Cyclo driver. Somewhere in Cambodia. 1974

I wonder how the rest of his life went?

 

His care worn face seems to me, to show a prescient knowledge of the terrors that were advancing just over the horizon. I wonder how the rest of his life went?

Some people have such hard lives that I think it’s almost criminal for us in the first world to complain about our circumstances. I look at such faces and I know that I’ve got it easy and I count my blessing and I’m grateful.

A flood of memories from Cambodia in the early 1970s

Two days ago my hot water tank developed a leak that flooded the storage area under the stairs. After getting the, “ooo that’s bad news”, from the plumber over the phone, I organised for a new hot water heater to be installed the next morning and got down to the business of mopping up and clearing out all the camping equipment and various other junk from under the stairs.

I have a general rule about accumulating junk I try to adhere to; if I’m surprised about coming across something that I haven’t seen for years and haven’t missed it, it goes in the garbage. So I threw out an old turntable with a ceramic cartridge and a Nakamichi cassette player (they used to be considered the best). All of the camping gear gets used, so there was no culling there, but then I came across an old model aeroplane made from the detritus of war in Cambodia back in the early 1970s.

A real memory trigger

All of a sudden like a pin ball machine, my mind started to light up with a flood of memories. I knew instantly that I still valued what many people would consider a pile of junk. It was all covered with dust so I cleaned it off as best I could and I’ve put in my living room where I can look at it again.  I wondered why I hadn’t had it out on display. Then I remembered that up until recently, I didn’t have any where I could put it without it getting more damaged.

I bought the model plane in a small town called Takeo, while I was doing some hitch hiking by air. The plane was made by a soldier called Kong Chuon (he wrote his name on it), and he’d called it a Dara X Supersonic.

Kong Chuon in Takeo

The fuselage is mostly made of M16 stripper clips and loaders. The Bombs are made from .50 calibre bullets and rounds from AK47s (all emptied of course). Stuck on right wing of the aircraft is a little scrap of paper with a hand written anti communist slogan which says;

“The bomb can negotiate with the VC for the peace in South East Asia”

I carted this model plane around with me for over ten years in my backpack as I wandered around various countries. I always thought the plane was pretty cool and it was my intention that I’d put it on display when I finally settled down. After years of moving around, jammed into a pack the poor old model has taken a beating.

I remember the day I bought the model. I didn’t have any English teaching work on that day, I so I hitch hiked out to the airport and then walked out onto the tarmac to ask  pilots for a lift. I did this quite often, because of the war it wasn’t possible to travel by road as the government only controlled the towns and the rest of the country was in the hands of the very dangerous Khmer Rouge. It was the only way I could afford to see the country I was making so little money at the time, I was literally starving.

As I was asking around, I met a one armed American guy on vacation from his job in Saigon who was doing the same thing as me. We hit it off, so we hung out for the day cadging lifts all over Cambodia.

Apparently my new found friend (who for convenience sake I will call Sam, because I’ve long forgotten his name) lost his arm because he was kicked so hard during a football game. Sam came from Colorado and the things he missed the most, living in Asia were Coors beer and Dr Pepper. Sam just raved on about Dr Pepper (which at that time I hadn’t tried) and how good it was. As for Coors, I was informed that they made it from “pure mountain spring water” and Sam assured me that if I ever went to the States that I wouldn’t be disappointed with his favourite beer.

My travelling companion was mobbed by children in Svey Reng

It was Sam who suggested that I buy the model plane. He explained that they were very popular with the G.Is stationed in Vietnam and he bought a few of them to take back home as presents. For me at the time, the $2.50 that I paid for the plane was a real extravagance. I was ashamed to tell Sam why I couldn’t buy more of them, especially when he kept urging me to because they were so cool and so cheap.

Now as I look at my beat up little plane I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to Kong Choun and all the little kids in the photos above. I suspect that that many of them either had a very hard time or came to a bad end. I always have these feelings when I look at my old photos that I took in Cambodia.

I often wonder about the fate all the Cambodian people whose images I have.

On a lighter note, several years later, I went to the US and of course I was very keen to try Dr Pepper and Coors.

The verdict; Dr Pepper tastes like stale marzipan and is just horrible. I guess it’s one of those things you have to grow up with. A bit like Vegemite which so many Aussies rave on about (disgusting, salty rubbish). As for Coors, it’s just so bland that I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with it.

As I was looking through my old negatives to illustrate this article, I came across a few other photos of people in Cambodia that I’ll post over the next couple of days.