Monday, December 28, 2009

Life Under the Khmer Rouge...

I travelled to Phnom Penh in 2006 for work. I was then a freelance travel journalist on assignment for SilkAir's inflight magazine, SilkWinds. I did lots of research prior to leaving for Cambodia ~ from surfing online to talking to people, to reading books by local authors.

One book completely captured me. It was written by a Cambodian woman, now based in the US, who survived the horrifying Khmer Rouge regime... albeit losing both her parents & 2 siblings.

Her name is Loung Ung, and the book was titled First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (HarperCollins).

When the Khmer Rouge solders rolled into the broad boulevards of Phnom Penh, she was just 5-years-old, growing up in a safe middle-class family, where her father was a high-ranking civil servant. But the years that ensued saw her being torn from her family, being forced to train as a child soldier, suffering from extreme starvation, and almost being raped. Her story was a compelling & heart-wrenching one indeed!

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found that Loung Ung was coming to Singapore for the Singapore Writers Festival 2007! I scrambled to secure an interview with her ~ and that I did. The story I wrote for Vanilla magazine on amazing personal journeys was nominated for 'Story of the Month' at the Journalism Awards.

Loung and I kept in touch, mainly via Facebook. She now resides in Ohio, USA, but each time she has plans to visit Cambodia or Asia, we'd try to meet up. But we never managed to schedule a time we both could.

Earlier this month, Loung informs me that the Singapore American School is bringing her in to give a series of talks. It was just for 3 short days, and she wasn't making this trip known to the media. This time, I made sure I logged an interview with her for The Living Room! *grin*

Her schedule was packed for the 3 days she was in town, so I decided to pick her up from the airport. The plan was to conduct the interview in her room, so that she had time to take a long bath & rest after 30hrs of flying, where she barely slept!

Loung & I managed to catch a nice lunch together. She wanted to try something she could not find in the US or Cambodia, and I suggested Peranakan food! She had never heard of nonya food, so we end up at the House of Peranakan Cuisine at Pan Pacific Orchard.

She had two bowls of rice! And during lunch, I found out that other than writing a new book, travelling around lecturing at colleges, and being a spokesperson against landmines, she has recently started an F&B business with her husband in Ohio!

And that conversation flowed naturally as I made an MD recording that afternoon at her hotel room. What was initially meant to be a two-segment interview extended to three!

Lunching with author of "First They Killed My Father", Loung Ung.

Catch the repeat broadcast of that interview:
Tonight, 10.40pm - midnight, 938LIVE
Or 2.15am, Channel NewsAsia

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