthday for himself.

While learning English at school James realised that the better he spoke, the less shy he became. He started attending Big Brother Mouse English conversation sessions six days a week, where his speaking skills quickly improved.

When we needed someone to create a Hmong picture dictionary for children, a volunteer at the English practice suggested James. Thirty minutes later, he was productively working away on the computer and he hasn't stopped. He quickly acquired basic desktop publishing skills, and is now learning about designing books and book covers.

James has other distinctions. Years of carrying buckets of water up the hill to his home are now paying off in an unexpected way. He was the first one to join Sasha for some long, hilly bike rides around Luang Prabang.

"Are you tired?" Sasha once asked, after two hours of uphill biking. "This scenery is so beautiful, and biking here is so exciting - no, I'm not tired!" James answered. On that particular day several villagers assumed that James, with an oversized bike helmet, was Japanese. They knew some foreigners were nutty enough to bike up these hills, but never imagined a Lao person would do it. They got quite a shock when he spoke to them in fluent Lao and Hmong.

James was named Theng Song as a child; later he changed his name to James, as in James Bond. But he doesn't like martinis, whether shaken or stirred. We thought it would be interesting for others to read about what it was like, not long ago, to grow up in mountaintop Hmong village, so we asked James to tell them. With help from several visitors, he did you. Click this link to go to our downloads page, and you can read Growing Up On The Mountain.

James has also compiled several books of puzzles, including Tangrams and Toothpick Puzzles.