When a Cambodian man and his pregnant wife, having fled the Khmer Rouge, were on the bus from Sydney Airport, they quickly concluded that they were in paradise. They slept on top of the blankets of the neatly made bed at the migrant hostel in 1978 because they did not want to get into any trouble for messing up the bed and be sent back to hell. Such was their ingrained fear of arbitrary power and victimisation.
After a few weeks, they stopped stealing the sauces and other condiments from the dining hall at the hostel because they realised that the food would keep coming and there was no need to hoard. They then started to act as mentors to incoming refugees assuring them that they could sleep under the blankets, and the food would arrive three times a day, every day.
When the Salvation Army helped them and their new baby into a house in suburban Sydney, the Salvos were very embarrassed about the furniture they managed to find for them.
The Cambodian couple thought they were in paradise again. The house and furniture were better than anything they had seen in a middle-class home in their own country.
After a few years of hard work, the father saved enough to open an electrical retailing franchise store in the suburbs.
The mother went to the store one afternoon to fill in for an absent worker.
She did not come back for 7-years.
She was great at bargaining with fellow refugees. She knew that her fellow refugees only had a certain amount of money, and she bargained to find out what that was. She wrapped the goods up tightly because she knew that they took public transport home.
The word spread that her store was a good place for a bargain, and the store prospered.
Their daughter grew up to be a lawyer and wrote one of the best autobiographies I have read.
I had some Cambodian friends at graduate school in Japan in 1995 to 1997. Friendly, kind people despite growing up in hell.
They also gave me great insight into the blinding power of nationalism.
Two Cambodian friends, educated urbane people, referred to the time after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia as when they were a Vietnamese colony.
Another Cambodian, who no one liked, when he annoyed his Vietnamese class mates too much, they would say, “Remember 1979.”
This taunt would throw this Cambodian into a fit of nationalist pique. He raged against the invasion.
If any country would have benefited from an invasion from hell, it would have been Cambodia under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge by 1979. At least, the Devil waits for you to die before he torments you.
Original posted here.