Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Khmer Rouge Re-Visit

One of the Best Moments in My Life

After 33 years, I have finally had an opportunity to revisit Phum Ponlear Chey again, a place where my family was exiled during the Khmer Rouge’s era. I spent about 3 years living in Ponlear Chey during my early teen. For those of you who have read my book: War and Genocide, Ponlear Chey was one of the places which held many secrets in my life. Anyway, I just wanted to share with you what it was like to return to visit a place where the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror made a lasting impact in my memory.

My visit to Ponlear Chey was unplanned. While on my way to Siem Reap, I made an impromptu decision to visit Phum Ponlear Chey, which is located about 5 kilometers north of National Highway 6 in Staung District, K. Thom Province. My initial intention was to just drive through the village and return to Highway 6 to continue on my journey to Siem Reap. However, after reaching Wat Ponlear Chey, a place where my father was cremated in 1977, I decided to go visit his cremating site to pay respect to his spirit. It was a somber place. The site where my father was cremated remains almost exactly the same as it was 33 years ago. While I was wandering around the pagoda’s compound, an elderly man came up to me and called out my older brother’s name. Because I look similar to my older brother, the old man mistook me as him. So I introduced myself and inquired about his identity. The old man’s name was Phy, and it turned out that I used to look after his oxen, Ah Popeal and Ah Kaek, during my stay in Ponlear Chey. I spent about half an hour talking with Pu Phy, making some inquiries about my childhood friends. To my absolute surprise, I learned that Om Po, the host whose house we lived in during our sojourn in Ponlear Chey, was still alive. So I asked Pu Phy to take me to visit with Om Po.

My visit to Om Po was a bitter sweet reunion. She was so happy to see me. She knew that I have gone to live in the U.S.A. and never expected that I would return to visit Ponlear Chey, let alone coming to visit her. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see the same old house I used to live in and the woman from whom I bade farewell 33 years ago. I spent about 20 minutes with Om Po sharing laughter with her while recalling some embarrassing moments I had as a teenager, especially, my debacle with riding on the buffalo’s back. With her advanced age, both Om Po and I knew that our reunion was going to be the first and last meeting. But we both felt genuinely happy to see each other. Despite the Khmer Rouge’s attempt to instill animosity between us as based and new people some 35 years, our feeling of friendship toward each other as common folks remains in tack. We felt genuine kindred toward each other. And the 20 minutes we spent with each other will definitely go down the memory lane as on of the best moments in our lives.

Om Po and I: sharing laughter while recalling my childhood's trial and tribulation.

The house where I used to live in.
The site where my father was cremated in the compound of Wat Ponlear Chey.

Pu Phy, The man whose oxen I looked after during the Khmer Rouge's era.

The temple of Wat Ponlear Chey.