Karla and I are official beekeepers now! We are starting off with two honey bee colonies. I built my first two top bar hives from scratch following some plans and learned a lot while trying to advance my woodworking skills. I think the hives I built came out looking alright, the bees are taking to it. It was hard finding the time to build and breathing in all that saw dust in the musty basement was probably not good for my health. At least they got done.
My brother shared this video with me, seeing this piece felt like I had gotten a chance to travel in time. Even though my family wasn’t in that video, I felt like I was there watching my parents getting ready to come to this country we now call home. All that preparation the khmer refugees were engaging in, and seeing as where I am today, I already know how that mystery unfolds. Seeing the little children in the video is like seeing my younger self, the generation that will become the “real americans,” which is absolutely true. When he said their hope relies in their children, it really pulled at the strings of my heart to the hope and struggle of my parents…
I was recently asked to share my visual story in response to the questions “where are you from?” and “where are you going?” for The Where Project, which was a bit nerve wracking (ok really nerve wracking, my stomach might have turned quite a few times). I did enjoy it once I finally formulated the story I wanted to tell (huge relief), which has been a work in progress for some time. I am a HUGE fan of the Where Project, curated by my friend the amazingly talented Vichet Chum, and it was nice to be included in a different way. My previous roles have been as their event photographer for their other installments, but I recently started a new gig so could not make it out to this one, which was for the better, I was really anxious about being present while my slides were being shown. I’m ok with sharing it here, hiding behind the internet does take that edge off.
If you have a chance, please check out The Where Project, and keep an ear out for their future installments!
The Where Project is a two act storytelling event. Artists, writers and performers share stories in response “Where are you from?” in the first act and “Where are you going?” in the second act. In answering these questions with dynamic, heartfelt storytelling and original music, The Where Project hopes to cultivate and share meaningful, hilarious, human stories that capture where we are right now.
Fall is just around the corner… This past weekend Karla and I went in to the city to see Dengue Fever live at Le Poisson Rouge. Love seeing them perform! They put on a great show and we finally got to meet the super talented and beautiful Chhom Nimol. We also ran in to some friends at the concert, a nice surprise to be able to catch up with them over drinks after the show.
We had seen Dengue Fever perform at this same venue back in April of 2013 during the Khmer New Year as part of Season of Cambodia (a festival highlighting Khmer arts and culture through out NYC). It was a wonderful experience then because, not only did they rock out the show, we made new friends in the audience and even got to hang out with author Loung Ung of First They Killed My Father (which is being adopted in to a motion picture directed by Angelina Jolie). Long Ung’s book really opened my eyes to the experience of surviving the Killing Fields, so I’ve always been a fan. So honored when she was standing right next to us and didn’t mind me being a little star struck, instead she joined us in rocking out to the show. There really are not a lot of Cambodians in NYC, so the few Cambodian concert goers that night were clustered in the same, front, right standing row, and we all sort of gravitate towards each other trying to find solidarity in our similar background.
In our quest of connecting with other Khmers in the audience, we ended up befriending this lively Cambodian family who grew up in NYC. It was a loud and crowded club, but this woman opened up and told me this amazing story about how she and her siblings came to be where they were. After losing their parents in the genocide and escaping the khmer rouge, they were sponsored by a church organization that resettled them to a small apartment in the Bronx. Here is this family of young kids, post trauma, on their own in NYC, who don’t know the language and don’t even know where to get groceries or understand how to get around. So every day her brother would stand outside waiting on the side of the street, which caused the neighbors to worry that he might be a drug dealer or something else. Luckily, this man in the building took the time to knock on their door rather than calling the cops and what he found was a family of young refugees who were left on their own. When he realized that, he decided to take action and adopt them. Here they are now, over 30 years later, in NYC listening to a band that idolizes Khmer music and reviving the sounds that were almost lost to an era of violence. I was so deeply touched and inspired by the magic of that night.
Back to this same venue and Dengue still put on a phenomenal show.
Back in September I had a post about visiting an uncle in Lowell, he has since lost his battle with cancer. This weekend we were up there to pay our respect to him and his family.
In khmer tradition, the son or grandson of the deceased person would be required to shave their head and become a monk during the period of the funeral taking place. His younger son took on that role of becoming a monk in honor of his father and his daughter-in-law read read a nice eulogy for him. We made our offerings to send good karma in to his next life and sat in prayer with the monks, it was a very nice, peaceful ceremony.
I was also impressed with how well the funeral home coordinated with the khmer community in organizing that the proper services take place with respect to our traditions. From transportation from temple to the crematorium, it was all very well organized, the local businesses work really well in understanding the large khmer community in Lowell.
