My Childhood till the War in 1970

I was born on October 1, 1962 in Kraing Thnong village, Roveang commune, Samrong district, Takeo province. It was the year of Tiger. My first name was given by my parent as “Sophalla or good result“. It had been changed in 1981 to Sophanna when I did an exam to surpass the 7th grade in Baktouk high school. My father was a teacher and my mother was a housewife. I am the first son in the family. My parent has eight children, with five sons and three daughters. All are married now and have children. My mother passed away two years ago. My father is still strong and healthy for his age. He is 75 years old. He is living with his youngest daughter in Phnom Penh. He is now pending between Phnom Penh and Ta Tem, his home village, in Ang Rokar commune, where a “stupa or chedei” has been built to store the rest of my mother.

 My mother used to tell me that being a first child I got the privilege of having enough (condense) milk to drink, in addition, not usual for a rural family. Soon after my birth my parent moved to Ang Tasom village, Ang Tasom commune, Tram Kak district, Takeo province; which is about 12 km from the home village of my father. We lived in one simple house close to the national road # 03, connecting Phnom Penh to Kampot province and Kep city. I remembered that on Saturday and Sunday, there were some nice cars passing the road in the direction to Kampot and Kep city. We liked to see it very much, especially for a rural kid. Still living in that house and at the age of four or five, I went to school with my father at Champa primary school, where my father was teaching. The school was located inside the Champa pagoda compound. Every morning, my mother prepared a lunch package for us and we went to school by bicycle. I used to play with the sand on the road by using my two legs dragging it which slowed the speed of the bicycle and forced him to put more energy to bring the bicycle forward. My father was some time angry with me. But for me, it was fun. The idea of bringing me to school at this age was just to give me a chance to get used to the conditions and atmosphere in class room and in school, because we did not have kindergarten at that time.

 Several years later, we moved to a bigger, but modest house. With his salary saved and some money borrowed from his relative, my father bought a bigger plot of land. It is important to note that during that Sangkum Reastr Niyum time, a teacher could earn sufficient money to support the whole family. The teacher teach his students in the morning from 07 to 11 am. The afternoon class started from 2-5 pm. He started planting everything with hundred as milestone number. He planted 100 Mango trees, 100 coconut trees, 100 other fruit trees etc. He dug a pond to store some water for the dry season. He planted all the things he did need so that he could save his salary for building a new bigger house for the whole family. He was very diligent, though he spent much of his time teaching at school, but in his free time he did farming works. He was called “a money-saving man” by our relatives. He used the net to go fishing during lunch time or at the evening time. We did not need to buy fish from the market. There were also plenty of fishes where there was water. He spent the money only to buy pork or beef meat and some clothes. Even rice was produced in the rice fields of our compound.

 I did really go to school in 1968 at the age of six in 12th grade (currently equals to grade 1) at a school at one pagoda, about three kilometers from our house. I did like to learn very much and from the beginning, I worked hard at school. It was very proud for me that at the end of the school year I got a reward as the one of the best pupils in school and got many written books and pens as present. I still remember how happy I was to get the award. In 1970, I did study at 11th grade.

 Unfortunately, on 18 March 1970, the coup staged by General Lon Nol against Sihanouk, destroyed everything my father tried to plant and build for his brighter future when he will get older. I knew nothing about politics. I could not understand why the concrete status of Prince Sihanouk, then head of state, was removed from the compound of a high school, just about one Kilometer north of our house. Farmers staged a demonstration against the new ruler, General Lon Nol, once Sihanouk’s very loyal army chief. There were soldiers on the road and farmers with knifes, beaten sticks, confronting each other. I could not imagine what would happen next. But, we knew that something bad might happened soon. We were looking at the demonstrators passed by shouting for a return of Samdech Euv, the way they called Prince Sihanouk, and demand that Sihanouk must be re-installed as head of state. Suddenly, we heard gun shooting and soldiers fired directly their gun towards the demonstrators. We run to the backyard of our farm and was trying to find a safe place for us. It was frightening. We heard people crying for help and people were dying and many were injured. When there was no gun shooting anymore we could see that many people died or injured along the road.

Few months before this unrest/war started, we observed in the early morning a comet up in the sky. The villagers said that there will be civil war or political unrest soon, according to their old belief.  The time of political turbulence and civil war had begun. I was not even 8 years old to experience gun shooting in the short distance marking the begin of the whole destruction period of modern Cambodia. My youngest brother was just born in late 1969. For him, just to witness the war.

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