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The Cambodia I once knew

The Cambodia I once knew

Since I escaped from Cambodia in October 1979 I was lucky to be accepted to live

in the United States of America. I love America as my second home but it is not the

same as my native country, Cambodia. I have been living in the New York area for

13 years now. New York City is very big and is the headquarters of the New York Times,

the company I have worked for since I arrived in America. I love the city because

I have met many kinds of people, good and bad, rich and poor, people of different

races, cultures, and religions. Where can you find all of these things besides in

New York? Where can you find foods from around the world, and buildings up to the

sky? But, one cannot forget the fast pace of life, and the crime in the big city.

I miss Cambodia. I miss culture, the Buddhist religious ceremonies, the green landscape

and the beautiful historic ruins of Angkor around the place I was born and grew up.

I used to work in the tourist hotel called Auberge Des Temples, opposite the famous

temple of Angkor Wat. I miss my job as a front desk officer. I didn't get paid much

but my life was very good and I was very happy because Cambodia was a nation at peace.

This hotel used to house the French soldiers during colonial years and was partly

destroyed by the Vietnam War that spilled over into Cambodia in March of 1970. The

Khmer Rouge then came and flattened the hotel to the ground.

I miss my native Khmer language that I used to talk to my brothers, sisters, and

my parents. I miss the yellow-robed Buddhist monks walking on the street with umbrellas

because it was hot. I used to watch my parents feed them daily, when they came by

in the early morning. I miss eating noddle soup in the morning. They sell it in America

but it doesn't taste the same. I miss everybody, my mother and father, my brothers,

my sisters, my nephews, my nieces, my relatives, and my friends I grew up with. Almost

all I knew were killed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror that claimed the lives

of 3 million people.

I cannot say I am an orphan because I still have my poor sister that has also survived,

and who has preferred to stay behind and look after my ancestor's tomb. Last year

she repainted the tomb and put my dad and mom's urns close together. The rest of

my relative's bones have not been found because the Khmer Rouge did not allow anyone

to see their killing fields. In nearly 4 years, the Khmer Rouge leadership of Pol

Pot and Khieu Samphan almost completed their mission of destroying Cambodia, and

its people.

People were shocked and feared when they learned that the Khmer Rouge leaders are

monsters and acted so barbarously. It is hard for the victims, including myself to

forget the horrible experiences that we eyewitness. But, because I cannot bring the

dead back to life, I must learn to slowly forget the past and enjoy my new life,

while continuing to help the people and pray for peace in Cambodia.

- Dith Pran is a New York Times photographer whose story was told in the 1985

film "The Killing Fields."

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