I was a survivor of the Cambodian Genocide that killed more than 2 million people from 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge attempted to purge the country of the free market, intellectuals, teachers, religion, and closed our borders in order to create a communist society. I managed to survive and escape to refugee camps. After I moved to the US I studied History and Political Science to help understand the bigger picture in Southeast Asia at the time. That's where most of my specialization is in. Ask me about daily life at the time, how to raise a family, how to save money by building your own house, my business experiences.

Michelle Obama went to Cambodia to talk about education last week with a focus on letting the girls learn initiative. A large part of my book deals with education during the peacetime. My father was a teacher and sent to educate the poor in the countryside. Education was dictated by the French in colonial years.

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Edit 1: Formatting

Edit 2: I'm a slow writer so I'm having an internet person who works for me type while I dictate.

Edit 3: More info to ask questions from.

Edit 4: Will be available 4-9 central time.

Comments: 56 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

afineguy8 karma

Hello. First off, thank you for telling your story, the Cambodian Genocide is not very well known in the west, and I think it is great that you're spreading awareness.
My question concerns the after effects of the Khmer Rouge. I recently visited Siem Reap, and our guide told us that people do not talk about the Khmer Rouge or the Genocide, and that many people live side by side with those who murdered their own families. Do you agree with this sentiment, and if so, do you think it would be helpful for Cambodians to face their past and confront the issues at hand?

VannyV7 karma

They should talk about it in the historical perspective but they should not do it to seek out revenge. The uneducated believed that it was a better system of government and by the middle when everyone was dying it was too late to suddenly change. The logistics were too much. It would be helpful but there are so many problems with the education. Edit: words

afineguy2 karma

thanks for the reply!
What are some of the biggest problems Cambodia faces today, and what do you think the country needs to do to continue to develop and grow?

VannyV5 karma

Corruption is what it's all about. It's everywhere. Every time there is an election for the prime minister the current government wins. We need a new leader who really cares for the country and for its people, a leader like King Sihanouk. We want to be governed by a more western style not the old communist style.

Hankman662 karma

We need a new leader who really cares for the country and for its people, a leader like King Sihanouk.

How do feel about Sihanouk's alliance with the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and 1980s?

VannyV1 karma

I disapprove of his alliance with the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's. We have to look into history and analyze it ourselves to understand why he chose the path that allied himself with the Khmer Rouge. The topic is brought up in two chapters of my book about King Sihanouk's involvement with the Khmer Rouge. According to his book, "War and Hope" the King believed that the Khmer Rouge would restore him to power after the won the war against the Khmer Republic. He also believed that the Khmer Rouge would only execute the top 7 officials of the Khmer Republic and would pardon the rest of the Cambodian population. Obviously he was wrong, right after he got into power they let him act as Chief of State for a year before placing him under house arrest. He and his family, including the current King of Cambodia at the time, were spared because of his connections with the Chinese.

His connections with the Khmer Rouge in the 1980's, were spurred from the world community's desire for him to work alongside the Khmer Rouge as they were more concerned with the Vietnamese occupation than the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. The world community saw the threat of occupation as being more important at that time.

mariojardini4 karma

What are the main elements of Cambodian culture irredeemably lost because of the genocide?

VannyV13 karma

Education took the biggest hit. The majority of the educated were killed or starved to death. After the Vietnamese drove out the Khmer Rouge pretty much anyone who could read or write was recruited to become a teacher. For about 5 years under that communist regime no one was educated in anything except growing rice and digging canals. My father's generation was the smart generation. Authors, poets, singers, were all killed. Even now we still haven't recovered our potential in the arts. The generation that's living there now is still attempting to catch up to where we were 40 years ago.

usaokay3 karma

Hi, I'm a second-generation Cambodian whose parents fled the country back in the 60s-70s. Usually a prolonged discussion with them about why they fled is a touchy subject; one such was my mom neglecting to further mention what happened to one of her sisters whom I haven't and will never meet.

What would you say is the ever-lasting psychological effect that lasts on the affected people - even years after the war?

VannyV6 karma

There are a wide range of effects on us. I went back to the canal that I dug during the Khmer Occupation and all the memories flooded back to me. I couldn't stand more than 15 minutes on the bridge. I saw the tree where I had to cut down a lady that was executed by hanging. Writing it out was therapeutic for me but every person is different. Some like to completely forget, some move easily past, some went crazy before they made it out. I urge you to read my book to gain an understanding of your heritage.

Tuala083 karma

Hi Vanny. Thanks for doing this AMA. I was in Cambodia a year ago and I had a great time. However, I was wondering, what do the locals think of tourists? While staying in the little resort and touring Angkor Wat, it felt like a pretty normal trip. But when I was outside of that it was really different. There was so much poverty and I felt very helpless. Locals were telling me about their children dying of cholera and I felt like a pompous fat tourist there to take pictures and leave. Is there any way I can help even though I am just a basic college student?

