My Family and the Magic Monk under the Khmer Rouge
In 1986-1987 I saw a monk whose face was similar to that of Chaing Chaem. My memory of him encouraged me to look for Chaing Chaem’s photographs. I asked my cousin, Pen An, for help in looking for them. Pen An got this picture from two old women who were Buddhist followers and respected Monk Chaem when he was alive. It was a half-body picture of him in saffron robes.
I managed to find another photo taken in 1968-1969 of my aunt Et (on the right), grandmother Chiro (second from the right), my cousin Voek (third from the right). This picture was given to me by my cousin Sieng. Actually I didn’t know how they kept the photos or how they got them. I had searched for them in 1986 and 1987, and when these pictures were found, it gave me hope that I might find one of my father as well. But I could not. Then I realized that none of his photographs were left because they showed him in the uniform of a volunteer soldier in the Sangkum Reas Niyum.
The Magic Monk
Chaing Chaem headed the Tet Mountain monastery in Bos Khnaor village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. He was famous for his black magic. My grandmother Voek was a Buddhist who believed in his magical powers. When I was young, she took me to pay respect to this monk and asked him to change my birth name, which was Neou Kim Sieng. When we were about six or seven meters from the monk, he shouted out “Call him Kim Ann, and he will no longer get sick.” One time while we were preparing the food, I had the chance to witness a miracle he created. From the dining hall, he pointed toward the rice fields and shouted, “Come up, please.” When I looked at where he was pointing, I saw many nuns walking in the fields. But when I looked again there was no one. This made me believe in his magical powers.
A year after the 1970 coup d’état, monk Chaem fled the village. I don’t know why, but I knew he had a kinship with the royal family and was a supporter of King Sihanouk. After the Khmer Rouge’s victory, I saw him in a yellow robe returning to Bos Khnaor village. Several days after his return, the village chief sent him to the security office at Prakk Sisaha Hill about one kilometer from my house. The villagers were very happy about his presence and came to see. him. While he was held there, the Khmer Rouge did not allow me to give him food. Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge brought him to be executed. Before he died, they undermined his powers by removing all of his magical hip laces and killed him at 6:30 in the evening. Some villagers did not believe he was killed, and in 1986-1987 I heard them say there was a monk who looked really like Chaem. Many concluded that he hadn’t died; they said he was ordained again, but dared not stay in his home village. Every time I think about my grandparents, I miss him too.
My Grandmother and Her Sister
My grandmother’s name was Voek. She had two sons: my uncle Neou Kao and my father. She lived with my family until the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975. She became a Buddhist nun after the death of her husband; at that time, my father was just four years old. Under Democratic Kampuchea, she lived with my father in Samaky village, Bos Knaor subdistrict, Kampong Cham province. The Khmer Rouge assigned her to look after small kids, weave mats, and polish rice. Finally, she became ill and died of malnutrition.