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Journey Into Light

by Ranachith "Ronnie" Yimsut

Editor's Note: The article that follows is a rough draft of a book chapter written by Ronnie Yimsut. Mr. Yimsut has kindly allowed us to post the draft here.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

A torrential down pour wrought havoc in the upper tributary of the Mighty Mekong River in Northeastern Cambodia. The absorption capability of the shallow-saturated tropical soil could no longer withstand such repeat down pour. The majestic rain forest, which was once acted as a gigantic sponge, fell victim to modern chainsaw under the corrupt officials and greedy businessmen. The once "sponge forest" can no longer perform its age-old duty as the storage of monsoon rainwater. As a direct result of environmental degradation by greedy men, a devastating flood was in the making with unprecedented disaster.

Cambodia and the entire SE Asian peninsular are facing the most serious threat of flooding in nearly 60 years. Many people have already lost their property and lives; as many as 460 lives have already been lost, most of them are children. Severe property and crop damage is expected to run into millions of dollar. Up to 6.5 millions people along the Mekong basin are already uprooted and affected by this flood.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia's proud capital city, is bracing for inundation from the rising floodwater when it reaches above 38 feet. Floodwater is now reaching the crest of the man-made dikes, which are surrounded and have protected Phnom Penh since the 1800's. Ordinary people and authorities are scrambling to shore up the dikes and thus protecting their livelihood. Others prayed very hard and hope for the best, but expecting the worst, as they often had to do.

What more can the Gods do to punish these poor and unfortunate Khmer people?

I personally believe that we should not blame our problems on the Gods, if one believes in such an entity existed. Blame it on fate or something else is better. Yet, we all have to take responsibility on an individual basis for whatever problem we encounter in our lives. It is too easy to blame others, including the Gods, for our problems. It is much harder to place the blame on our selves and be responsible.

News that come from Cambodia usually is not favorable or good. It is quite often bad or frightful news. Thus very few Khmer-Americans are willing to discuss Cambodia openly. Cambodia, according to my older brother, is "hopeless and evil." It is a big, black, and dark hole void of light. It is a place to stay as far away from it as possible. There is nothing to gain by looking back toward the old country, according to my family members and friends, some of who have not been back to Cambodia once. They have every right to fear of Cambodia because of its past track records. Cambodia will always be the "haunted house" for them. And who can blame them? I would not and could not blame any of them.

In less than four years, under the Khmer Rouge Democratic Kampuchea, an estimated 2 million Khmer had perished from overwork, exhaustion, starvation, disease, and systematic execution. This was a great lost for a small country with a population of about seven millions people at that time. No one, except the communist party most faithful cadres, is immune from the tragedy and systematic killing. No one can deny this fact, except the perpetrators of the crime against humanity, against the Khmer people.

Under this genocidal regime, Cambodia was conspicuously absent of what the country needs for a civil society: the artists, bankers, monks, civil servants, accountants, engineers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, professors, teachers, and countless others. Those who managed to escape the Khmer Rouge went to the refugee camps, in both Vietnam and Thailand, and thousands migrated to a third country. According to the word of former president Jimmy Carter, who was also a peanut farmer, "Cambodia lost is America gain." He was referring to his policy, which brought in and saved thousand of Khmer refugees who have since settled throughout the Union.

President Carter also proclaimed that, "The Khmer Rouge is the world worst human right abuser in our modern time." Still, the Khmer Rouge managed to hold a seat at the United Nations, in spite of this fact. The Khmer Rouge as an organization, succeeded in taking Cambodia back to "year zero" for an already poor and rural society by eliminating most of the middle class and the educated. Precious human resource and knowledge were whipped out almost completely. It is a sad legacy that, no doubt, will haunt this poverty stricken nation for a long time yet to come.

Who is to blame?

The Khmer themselves must certainly bare much of the responsibility for what went wrong in Cambodia in the past, present, and in the future. However, those countries that have shamelessly exploited Cambodia for geopolitical and economic gain today must also share the blame for the current difficulties in Cambodia. The United States, China, Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, amongst a few other nations, is also responsible for the conflicts that wreak havoc on Cambodia physical and moral decline. These nations, like it or not, got Khmer blood on their hands. They have to live with this fact, no matter how hard they have been trying to deny it.