VannyV3 karma

First of all, I apologize for responding to your question late. I have been very busy, and can only spend a few hours a day on reddit, but I will try to answer any question concerning my book.

I had just returned from Cambodia a few months ago. You are right about the conditions of the local people who are still living in poverty and lack proper medical help. As you know everything in Cambodia is very expensive, except for hotels, even the food is more expensive than what it would cost here in America. The elite who have connections within the government get richer every day, while the poor get poorer and poorer. Each time I come back from visiting Cambodia I return with an empty wallet. I donate to all the elders and children that I see wherever I visit. Cambodia is different now than it was in my father's time. The culture and ways of living were completely different then. The best way to help is to voice your opinions to your congressman or senator to pressure the current government to pay more attention to the poor people in the countryside than those who line their pockets.

LeRoienJaune3 karma

What do you feel were the warning signs that were ignored by the world about what was going to happen?

What were the warning signs about the Khmer Rouge that you ignored, and when did you flee? What do you think were the biggest factors in escaping the Khmer Rouge, other than sheer luck? What tips might you have for the Yazidi people of Iraq, who may be facing a similar scenario?

During the time that it happened, do you think that there was anything that could have prevented the rise of the Khmer Rouge other than military intervention/action?

VannyV5 karma

There were no warning signs from the Khmer Rouge before the fighting began. Even though President Lon Nol had given speeches warning the public about what the Khmer Rouge would do should they be victorious during the war, no one took him seriously. No one in Cambodia would believe that the Khmer Rouge would kill their own people. I escaped the Khmer Rouge because of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia which forced them to the border. There was a very slim chance to escape the Khmer Rouge while they were in power. If anybody could get out alive it would have been due to sheer luck. At the time the population was not educated enough to know what kind of threat the Khmer Rouge posed, so there were no peaceable solutions available to the Lon Nol regime. The Khmer Rouge rose up quickly because they used the name of King Sihanouk which drew the people to their side, along with exploiting the issues caused by US bombing of Cambodia to foster the people's resentment.

MinnieMantle3 karma

How has your experience shaped how you perceive other genocides, like the Rwandan Genocide, Darfur, etc.?

VannyV12 karma

The Rwandan Genocide featured different languages and ethnic groups. The same with Darfur. We were one united nation, same language, same people, same culture. Our genocide is stylistically closer to what Stalin did to the Russians. Racial tensions seem to erupt in a more warlike genocide while ideological differences like between communists and capitalists tend to lead towards covert and suppressive killings. I understand the nuances in each genocide. It will never stop being tragic though.

uReallyShouldTrustMe3 karma

I hope this is not a stupid question.
Some people in Cambodia have told me that the government and its run ins with the Thai (along the border to the north, mostly over Preah Vihear circa 2010) is nothing but a hoax to further ties with the Vietnamese government (something about the president's wife being Vietnamese or something like that).
I didn't really know all the facts, but there seems like some people really like the Vietnamese seeing them as heroes for deposing of the Khmer Rouge and others as conquerors taking advantage of the situation. It is hard to find info on this, but what are your thoughts? And how do you feel about relations between Cambodia and its two big neighbors Vietnam and Thailand?

VannyV4 karma

The whole population of Cambodia survived because of the Vietnamese invasion, but once they got there they didn't want to leave. Thanks to our former King Sihanouk sanctions were imposed on the Vietnamese for their occupation of Cambodia because of the pressure he put on the world community. When the Vietnamese finally withdrew their troops in 1989, they left their puppet regime in Cambodia. The man who rose to power during this time was Prime Minister Hun Sen. During the Khmer Rouge regime he defected to Vietnam along with his comrades after the second purge initiated by the Khmer Rouge to kill his superior The Eastern Regional Commander Soa Phim because of a failed Coup attempt. I devoted one full chapter to this incident and its consequences in my book, as this topic has never been mentioned by any of the other survivors of the killing fields. So the relationship between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Vietnamese is very strong. I do not think his wife is Vietnamese, to the best of my knowledge she is Cambodian/Chinese. They knew one another during the war with the Khmer Republic, and after he defected to Vietnam he went back and found her to be his wife.

hcbaron2 karma

What kinds of things did you smuggle?

VannyV15 karma

No drugs of course. Cokes and soft drinks were in incredibly high demand. I also smuggled basic supplies for daily life like radios, watches, cassettes and music. The people were tired of communist propaganda and wanted some that sweet funky old Cambodian music from before the war.

sbb19932 karma

Have you been back? If so, what were your impressions of post-regime Cambodia? If not, why not?

VannyV10 karma

I went back in January to get information and pictures for my book. Electricity is much more widespread, more cellphones, and larger buildings. It made me happy to see schools and Buddhist temples everywhere. We have the internet and no suppression of free speech.

sbb19931 karma

Follow up if I may, what were your initials feelings once you got off the plane for the first time? Thanks for the answer!

