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Cambodian Veteran Life Experiences

Cambodian people were living in the civil unrests for decades since the nineteen-sixties (1960s) till the nineteen-nineties (1990s). This chronic civil wars left almost all Cambodian men and women experiencing the hardship in military services which lead to have many veterans in Cambodia in the present time.

With this article, Sam Inspire Blogging is sharing with you a story of a very interesting veteran’s life experience. This Cambodian veteran, Mr. Kok Sopheap used to serve both the pro- and anti- governmental militaries in Cambodia. His life was so expensive to lose in those fights even trapping in double landmine explosion, some shots over his back and many more but he is still here. Furthermore, he used to be a very successful cows trading dealer with the neighboring countries, Vietnam and Thailand. Unfortunately, his marriage life has been painful. Interested in Mr. Sopheak’s life stories, let’s carrying on the reading with Sam as following:

Sam’s Relationship to Mr. Veteran, Kok Sopheap

In one weekend, Sam took a visit to his friend, a former colleague, Mr. Tola LEY who completely changed his life career from tourism to farming. As a normal way of paying courtesy to friends’ visit, Tola told Sam not to bring anything, he will kill some chicken and ducks at his farm. Sam agreed but he brought some drinks with him from town. Sam drove his car with a passenger, Mr. Hak HIEN who is his current colleague and staff at ALL FOR KIDS NGO. After about forty-minute drive, Sam arrived at Tola’s farm located at the West of Banteay Srei temple around four kilometers off the main road.

Upon arrival, Sam and Hak got a warm greeting from Tola’s family. Sam took out the drinks and put in the cold box and handed some little snacks and soft drinks to Tola’s kids. Looking at a pump-well next to the kitchen and the cottage, there was a young boy around fourteen years old making and opening a big duck. Next to him, there was a middle age adult with grey hair making and opening chicken. He was wearing only shorts and no shirts and no shoes. Almost full of his body filled with Khmer magic tattoos, significantly visible on his back and chest.

After get the ducks and chicken ready, this middle-age man set the fire in the firewood cooker and had the first word asking us what dish would everyone like to eat. The party told him whatever would be the best, just need to be easy to cook and fast. Then, he decided to go with Steamed Chicken with Coke and Vegetable and a Chili Salt Roasted Duck. Wow, it already sounds mouth-watering, right? Yes, it must be! The party asked him if he needed any help from them, he rejected because he did not want them to spoil his beautiful recipes, I think. While waiting for him cooking, Sam and the team sat next to the open-air kitchen on some pieces of wood, watching him and having their first welcome drink.

Right after thirty minutes, a full Steamed Chicken was brought by the special Chef to their dining natural table with hot chili source. The chicken looked amazingly delicious and smelled so attractive. The chef sat with them in front of Sam. Humbly invitation made by the chef to taste the chicken along with a phrase saying that this recipe of chicken cooking was the inheritance, he got from the life of solider. From here the team indicated their appreciation of his time and the delicious taste he brought to the table.

Cambodian Veteran Life Experience
Sam Right, Mr. Kok Left

During the party and from the hint of solider term, Sam started to have a broader conversation with him by introducing the name and where he is from. From there, Sam learned that he has two names, his original name is Kok Thach given by his parents and Kok Sopheap was name used in the military service. Mr. KOK was born in Thnoal Bandouy village, Preah Dack Commune, Banteay Srey District, Siem Reap province, Cambodia. This village is not far from SamRong village where Sam and Hak was born. But now, Mr. Kok is currently living with his seventy-year-old mother in another village, called Ach Kor Village, Banteay Srey Commune, Banteay Srey and Siem Reap. In this 2021, Mr. Kok is reaching his 46 years old. He is retired and having his pension from the Cambodian Veteran Association of the Royal Government of Cambodia. He is devoiced with a daughter twin. They are all with his former wife. Mr. Kok now is jobless but he has a flock of buffaloes that make him busy looking after them every day. He is very healthy but he lost half of his right foot. His left eye is also blind. Furthermore, he got traces of wounds at many spots around his body. The most visible one is on his backbone. All are the souvenir he got from the war in his military services.

Mr. Kok’s Military Life – Losing his Foot and Eye

In answering to Sam’s question of what were the most remarkable life stories that he has been encountered. Mr. Kok responded right away that was military life as the most significant one and second one is marriage life and followed by cow trading business life.

He told Sam what made him to pick life as soldier was the most touching because almost all his life was there. He started serving the military when he was fourteen years old. That was exactly 14 years after the full genocide period (1975-1979) was ended but the war between both Khmer armies was super hot. He was first served the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1989) which was the military group who fought against the Pol Pot Genocide Armies. However, at some points he changed to serve the Pol Pot armies. The way of military service changing was not strange, it happened all the time. When one or a team of soldiers of one party was not happy with their own force, they just moved to other party and flight again their former forces. This happened interchangeably and mostly they know each other. Sometimes, they even spent time together and talked about the flights they had been in.

In the mid 1990 when Pol Pot military became weaker and Royal Government Arm Force announced to keep same positions and even higher for any soldiers or generals who volunteered to integrate themselves with the Royal Government. There was a huge drift of movement to join the government and cool down the civil war in Cambodia. This political changes made Mr. Kok to resign from his military job of Pol Pot side to come back home and lived his life as civilian. After returning home, Mr. Kok spent his life doing nothing for several months, just ate, drank, and slept. The reason to this demotivation could be caused by the position promotion and the empty pocket that he got after returning home. Furthermore, he always blamed himself that he could not read even a single letter of Khmer alphabets. If he could have read some, his position in the armies could have been better.

