In 1975 the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia and killed 2 million Cambodians. I am one of the lucky ones. I survived. I am doing this AMA in hopes you will help me help Cambodia.

My name is Arn Chorn-Pond. There is a book out about my life right now called NEVER FALL DOWN. There has been a PBS documentary about my story called THE FLUTE PLAYER.

My past under the Khmer Rouge was a dark time and I saw very terrible things. But I have dedicated my future to making life better for Cambodian families. I am doing this AMA today to help with the Magic Music Bus. The mission of the bus is to teach children and families in remote parts of Cambodia about the importance of basic hygiene, literacy and the dangers of landmines that still remain in the ground. We are going to do all of this in a fun way with music. The same music that saved my life, can now make life better for my country.

You can help:

PLEASE DONATE: If you find my story interesting, please take time to donate a few dollars to our project at this link!

Here is my picture the Khmer Rouge took of me when I was taken prisoner.

Here is a picture me today saying hello to you!

Here is a video from years ago that tells my story.

THANK YOU for all of your great questions and kind words! This has been an incredible experience, and I'm sorry I can't answer every one. Please don't forget to help us make The Khmer Magic Music Bus a reality by going to our Indiegogo campaign at (only a few weeks left) and share our campaign by going to

Comments: 780 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

ComradeTerry455 karma

You have such an incredible life story. My question is why do you think Pol Pot developed such a near cult-like following from the Khmer? Thank you for your work.

ArnChorn-Pond569 karma

American bombing had destroyed many people's lives, and it helped make the message of the Khmer Rouge more effective. Also, nobody knew who Pol Pot was and what would be coming in the future, and the popular king in exile in Beijing went on the radio to tell Cambodians to support the Khmer Rouge against the Americans. Now I, as a Cambodian-American, am trying to undue some of the damage through projects like The Khmer Magic Music Bus that we are currently trying to get funding for.

najdorf342 karma

Hi Arn!

I just wanted to say I remember you visiting Tenafly Middle School when I was a kid, it really had an impact on me. Keep on being awesome!

ArnChorn-Pond433 karma

I remember all of you, too! As a Middle School, you raised a $10,000 to help send students from your school to Cambodia to learn. Thank you, again, and please help me spread the word about my newest project! You can spread the word at http://magicmusicbus/share

Woolsaw258 karma

How long did it take you to get the courage/opportunity to escape?

ArnChorn-Pond447 karma

I was with the Khmer Rouge for 4 1/2 years before I escaped. I finally got the courage when I saw too much death around me, including friends that were the same age (9 and 10 years old) and I had to get away.

RainSatan203 karma

What kind of music did they make you play?

ArnChorn-Pond363 karma

We were forced to play propaganda songs, glorifying victory and violence. They killed so many musicians, but they kept me playing their music to help brainwash the children.

golddamn167 karma

What do you see for the future of Cambodia?

ArnChorn-Pond387 karma

I see us carpeting Cambodia with music and not bombs. Right now we're trying to get funds for The Khmer Magic Music Bus to restore traditional art, music, and culture and education to the people of my country. You can help us by donating to our campaign here:

DaBigSpenDawg156 karma

I just went to Cambodia earlier this year and it really is a wonderful country. The people were incredibly friendly despite the fact that most of them over the age of 40 lived through all that horror. Each had their own tragic stories to tell, and listening to them was one of the best parts of my trip. Instead of focusing on all the terrible things that happened to the Cambodian people, what were some of the most inspiring displays of humanity that you witnessed during that time? I read Chanrithy Him's "When Broken Glass Floats" and if it hadn't been for the moments of kindness between people in the book I don't think I could've finished it.

ArnChorn-Pond237 karma

When we were forced to fight the Vietnamese, I didn't see soldiers that were fighting, and other boys ran in front of me to protect me. They gave their lives to let me live.

jichh133 karma

I'm cambodian and my parents, like you, managed to escape too. It's such an inspiring story, but people don't talk about it enough. I have no questions really, just wanted to thank you for the IAmA and keep doing what you do!

ArnChorn-Pond110 karma

It's my pleasure to be with everyone here today, and thank you all for your support of The Khmer Magic Music Bus!

skako128 karma

Im glad you escaped :) how has your life been after you got your freedom?