VannyV5 karma

I have an entire chapter devoted to my reception here but the TL;DR version is that I had never seen anything like that before. It's like heaven and hell. It seemed like one day I was in a ditch starving to death and the next day I was flying in a metal tube and landing in a country that helps save lives instead of straight up murdering us.

GinzoKazama2 karma

Being in the land of opportunity now, have you had offers or looked to offer your story to be made into a movie?

VannyV4 karma

Are you offering? Lol, not yet but I plan on looking into it after I finish the second half of my story. There have been a couple of Cambodian survivors that have written books and a couple of made-for-tv documentaries but no large scale production pieces besides The Killing Fields (1984). I'd like to think it's worth it to make another movie now 3 decades later.

KuraiEiyuu2 karma

How did you escape the camps?

More specifically what kind of preparations, how long was it planned out, and stuff like that.

VannyV6 karma

My experience with smuggling goods across borders gave me knowledge of roads and troop movements. I smuggled for about 6 month. Which areas had bandits and which were covered with mines. Some paths were controlled by the Vietnamese and some by Khmer Rouge and some by the People's Liberation Army who were all waiting to straight up murder each other or anything that sneezed wrong with rockets. We heard the UN was making refugee camps in Thailand. I led a group of about 30 people through that danger zone.

nighthawk543212 karma

Since you're a survivor, did any of your relative/friends survive during that period?

VannyV5 karma

I had my mother and 3 sisters survive. A few cousins and friends came to the states too.

[deleted]2 karma


VannyV8 karma

It was worse than the ones we see in the movies. Surprisingly, there was a funny one where I had a supervisor looking for me and I hid under a blanket to escape. I had to hide behind trees, in rice paddies, through mud, in a foxhole, and ride a bike in mud through artillery fire. I've seen people turn into a fine red and pink mist in front of me. Think you could see that in a movie?

thomfresh2 karma

Hi, thanks for doing this AMA.

I was recently travelling around Cambodia and it was a real pleasure, the Cambodian people I met were so friendly to me and it came as a bit of surprise given the atrocities that they had been subjected to. I visited the Killing Fields and S21, it was very upsetting listening to the stories. Although I'm very happy your country has been able to move forward, onwards and upwards!

How did you end up moving to the US?

VannyV2 karma

The short answer is that the US government under President Reagan opened the door to accept the Indo-Chinese people to come and live in America. For my family, my brother-in-law was the head of the family and wrote many letters to the US Embassy in Bangkok asking permission to settle in America. We were eventually accepted along with the family and friends I made it out with. We were accepted because we were supporters of the Lon Nol capitalist government, who were backed by the US. They didn't want to let any commies in.

highonnoopept2 karma

Do you think, particularly in light of relatively recent 'let's make the world safe for democracy' actions (invading Iraq and publicly hanging Saddam Hussein, for example), that the USA or the international community should have had an active role in removing Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from power and securing the safety of Cambodians?

VannyV5 karma

Of course. Nixon promised to help Cambodia, but after he resigned the new administration abandoned the Khmer Republic. The US government let China do the work for dealing with Pol Pot. We heard rumors in the camps about the world saving us from the genocide. Then the Vietnamese came and fought the Khmer Rouge. I think the US would have helped us faster. I think we were an example of what happens when countries with power like the US take an isolationist stance.

Hankman664 karma

The US government let China do the work for dealing with Pol Pot.

How do you feel about US, Chinese and ASEAN support for Pol Pot during the 1980s?

VannyV1 karma

The Khmer Rouge army at that time was disciplined, well trained, and well equipped with Chinese weaponry. They were the only one who could resist the Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. The US and Asian communities saw the Vietnamese occupation in Cambodia as a greater threat than the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge were also trying to win back the Cambodian people, and had a new leader besides Pol Pot, whom they were just using a figurehead behind the scenes at that point. The new US President, Ronald Regan who once called the communist regime an evil empire, said he would do whatever he could to keep communism from spreading in Indo-China. At that time I supported their actions, and as we found out later on Communism eventually did collapse.

Ace_masta1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, I recently visited the killing fields and did allot of research on the Khmer rouge, my question to you is how do the cambodians feel about Duch (kang kew lew) during his testimony? Do the people believe he is regretful for his actions or do they believe he is faking the tears? He did give allot of vital information to bring the other ring leaders to justice, was his testimony overlooked by the general cambodian population and is he still hated as much as the other leaders? Also, how do you feel about him? Again, thank you for doing this :)

VannyV1 karma

In my opinion he is faking his sincerity. After all the sins he committed as the head of S-21 prison camp he turned to Christianity and hid himself away from the public's eye. He took orders directly from Pol Pot just as the other top leaders did without question. He was not as well known of a figure head as the other top leaders, so the majority of the people don't care what happens to him, which is how I feel about him as well.

salvistani1 karma

How is the Cambodian-American community?