Official calls from Number 1 Plaza in New York (the UN) and from the State Department in Washington, D.C. (the White House), to bring Pol Pot's lieutenants to justice ring hollow in view of their staunch support for this genocidal group as a counter-force to Vietnam between 1979-1991. The Khmer Rouge was given a seat at the UN, with full support from Washington-despite a well-known fact that the Khmer Rouge had committed genocide and crime against humanity. It was a relationship (marriage) of convenience when it was "politically correct," if not "morally correct."

After all, it was the United States that turned neutral Cambodia into turmoil by allowing the Vietnam War spill over its borders beginning in 1969. The subsequent "secrete" bombing of Cambodia along the so called "Ho Chi Minh Trail" and then a full scaled invasion of Cambodia lead to additional death and suffering of hundreds and thousands of innocent Khmer. The civilian deaths, food shortages, and social dislocation that resulted from bombing greatly aided the cause of the Khmer Rouge, according to some scholars, who triumphantly entered Phnom Penh in April 1975.

The forced evacuation of all city dwellers to the countryside that followed led to disastrous result. The Khmer Rouge grand social experiment to establish an agrarian utopia has directly resulted in millions of death and an economic ruin, while the world washed its collective hands and looked the other way. The world had ignored the Cambodian suffering and death for years when it was really "morally correct" to intervene. It did not get involved because it was not "politically correct" to do so.

In the meantime, my people, my family, and myself were tortured, starved, and butchered by the Khmer Rouge, the very same genocidal group that United Nations and the rest of the world later gave strong support for years as a reward. The world simply ignored our suffering and death when it could have intervened.

Who else can the Khmer blame now?

The Vietnamese invader/liberator have long since left Cambodia for a greener pasture, following a bloody 10 years occupation and ten of thousands of casualties. The United Nations (and its billions dollars in peace keeping aids and top heavy bureaucracy) has come and gone, and the country has been left to its own fate once again.

I, as a victim and survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, must give the strongest credit due to Communist China for its direct and direct role in Cambodia. China, the world's largest and most populous communist state, is also to be renowned for its government's hypocritical policy in regard to the issue of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Ever since the United Nations and the world started to look into the possibility of a tribunal of the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership, China has been on the defensive, staunchly opposing finding justice for the victims of genocide and prosecuting the perpetrators for crimes against humanity." The KR issue is a Cambodian internal affair," China repeatedly claimed, without acknowledging that crime against humanity is everyone's problem.

China has shamelessly been using "Cambodian national sovereignty" as a shield for its policy against the wish of the Khmer people (with the exception of the KR of course) and the wish of the rest of the world.

The Chinese policy, toward Cambodia in general and toward the Khmer Rouge specifically, is the exercise of hypocrisy at its best. The fact is, without China's direct intervention in "Cambodia's internal affairs and national sovereignty" from the beginning, Cambodia might not have been in the state it is today.

Without China's direct support, in the form of military advisors, hardware, and funding, the KR would not have existed as an organization; millions of innocent Khmer lives might have been spared; millions of Chinese-made landmines might not have littered Cambodia countryside to kill and maim countless innocent Khmer people today.

In short, China's hands have been soaked with innocent Khmer people's blood for its past direct intervention in "Cambodia internal affairs and sovereignty'.

China has no shame or moral conscience for its part in Cambodia's suffering. As such, China has no right to speak against an international tribunal of the surviving KR leadership.

In doing so, China is in fact supporting genocide and crime against humanity in Cambodia under the KR regime, a genocidal regime which China has been sponsoring and supporting for years. That is no surprise for a communist state well known to have killed and tortured millions of its own citizens with impunity.

The KR was China's creation and responsibility, plain and simple. China taught and supplied the KR with just about everything. The KR learned well from their Chinese master, including how to kill their own people indiscriminately.

Everyone in the free world knows that China fears humiliation because of its involvement with the KR, if an international tribunal is convened.

The "Chinese connection" in Cambodia would surely and clearly expose to the world the dirty laundry. China knows that what it did in Cambodia was pure evil and uncivilized.

Has China no shame? China has been bluntly telling others not to get involved when China itself has been openly and shamelessly intervening in "Cambodia's internal affairs and national sovereignty" all along. What a hypocrite!

Yet, I still blame the Khmer, myself included, for the turmoil in Cambodia. I blame the Khmer people, especially the so-called Khmer leaders, for allowing foreign powers to split our national unity, which led to the many bitter civil wars. The collective structure that bind Khmer society together for centuries, the Khmer unity, has disintegrated and been replaced by cutthroat competition and a callous disregard for basic human rights.