ArnChorn-Pond339 karma

My life has been like going to heaven! Just having an American passport and being able to have the freedom to go back to Cambodia to do good things is a blessing.

YourOldPalHoward108 karma

What were some of the worst things you saw as a child soldier? Were you forced to take part in any of them?

ArnChorn-Pond228 karma

After leaving the temple in Battambang and being forced to be a solider, there was fighting in a rice field where I saw a young girl caught in the crossfire between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese. I don't like to think about these things, but I think it's OK because it's important to share what happened.

Barseps104 karma

How long were you a prisoner before escaping to Thailand?

ArnChorn-Pond222 karma

I was held prisoner in a temple for 3 1/2 years where I was forced to work with about 700 other children. When the Vietnamese invaded, I was given a gun and made a soldier for about 1 year. By the time I left the temple, there were only about 60 children left. I was one of the lucky ones.

Austion6687 karma

Just how bad are things in Cambodia right now? You don't hear a lot about it in American media.

ArnChorn-Pond136 karma

It's getting better, I'm just worried about problems like alcoholism, prostitution, and poverty. That's why I'm trying to use my new Khmer Magic Music Bus project to help continue the healing of my nation, and I think music is the way to do this.

AxelShoes84 karma

1.) Do you live in the US now? How difficult was it getting out of Cambodia? 2.)Has Cambodia changed much (culturally, politically, etc.) since the end of the Khmer Rouge? 3.) Why did they use children? Did they just need as many bodies as they could get, or was there some military/propaganda benefit to specifically using children?

Thanks, great AMA!

ArnChorn-Pond145 karma

1) I live in the US about half the time, and the other half of the time I live in Cambodia. It was difficult to get out, but I was found by a man who adopted me from the refugee camp in Thailand -- he snuck me out with two other boys thanks to the intervention of the Queen of Thailand. 2) Cambodia has changed a lot, mostly in the big cities. More new buildings, bridges, etc. The healing still needs a lot of work, as does promoting our culture. 3) They used children for labor so that they could save their army, we were decoys.

mattbogosian83 karma

Arn, if you had one wish or desire right now, what would it be?

ArnChorn-Pond334 karma

I wish that my little brother and sister were alive again.

onthegoogle118 karma

this made me really sad. well, a lot of this did. but this in particular. You are a remarkable person and if I could hug you right now i would

ArnChorn-Pond95 karma

Thank you!

Pwinbutt73 karma

You were so small when you were taken from your family. Do you remember them at all? Do you know what happened to them?

When you were in the camp, did you or the other children find ways to comfort or show affection to each other, or was that too dangerous?

ArnChorn-Pond134 karma

I remember my family very well. Sadly, many of them died after I was taken away. It's very painful for me, and I miss them very much.

Treacy65 karma

I'm very, very sorry you had to endure that kind of pain and sadness. You are an inspiration.

ArnChorn-Pond75 karma

Thank you for your kind words, everyone's positive comments are greatly appreciated.

ArnChorn-Pond95 karma

In the camp, we just had to survive. You can read the full story in the book Never Fall Down, by Patty McCormick, where she writes the story of how I helped my teacher by stealing sugar for him in the camp. I knew I would be killed if I was caught.

racingschoolguy68 karma

How was the food?

ArnChorn-Pond126 karma

A few times they gave us rice soup with dried fish, but usually we were nearly starving, with a little water and rice. I lost about 30 pounds at 12 years old by the time I escaped.

racingschoolguy68 karma

What's your favorite food now?

ArnChorn-Pond469 karma

I love the buffalo wings and molten chocolate lava cake at Chilis!

stewshoe67 karma

What did it feel like to play music for soldiers who you knew to be killers? Did that experience have any effect later on on your decision to teach children through music with the Magic Music Bus?

ArnChorn-Pond151 karma

I was very angry to be forced to play the music, and I didn't like taking orders. I try to use my memories of that time to create something positive -- they didn't get me, and I will never let them forget it!

stewshoe48 karma

Excellent answer, thanks. And a great AMA. I had a feeling you'd after what happened to you, you'd try to change music back into something positive, and I wasn't disappointed.