VannyV3 karma

Strong. Doing good. The older generation is slowly dying out but their children were raised in the American education system and are doing very well with it. My community is in Houston Texas. Several own their businesses and their children are getting degrees and have better paying jobs than their parents. We also stick together and try to keep at least some of our traditions and customs alive over here.

TheFucknards1 karma

Do you feel as though genocide is ignored by the mass media? If so why?

VannyV2 karma

Back then, the media wasn't allowed in the borders and if they did go, it was like North Korea a stage play by the Khmer Rouge. Now, I don't think it's ignored as much. If the media has access they're going to go and make as much money as they can reporting any atrocity they see. Whatever sells. We would need journalists that traveled to other countries and reported. If we relied on the journalists under their own country to report, we run into the problem of the government suppressing the news. And everything comes out eventually. Can't stop the signal.

lovevolver1 karma

How do you feel about Michelle Obama going to Cambodia in light of the rich history of American presidential administrations starting wars based on deceiving the international community? Do you find it an authentic or empty gesture?

Additionally, how do you view American politics in general?

VannyV3 karma

The US lags behind China in dealing and assisting with Cambodia. It was the first time a First Lady visited Cambodia ever. It's a good start. In general American politics is good, but need to lead through example and should finish what they start and not leave countries half helped like Cambodia in 1970s and Iraq now.

ericwight1 karma

Hey there, thanks so much for posting this. I was in Cambodia in December for two weeks, and visiting Phnom Penh first really hit me hard. It is amazing to me now the growth that Cambodia has had infrastructure-wise. I live in Indonesia, and the gap between the two countries is not big at all.

It was an amazing trip for me, and I found that the Cambodians were, if not the, one of the nicest groups of folks down here in SE Asia. The will, strength, warmth and friendliness was truly amazing--especially after all that happened.

My question pertains to Pol Pot: He was never the most well-known of people. Partially because there was no media access, and partly because he was known as somewhat of a recluse. As a Cambodian, do you have any insight into Pol Pot? Perhaps the type of man he was?

Another question I have deals with the soldiers of the KR. I've read a decent amount on the subject, and even in Tuol Sleng you see that there are confessionals of KR soldiers (usually younger) who simply did what they did because they were ordered to, or simply didn't have the education to know otherwise. This also becomes evident in the book "Never Fall Down." To what extent did you interact with Khmer Rouge guard? I know it was not a regular occurrence, and people were constantly moved from camp to camp, but it would be interesting if you ever formed any relationship, no matter how seemingly small, with any of the KR?

Thanks so much for talking about this.

VannyV1 karma

Pol Pot left his family behind after he fled to the jungle where he changed his name and started his revolution. His family thought he was dead until they found out much later when they heard his speeches and saw him in newspapers. Surprisingly, he was a Buddhist monk for a few years although he never followed Buddha's way of life. I do not know what was going on in his head, even the former King Sihanouk did not know who he was in the early revolutionary years.

As to the Khmer Rouge guards, I never interacted with them even though I saw them from time to time. People like me were called the, "new people" and were treated according to family backgrounds from the Khmer Republic Regime. There were many conflicts going on in the country at that time, but you can get a general feeling for how the guards treated us in my book. Later during the Regime after the Vietnamese invasion I saw a lot more of them, but at that time they were more concerned with anyone associated with the Vietnamese and left the new people alone. If I could I always tried to stay away from the guards.

thantritue1 karma

What do you think about Vietnamese government and what they did in Cambodia ? Do you have any story about Vietnamese soldiers when they fought in Cambodia ? Thank you very much for doing this!!!

VannyV2 karma

First of all, they came and saved us from the Khmer Rouge. It was good publicity at that time, but afterwards they did not want to leave. Cambodia has a long history full of conflict with its neighbors. After the French left we lost part of the Mekong Delta to Vietnam which had a few million Cambodian's living there. Everybody wanted something from Cambodia, the Vietnamese government used the opportunity to force out the Khmer Rouge in order to further their long held plan to take over Cambodia and Laos as part of Indo-China under their control. Thanks to our hard working former King Sihanouk who pressured the world government to help save Cambodia sanctions were placed on the Vietnamese. The former King knew the threat imposed on Cambodia by his neighboring countries which is why he was so close to China. He knew China gave him the best chance to oust the aggressors.

There are two chapters in my book where I talk about the Vietnamese invasion and occupation in detail, including stories about my encounters with their soldiers.

Mr1derful816-7 karma

Cambodian women good in the sack?

VannyV7 karma

I wouldn't be a very good authority figure on this question. You would have to find out yourself. Don't forget to get immunized and get checked when you get back.