50 Years of My Life’s Journey

When I was young….., photo taken in Phnom Penh, in 1980

Today, 50 years ago, I was born in Kraing Thnong village, Roveang commune, Samrong district in Takeo province (about 50km south of Phnom Penh).  My father was a teacher (now retired, is 77 years old) and my mother was housewife. My mother passed away three years ago, at the age of 72, because of illness. I have seven siblings, including three female, and I am the oldest son. Life is short, as many people would say. However, during the past 50 years, I have remarkably survived many regimes, both in Cambodia and in Germany. I can say (jokingly) that we, Cambodians, are strong since we have gone through all the possible regimes existing on earth (monarchy, republic, ultra-communist, genocide, socialist, authoritarian, semi-democratic etc). They are as follows:

  1. October 1962-March 1970: First Kingdom of Cambodia, under Former King Norodom Sihanouk. I lived my childhood mainly in Ang Tasom, Tramkok district, Takeo province. With 6.5 years old, I heard the first gun shot in my life and saw wounded and death bodies (for the first time) along the road on March 18, 1970; horrible. Supporters of Norodom Sihanouk were shot during the demonstration by soldiers of the new ruler, General Lon Nol.
  2. March 1970-April 1975: Republic Khmer under General Lon Nol. I lived in Takeo provincial town till 1973 and then was sent by my parents to Phnom Penh, from 1973-75, for study. Civil war in full scale. Only five years, everything build under Sihanouk was destroyed.
  3. April 1975-January 1979: Democratic Kampuchea, Pol Pot Regime. WE were forced to leave Phnom Penh on 17.04.1975. I was first at the home village of my mother, and then was forced to move to remote areas (jungle and home of malaria) in Battambang province. Pol Pot and his clique destroyed the rest left over by the war and brought Cambodia back to the Stone Age. Amazing achievement during his reign, just for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. The world closed the eyes.
  4. 1979-1989: People’s Republic of Kampuchea, under Heng Samrin as Head of Party and State, since 1985 Hun Sen as Prime Minister. I lived for one year, 1979-80, in Damdek district, Siem Reap province. From 1980-84, I lived in Phnom Penh, before receiving the scholarship to go to East Germany in August 1984. Cambodia experienced half peace and half war led by four waring factions.
  5. 1987-1991: State of Cambodia, under Heng Samrin and Hun Sen as Prime Minister. I spent time studied in East Germany, first Marxism-Leninism, and then Political Sciences. The new area began by reintroducing private property on land and more market economy (replacing the planned economy).
  6. 1991-1993: Cambodia governed by UNTAC. Lived in Leipzig, the eastern part of United Germany.
  7. 1993-present: Second Kingdom of Cambodia, with “the King reigns, but not rules”; from 1993 to 2006 under King Norodom Sihanouk and since 2006 with King Norodom Sihamoni, his son. The Prime Minister has executive power, but has “invisible” hands in most aspects of Cambodia.

Photo taken with friends and our German teacher, in late 1984, in East Germany

I have gone through, may be, the most turbulent history of Cambodia: short independence period, civil war, US bombardment, total destruction, ultra-communist regime under the Khmer Rouge, socialist regime under Heng Samrin, constitutional monarchy under the King and Prime Minister Hun Sen; since 1998, experienced the full scale of peace in the country. I would say, the last part is so far-The best time in my life. My experience was full of Joyce, sorrow, hardship, fears, hunger, fighting for survival, poverty, recovery and rebuilding of a new life. Though, my past years were difficult, but in comparison to some of my compatriots, I am still lucky. For those Cambodians, who died during the war, during the Pol Pot regime and the civil war afterwards (two out of seven million populations at that time, mostly educated), my heartfelt condolence and full of regrets that Cambodia lost them.

Looking back to my life’s journey, there are many things to write, but I select just a few to highlight:

  • The most joyful event in my life was the reunion with my parents in early 1980, after I was separated from them for more than seven years; from 1973 onwards, and during the Pol Pot’s time (1975-79 and one year after) without any information;
  • The most unforgettable experience was the fighting for survival after getting malaria and diarrhea in 1975 in Battambang province, almost no hope to survive. With the help of traditional medicines (trees) and my strong will to live, I did beat the horrible diseases successfully;
  • The most painful experience was my help offered to “relatives” to get jobs/works in the same organization. I will never forget this and would never do it again. I have read many books about this danger, but I was hoping, that I could do better to counter-argue it. I failed.
  • One of the happiest moments was to bring my father to visit foreign countries in September 2012 (Singapore and Malaysia), for the first time in his life. One of my long term wishes come true. Next visit for him would be Thailand and Vietnam. I did plan to bring mother to visit foreign country as well, but she passed away before we could afford it in a family’s trip.

Upon my arrival from Germany in early April, 1996

Family and work: Since January 8, 1999, I am happily married to my wife, though we have known each other in 1996 and been living together since 1997. We have three children, two sons and one youngest daughter. I started to work for FNF since June 1996 and with CEDAC since August 1997. I used to work voluntarily for Students associations since I was a student in Bak Touk high school and during my study time in Germany. After returning to Phnom Penh, I used to work for several other organizations as board members on voluntary basis. Though, I love to work and network with people, Sunday is mostly reserved for my family. In the future, I just have some private wishes: stay healthy, be modest and live a happy family life!

My wife and our children

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6 Comments

  1. So touching and full of motivation Phu for this article, You have been walking on the long way. Frankly speaking I am so inspired whenever I read you article especially your own biography..! You’re my role model..! Thanks for you sharing Phu,,..!

    • Dear Rathana, great thanks for your time to read it, right away after I have posted it. Thanks for considering me as your role model. Have a good night. Sophanna

  2. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story, you have a beautiful family – Happy Birthday!

    • Thanks also for your time to read it and wish you prosperity and happiness.

  3. Dear Pu,

    Many thank for your detail sharing about your background and life of your 50 years. Glad to know and learn more about you.

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