Hi, I am David Ley, and my 13 years old son, Victor, who helped introducing me into this website. Currently, I am a math teacher at John F Kennedy HS in Montgomery county, Maryland. I was 9 years old when the Cambodian Communist seized power in 1975. I arrived in California with very limited English skills in Dec. 1987. With hard work, persistent, and determination, I was able to earn several college degrees with full scholarships and grants from AA to PhD degrees. My wife, Laura, and I have three smart and handsome sons and we own a nail salon and rental properties.

Victor here, here is him: http://imgur.com/t5Ixr6q

Proof, here is him at 18 or so, Proof


Edit: I'm tired now, I'll be taking a break for the meanwhile.

Edit again: I will try to get to as many questions as possible. Feel free to ask whenever"

Another Edit Ok, this is it! Dad's a busy guy, so he'll just anwser the remaining questions and be off.

Thank you for all your questions/curiousity/compassion!

(Sorry for all the late responses)

Comments: 92 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

LikeAlikeMike12 karma

Dr. Ley! I was a student of yours in high school for Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus! We hear a lot about how the United States and it's "world police" mentality. What is your perspective? Should the military actively try to eliminate crimes against humanity?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

This is his son, we're in the car right now, here's his response: The USA will not military engage in Cambodia because we (US) try to build relationships and trade with Vietnam and China, the two countries that support and back up Cambodia's current government of Hunsen.

SeeBread10 karma

I am a resident of the UK, but I am visiting Cambodia next week and am particularly looking forward to seeing the killing fields. What would you suggest are the best things to do/keep in mind/learn about in order to get the most informative and enriching experience while I am there?

DrDavidLeyAMA16 karma

Glad to hear that you will be visiting my homeland. Don't forget to check out S21, the museum of killings in Phnom Penh and of course, every traveler must visit Angkor Wat in Siemreap. There are many exciting places to see, but these are just a few. Ask the local tour guides for more info. Good luck.

codecracker255 karma

What was the scariest thing you witnessed as a kid in Cambodia?

DrDavidLeyAMA11 karma

I witnessed the execution of three men and a woman.

rkellysdoodoobutter5 karma

Hi! Thanks for doing this, I have a few questions:

-How were you able to escape?

-What was the toughest adjustment you had to make upon arriving to the US?

-Can you talk a little bit about the current government in Cambodia? I recently returned from there, and it seems like they are still not very interested in helping their people.

Thanks again!

DrDavidLeyAMA17 karma

I spent all 3 years 8 months and 20 days during the entire darkness regime of killing it's own citizens. I escaped Cambodia in March 1987 by boat to Thailand through the smugglers. It took me a few days on a small boat from Kompongsom to Phanat Nikhom refugee camp in Thailand. It was a long and horrific ordeal to get in and out of the camp. Luckily, I was able to leave for Phillipines in six months. And I arrived in California in mid Dec. 1987 with limited English skills. I guess the toughest adjustments for me, first and formost, is weather. The plane brought me all the way to Chicago O'Hare airport with snow storm. I felt like in one of those Hollywood movies. Until that day, I had never come to contact with snow in my life! Next, definitely the culture, such as food, the ways of life in general. I forced myself to learn to eat hamburger and fries while working part time at Jack in the Box, a fast food restaurant in the Bay Area. I remember crying almost every night with homesick. I also had nightmares so frequently that I had to wake up in the middle of the night. I keep an eye and ear on current events in Cambodia. At this time, I have no comments. I want to wait and see what are the next steps for both main political parties.

two_off5 karma

What was the most dangerous situation you were in?

How did you escape?

DrDavidLeyAMA11 karma

Being chase by the Thai patrol ship. I thought we all were going to d ie, but the soldiers brought 11 of us to the refugee camp after being captured on the boat.

karmanaut5 karma

Sorry, but I'm afraid that a picture of you doesn't really prove much. Are you able to provide any additional proof, like something proving that you immigrated here from Cambodia?

I can verify that OP was born in Cambodia.

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

Here is me in high school. http://i.imgur.com/QoZqQ1d.jpg

chromebookbob3 karma

Do you suffer from any ptsd / bad dreams from your experiences? How do you cope with the memories

DrDavidLeyAMA4 karma

I did for the first five years upon arriving in the US.

JMFR3 karma

Were you living in Phnom Pehn at the time and get evacuated, or were you in the countryside?

DrDavidLeyAMA4 karma

My family flew from Svay Rieng airport to Phnom Penh in January 1975. I remembered the Khmer rouge soldiers were shooting at our plane while taking off. Luckily, we made it to PP safetly. After staying with relatives fie a few months in PP and realized it us not safe, we flew to Bantam bong in March. And a few weeks later, Phnom Penh fell to Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. Soon, Bantambong also fell and we were forced or lied to leave the city... The rest was history for all Cambodians!

PoppyPopsUp3 karma

Were you alone when you arrived in California or there were also other survivors? Are you in contact with them?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

I have uncle living in California. He was also a survivor, but came to State in 1981.


Don't you think you're overqualified to teach high school when you have a PhD?

DrDavidLeyAMA10 karma

My PhD is in Education and the pay scale in college for part timer is way less than what I make right now in high school with full benefits for family and I don't have to write or publish any articles or research.

Brusah3 karma

Hello, and thank you Mr. Ley for doing this AMA.

My question is, what was your biggest challenge when you moved to the states? Did you adapt quickly to the culture and language or did you feel alienated? Also, did you make any friends when you first came to the US and any of whom you still speak to?