The leaders used "National Sovereignty and Internal Affairs" as a way to avoid being criticized by the rest of the world. Human trafficking, child prostitution, AIDS, and homeless/landless are a direct result of this societal and moral degradation. For most Khmer, the daily struggle for survival is inherently and strictly focused on finding food, shelter, and the most basic and primitive health and education.

Cambodia today remained a shattered and ruined wasteland where a sense of impunity, injustice, and hopelessness continue to reign supreme. The majority of the people still live below poverty line, while the rich and the ruling elites continue to prosper. Cambodia currently is on the mend and its current leadership is doing its best to get Cambodia back on track with the rest of the world. Yet, the process is like a slow boat to Shanghais, China with nothing to eat except salted egg and rice, when available. It is a dysfunctional as well as uncivil society where anarchy reign and the rule of laws are not respected. It is a troublesome society in which the most powerful and corrupt flourish and the weak languish. Hopelessness is a constant companion for the majority of the population who lives in the countryside and lives in fear. Justice is a term too valuable for the ordinary and the poor to dream of where the sense of impunity reign unchecked. Those with guns and money sat on top of the food chain. Abuses became routine and accepted norms.

Cambodia today is a society that necessarily lives in the present with little regard for the future. The plundering of the country's precious resources for individual gain, including its cultural resources, its forests, fishes, and gems, continues to wreak havoc on the environment with devastating results. Severe drought and terrible flooding became a common occurrence where crops often failed. As a direct result, the people went hungry again and again. For a country, which was once self sustained and proud, Cambodia has now rely mostly on the generosity and hand out from the international community for its survival. It has become in fact a "beggar state."

According to the 1998 U.N. development index, Cambodia ranks 140 out of 174 nations surveyed. The average life expectancy is just over 50 years; the infant mortality rate for children younger than one year is 110 per 1,000 live births. Only a third of Khmers have access to clean and safe drinking water. The majority of children are severely malnourished and their growth is stunted. A recent study conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that Cambodia has the lowest average calorie availability per person per day in all of East and Southeast Asia. The literacy rate is a dismal 65 percent for the general population, and even lower for females. Per capita income is only about $250. One in approximately 240 Khmers has been the victim of a land mine, a direct result of three decades of warfare. Cambodia is now well known as the narcotic transit of Asia, according to the U.S. Department of States.

As though Cambodia has not suffered enough, it has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in Southeast Asia, a direct result of a thriving sex industry that includes women and children (both male and female). "Sex tourism" to Cambodia became an accepted business practice, and according to recent reports, was encouraged by some unscrupulous tourism officials. Tourists are often bused directly to the local brothels, which were supposed to be illegal under the current law, from the airport. Women and children are once again victimized by this industry.

On the other side to this human misery is the lifestyle enjoyed by the political elite, the nouveau rich, and those foreigners who have profited in Cambodia's postwar economy. Khmer poor became easy pray for the former communists turned capitalists whose exploitation can only be described simply as "immoral" by any standard. The almighty dollars, political connections, private armies and guns ensure survival of the fittest. They have their maids and bodyguards, favorite massage parlors, discotheques, high-class shops and restaurants, luxury automobiles, sparkling new villas and mansions. The sky is the limit for these unscrupulous people. They are very much "above the law."

In a country where poverty and lawlessness have proved fertile ground for street gangs, acts of violence such as rapes, murders, robberies and kidnappings, have become commonplace. People in major cities of Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, are living in great fear for their personal safety. Even the current U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Mr. Ken Wiedeman, for instance, was reportedly robbed at gunpoint while jogging on a street in Phnom Penh. Authorities are slow to react and prevent such crimes and thus the trust and respect in authority is no longer there.

As an example, if you intend to commit a crime in Cambodia, according to some analysts, you are about nine times most likely not to get caught by the authority, compare to other similarly developing nations. If you do manage to get yourself caught, you have about a 98 percents chance of not being prosecuted by the court. If you do found guilty by the court, factor in the remaining two percents, there is a 98 percents chance that you can pay (or bribe) your way out of a jail sentence and just disappear. Many people with money and who were convicted by the court system, especially pedophiles from Western nations, can expect to get out of jail Scot free, no question ask.

