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Sharing Stories - A Glimpse into Another's Life - You Live and Learn

CAMBODIA | Friday, 22 February 2013 | Views [441] | Scholarship Entry

As I gazed across the panoramic view of Pnom Penh I was astounded by how modern the city was. Yet it was not the scenic beauty that drew my attention, but a stranger gazing at me, smiling at me like I was vaguely familiar.
After finishing my Nom banh chok, I ordered another from the street stall for the man who was sitting down across the road. He looked in his fifities, short greying hair, sat next to a worn baseball cap which lay upside down, its interior decorated by a few dollars. He had one right arm and no legs.
As I approached the man, holding out the bowl he announced “I used to be like you, young and handsome”, I smiled modestly endeared by the compliment. He continued: “I used to be Cambodian kick boxer.” Even though I had only been in the country a short time, I was aware that Cambodian kickboxing was the equivalent of Thailand’s Muay Thai and was a highly regarded sport.
“What happened?” I asked. The man seemed like he wanted to converse and I felt obliged to do so. “You know Khmer rouge?” he replied. I nodded. I did not want to elaborate on my knowledge of the subject in case of inciting distasteful memories.
The Khmer rouge was responsible for inflicting one of the world’s worst genocides, and were notorious for their torture methods.
Chakra, as I later found his name to be, had tragically lost his daughter and wife during a period when the country lived in treacherous conditions. “One day man comes to our door, tells us we need go, America bombing.” I became aware that this was a common method used by the Khmer rouge to take city residents to the fields where they would meet their end. His English was broken, yet it never detracted from the story. The family had ten minutes to prepare before escaping through the backdoor. They were on the run for three days before been captured. They were separated and Chakra never saw his family again. He was tortured losing his limbs and witnessed horrific incidents.
Even when reminiscing about the worst time of his life, he sustained his smile, yet his eyes were glaring with a piercingly painful stare. His passion intensified as he described how the country had developed into a beautiful landscape; he said he was now free.The story was captivating. It made me contemplate my own selfishness regarding trivial matters.
I took all my money and passed it to the man. I walked back to my hostel, thinking about a phrase which the conversation had ended on, but so relevant when travelling. “You live and learn."

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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