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A Khmer Policeman's Story: A Goddamn Rich Man of the New Era

A Khmer Policeman's Story: A Goddamn Rich Man of the New Era

Don't laugh or cry at my story: it is merely the way the hand of fate has marked

my present incarnation. Here in the police department I have many friends who like

to joke around with me. They have all given me a nickname: "the god-damn rich

man of the new era." Well, of course, it's very appropriate.

In 1988 I sold a small villa of mine for 40 domlong [a measure of gold; one is worth

about U.S. $450]. My God! As you know already, at that time 40 domlong was quite

a sum of money. When they heard, the faces of my wife and children blossomed like

a seed of mint in water.

Once we had the 40 domlong in our hands, my wife and I began thinking hard-like the

boy in the Cambodian story who thinks so hard he falls out of the sugar palm tree.

We thought about it during the day as we rested and dreamt about it at night as we

slept. It was truly thinking on a major scale-because we realized that there would

be a portion of money left over after buying an apartment which we could use as capital

for doing business with the best of them.

So, dreaming of this and dreaming of that, we bought an apartment for 25 domlong,

leaving 15 domlong. Then after giving some to brothers, to sisters, to mother, to

father-all told five domlong-there was 10 domlong left to put in the pot of the tong

tin lending group schemes at the Orasey Market.

[In tong tin, a group of people pool their money in a common pot and then draw lots

as to who can take an interest-free loan from the pool on a given month].

My choice of this course of action was in part motivated by thinking that I didn't

want to trouble my wife by setting up a business where she would have to work - better

to keep her white and soft and lovely for her beloved husband, right?

I put in two domlong here and one domlong there. I started out putting in five chi

[ten chi is worth one domlong] in four places and ended up putting five chi in ten

places. It was great fun spending it from day to day, just waiting for the interest

to roll in.

It was a delicious way of life for almost year-until the guy holding the pot skipped

town and the tong tin house went bust, creating a very sorry situation indeed.

Whomever I talked to-the tong tin head or the other members of the lending group-repeated

the same story, one version like another all glommed together like shrimp in a glob

of shrimp paste. The sum of money, every bit of it-more than 10 domlong-had been

thrown away neatly!

Suddenly not only my mother-in-law, but my own mother and all my other relatives

in chorus, laid the blame 100 percent on me! They said, "What kind of ways were

you playing tong tin so that you ended up losing the money?" When I was doing

well by the scheme, I thought to myself, I never heard a word of criticism. Only

when misfortune falls do they band together and blame me.

Nonetheless, by the middle of 1989-oh my God, a goddamn rich man of the new era like

myself was still getting along in high style. That year someone came by who wanted

to buy my 25 domlong apartment and was so bold as to offer 35 domlong. I discussed

the offer with my wife.

"Shall we sell again, sweetheart?" I asked her. "It's completely up

to you, dear," she said.

I love my wife because when I ask her about something, she always says it's up to

me. It's things like this that mean I could never be false to her love.

Sometimes, when it is her time of month-what we call her "vacation time"-she

will say to me straightforwardly: "Dear, when I have to behave modestly like

this, I'm afraid it leaves you bored and restless, doesn't it?" Well, this is

what they call a wife who understands her husband. . .

Let me make something clear at this point. Having been on the police force for 13

or 14 years, I can boast a little. When it comes to "being on the take"-a

present here for a favor there, skimming a little off the top or skimming a little

off the bottom, tucking something away for a rainy day-there hasn't been any of that.

For a goddamn rich man of the new era like myself, the only source of wealth is selling

houses. So when I talk about my wife's willingness to do what I decide, you should

understand that she agrees because she knows that whatever I do will be honest.

I decided to sell the apartment for the price offered to me. I lost no time in buying

another house for 20 domlong, leaving 15 domlong to buy a Toyota Corona for my wife

and children to drive, with a little left over for the pleasures of life.

It is a human thing that when you have a car you want to show off. And it was precisely

because of this car that they gave me the nickname, "the goddamn rich man of

the new era." My wife and children were truly happy: a car to drive like the

best of them!

But by the end of 1990 the money was gone, my wife was sick, and the car had broken

down. Health gone, peace of mind gone, and no money to boot! I decided to sell the

car. Since I needed the money quickly, I sold the car for five domlong, losing two

domlong. I used most of the money for the medical bills; the rest went for family

expenses.

By the time New Years rolled by in 1991, the economic situation was beginning to

bubble and boil. A playboy type came by offering to buy my apartment. This time the

offer was 30 domlong. I decided to sell. Wealth again! I went out with my wife and

got a 15 domlong apartment. With the money left over, we bought a piece of land just

east of the city. It was great! Having bought the land, there was enough money to

buy a car, too! Every Sunday I would go with my wife and the kids to look at the

land.

As luck would have it, one of the suburbanites there got the mistaken idea that I

was a rich businessman. Suddenly, at the end of 1991, the lid blew off of things,

and the guy said I had bought land that belonged to him. He would not allow it. Well,

since the other guy was higher up than me, and I was afraid, also, because I heard

he had connections in even higher places, I surrendered pretty quickly-losing the

match before I'd even entered the ring.

My wife cried a lot at that time, as though she were in great pain. She consoled

me, saying, "Oh, sweetheart, don't be angry about fate; don't complain about

what has been allotted in life. Don't struggle with a piece of rock; you will only

end up tearing your own flesh."

I did at least get two domlong out of the settlement. In the end, I decided to sell

that last apartment, too, for 25 domlong. This is as far as I can go, I thought to

myself-the only course left for me is to buy land in the country so I will have the

means of earning a living.

My wife and I decided that she and the kids would go live in a wood house on a medium-sized

piece of farm land. We sold the car to meet the needs of my wife, and especially,

of the kids, who had gotten big by now.

So this is my story: living at first in a stone house with brick columns on its own

plot of land, I progressed to a spacious apartment. And from there moved on to a

small, rather crowded apartment. Finally, I ended up in the sticks enjoying the fresh

air.

I do know, though, that it's not just me, a poor policeman, who has a story like

this. Maybe even there are others who've been given the nickname "a goddamn

rich man of the new era," because of stories like my own.

- Translated by John Marston and Un Kheang; reprinted from Nokorbal Pracheachon

(People's Police) newspaper).

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