It is my privilege and great honor to have met and known Om Mei [Om is uncle in Khmer, as many young and old people was living in the area would address him], a moderate and humble person with a good sense of humor, having great personality, down to earth guy with soft spoken voice and smile are his trade mark. Each time we met and as usual Om Mei removed his cap, leaning forward to shake hand or forwarding his forehand if his hands were dirty before starting our conversation, and that was put me in a very awkward position in which I felt so uneasy and discomfort with his good intention and gestures.
We first met in 1998 while I was on a fact-finding tour of site and the surrounding environments where was supposed to be my potential new posting with a private company. He was briefly introduced to me in the workshop by a Scottish gentleman as “Our champion mechanic”.
His real identity is well known to both my colleagues at the field and the head quarter, however, everyone was so tight lip about this at the time [who would not remain silence about their past particularly in the environment where people were so interested in the survivors of S21 camp and the Extra Chamber of Court in Cambodia was yet established at the time. Understood that the Documentation Center of Cambodia has located his whereabouts and Om Mei has agreed to sit down for an interview with Mr. Youk Chhang – director of DC-Cam]. It took me good 2 years before realizing that he is one of the few survivors found alive in the notorious S21 camp on the day the Khmer Rouge was ousted and driven out from Cambodia.
You must be a lucky guy who is living abroad and don’t have to go through and endure the hardships, slavery, famine that many Cambodians did during the Khmer Rouge, said Om Mei.
My reply: I wished that I was such a lucky guy but unfortunately I have been there and done that for the entire period. I was at the time in Battambang province, in regional 4 where we were forced to work and so little to eat and time to rest. I was forced to join the youth mobile team and was sent to work far away from my family at different frontiers subject to seasons.
Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge were divided into many regions instead of provincial status as being classified in the early years. I was in Battambang which was once included the border towns along the Cambodia – Thai borders: a] Poi pet [now Bantea Meanchey] and Pai Lin [now Krong Pai Lin] but it was divided into 2 regions under the Pol Pot – Region 4 and 3 respectfully.
I am sorry for being wrong about that, said Om Mei and then he began telling story on his life long journey before ending up in the S21 camp. Everyone of us was moved by his narration and the Scottish gentleman briefly interrupted with his comment “It is terribly sad, I don’t know whether I could survive that”. We all laughed at the comment and I said to the Scottish gentleman “Yes right, you are lucky my dear friend”.
I would say it is my habit to have my eyes fixed on the person during conversation, to capture the impressions one may have, but my concentration was always there at all time and sometime I would imagine myself in such a position, however, Om Mei remained calm, shown no sign of stress, sadness or hatred towards the regime. “I am grateful to be alived today and many people would agree with me on that, don’t you?” said Om Mei.
“Do you ever have any resentment or hatred towards the regime?”, I asked. Om Mei simply replied “No, not at all. Considering that I am still alive today, while many people were tortured and killed in that camp, they did not have such a luck as myself to be rescued, there were many Cambodians suffered and simply perished from our world, this was our fate, our bad karma from past life that we had to endure now, however, I hope that history would never repeat itself again”.
As a survior myself, I have had a fair shares of the hardships and went through hell and back during the entire period under the Pol Pot’s rules, even though I have never been in any re-education camp, I have lost my beloved father to the regime, and at one stage I thought that my life was over at that particular time due to serious illness, overwork and famine, I shared Om Mei’s sentiment about the regime and the past which are served as my life lesson that “We are alive, we shall be grateful, life must moves on ” for the better of one’s physical and psychological well being”.