The darkest place in the world is inside the mind.
It’s as dark as coffee (not Brown), darker than Americano, but more like a long shot of espresso.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Yesterday I had a wonderful day with Tharum Bun and his family, meeting his wife, children, and in-laws and seeing his home and neighborhood.
I first “met” Tharum in 2004 when he left a comment on my blog announcing why I had stopped blogging for a few months. I had just adopted my daughter, Sara, and Tharum wished her peace and happiness.
I was excited to learn that there were bloggers from Cambodia because I was the Cambodia bridge blogger for Global Voices. Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon co-founders, asked which of the Cambodia bloggers might be good to sponsor for the London Global Summit and I suggested Tharum.
I met Tharum for the first time in London 2005. We have kept in touch over the past 13 years and I have followed his career working as a communications officer for NGOs in Cambodia. He also reached out to me for the 2007 Cambodian Bloggers conference and I ended up being the first person on Twitter to raise money for the conference and come over and teach. (cc: Shel Israel)
He met my children and husband in 2012 when we have a Cambodian Blogger reunion here in Phnom Penh. cc: John Weeks Chak Sopheap Chantra Be)
He is working for InSTEDD and in 2015 he came over for a team meeting and I hosted him at my house.
Yesterday was fantastic opportunity to see what life is like in a neighborhood where a lot of working professionals live outside of Phnom Penh — it is an up and coming neighborhood – sort of like Brooklyn.
Tharum picked me up with his son, Tom. Tom is 4 years old and he was wearing the Stanford T-Shirt I gave him! Tom is attending an American school – an english speaking school where the curriculum is based on play and creativity. Tom spoke perfect, fluent English or a four year old. I was floored. He is also very smart and obviously his mother and father encourage him and are good parents.
Tharum has a daughter too, her name is Sophie. She is very active and friendly – and also picking up a few english words already.
We walked around his neighborhood which is basically Cambodian style town houses. The neighborhood has a mall, with coffee shop – Brown and a cinema. We had coffee at a Laotian Coffee shop.
It is very gratifying to watch Tharum Bun in his NGO and communications career and his family over the years. One would never think that you could develop strong relationships from connecting through social media – but you can.
Sambath Meas is a Cambodian-born American writer. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. I’m very fortunate to have a chance to interview her about her bond with home country Cambodia and her essence in life: writing and reading. She says “Reading generates ideas, and story ideas are flowing out of me like the Tonle Sap River.”
I’ve followed her work for some years already. It’s until recently when she published her latest book, The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan, that I decided to interview her. This is an exclusive, unedited email interview I conducted this week.
Tharum: Please introduce yourself in 3 tweets. Sambath: My name is Sambath Meas, which means treasure or wealth and gold in Khmer. My friends call me Sammi and my family and relatives call me Sros. I love going to the theatre, traveling, reading, researching, and writing.
Tharum Bun: Sambath Meas, what’s in the name? Sambath Meas: Are you going Shakespearean on me? Or do you mean it in a modern day sense? My name matters greatly as I am trying to build a brand and everything great that comes with this name.
Tharum: Please tell me about your childhood and your connection with Cambodia. Sambath: I was born in Pailin (Gem City), Battambang during the third year of an acrimonious civil war between the Khmer Republic and the Khmer Rouge. By the time I became aware of my surrounding I was already living in a draconian and agrarian society that was run by the victor of the war. When the Khmer Rouge and their former allies the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Viet Cong clashed over political and territorial issues that led to the latter’s invasion on December 25, 1978 and not too long thereafter, my family decided not to stick around to witness or experience another stage of Cambodia’s death and destruction.
My father wanted a better life for our family and an education for my sister and me. Therefore, he and my mother took great risks by leaving their ancestral homeland, the only place they knew and attached to, and dodging bombs, bullets, landmines, and human predators, whether in Cambodia or Thailand, to find the land of abundance where people could live in peace and harmony with liberty and justice for all.
