Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In search of survivors of Street 15

In search of survivors of Street 15

In search of survivors of Street 15

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Fang posted a "missing persons" ad in the Commercial News in a renewed effort to locate his wife Tsai Tswei Ying and daughters Fang Jieh Ming and Fang Wan Jen, who would now be 56, 34 and 31.

S

TARING across the decades out of a grainy, aging photo from the pages of Phnom Penh's

Chinese-Language Commercial News, the Fang sisters smile uneasily, as if prescient

of the terrible events to come.

On April 17, 1975 Fang "Bright Future" Jieh Ming and her sister Fang Wan

Jen disappeared into history as the victorious Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, the

first day of a three-year, eight-month, and twenty-day reign of terror that would

claim the lives of almost two million Cambodians.

Twenty-five years later, the Fang sisters and their mother Tsai Tswei Ying are just

three of 7,970 Cambodians still officially listed as "missing" in the aftermath

of the Khmer Rouge, moving evidence of the victory of hope over despair embodied

by survivors of the thousands of Cambodians who were never seen again after April

17.

In November, 1999, the girls' father, Fang Jing Hwei, now living in France, posted

the photos of his wife and two daughters as part of a "missing persons"

ad in the Commercial News in a renewed effort to locate them. "My wife would

now be 56 years old," the ad reads. "Fang Jieh Ming is now 34 and Fang

Wan Jen is 31."

The ad refers those who might have knowledge of the missing trio to the offices of

the Express Tour Company in Phnom Penh, which is run by Fang's older brother, Fang

Jieh Bau.

"My brother had gone to Hong Kong as the situation worsened in Cambodia to arrange

a new place for the family to live," Jieh Bau explained of the circumstances

behind the family's separation. "Then April 17 happened and all contact with

Cambodia ended."

An accompanying photograph shows Fang Jing Hwei smiling happily with his wife and

daughters during a visit to Wat Phnom before the dark days of April 1975.

Fang's ad also lists the names of relatives of his-inlaws, the Tsai family, who are

likewise searching for missing wives, husbands, sisters and brothers and their families.

"[The Tsai's and the Fang's] all lived on the same street, Street 15 in Phnom

Penh, where my brother ran the Chunghwa Department Store," Jieh Bau recalls.

"It was the busiest, most active business street in all of Phnom Penh."

Street 15's pre-war reputation as the heart of Phnom Penh's Chinatown district, like

the vast majority of its former residents, has vanished into the black hole of the

KR's Democratic Kampuchea.

According to historian Ben Kiernan, 50% of Cambodia's pre-1975 ethnic Chinese population

died during the Pol Pot regime, constituting "the greatest tragedy of SE Asian

Chinese."

Residents of Phnom Penh's Street 15 probably constituted many of the victims of a

"crash resettlement" program of ethnic Chinese in the KR's NW Zone near

the Thai border where Kiernan notes that "probably two thirds of the [ethnic

Chinese] death toll occurred."

Fang Jieh Bau at the Express Travel Agency is not blind to the odds of a successful

conclusion to his brother's search.

"We recognize that [my brother's wife] must be dead, otherwise she would have

contacted us sometime over the last twenty-five years," Fang Jieh Bau explained.

"But it's not impossible that the two sisters are still alive, but have forgotten

or have given up on finding their original family."

Staring at the picture of the two sisters frozen in childhood in pre-Khmer Rouge

Cambodia, he says the search will go on.

"We know that there's only a small chance that we will find them, but they are

our family," he said sadly. "As long as there's any hope at all, we'll

keep trying to find them."

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