ArnChorn-Pond54 karma

Thank you very much!

Poetlaurehate65 karma

The university I work for is in the process of setting up an exchange program at several institutions in Phnom Pehn, along with a study abroad program, faculty exchanges, and just sort of generally strengthening our ties with Cambodia. Do you speak in this country at all? I would love to put you in touch with my department chair and get you to come for a visit, if you're into that sort of thing.

ArnChorn-Pond79 karma

I do speak with schools and other groups, please go to my web site to contact me:

Next_Gen_Fig51 karma

Just wanted to note that not only are you working for a better future for Cambodia, you're working for a better future for all of us. Thank you, and good luck.

ArnChorn-Pond46 karma

Thank you so much! You can support my current project by going to

hu_shih43 karma

what do you think of the war crimes trials in place in Cambodia. Do you think it solves any thing at all? Can people cope with Cambodia's past with a Western legal system's solution of truth finding and "legitimate" punishment of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge?

ArnChorn-Pond101 karma

The tribunals are a good thing, but they're taking too long and cost too much. The money going toward this could be doing so much good elsewhere.

Seekr1243 karma

I was so excited when I saw you were doing this AMA! My wife and I are moving to Phnom Penh this fall to work with homeless kids, and we have been reading and watching everything we can about Cambodia. We watched the documentary about you on Netflix, and we loved hearing your story and how you brought musicians together. The question I have for you is what do you see as Cambodia's greatest strengths right now? Often times it feels like the negative aspects of Cambodia are accentuated, but I'd like to hear what you feel are it's most positive developments in recent years.

ArnChorn-Pond48 karma

I see our greatest strengths as our art and culture, which are unique in the world. It can bring jobs and give young people pride in their heritage.

poundofrichard38 karma

What are your thoughts on the film "The Killing Fields?" Did you ever meet Dith Pran or Haing S. Ngor (the actor who played Dith Pran)?

ArnChorn-Pond81 karma

I thought the movie was good, but it's not possible to show the true violence that I have witnessed in Cambodia in any movie. I met both of them -- I was the youngest among a group testifying before the US Congress about the Cambodian holocaust, which included Mr. Pran and Mr. Ngor.

iamtaco33 karma

You have a beautiful country! Cambodia was one of my favorite places to visit. Are there still ill feelings towards Americans by Cambodians?

ArnChorn-Pond72 karma

The Cambodians are very nice people, and while they remember the US bombing, many understand that we need to move forward.

Explosive_Freedom32 karma

What was your experiance as a child soldier like? Were you forced to actually go into combat and fight? If so that must have been terrifying!

ArnChorn-Pond86 karma

When I left the temple in Battambang, I was given a gun without training and sent to fight. I had to figure out how to do it myself. Some kids killed themselves by mistake because they didn't know how to clean their guns. I saw people shot right in front of me and many other terrible things that nobody should ever experience.

danila2229 karma

Did the people of Cambodia see the Viet Cong as liberators or another oppressive force?

ArnChorn-Pond53 karma

No, they did not see them as liberators. They were angry at the invasion of our country.

raistlinX28 karma

Do you know Loung Ung, author of First they Killed my Father? I read that book for an anthropology of violence class last year, and was absolutely enthralled. I find you, her, and the the many other people who were thrown into that situation to be unquestionably courageous.

ArnChorn-Pond41 karma

Loung Ung and I are good friends. Thank you for your kind words.

chicken_ear23 karma

My family escaped from Laos for similar reasons. I sometimes feel a kind of guilt for ignoring the issues that still exist in my family's ancestral home. I thank you for returning to your home to correct some of the wrongs that were made in the past.

ArnChorn-Pond26 karma

Thank you, many of us share these experiences around the world.

aschlon423 karma

Cambodia is a magical and beautiful country. is it safe to visit nowadays? are the temples safe to visit? i heard stories about kidnappings and mines being set off.

ArnChorn-Pond50 karma

I travel with a group of high school students all over Cambodia for three weeks every summer. Like anywhere, you have to be careful, but the temples and other attractions are safe to visit. Also, most of the people (again, like everywhere) are wonderful.