My family was displaced for two years in Thailand’s refugee camps before my father’s hard work and prayer were answered. We finally received sponsorship to the United States of America. After many interviews and physical tests, the authority took us to Bangkok where we, carrying our ICEM bag, boarded a giant metal bird to the United States. We arrived in Chicago, Illinois on a frigid night of September 1981. We survived Cambodia’s civil war, the Khmer Rouge, the refugee camps, but it was a whole new type of survival for us on the streets of Uptown, Chicago. My father registered me for school and they put me in the third grade. I did not know a word of English and I was one of the few Asians in that school. My parents, going to school and looking for labor work, pretty much left me, an eight year old girl, to walk the streets of Uptown to and from school on my own and to fend for myself. Unbeknownst to my parents, other kids, specifically boys, taunted me, threw spitballs at me, beat me and routinely called me “Ching Chong.” They would pull up their eyes to look severely tight and slanted while they pretended they were speaking to me in my native tongue. They told me to go back to China. Not the one to cower from a fight or harassment, I fought back. Unfortunately, instead of my bullies getting in trouble, I got in trouble for my outburst and self-defense. My teacher yanked me out of the classroom and threw me in the principal office. My father didn’t find out what I went through until they called to lecture him about my bad behavior. They reprimanded me. Unbeknownst to me, my parents also received physical threats and verbal assaults and told to go back to China. My father was forced to carry a rock or hammer when he returned from work from the night shift or just walking the streets. However, just like Cambodia and Thailand’s refugee camps, we survived the mean streets of Uptown, Chicago. I continued with my education and went through the growing pains of childhood like normal American kids, my parents worked hard to put food on our table and a roof over our heads, and just like other Americans, we saved enough for small vacations to other states.
My connection with the people and country of Cambodia stems from the Khmer language I speak at home, the family and relatives living in the country, the wonderful history of my native ancestors, and my love for Khmer ancient ruins and philosophy of life that had long been forgotten by Khmer people but now is being practiced by successful people through out the world. I will have to write a book about it.
Tharum: Who inspires you to write and to become the person you are today? Sambath: My mother and great authors such as William Shakespeare, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Patrick Rothfuss, J. K. Rowling, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and self-help gurus such as Napoleon Hill, Bob Proctor, and Rhonda Byrne.
Tharum: Why this book, The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan? Sambath:The Governor’s Daughter, which took me five months to write, came to me while I was writing Rise of the Eugenicists. I am hoping to finish Rise of the Eugenicists this year, 2016. The Governor’s Daughter is supposed to be series of The Scribes of Brahmadhan that explains back stories and events that are taking place in Rise of the Eugenicists. Plus, I love Sherlock Holmes and I thought I would write my own detective stories that take place in Cambodia.
Tharum: What’s next? Tell me some more about it?
Sambath: I am working on two science fiction novels right now: Rise of the Eugenicists and Tommy’s Mind Palace. The first one consists of grown up themes—politics, social issues, regeneration, wars, destruction, free will, men v. men, men vs. nature, dystopia, utopia, etc.—while the second one consists of an adolescent theme of having to deal with the loss of a parent.
In Rise of the Eugenicists, my idea came from our Khmer ancient ancestors who built temples to align with the cosmos and cities on which they built on top of other cities, wars, destructions, and present day political and social problems not only rooted in Cambodia but also around the globe.
The premise of Rise of the Eugenicists: The Scribes of Brahmadhan is this:
We are living in a dangerous cycle. Evil is spreading fast. All of us might not survive it. According to Brahmadhan chronicles, as shown in the Angkor Wat temple, our world is transformed during four eras: krita yuga, treta yuga, dvapara yuga, and kali yuga. The span of krita era lasts 1,728,000 human years, treta is 1,296,000 human years, dvapara is 864,000 human years, and kali yuga is 432,000 human years. These quartet cycles repeat themselves over and over again for 4.54 billion years now.
The human life span is the shortest in kali yuga, because the planet is plagued with never-ending wars, ongoing natural disasters, famine, immorality, greed and lack of ethics. All tolerable religions will disappear and be replaced with fanaticism. Evil roams the planet until everything is completely destroyed. We’re currently living in kali yuga. The battle had begun a few thousand years ago, starting with the Kurukshetra War, which took place in northwestern India, with the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, as described in the great epic of the Mahabharata. Will we survive the kali cycle, as the most evil mind on Earth, arms with newly discovered technologies from the denizens of Brahmadhan, wants to start a new type of the greatest eugenics war, which was disrupted in World War I and World War II?
