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.