Cambodia has always been of interest to me since I was young, largely because it is the country that represents my heritage. As a first generation Cambodian-American daughter, I have heard various stories from my parents about their past. They always tell me how well of a life my younger siblings and I are living in America, how they struggled growing up in such a poor country, how torturous it was for them during the Khmer Rouge Genocide, how difficult it was for them as refugees, and now, as hardworking citizens in America. Before my visit to Cambodia three years ago, I listened to these stories lightly, thinking my parents had exaggerated here and there to make me become more appreciative of my life.
When my family and I visited Cambodia, my siblings and I were ecstatic. My parents were also excited, but I had felt their bittersweet past have also made them anxious. The one-month visit to Cambodia was full of fun, exotic foods, and even more exotic memories. My family and I met with several people my parents knew when they were younger. Saying goodbye to Cambodia after our visit was quite overwhelming.
There are many people living in malnourished and poverty-ridden conditions in Cambodia – especially after the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). The Khmer Rouge was communists who were trying to take over Cambodia by forcing the intellects and famous stars into death and convert Cambodian commoners into a country life in which communism would thrive. Cambodian people had suffered in inhuman ways: starvation, gunshots to the head, rape, landmines, and more. Families were forced to separate; if they did not obey, they risked their life. My parents have lost family members and childhood friends due to the Khmer Rouge.
After my visit to Cambodia, I could not get the images of young orphans begging on roads for food and help out of my head. I felt absolutely dismayed to see children even younger than me have to depend on strangers to keep their tummies quiet a little longer throughout the day. I never really comprehended the value of life until I looked into these children’s big, watery eyes. People of all ages were missing limbs just because they took the wrong step on an old landmine left over during the Khmer Rouge. There are also others toiling in the streets or by the crops just to feed their families. I remember giving whenever I could to all these people; I could only hope that they will soon feel true happiness in their lives.
Without experience, people can never become wise – even if they possess knowledge. Simply knowing means indulging in texts and taking part in conversations, while becoming wise takes time and actual experience. Experience reaches a deeper level in human understanding; in other words, they connect memories with emotions. The way we think, the way we behave, the way we are: experience virtually shapes us all and influences the way we live. My unique experience in Cambodia were unlike anything I’d ever find in America, but the most vivid experience I had was the exposure I had to the poverty-ridden people of Cambodia. Seeing that my parents have not exaggerated as I thought, I felt even more remorseful first-handedly seeing how painfully people could live in this world. I have made it a life-long goal to help Cambodia; in fact, inspiration has gotten the best of me and I’ve already started supporting Cambodian charities and works. As a person, I had changed; my family saw it, my friends saw it, and I felt it.
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