Hmong game played in Merced has deep international roots

It’s not uncommon during afternoons in Applegate Park in Merced to find a group of men playing a popular game that’s been enjoyed by many generations.

The game is commonly known as “tuj lub” and is played locally by members of Merced’s Hmong community, many of whom have deep roots to Southeast Asia. The game also goes by the names top spinning or topspin. During play, large tops are flung by a stick and string onto a metal sheet.

The game is typically played in teams and in six stages. A player winds a string around the top and flings it off the stick onto the first metal plate, where it spins. Other players throw their tops onto the plate, trying to knock out the competition. According to local players, the objective is to keep your top on the plate the longest in order to move to the next stage and eventually win.

Local residents said the game is traditionally played during Hmong lunar New Year celebrations in Laos, which last about five days in January and February. In Merced, however, it’s typical to see the game played in Applegate Park throughout much of the year.

Tuj lub tournaments are known to take place nationwide, wherever large populations of Hmong people reside.

Not a lot of equipment is required to play the game, just a top, string and a stick. The tops are generally about 5 inches tall and come in red, yellow or white. And they are made of plastic, while tops used in Laos are made of wood, local residents say. Many of the tops used in Merced and the Valley are also made locally.