In short, there is a very good chance, about a 98 percents chance, that you can literally get away with murder in Cambodia. That is unless you are the subject of a highly controversial investigation, which caught the attention of the media and the ruling elites; then you are in a seriously deep, deep trouble. No money or influence in the world can save your skin, unless you have a large private army, such as the defecting Khmer Rouge leaders. It would help a great deal also if you were high-ranking official of the government, an advisor and/ or close confidant of the Prime Minister; then your chance improves a great deal. There are too many case-in-points out there in Cambodia to mention here. A "sense of impunity" is the key word here.

"Street Justice" is a common term use where suspected criminals are caught, beaten, and often time killed right on the street, in public, sometime with authorities present and/or support. Sadly, this sort of thing happened all too often on the street of Phnom Penh and other major cities in Cambodia where people are so fed up with Cambodia's criminal justice system. The judicial and due process is a thing of the past where neighbors often settle old scores with guns, hand grenades, or in more recent cases-with nitrate acid attacks by jealous wives or rivals. These are a direct result of moral decline in Khmer society.

Being an optimist, I must also look at the "bright side" of Cambodia's society now that I have discussed the "negative side." Cambodia today is slowly backed on the right track and joining the world community once again. It is an agonizingly slow process. The current leadership has begun to change, I believe, its entrenched communist ideology and took to capitalism and market economy like fish to water. The leaders also realize that, in the past, ideology and power was good, but now power and wealth are much, much better. The leaders, most of them, also has somewhat embraced plural democracy and slowly moving away from dictatorship. However, the old-bad habits die hard, but they are slowly and surely eroding as time passed.

The current leadership also realizes that it can no longer operating in a "vacuum" and live in a tight "cocoon." The country has opened up a great deal in the last few years, since the U.N. Peace Keeping operation in the early 90's. More than 300 local and international NGOs, the None Governmental Organizations, currently operate in the kingdom to bring and ensure constructive changes. The government is now a full pledge member of the United Nations. It is also a member of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, and a regional economic and security organization. It is looking to join the WTO, the World Trade Organization, to improve its global economic trade. Cambodia's primitive economy is growing between 4 and 6% per year, with the assistance of the international community financial aid, injection of foreign investment, and a sharp rise in tourism, which brought in hard currency Cambodia is desperately needed. The inflation remains low and in line with the Gross National Products.

The future is looking a whole lot brighter with the advance of political stability. The infighting amongst factions had effectively ended. They are now too busy making easy money rather than making difficult wars. Peace has finally prevailed after nearly three decades of turmoil. The Khmer Rouge, as a political and military organization, is effectively dead. Its former senior leaders, those who are still alive and cleverer enough, are seeking a dark hole to hide--in order to avoid being prosecuted. A few sat in jail awaiting a trial, whimpering. They would pay for their heinous crimes in this life or the next one. They can no longer play Gods with innocent people lives as they did once before. They are finished! Done!

Cambodia needs a little time to recover from a national nightmare and a tragedy. It will take some time for Cambodia to regain a solid foothold in a civil society once more. With a lot of perseverance and hard work and luck, Cambodia will get there, I am most certain.

Khmer history and society is several thousands years old. The Khmer people are a strong and spirited people. The Khmer would not survive this long without being a resilient people. These people are the descendants of those who had built the splendor of Angkor for the world to behold. There is always hope! Why? It is simply because the Khmer people just don't quit so easily. The Khmer are relentless in their pursuit of glory.

For every bad person out there in Cambodia, there are ten of thousands of good, clean, and decent people who are continued to work very hard to improve their neighborhood, community, and society as a whole. The Khmer Rouge had tried to eradicate the decency and kindness in the Khmer people, but they failed miserably. The Khmer need time to heal and to reconcile after more than three decades of turmoil. The Khmer also need help in order for them to learn how to help themselves once again. The Khmer are doing their best to help themselves during this transition period. It is also a very difficult time of learning to live again for the Khmer people following years of untold suffering.

I am doing my share, no matter how tiny, to help Cambodia. It is not just because I am a native son of Cambodia who had also survived genocide; it is because I also consider myself as a decent human being. I see it as my duty, as a human, to assist those who had survived genocide, to help them get back on their own feet. I challenge you to do the same (or do even better!) to help those in need, such as my people in Cambodia. Listen to your head and act with your kind heart to help those in need. It is much easier to destroy, as the Khmer Rouge had done, but much, much harder to rebuild.