May he rest in peace, and his soul continue on to the next life.
This year, our Khmer community in CT is bringing back a big celebration for the Cambodian New Year. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing out on it, traveling to Savannah, GA. I’m proud that the community has come together in such a way to honor and celebrate for all. It’s a wonderful thing and really great for the next generation to celebrate their heritage and traditions. It shows how strong our community is and dedicated to rebuilding after all that was lost.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. April 17th, 1975, when my parents were in their early 20’s with two kids in tow, they were forced to leave their home in to the wrath of Angkar. Where, eventually, 2 million people would perish, including my two sisters among many other family members.
Those were the events that lead my parents to the U.S. When they escaped to the refugee camps, my parents decided they should start their new life in America. I can’t imagine going through what they went through and to pack up with nothing but their children and the traumatic experiences they just lived through… it’s incredibly brave and inspiring.
My parents wanted us to have a better life, and in my opinion they achieved that. I am very fortunate to have the freedom and opportunities that this world presented me. I know my family went through unimaginable hardship to get us here, suffered severe losses, but still pulled through so that I can be here today.
Now, 40 years later, we must always remember and honor those that haven fallen under the hands of such cruelty. Take time to pay our respects for those loved ones, lost and still with us today. We must also celebrate life by ringing in the new year with much gratitude and happiness, because those before us would want us to live our life going forward. And still among us, the generation that carries deep scars from their wounds under the Khmer Rouge, recognize those wounds, and be inspired by the bravery that brought them here. Get to know their legacy, their strength, and understand that’s where we come from.
We survived the frigid winter and I’m loving the extra daylight… the sun! It makes everyone so happy. Along with spring comes a bunch of projects. Seems like everyone is coming out and launching something. Busy and dizzy it makes me…I haven’t been sleeping much. I’m happy for the extra projects but it’s a hard balance with the full time gig. But after this winter’s electric heating bills, I don’t mind the balancing act. Looking around my home, yikes, I need to find time to do some spring cleaning.
Karla and I have been getting out of hibernation mode to do some running, it seems like we will never be able to run as much as Holly (dog) needs. We’re feeling good after a couple of miles and she is just getting started. SMH. At least she encourages me away from the work desk.
In the midst of all these projects I’m working on, I’m also trying to get a little bit of my personal side project done. The spring always tugs at me to get it together in memory of my father. My Khmer Collective site needs some TLC! The 5 year anniversary of his passing is coming up, and that project was a way to honor him. Really, my therapy. It’s strange how his absence can become such a norm, time and healing do work in tandem. I still miss him everyday and sometimes, it really hits me how gone “gone” is. Then I start clawing at ways to get pieces of him back, let him know how much of a presence he is still very much in my life.
So Khmer Collective, you’re getting a redesign!
Also, I’ve recruited another passionate friend who is very much excited to join in and help me with the storytelling, gathering people’s stories and spreading the word.
Dengue Fever came out with their new album, “The Deepest Lake” and it’s awesome. The merchandise I ordered came in the mail the other day, sweet! We just wanted to show our support for such a great band. Unfortunately, my turntable is in need of a new needle, so I couldn’t play the record, but we live in a digital world, so it’s not like I haven’t been playing the album on repeat anyways.
I think Holly looks rather sharp in a kroma (traditional cambodian scarf).
Holly and Karla.
Being a first generation Khmer in the U.S., growing up people didn’t even know where Cambodia was on the map, let alone the atrocities that brought us here as refugees. So, to discover an American band that was so passionate about playing Cambodian rock n roll, that they even went out to search for a Khmer lead singer (the ever so talented Chhom Nimol) was pretty surreal. Listening to how their music evolved from covers of oldies to an infusion of all kinds of genres to create these wonderful unique sounds, I love it.
Discovered this kickstarter project and went ahead to pledge my support. The trailer actually brought me to tears and made me really miss my father. All I could see were my parents face in the old clips, and their friends and family we never got to know… the life they enjoyed around this music, this was their Cambodia. This lively “Pearl of Asia,” all this youth, life, freedom that was tragically taken from them.
This is the Cambodia they wanted us to know… We grew up in America, not knowing much of what our parents had left behind. As a kid, I thought Cambodia was this backwards country with no running water, poverty, and the war, because it just seemed like such a scary place from the stories you hear. I used to think it was always like that, because my parents could never discuss all that they lost. After my father passed, films like these, can tell the stories of his youth that he really wanted to share with us, but was so hard for him to communicate.
I look forward to seeing this film and attending the concert in NYC. In the audience, I know my father will be there with me too.