Yianor22 karma

Hey this is inspiring. I was lucky to meet Sichong Siv, and he too had an incredible story.

ArnChorn-Pond40 karma

Thank you for joining me for my IAmA!

President_Bowers22 karma

Wow, this is really awesome. I am currently reading Never Fall Down in English class and my best friend in that class is Cambodian as well. Haven't finished the book yet but I'd just like to say thank you for sharing so much!

ArnChorn-Pond34 karma

I hope reading the book helps you understand my experience better. Thank you for taking the time to learn about my story. I hope you can find a way to visit Cambodia to see my other beautiful country someday.

Agglet19 karma

Arm, I just wanted to say thanks for doing this AMA. I've read your book 'Never fall down' and it remains a favourite of mine today. I wish you lots of luck in your future endeavours.

ArnChorn-Pond16 karma

Thank you!

colonalcolon19 karma

Hi, and thank you for taking the time to do this. What was life like in Cambodia before Pol Pot?

ArnChorn-Pond33 karma

Before Pol Pot, there was still lots of traditional music in the temples. Food was wonderful, too. Even though we knew about the war between the Viet Cong and America, I was young and it didn't affect me until the Khmer Rouge came to power. I did hear artillery far away from time to time, however.

perche19 karma

Did you at any point believe the Khmer Rouge were fighting for a better world? Did anyone believe it? Or was it just a lot of killing for killings sake?

ArnChorn-Pond43 karma

I always had doubts about what they were fighting for, but we were trapped. People were afraid to share their true feelings, so I don't know how they felt.

mightymaxx19 karma

My inlaws are Thai are all old enough to remember the Cambodian refugees. My brother-inlaw drives to Cambodia for business on a regular basis. I hope to join him on a trip soon. Through your charities and activism I am sure you have met some amazing Cambodians. Can you name some of your fellow Cambodians that are doing great work that we should know about?

ArnChorn-Pond27 karma

Great question! Other Cambodians doing important work right now include Loung Ong, Chat Sopheap, Seyma with Waterek Productions, and Cambodian Living Arts All are working to reintroduce and re-energize traditional arts in Cambodia.

itsjoho19 karma

Awesome story! I'm Khmer too - my mom & family escaped over the Thailand border as well but some family members were killed 'cause of Pol Pot. How did you slip away and escape?

ArnChorn-Pond27 karma

I ran away into the jungle when we were fighting, taking advantage of the opportunity when it arose.

BrownSaiyan17 karma

How do I fight for/with you

ArnChorn-Pond24 karma

Please help us spread our music and pride in my country's traditional culture by supporting The Khmer Magic Music Bus at We are looking to spread the word to as many people as possible. Small donations are great if large ones can't be afforded. Every little bit counts!

KiltedLady17 karma

Thanks for doing an AMA, I did a pretty big research project on the Khmer Rouge a while ago and watched your documentary as part of it. I have a few questions:

-How is the music of Cambodia doing today? I know most musicians were killed by the Khmer Roug,e but is is starting to pick up again? Are traditional instruments taught in schools?

-Do you do speaking engagements while in the US?

-Where were you the day DK took over the Phnom Penh?

-A lot of regular people committed horrible atrocities against their neighbors during those years. Is the overall attitude in Cambodia (or in the regions you work) towards them one of forgiveness or something else? I've read stories about people who aren't exactly punished but are just ignored by the people who they hurt. Have you had any experience in situations like this?

Thanks again!

ArnChorn-Pond25 karma

Thank you for your great questions. Traditional music is not taught in schools, and people mainly listen to music from other cultures (Kpop, American pop, etc.). I do speak in the US, and you can contact me at I was in Battambang Province when the DK took over. People in Cambodia are trying to forgive, many go to Buddhist temples to help them with this.

itsmevichet17 karma

My parents survived the Khmer Rouge too - I just wanted to say that we support what you're doing and are glad that you were able to do something positive.

Also, I'm a little late, but Soursdey Chhnam Thmey!

ArnChorn-Pond12 karma

Thank you!

