Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Korea more comfortable than Cambodia for Grandma Hun

Korea more comfortable than Cambodia for Grandma Hun

Korea more comfortable than Cambodia for Grandma Hun

grandma9-7.gif
grandma9-7.gif

GRANDMA HUN

JUST one year ago, Leng Hun, 74 - known as "Grandma Hun" to just about everyone - said: "I've had a miserable, terrible life. If I hadn't believed in the Buddha I would have jumped in a pond and committed suicide."

Yet on April 30, the former "comfort woman" from Korea said she couldn't be happier now. More than 50 years after being brought to Cambodia during the Second World War to provide sexual services to Japanese troops, her lifelong dream was fulfilled. She was on her way back to live in her native land at last - and she had become an inadvertent celebrity as well.

"I am very happy, and I want to express my gratitude to my family and to the people who assisted me," she said at a farewell luncheon in Phnom Penh given by the South Korea-based Supporter's Association for Grandma Hun. Photographers rushed to snap photos of the diminutive, wrinkled figure dressed in pink traditional Korean han bok robes.

"She has become very famous. Every Korean person knows her," said Frank Kang, a Korean businessman active in the Supporter's Association who was accompanying her home.

Hun's life changed from a hardscrabble Cambodian village existence in Skoun, Kampong Cham, in 1996, when her granddaughter bumped into a Korean businessman, Hwang Ki Yun. Hun clasped his hand and wept for an hour at finally meeting a fellow Korean, and told him her life story. It was reported by the Post in 1997 and subsequently publicized throughout South Korea, gaining Hun the sympathy and help she needed to finally return to her home.

Born in 1924 as Lee nam-Yi, she was forced to leave Korea in 1943 and serve as a sex slave in Phnom Penh for two years. "It was painful during that period," Hun said softly during the luncheon.

In 1945 she began living with a Japanese officer, who eventually abandoned her and her daughter. She married a Cambodian man and had three more children, but left him because he was an alcoholic.

She survived the Pol Pot years, though not without a narrow escape. "Someone reported to the higher authorities that I was not born here due to my accent. We were supposed to be taken away... but somehow it didn't happen," she told the Post in 1997.

The Democratic Kampuchea regime did claim the life of her son. A daughter died about five years ago.

But now she has discovered a whole new family in South Korea. With help from the Supporter's Association, she made a visit to her hometown of Jindong in August 1997, and met her sister as well as nieces and nephews she never knew she had.

With help from Cambodian and Korean officials, she won Korean citizenship and, after some wrangling, became the first person to renounce Cambodian citizenship, according to Korean Embassy First Secretary Seung Jun Oh.

The embassy official added that Korean citizenship may also make her eligible to receive compensation from the Japanese government - a possibility given new life by a recent win in a Japanese court by three Korean comfort women demanding redress.

But despite her new passport - presented to her at the luncheon - Hun has not given up her ties to Cambodia. Her extended family remains here, and many had mixed emotions at the farewell lunch.

"I will miss her, and I'm concerned about her health... but I am also happy that my grandma is returning to her own country," said Leak Sina, 26.

Grandma Hun has promised to return often to visit, but says the decision to become Korean is the right one. "I will miss Cambodia also, because my relatives and children are here, but I still miss Korea when I am here."

MOST VIEWED

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Visa A holders get to quarantine at Himawari Hotel

    The Ministry of Health has permitted foreign diplomats, UN and International NGO officials to undergo quarantine at Himawari Hotel in the capital in case they do not have a separate place suitable for this purpose, but the government would not be responsible for the expenses.

  • Baby saved as mother is lost to Covid

    Newborn baby Neth David has had a rough start in the world. His mother, Vong Daneth, was seven months pregnant when she contracted a severe case of Covid-19. When it became clear to her doctors that she would not survive, they performed a cesarean section

  • Jabs for kids bring hope for school reopenings

    Cambodia is tentatively planning to reopen schools – at least at the secondary level – when the vaccination of children aged 12-17 is completed, even though daily transmissions and deaths in other age groups remain high. Schools across the country have been suspended since March 20, one month

  • China denies Mekong hacking

    As the US and its allies joined hands last week to expose what they allege to be China’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities around the world, the attention also turned to Cambodia with the US Department of Justice claiming that four

  • Governor: Covid subsides in capital

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng said the Covid-19 situation in the capital’s 14 districts has eased, with only two districts still recording a high number of infections. “Transmission cases in all districts are dropping, though they are relatively higher Meanchey and Por Sen Chey.