First They Killed My father, Lucky Child

First They Killed My father, Lucky Child

Lou Ung, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, has written two books based on her life. The first book, first they killed my fatherFirst They Killed My Father, is about how she endured the work camps and trained as a child soldier at five years old under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge ruled during 1975-1979. Nearly two million people (25 percent of its population at the time) died under the dictator Pol Pot who died in 1998 at age 73. This history and its capitol is known as the Killing Fields.

There is also a book and movie called The Killing Fields based on the experiences of a Cambodian and American Journalist.

A memorial is based out of the capitol Phnom Penh to honor those who were lost and as a reminder of the tragic past in Cambodia’s history to never forget. It is a place to educate both Cambodians and foreigners who visit Cambodia and built around the mass graves that had been discovered from this period. A Khmer Rouge survivor has also built a Killing Fields Museum in Seattle, Wa.

Lou Ung’s second book is Lucky Child that tells the story of the aftermath of her lou ung lucky childtraumatic childhood and the transition as a new refugee to the United States.  Lou Ung has been through much, more than most see in a life time. She has been able to take her life experiences and turn them into her life’s work starting with telling her story and then her activism.

There is now a new movie being made based on her story with Angelina Jolie will be directing for Netflix along with her adopted son Maddox, also Cambodian, working behind the scenes. Both Angelina and Lou Ung met back in 2001 and wrote the script together. They have become friends. Lou Ung says she completely trust Jolie with the telling of her story.

Filming will start in November of 2015. Jolie has stated that this “will be my tribute to the strength and dignity of all Cambodian people.”

I also was honored to meet and talk with Lou Ung. A small woman in stature, but mighty in heart and spirit. She has continued to make me  proud to be Cambodian. Please check out books and movie when it comes to Netflix.

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Colonial Cambodia’s ‘Bad Frenchman’, Children Stolen From Cambodia

Colonial Cambodia’s ‘Bad Frenchman’, Children Stolen From Cambodia

Who are the stolen children from Cambodia? They are called Métis, children born from French and Cambodian parents during French Colonial rule in Cambodia. It is a sad and shameful time in history and the lost stories that need to be told.

Here are some statements made  from a series of letters written by the country’s Résident Supérieur in Cambodia, François Baudoin, regarding what to do about the métis:

“There is no doubt that by letting the number of métis increase, we risk seeing the creation of a class of individuals who, living on the margins of both French and indigenous society, would not miss any opportunities to become a source of annoyance and embarrassment to our administration.”

Another, from 1916, reads:
“[…] we must definitively break the link which attaches these children to their Indochinese origins, and even go as far as making them lose all their memories of Indochina.”

*Quotes above gleaned from article, please read recent article to learn more about their story- The Story of Cambodia’s Stolen Children (Recent Article)

Here is a related book I’ve recently learned about and will be reading in the near future. You can purchase it in book form or download for purchase or rent through kindle.

Colonial Cambodia’s ‘Bad Frenchmen’

It is a book about the history of French Colonialism researched from Cambodian and Vietnamese archives

Here is one statement from a review of the book-The Wild West in the Far East – Surprising (sometimes shocking) history at its readable best

You can read more about the book, it’s review, and purchase it here

 

In Cambodia Looking for a Protest, Instead Find Coffee Shop Owner Picking up the Pieces

In Cambodia Looking for a Protest, Instead Find Coffee Shop Owner Picking up the Pieces

I recently, as some of you already know, just returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. My husband traveled with me this time and we started out in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. There are several sights you can visit regarding art, culture, and history including the once dark era in Cambodia’s past under the control of the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields

Since toward the end of 2013, there had been various protests from garment workers along with other laborers. Sometimes the protests consisted of 100,000 people or more. The protests started out peacefully, but in time became violent with many arrests that followed. For us it is unclear how things escalated, but we do know that shortly before we arrived, protests had been banned in the capital. We found out that some protests were continuing in the outskirts of the city, but they were not formally announced to the public for fear of retaliation from the government and the police. One of the main reasons we traveled to Phnom Penh was to learn more about the protests. Family and friends voiced their concerns about us going to the capital because of the uprising that was taking place. However, it was the very uprising and the courageous stand of the people who compelled us to all the more want to be there.

Unfortunately the secrecy of when future protests would take place, along with needing to adhere to our travel schedule, prevented us from being able to be present at a protest, although we were able to talk to a few Cambodian people about it.

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Instead I will be brining you a story of a man who survived during the Khmer Rouge period; and in this post about a Vietnamese man we friended named Sok Minh, originally from Vietnam, who now lives and owns his own coffee shop in Cambodia.

I came across this man’s story a week before I was to leave for Cambodia. (Please Watch Clip below before reading rest of post)

My husband and I decided to find out where his coffee shop was and pay him a visit. Although Sok is Vietnamese, he speaks Khmer as fluent as he does Vietnamese having lived in Cambodia for about seven years. I know some Vietnamese, but not enough to be able to convey to this man why two complete strangers would want to come and see him. I asked our Cambodian driver to call Sok to explain, but because of all that he had recently been through, he was very guarded. I called him back and spoke enough Vietnamese to convince him that we were the real deal and not anyone to fear. He then agreed to have us come and visit him.

We visited with Sok, his brother, and mother for about an hour. We shared how we were inspired by his story and positive attitude despite all that he had gone through. We told him we simply wanted to meet him, see how he was doing, and get the word out to people we know who would be traveling to Cambodia, to stop and give him some business. My husband says to him, “our new friend in Cambodia”. He smiled and then hugged my husband. I shared with him how the day before we were to leave for this trip, I found out that a western media station also got a hold of his story and aired it. He was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t believe his story made its rounds. Of course he couldn’t see us off without making sure we each had a Vietnamese ice coffee for the road.

This was one of our favorite moments in all of Phnom Penh; the things that really matter…….authentic connection with others.

 

 

Beautiful Children of Cambodia- How Your Help Could Actually Hurt

Beautiful Children of Cambodia- How Your Help Could Actually Hurt

*Pictures taken by TSIO

The children are friendly and much fun to talk with. They love to practice their English with you. Many of these children are also selling various items outside the tourist areas. It is not recommended to give away money or even purchase the items from the children. The reasoning by various leadership in Cambodia is because it perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty to continue. The families see it as an opportunity to make a quick few bucks which discourages the kids from going to school and thus furthering their education. In the end it becomes unsustainable by enabling a dependent system that produces another generation in poverty.

The other thing to watch out for is what is called the Orphan Tourism. Some orphanages are not even legit. It can be a big scam and money-maker using kids from throughout the village to create a heart tugging display to reach deep into your pockets.

If you do find a legitimate orphanage, this rule still applies. Children are not there for your display and amusement. You see them, have a good time, and then go home. They see you and only hope that maybe you will be their new home. Well intentions sometimes can actually do more harm.

The best way to help more sustainably is by funding or giving of some real committed time and talents to a solid organization that has been well established. Even better, help empower the Cambodian people in a mutual learning relationship. This will help them continue to develop leaders within their own country as they desire and are very much capable of doing with a little support. It is best to go through your Consulate for recommendations on who and how to best help.