Emanking200014 karma

How much help, if any, did the U.N. give? I am almost done with law school and want to work for an international law firm that fights human trafficking, child soldiers and other human right issues. I just want to know if the U.N. is even worth looking into. If they are as corrupt as America, then I want no part.

ArnChorn-Pond52 karma

I think that the UN does what the US and China wants, mostly. Don't rule out the UN, though, you can use it to learn about important issues. Let me know how you do!

bushwhack22713 karma

you came to my college in fall 08 and showed some clips that included footage of an old man who you called "the cambodian ray charles." how is he doing?

ArnChorn-Pond23 karma

The man is Kong Nay, and he actually just performed at Lincoln Center in New York City with 125 other master Cambodian artists. I also played along with my teacher Mek during this first-ever month-long event. You can see Kong Nay playing during this tour on the Asia Society web site, or better yet, come to Cambodia and join us on The Khmer Magic Music Bus!

Burial4TetThomYorke12 karma

In my English class we read about the Khmer Rouge and read Killing Fields by Dith Pran. We are truly sympathetic towards your country and we hope conditions will improve soon.

ArnChorn-Pond13 karma

Thank you!

Olives_are_green10 karma

Do you know of Kendrick Kaylor? He's a doctor that moved to Cambodia, built a clinic, and staffs it. He's a friend if my Father's.

ArnChorn-Pond16 karma

No, I don't know of him. Where is he located?

Olives_are_green11 karma

Kahler* I realize Cambodia is a big country, and the chances but I figured why not ask? His hospital is located in the Southern part of the country. This is his website:

ArnChorn-Pond12 karma

Thank you!

uglyfatcat10 karma

I'm currently writing a paper on 'intent' and Angkar. I understand you were a child, but to the best of your memory, how much of your experience was 'war', and how much was it state-sanctioned oppression? How much control do you think your oppressors had, or do you think they were also confused, removed from reality, afraid for their own lives, swept away by political fanaticism? During those 4 years, how often did it feel like 'real life', or was it like a dream?

ArnChorn-Pond25 karma

That's hard to answer, I was just a boy and didn't understand much of what was happening. I just did what I had to do to survive.

xemup10 karma

Interesting choice of scarf. Why does it look similar to the Khmer Rouge's?

ArnChorn-Pond48 karma

The scarf is traditional Khmer clothing that pre-dates the Khmer Rouge, and supports people making them in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge gave the scarf a bad reputation, and now we're trying to bring it back.

areasonableproposal9 karma

Do you think the ECCC (the Khmer Rouge trials for those who don't know) helps heal the wounds of Cambodia? What could help the Khmer heal?

ArnChorn-Pond19 karma

Here is my reply to a similar question earlier: The tribunals are a good thing, but they're taking too long and cost too much. The money going toward this could be doing so much good elsewhere.

Hydrillie2 karma

You said you were forced to play music so I was wondering since no one asked and thanks for the ama.

ArnChorn-Pond6 karma

I answered the following to a similar question earlier: We were forced to play propaganda songs, glorifying victory and violence. They killed so many musicians, but they kept me playing their music to help brainwash the children.

redditor_mike2 karma

What was the most terrifying thing you saw during the war? I don't want to bring up any bad memories but I'm curious.

ArnChorn-Pond13 karma

I've answered a similar question before with this response: After leaving the temple in Battambang and being forced to be a solider, there was fighting in a rice field where I saw a young girl caught in the crossfire between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese.

Rokman20122 karma

Enough already! You've done enough and suffered enough.. Pack your bags and move to Canada and eat a hamburger and drink a beer and watch hockey (it's playoffs)...

We've got it great over here and we want to share... With the right people.... I'm pretty sure you ARE the right people.. From here you can fundraise, (and eat burgers and drink beer).

ArnChorn-Pond10 karma

Sounds great to me, but not too much beer because I need to keep myself sharp to raise money for The Khmer Magic Music Bus! I've been to Canada a few times and loved it. Looking very forward to the next time.

observare1 karma

what did you think of the USA for supporting the Khmer Rouge?

ArnChorn-Pond5 karma

I don't like politics very much, but at the time they were aligned with the Chinese against the Vietnamese.