Just do your share and no one can ask for any more? It is also your duty for being a human.

For me personally, I have never give up on my beloved Cambodia. Never once! There were times that I just want to abandon and forget Cambodia and the Khmer people, but that was just like trying to get rid of my own shadow, my own past. I can run, but I could not hide from it for very long. So I endured.

I left Cambodia physically, but emotionally I have never left her. I still consider myself an "exile" and always longing to return to Cambodia, which I called, "my old stream." It is a dream of mine to be able to return to "my home" in Cambodia again.

Realistically, it is not possible for me to go back to "my old stream," at least not on a permanent basis. I can still dream about it, nonetheless. And I do dream quite often, almost all the time.

Have you ever seen a "tadpole" who has grown into a "frog" goes back to live in the "little old pond" again? It is not possible. The frog only goes there again to mate or to regenerate, but not to live. This frog lives in a big pond where there is plenty of space to live, naturally. I am almost similar to this grown up frog. I often return to my beloved Cambodia, as often I could manage, to heal old wounds.

I wish that I could go back Cambodia fulltime and permanently, but it is not possible. Why not? Simply because I spent more than 21 years here in the U.S. and spent less than 16 years in Cambodia. I am more Americanized today, like it or not, than being a Cambodian or a Khmer. I still hope and think that I am a Cambodian, but the reality is much different. I think and act more like an educated American than a Cambodian one. I am just stuck between this two cultures and countries. The people of the two countries saw and made me feel this way, a person stuck between two places and two cultures. It is not as bad and it also is not as good either way.

My two kids are Americans, even if they look like Cambodians (Khmer). They think and act like Americans. Eat mostly American food, unlike their parents who still crave Cambodian dishes, and listen to mostly American music. They speak some Cambodia and watch some Cambodian karaoke music, but only because they had to. To put it simply, they are Americans. They may not see things the way I see about Cambodia. As expected, they do not have a bond, a longing about Cambodia as I do-even for my wife as well.

For me personally, I could never forget Cambodia. I talk often about Cambodia to the annoyance of a few people close to me, such as my wife and surviving siblings. Cambodia is like my shadow; it is part of me. How could I forget? It is who and what I am. I am still a Khmer at heart, no matter what others think about me. I just could not forget my root and my past.

As bad as Cambodia today may be, it is still the place of my birth, where I have the strongest bonding. Cambodia is like a poor "birth mother" to me, where America is like my "adopted" and wealthy parent. I cannot choose one over the other? I love both of them dearly and equally longing for both.

In late 1994, I purchased a small plot of land, just 15 minutes away by slow moto-cycle from my old home site in Siem Reap. It is about 2.4 acres in size and locates near National Highway 6 and the Siem Reap municipal, now international, airport. It was really a rice paddy with absolutely nothing on it except wild grass, rice stock, and flooded field. There is also a deep, large hole in the middle of the property, about 2 meters deep, where people dug up soil to fill their homes foundation to protect from flood. The small pond was unique to my eyes.

The land itself was a wasteland, much like most of Cambodia, where no body really wanted it. It was not the most desirable property because it floods most of the time, even during the dry season. No body wanted it, even its owner who just wants to get rid of it.

I took a look at the property one cloudy morning with my cousin Thie, who introduced me to the owner.

"I just want two chi of gold for it and you can have it," the owner, a farmer, said casually.

"How much is two chi of gold worth, Thie?" I asked my most trusted cousin.

"Oh, about $90 U.S., more or less." Thie grinned.

"Sold! Here $100 for the land!" I handed the man the money right on the spot.

I am a property owner in Cambodia again after two decades, even if legally I can't own property in Cambodia, according the new constitution. Only a Khmer citizen, with proper papers, may own real estate in the Kingdom. I am a U.S. citizen, an American in fact, with Khmer ethnicity. As a former refugee from Cambodia, I have no paper to prove that I am a Khmer from Cambodia. It did not matter. Cousin Thie owned it on my behalf, which is good enough.

When my sister, Mealenie, and her husband saw it for the first time, they laughed and laughed every time they see me. They questioned my sanity in investing in such a decrepit property. "Diamond in the rough," I would tell them every time.

Soon after, cousin Thie moved in the property by building a small hut to live in. He took over the title of the property and care for the land. He also married to a nice local girl, who lives just two doors down from the property. It works out perfectly.

