Tell us a bit about your family. My family all had similar experiences during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, but we all reacted very differently. For example, I like the quiet life where I can pursue my interests, but my brother Khay has returned to Cambodia and is now a General in the armed forces. No one pushes him around now! My mother has survived breast cancer and still travels to Cambodia to set up schools and temples. My other siblings are mostly spread out across Australia, although one sister lives in New York. We are all very different people but we are also productive members of our societies.
How do you work through self-doubts and fear? If I ever find myself fearful of something I just tell myself that whatever it is, I have been through far worse and survived. In most cases I just think: “What’s the worst that can happen? At least I’m not being shot at”, and then get on with it. Fear can be burned away by experience, or at least your sense of it can be recalibrated to a point where the sorts of things that most people are apprehensive of barely register.
What scares you the most? I think the thought that would give me nightmares the most, would be for my daughter to be subjected to the same sort of horror that I experienced during my childhood.
Either that or my annual dream, in which it is exam time and I haven’t studied.
What makes you happiest? Doing what I want, when I want, whether it is helping out at a local shelter for homeless people, traveling across the globe, hiking or snow skiing. The last is a very unusual hobby for my family, as I had never even seen ice until I was 13 or so.
Have you always enjoyed writing? No, and I still don’t! English does not come easily to me, and this book was hard work from beginning to end. Every line had to be read and re-read to ensure that it made sense. My native language does not even have tenses or plurals, which I think is why you often see Asian restaurant menus say things like ‘beef with cashew nut’. Just one nut? No, but it sounds that way.
What motivates you to write? Writing is a chore for me, but I really wanted my story to be told. Most of my countrymen will not have the chance to be heard, so in my small way I wanted to help let others know about what happened to the people of Cambodia.
What are you most proud of in your personal life? Raising my daughter and allowing her to become the person she wants to be. She has graduated with two bachelor degrees and is currently working towards a PhD in Psychology.
What books did you love growing up? I didn’t have any books growing up, and couldn’t have read them if I did. I loved my school books once I had them though, but that was when I was 18 and they were strictly an aid to the education I had been lusting after for so long. It wasn’t until much later that I could read for pleasure, and I never had a chance to develop a taste for fiction.
What book should everybody read at least once? Any book that shakes them up and makes them do something that counts. I don’t like to mention a particular work, for I don’t think I am qualified to comment.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG13