Thursday, February 5, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia

There are two older Chinese retired journalists working here temporarily as writing and reporting coaches, in addition to my rapidly aging American self. Pleasant, quiet gentlemen fluent in English and, until yesterday, both were otherwise a mystery to me.

The younger of the pair wandered into my office late in the afternoon and began chatting, asking me where I was from in the US and after about 8 minutes of me explaining where Colorado is and that, no, it's not near the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, he told me he'd had two journalistic highlights in his career. One was a month spent as a guest columnist at a small Washington state newspaper in the late 1980s where some curious residents asked him questions like "Do Chinese men still wear pig tails and women bind their feet?" He laughed. "I am still in contact with some of them now. Some have even visited me here and discovered there are no more pig tails and women have normal feet."

The other high (or low)light was a month spent in the Cambodian jungle in the '80s profiling Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I gaped. It was like meeting someone who'd hung out with Hitler ... or Mao.

"Pol Pot? You MET Pol Pot? A month in the jungle with POL POT?" He nodded and went on to say that his story had been killed by authorities upon his return as "too sensitive" as he'd also reported on the Killing Fields.

He descibed Pol Pot as "normal sounding, even pleasant" and grimaced a little before making mention of Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" phrase. I urged him to find his old piece or notes and write it again but he demurred, saying they had all been lost and then apologized saying he had to leave for another reporter training session.

One way ticket to China: $576.00

Taxi fare to work: 23 yuan

Working for the Communist Man: My soul

Meeting an unassuming elderly temporary coworker who spent a month with one of the 20th century's most notorious butchers: Priceless

Pol Pot image from


Micah Sittig said...

> one of the 20th century's most notorious butchers

So I take it you don't buy Arendt's thesis?

Matthew said...

Sounds like you can get some interesting stories out of him. I'd bet he has more interesting ones to tell.

Anonymous said...

Dare I say that, at the time these things happened, the fact that he was working in Washington state was rather more remarkable than that he'd profiled Pol Pot