Over the years, with my financial and physical backing, the land is filled or built up and no longer flooded as before. A temporary fence was built at the cost of $300, three times the cost of the land itself. The ordinary two meters deep hole later became a larger pond thriving with fish and beautiful water lilies. I planted special trees for my wife and two kids, an age-old tradition in my family. Coconut, mango, jackfruit, banana trees and many other plants soon flourished, many of which I personally planted during my annual visiting trip to Cambodia. Five years later, a more permanent fence and a fancy gate were built at the cost of only $1,200. In all, I spent just over $3,000 to develop this property.

All the property needs now is a permanent building and people to move into it. Just about everything else is in place and ready to go. I have invested in it my hard earned money, my labor, and emotional attachment or bonding.

The property is now the envy of the neighborhood and the value has been estimated at between $5,000 and $10,000. I do not intend to sell this property, which I called "My diamond in the rough." It is my own estate now, the one that I can afford to invest in. It is not much, but it is something that I very much cherish. But how can one really place a value on such a meaningful thing, such as one's past? It is priceless.

The Khmer people belong to the land. By taking the land away from the people, the people are crushed and devastated. The Khmer Rouge and subsequent regimes may have taken my ancestral land away, but I have started one of my own. It is my own symbol of resistance, of not giving up the land of my birth, of not losing my bond with the land.

I am not yet finish with the enhancement of this property. I still got more work to do in order to better develop this plot of land into a fine bed and breakfast facility cater to tourists who would enjoy Cambodia countryside. I will be one of those "tourists" who is expected to spend about six months out of a year at this warm and wonderful place, when it is getting too cold in Oregon.

"My diamond has been cut and almost ready," I would tell my sister and her husband, who is no longer laughing anymore.

I have a lot of hope for Cambodia and I am doing my share to improve this beautiful and wonderful country. In acquiring this tiny, insignificant property, it serves as a symbol of my strong belief and trust in Cambodia development for a more stable, peaceful, better and brighter future. Surely Cambodia cannot remain unchanged. She can never remain the same and business as usual. Change is constant. And indeed, there are much more work to be accomplished.

Early on, the time when I first escape the Khmer Rouge dead squad, "revenge" was the single most powerful thing that kept me going and going. It was the one thing that kept me alive at that time. I was in a totally different plain then, perhaps at another dimension.

Today, it is not "revenge" that keeps me going, that keeps me alive and well. It is something entirely different all together. It is the "light," a kind that shines with wisdom and warmth. Also, I am standing on a totally different plain or dimension today. I am able to see things much, much more clearly today than ever before. I have more control of my life and my destiny, where I did not previously. I am in charge of my life and I can decide where I wanted to go. Before, others dictate where I can go and what I can do. Today, I am my own person, "my own man" as Vice President Al Gore often remarked. Today I have choices and I made them wisely. That is the "light" at the end of the tunnel that I am seeing and reaching for today.

The burning desire, the thirst for vengeance in my heart is no longer there. I am replaced with wisdom and compassion by the years. I am still angry and hurt and suffer, but not as much any longer. I have learned to reconcile and accept in my heart and mind that something very terrible did happen to me in the past. I have learned to deal with it, in my own special way, and move on with my life.

I do have a life now, a very good life indeed. I have a great family of my own now. My family is the soul power that keeps me going these days. My family is the only thing that keeps me alive and well today, where before it was the thirst for vengeance, for Khmer Rouge's blood that keeps me going.

I am now in a total different plain, a different dimension so to speak. I have moved beyond revenge and killing of those who had hurt me most severely. I no longer desire or thirst for Khmer Rouge's blood. It is not what my dead family members and dead neighbors would have wanted. It is not what I wanted, I also realized. Khmer blood has been shed and bled for too much and far too long now. It is time to end it here. I am doing my share to end the cycle of violence, hatred, and grudges. This is the "light" that I saw in my journey.

I have also learned to forgive, but I have never forgotten. This is the "light" that I see.

At first and most importantly, I forgive myself for what I have done. I forgive myself for the terrible things that I was forced to do, such as killing my fellow man-even in self-defense. I had to live with the consequence of my past immoral acts against my fellow man kind for the rest of my life, regardless. Secondly, I forgive the Khmer Rouge ranks and files, those that hurt me the most. I could not kill them all, even if I am capable and have a strong desire for such a thing very much. To kill or destroy my own people meant that I am destroying myself. It is exactly what some foreign countries, include Cambodia's neighbors would have wanted. I could not and will not kill myself, regardless.