Tharum: If you’ve 3 wishes for Cambodia, what are those? Sambath:
1- I wish … actually, I want to appeal to all Cambodian leaders to put aside their differences and act as the healing and uniting force instead of instigating and creating hyperbolic politics to cause people to destroy each other verbally and physically. They should look out for the interests of the people and country for now and for the future to come and not their own personal and short-term gains. We should have learned our tragic lesson when we let hatred consumed us like when the Khmer Republic trashed and abolished the monarchy and the monarchy in turn called out for the people to go into the jungle to form and side with the Khmer Rouge to destroy each other and the country. We still experience its aftermath until this day.
2- People in Cambodia have been injected with negativities since the fall of Angkor to the point of becoming fearful, complacent, and having no sense of purpose in life. What I see on Facebook and other social media most of the time is, people—especially young people—complaining about boredom, having no money, and having no sense of direction or purpose in life. It’s a waste of human energy to have 80 percent of the Cambodian population not having a sense of purpose and contributing to their own growth and that of the country. I would like to one day, like the Cave analogy in Plato, to lead them out of darkness and into the light, to help them help themselves, to teach them to be positive and great members of their society. I wish…I want Cambodian people to wake up to help themselves and help their country prosper. They have a lot to learn about positive mental attitude and attracting positive energy.
3- Cambodia has been severely deforested. I wish … I would like to call out for like-minded people to come together to reforest Cambodia. Also, from city to countryside, Cambodia is littered with garbage. I would like for us to make Cambodia green and clean again.
Sambath’s published books:
The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan
The Immortal Seeds: Life goes on for a Khmer family
To suggest or recommend someone I should do the next interview, please send me an email: tharum at gmail dot com.
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Tharum Bun is a communications specialist and one of the first bloggers in Cambodia. His love for writing, story-telling and photography combined with a passion for tech have made him an online personality in the Kingdom for nearly a decade, most recently on his blog Musings From Cambodia. He spoke with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon this week about the places in Phnom Penh that fuel his passions.
I ride my bike there often. It’s like a new satellite city in Phnom Penh. It extends the city further with new apartments and villas. You can get fresh air. On Tuesday I biked there just before the rain and you can see a beautiful sunset out there unlike in the city where there are buildings blocking the view, you can still see rice fields there. I go to clear my head and to do some exercise. The roads there are big.
It’s where I attend tech events, meet geeks and nerds in Phnom Penh and from other parts of the world: SmallWorld, ImpactHub, Emerald Hub. Tech people, startup people and those who are passionate about tech . . . they hang out there. During events you have specific topics to talk about so you have more conversations about these kinds of things. I think it’s a new kind of trend here in Phnom Penh compared to two or three years ago. I think there will be more opening soon. They each offer something different [so] it’s good to move around and not just stick with one place.
It’s one of my favourite coffee shops to work in Tuol Kork. I live in Tuol Kork, it’s 20-30 minutes driving from Beung Keng Kang. I moved there five or six years ago. I feel like it’s a new urban town of Phnom Penh. Before it was an area filled with villas and only wealthy people lived there but now there’s more housing and apartments available and it’s got everything – supermarkets, cafes and schools – and it’s less crowded.
It’s good food on Charles De Gaulle Boulevard. I can order a big bowl of noodles, it’s like $4 for lunch. Once a month I manage to go there. I learned about it through an article by my former editor many years ago, like 2012 or something. I haven’t found any other Taiwanese places yet. I like the big bowl of noodles with soup and the beef. They spend a lot of time to do that also. I think they have a long list of menu items but I always order the same thing.
Streets, markets and pagodas
I do street photography. Around the time I started blogging in 2004, I was one of the earliest bloggers here. Back then you didn’t have smartphones or phone cameras at all. I had the opportunity to travel to London and my father gave me a film camera and when I came back I continued to take pictures. From the negatives I would scan them and have a digital picture on my blog. That camera is in my cabinet now. I like to photograph people and buildings.
This piece by Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is first appeared online on The Phnom Penh Post on Fri, 17 June 2016.
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