6 August 2010

The Book of Memories

The day before there was a TV programme of a Hongkong senior journalist talking about his work and experience.

The journalist was in Phnom Penh in 1989 to report the withdraw of Vietnamese army from Cambodia. In the five minute short programme he told a touching story of a lady whom he met in Phnom Penh.

Just as many other Cambodians, the lady lost her husband and family during the Khmer Rouge era. The tiny bit of luck was, after the regime fell a kind friend provided shelter and food for her so she was not left to be beggar. When the lady learnt that the journalist was from Hongkong, she revealed to him that before the war she had a younger sister married to a Hongkonger but now lost contact.

Cambodians were totally cut off from the outside world during the Khmer Rouge era. This letter postmarked 9th April 1975 to Paris. 15th April (Saturday) was the first day of Khmer New Year celebration, as a matter of fact the airport had closed a few days before the New Year because of severe rocket bombing till the fall of the city on 17th April.

With a deep sympathetic concern for her, the journalist invited the lady to write her sister a letter again. He thought he could bring the letter to her sister's hand in person but he then realized the address just gave diminished hope, it was a crowded old public housing estate which had already been demolished and all occupants moved out.

When back to Hongkong, the devoted and kind hearted journalist decided to trace the letter addressee although the chance of success was next to none. Since the old residential blocks were no longer there, he tried his luck by asking the people in the area for clues.

Heaven often breaks the law of non-intervention so to remind us of his kindness. Round the street corner the journalist saw a street hawker, instinctively he approached and chatted with the hawker for information. The hawker was shocked when she heard the journalist say her name, she was right the younger sister of the lady!

In tears of joy and sorrow, the younger sister at last heard about her missing family after fifteen years.

However stories are not inevitable to have an ending, three decades after the regime fell many Cambodians still have no information of their loved family members and friends.

A 1982 aerogramme sent to Phnom Penh from Khao-I-Dang Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. It was a Chinese Cambodian writing to his uncle, telling the extreme hardship of his way to the Cambodian-Thai border (he arrived at the camp in 1981), the daily lives in the refuguee camp, and asking for information of his other relatives. Sadly this aerogramme did not reach his uncle for unknown reasons, left unopened till I acquired it more than 25 years later. In late 1970s and early 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees fled to Thailand, Malaysia and other nearby countries, many of them did not make it and lost their lives.

The Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) is now compiling a book titled "the Book of Memories" which is a collection of names and brief information of those died or went missing under the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of these people are still not known by their relatives.

The book will include a section for family tracing purposes. Currently the database has up to a million names of those perished under the Khmer Rouge.

Two thousand copies of the book will be available free to the public to help them locate their lost relatives and friends. The book also serves as an acknowledgment of the suffering of those who died, each with name and photo and details about his or her last days.

If you would like to have your relatives who died or went missing under the Khmer Rouge to be listed in the Book of Memories, please visit DC-Cam at #66 Preah Sikanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh or contact Mr Kok-Thay ENG at 012-955-858 or by email truthkokthay@dccam.org.

You may like to know more about the work of DC-Cam, please click here to visit their website.


  1. That is such a wonderful story!! I live in Cambodia and am not a stamp collector myself, but look for stamps for a friend back in Canada. I really enjoy your blog.

  2. Thank you Monika, and merry Christmas.