I have learned how to use my hatred, harness this negative and evil energy, and put it to good use. Instead of using my rage and hatred to kill and destroy, I use it to rebuild, to regenerate, and put to good use in my community, both here in the U.S. and in Cambodia. This is the "light" that I saw at the end of a very dark tunnel in my life journey.

I am doing the best I can with the "light" I see. I am not much of a religious person and I don't really believe in Gods. I never have such luxury to begin with. However, I have a second chance for life; or as some would put it, "you are place here by God for a purpose." Thus I have a duty to do the best that I can with the second chance at life. And I have been doing as best as I can possibly manage when it was much easier for me to just give up.

The second chance at life I got is just like I am born again. Only this time, I came to life with renewed knowledge and wisdom, just as uncle Scrooge in the famed Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." I learn to live with my life, not just simply living and breathing. I learn not to take life too seriously and try not to sweat over a little, tiny things in life. Most importantly, I share this life wisdom with those around me, especially with those who ask for it.

Our time on this planet may seem to be very long, but in actuality our time here is very, very brief. I personally recognized this fact long ago and I made the most of the opportunities I have encountered in my life.

Each and every breath I take in my lungs is a breath on borrowed time, as far as I am concerned. I wasted very little of this special and precious time I have on this planet. I began to prioritize and organize my life accordingly, as much as humanly possible anyway. Sometime, however, I became complacent in the fog of my daily life routine. And yes, sometime I take things for granted. I often kicked myself for allowing myself to slip occasionally. It is most difficult to change and I sometime caught in this "complacency" limbo. Human nature, I suppose.

With second chance at life, I did the best I could. I started a brand new life with a stronger pride and spotless dignity. I could have very easily stray off course, but I did not. I remain focus. I remain on track during my roller coaster journey.

I managed to put myself through four years of high school and then another six years in college. Ten years of my life devoted to strictly learning, discipline, and hard work. I supported myself, while I was still in college. I also supported two additional families for years, including my surviving brother, sister, and their respective family--with a total of 12 people. Self-reliant had shaped my self-esteem a great deal, a lesson I learned.

I started a family of my own in 1986, and my wife and I are raising two wonderful kids together. During my spare time, I became an activist in my community dealing with social and environmental justice issues. My personal activism does not end just at myself, my family, and my community. I reached out as far as nationally and internationally, the world, as well. I have a duty to see to it that I do what I can, not just for myself, but others as well. In short, I first learned to help myself, then my family, my community, my nation, and finally my world. I did what I can, no matter how tiny or insignificant. That is the "light" that I see for having this second chance at life.

Still, every time I look at myself in a mirror, I always ask myself, "Why are you still here?" The answer is still the same, "I still have more to do in this world." I have not yet done enough worthy of my second chance at life. It is why I am still here. That is the "light" that I now see.

Where my future lies I do not know because I am no psychic or fortuneteller. I live for today, for the moment. My personal motto remains, "Considering the Past, Present, and Future; Always!" What does that mean? It means my past, my present, and my future will always intertwine, in everything that I do. I do not forget, or try to forget, where I came from, who I am, and what I will become in the future.

My journey into light shall continue to go forward and my past is the energy that fuels it. It ends only when I am no longer breathing, no longer alive. When I am still breathing and alive, I shall refuse to give in. I shall continue to struggle until the end. I shall maintain my humility and at the same time never loose sight of my guiding light.

Finally, I still have a journey a head of me. It will continue to be a bumpy road and perhaps full of potholes, but that is life. Still, I believe it will be down hill for me from now on. I will enjoy this ride, this journey, with a bright light guiding me all the way there.

I shall remain hopeful, always. That is my guiding "light." For without hope in life, there is no life and there is no journey.

I can see the "light" more clearly now than ever before. It will always guide me into the right direction, I am most certain. The light is always within my heart and within my mind. This light has shown me the way all along, even during my darkest hour, much like a beacon in the darkest storm. It had guided me through the turbulent, through the ups and downs in my life journey. It will always be there to guide me whenever I needed it.

I am most certain that this light is within you as well. You have to reach deep within yourself, if you want to see the light at the end of your dark tunnel in your own life journey.

Copyright 2001 by Ranachith Yimsut. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrievable system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, without prior permission of the author and publisher.

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