Tuol Sleng survivor Bou Meng certainly has something to smile about – more than 200 people attended a housewarming party he threw yesterday at the US$30,000 house he has built in Koh Thom district’s Kbal Damrey commune.
Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Bou Meng (right), fellow S-21 survivor Chum Mey (back, second from left) and other guests dine.
“From two years selling my biography, I saved $30,000,” for my house,” Bou Meng said. “I’ve been selling up to 10 books a day for at least $10 each and will keep doing this until I die.”
Bou Meng’s biography, penned by Khmer Rouge tribunal public affairs officer Huy Vannak, with a foreword by the New York Times’ Seth Mydans, has been a hit for foreign tourists visiting Phnom Penh and has enabled the former S-21 detainee to enjoy an easier life.
Bou Meng, like the now deceased Vann Nath, was kept alive during his S-21 detention for his artistic skills.
Recently finished murals of scenes he witnessed during the Khmer Rouge era adorn Bou Meng’s living area. They include vivid images of a saffron-robed monk being clubbed to death, the bright red spearing of a baby tossed in the air like a clay pigeon and waterboarding at S-21.
“I still sell my art, mostly to NGOs or tourism businesses,” he said. “But I will keep selling my book every day just to keep saving money.”
When asked whether he felt any obligation towards less well-to-do victims, Bou Meng said their problems could likewise be solved by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which had drafted and published his biography.
“If other victims are in the same situation I was in before, with no money, they should write their book and get an income like me,” he said.
Bou Meng’s home, with its intricate façade work and bright, smooth tiles, stands out in Kbal Damrey, which is at the end of a deeply rutted, unsealed road, more than 60 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
His closest neighbour is a Khmer Rouge regime victim who lost almost her entire family and now lives in a wood-and-bamboo structure across the street from Bou Meng’s house.
“I don’t know anything about a Khmer Rouge court,” 65-year-old Chum Khim said as a child bounced in her arms to the songs of the karaoke singers at Bou Meng’s party and skinny grandchildren ran around in the dirt under her house.
“All I know is that lots of foreigners come to visit Bou Meng and make him rich.”