DrDavidLeyAMA5 karma

Learning the language and adapting to a new culture are the most challenging that I must overcome. While trying to blend in or assimilating to the American culture, I also want to maintain and preserve my own identity and Khmer culture. I have to learn to balance myself between family oriented in Cambodia versus individualism in America. The latter one makes more self independent and confident.

MrC0oL3 karma

Your story is truly inspiring. I have a few Khmer friends, and we have discussions about history all the time. One thing we are unsure of is: Vietnam essentially defeated the Khmer Rouge Regime, and put into power the current government because there seemed to be no alternative. My friend tells me there is alot of anti-vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia because of this. Can you elaborate on why?

DrDavidLeyAMA3 karma

Maybe because Vietnam took alot of Cambodia's resources, such as rice, fish, rubber, beans, land, you know. And recently they took an island called Kosprol

pseudohaje3 karma

I grew up in Potomac and went to Winston Churchill High School. Where do you live in Montgomery County? Also, what is the relationship like between Cambodians and Laotians (sp)?

DrDavidLeyAMA5 karma

I live in Silver Spring. Cambodia and Laos are two seperate countries, but we share a lot of culture, for example, we celebrate New Year at the same time, and by the way, Laos is still a communist country, but Cambodia is not.

pseudohaje1 karma

Yeah, I know they are separate. Have you been back to visit recently, and do you ever see yourself going back there to live?

DrDavidLeyAMA2 karma

To visit, yes, but probably not to live or work.

mrshatnertoyou3 karma

Congratulations on your successes in life, your storyline is inspirational!

What is your most vivid memory from those days with the Khmer Rouge and did you lose family members?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

The most vivid memory during the Khmer rouge was seeing the death bodies floating in a lake where my father and I went fishing. I lost two uncles. One was a police officer during the Lon Nol' s regime and the other was a musician and writer. I also lost my father - in - law who was a professor.

XoxoJulieAnn3 karma

Hi there.

I'm hoping to take a trip to Cambodia soon to do deeper research into the killings. I would like to do work there as a law student with an interest in international law.

I was wondering if you'd returned to Cambodia recently? I was also wondering what hopes you had for the country in the scope of rehabilitating from these tragic killings?

DrDavidLeyAMA9 karma

Just be careful to whom you will be talking to. If you are neutral, I don't see any personal harm on consequences will be impose on you or affect your research. Make sure you find a good group of local tour guide or students who share your research interest upon arrival in Phnom Penh. Most old people are tired with politics so they tend to forgive those who committed genocides on their own people and move on. The young generation do not know much about what happened and seems to care less about it. The tribunal trials do not provide any much results either!

ezbolls2 karma

Outside of your own tale of perseverance, did you ever lose faith in humanity and if you ever wavered, any experience that help restore it?

DrDavidLeyAMA5 karma

No. You should never loose hope. Life is struggle. We must work hard to overcome.

notevenapro2 karma

If you could do the county school budget for 5 years what would you change? I live here and my son goes to Seneca Valley.

DrDavidLeyAMA3 karma

I would raise teacher's salary, provide more support to minority students to bridge the gap.

didl2 karma

Thank you for doing this IAmA, I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult a subject this must be for you.

My question is: What advice would you give to someone who found themselves in a similar situation?

Thanks again for your time.

DrDavidLeyAMA4 karma

Don't give up hope and always try your best to find ways to live and get better.

zardez2 karma

Do you have much contact with your immediate family? Did many of them make it out of Cambodia?

DrDavidLeyAMA3 karma

Oh yes via facebook, phones, and skypes. I used to write letters in the 1980s and 1990s.

Eternally652 karma

Have you ever considered returning? Why or why not?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

Yes, returning to visit soon. But not to live or work. Maybe during my retirement, I want to volunteer teaching high school or college.

Eternally652 karma

Did you keep up with speaking Khmer?

DrDavidLeyAMA3 karma

Oh, yes Dad does! At home, my entire family does often speak Khmer. I myself don't speak it, but after hearing it so much at home, I can probably understand a lot.

archangelselect2 karma

I went a few years ago--have you been back since?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

Yes, when my first son was 1 in 2002. Now he is 13. We are thinking about returning again soo.

Bold10Ten2 karma

First, let me say that your hard work and perseverance are a testament to your character, and you have every reason to feel proud that you have accomplished to much under such harrowing circumstances.

I was wondering if you're familiar with the works of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman on the Khmer Rouge, and if so what your thoughts are about their work?

DrDavidLeyAMA6 karma

Sorry, I'm not familiar on those two.

SubutaiBahadur2 karma

How do people in Cambodia view those times? Is Pol Pot unequivocally condemned today? Are there any massacre-deniers or such?

DrDavidLeyAMA4 karma

Most Khmer people forgave or let the past goes and look forward to the future.

FSU20122 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

What happened to your family?

DrDavidLeyAMA5 karma

My parents came to America and went back. All of my brothers and sisters are still in Cambodia.

Struckmeyer1 karma

What is your position on the illegal immigration issues going on in America today?

DrDavidLeyAMA4 karma

I am a law abiding citizen. I strongly believe everyone should be entering the US legally. But I also feel with special circumstances to children from south America.

zinc_wire1 karma

Have you talked to anyone in the US about it or try to raise awareness?

DrDavidLeyAMA5 karma

Well, I'm involved in some Khner communities,and I often share my story with my colleagues. I do plan to write a book when I retire.