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.

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


70 year old Uncle cutting down coconuts for us from his back yard in Vietnam

70 Year Old Uncle Cutting Down Coconuts For Us From His Back Yard in Vietnam

IMG_3335My husband Steve went to Vietnam with me this year (2014). It was only his second time and the first time was 15 years ago. We were visiting some of my family south of Ho Chi Minh City what is known as the Delta Area. One day we were at my Aunt’s house and Steve wanted to go visit my uncle who only lived about a 10 minute walk away. My uncle’s house is tucked away off the main road and in this area there are mostly Cambodian people. My uncle is a former ARVN soldier from the Vietnam / American War. He is such a gentle good natured spirit. His wife is a hoot. She is always laughing and joking around. On my first trip back to Vietnam in 2o some years with my parents and sister (18 years ago), this uncle pulled out half of his American dollar that he and my father split in half when my parents left Vietnam the first time during the war. Unfortunately my father lost his! My uncle and his wife (mom’s second oldest sister) did not have a lot of possessions after the war, but amazingly he managed to save that half of an American dollar all these years.

Steve had a taste for a coconut so my uncle went to work in his backyard to get us some from his tree as you will see in the video clip below. While my uncle is chopping up the coconut it could make you cringe seeing how close his thumb was at times. However, no sweat! He has done this for years. On a previous trip, I’ve witnessed my uncle in his early 70’s climb up the trees for the coconuts.

It was great to see my husband make a genuine connection with my relatives once again. Steve didn’t even recognize the main provincial city. It has changed so much from 15 years ago, such as all of Vietnam. Living simply, being in the moment, authentic connections. Steve has already talked about going back………..and soon!

More pictures and reflections coming from our trip, including our meeting up with my parents and sister in Vietnam. It was only my parent’s second time back to Vietnam since the first trip 18 years ago. Check out clip below.

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.


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.



Helping the Cops Chase Down the Cowboys in Vietnam!

Helping the Cops Chase Down the Cowboys in Vietnam!

By Lego

Yes, it is very true. I and my younger Vietnamese friend, a tiny woman, helped the police one year capture members of a gang who were from a northern city in Vietnam called Vinh. They had traveled from Vinh down south to Dong Hoi to rob people for weeks. Well actually… that is until we helped put a stop to them-ha!

I’ll have to backtrack a little and help explain the term cowboy. When I mentioned the term recently to a few of my friends from Hanoi, they didn’t seem to be familiar with it. In other areas of Vietnam I’ve heard the term quite a bit. My aunts even joke around stating that sometimes I act a little wild just like a cowboy. Cowboy has been used to refer to people in Vietnam who are a little wild and or cause trouble especially a crime. I have no idea how this term came about, but this is what I’ve been told.

As many of you know I just returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. The incident in capturing the cowboys took place on a previous trip. However, I wanted to wait until after I returned home to share this story with you once my husband knew I was actually home safe. So now I will tell you the story and how it all went down.

During this particular trip I had injured my foot quite severely while in Cambodia before heading back into Vietnam. I went directly to my friend’s house in Dong Hoi and unfortunately most of my time there was laid out on the couch trying to help my foot start to heal. After about a week I felt OK enough to get out of the house to have my friend show me around her town on her motorbike. It was my last day there before I would head to Danang.

At one point my friend wanted to stop at a jewelry store, as many Vietnamese do, to borrow money or do a currency exchange. My friend parked her bike while I decided to wait with my crutches. Next thing I know about six people including a woman came toward me and motioned me to move my legs to the other side of the bike. After doing so they then told me to move my legs again as they drew in even closer. I knew something was up. I looked down and saw the key in the ignition and thought they must want to steal the bike. I grabbed the keys and as quickly as I could I backed off the bike and moved backward toward the sidewalk and shops.  They saw me take the key, but did not pursue me. Instead they crowded around the bike even more to the point where I couldn’t even see it. I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but all of a sudden my friend yells out as she is running toward us- oh my god, do they have my wallet?

Wallet? What wallet? I didn’t know, although it was locked up, that she had left a wallet with me on the bike. I realized in that moment that when they had crowded earlier around the bike, they were cutting the seat open to get to her wallet. I yelled out to my friend that they definitely had her wallet.  Shortly after a woman who was part of the gang walked past me and smacked me in the arm while mumbling curse words under her breath. She jumped on a bike and two other men jumped on the same bike with her, while a couple of others were able to get away on another bike.

My friend was able to catch up to the second bike before they could take off. She grabbed the guy sitting on the back of the seat, yelling at and punching him. It was difficult for them to get away with three people sitting tightly together on the bike. The driver managed to take off anyway, but the guy sitting on the very back fell off. He was able to get loose of my friend’s grip and stole another person’s bike from them. He was in such a panic that he ended up crashing right into another woman on her bike coming from the other direction. There was a cop across the street who was looking toward our direction when this incident started. He seem to wonder along with everyone else what all the fuss was about. However, he just thought people were in an argument. He had no idea someone was being robbed.

After a while the regular citizens figured out what was going on not only in our current situation, but also started to realize these were the same people who had been robbing them for weeks! The word seem to spread quickly from there and all kinds of people from various directions came running out to try to help us catch the one guy after he had crashed on the bike. The same officer from earlier also figured out that it was way more than just an argument and tried to help capture the guy as well. In fact, when the police officer was first able to grab ahold of the robber, the guy threatened the officer telling him he would beat him up. He ended up getting loose from the officer, but the community members charged toward the guy and were able to finally help capture him.

The robber was brought into the police station which was across the street from where the incident first took place. We were asked to come in and fill out a report. While we were doing so, there were at least another 5-8 people who came in to fill out reports and left them in the office we were sitting in. A few of the people filling out the reports came from a block or two over from where all the commotion had started. This is how fast the word got out about the incident.

The police ended up finding 30 wallets just on the guy they had captured. I’m not sure if they ever caught up with the other gang members. The community was really relieved to finally have this case solved. The police officer even stated that he thought it was fate that my friend and I were a part of this situation and were able to help bring these guys down. Too funny- us gals, younger than what we look, not very big people to begin with, were the very ones who were able to help take down these cowboys-ha! Truth- they actually didn’t know who they were dealing with in my friend and me. A person should never judge by outward appearances. The two of us are known, by the people who actually do know us, as being quite spunky. Some may say feisty-ha!

So I just came from Cambodia with a major injury, an injury that was serious enough to cause me to have a seizure. I start to recuperate a bit and then this incident takes place. After this incident while visiting my family, my cousin and I almost crashed on her bike! The year this all took place was around Tet, the major New Year celebration. It happened to be the year of the cat. I joke that this is what must have carried me through. A cat has nine lives you know. I used up more than half on these three incidents alone and had just enough left to finally get me home safely.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Next posts coming will be from this 2014 trip.