With this behavior, he was reported by his friends to his former supervisor at the Khmer Rough side but now at Royal Arm Force side. That officer immediately called Mr. Kok to visit him at his camp and asked him have some overnights there at his camp. He negotiated with Mr. Kok to come to the military again and promised to promote him to have some stars and invited him to join his team. Mr. Kok agreed and then he started serving the military again in 1996 but this time back to the White Khmer military force as the coup leader. He lead many successful flights to crackdown the Khmer Rough Forces. Unfortunately, there was one time when leading his team to flight in the mountainous areas in the North of Siem Reap. He was trapped into a double-mine explosion resulting in thirteen of his followers got severe injuries and casualties. As for himself, he got front part of his right foot cut.

Representing Picture – Not Mr. Kok Sopeap

In the explosion, he told Sam that, he just heard the sound of landmines exploding like thunder-gun and his ears were irritated. He did not feel any pain to any parts of his body and he was not unconscious. When he got up from the ground, he saw his body was completely necked, all his clothes including underwear was burning. When he was looking to his back he saw that most of his followers were dead and despaired. He made the sign for help by shooting a few shots up in the air. Soon the recue team arrived. He remembered that when he stepped forward he got some pain and when he was looking to his feet he realized that part of his leg was cut away and it was bleeding heavily. At first the recued team tied at his ankle to stop the bleeding but he untired it and tired it back just next to the area where his foot was cut. While having treatment at at the hospital, the doctor just tripped his foot in the area where the tire was. He said his leg would have been cut apart if he had followed the recue team, luckily that he just tired right above the injured area. Now, only haft of his right foot left, so he got no toes. In addition to lost toes, Mr. Kok also lost the sight of his left eye. His eye apple is not broken but it covered with white layers, so he can not see anything with that eye.

In answering to Sam’s question of what luck brought to him to save his life when almost all his companions were dead. Mr. Kok was proudly speaking that this was not his first time getting gunshot or landmine exploding. Normally there would have not been any minor injuries. The injury from mine exploding was a bit insane to him. He added, he must had done something wrong to the rules and restrictions of his Magic Protecting Tattoos. He did not speak straight to the point, but what he wanted to mean was his tattoos was the protectors. Taking that time, Mr. Kok also shared his story when he got a gunshot on his backbone. As a proof, there is still trace until now. There was one time when he was serving the Khmer Rough military. His team lost the flight in a muddy field. While he was running away to escape, there was a bullet hit on his back. He fell face down in the mud and stayed still. His opponents thought he was already dead, so they just ran over him. Then he just ran away, when all the Khmer Rough troop went away. The bullet did not went through, it just made some cut on the skin.

After this landmine exploding injury, he decided to leave the military again but this time he has become the a retired veteran and got the pension from the government. In closing this topic, Mr. Kok told Sam that having all these injuries was not the hardest thing in the military. But scrolling in the deep and dirty mud and hiding for hours and hours waiting to attack the enemy was the worst thing.

Mr. Kok’s Cows Trading Businessman and Marriage Life

Even though, Mr. Kok had zero literacy ability but his maths was not that bad. When resettling back to his home village, Mr. Khok decided to take cows buying and selling business. He started as a local and small dealer just across the communities. Seeing the growth opportunities, Mr. Kok partnered with other trading dealers and traveled across the country especially to the West and the North provinces of Cambodia. In Kralanh district which is the hometown of Sam’s wife, Mealea Ley, Mr. Kok and his partners could gather up to forty cows in one go which was the first big business he had done. Due to the lack fund, Mr. Kok was in a big worry and he spent overnight thinking on how to find that huge money which was over ten thousand US. Dollars. Fortunately, one if his good friends came up to his mind. That was Mr. Loan (his name just like money lending in English but no meaning in Khmer). Right early in the morning, Mr. Kok immediately called Mr. Loan. He said “A Lo, brother, this is Kok Sopheap.” “Oh, you are! Such a long time no see and hear, how are you?” replied Mr. Loan. They were carrying on with some common conversation. Then Mr. Kok just went straight to the point of borrowing money. In response to the request, Mr. Loan asked how much did Mr Kok need. Mr. Kok said he would like to have fourteen thousand US. Dollars. After listening to this ridiculously big amount of money in the early years of 2000s, Mr. Loan said nothing but asked Mr. Kok to come over to his home located in the center of Siem Reap. (From his home location, we could feel that Mr, Loan’s living level must have been not too low.) Mr. Kok proudly told Sam that just after his motorbike arrived at his house fence, Mr. Loan left Mr. Kok without any greetings and disappeared into his house. And just a minute later, he came out with a big black bag of money exactly the amount he requested! When handing the cash, Mr. Loan just left some words. “This money, you can use till whenever you want but you need to tell me where your routes of trading are and what stops you are having. Like this I can track you if you lost or having any incidents.” Mr. Loan stated. Mr. Kok replied to Mr. Loan that he would have only three stops of all his trading business. First one was in Kralanh, second one was in Vietnam border and last one would be at Mr. Loan’s house.

From this capital, his business grew pretty well. Mr. Kok married a lady in Rolous village, fifteen km East of Siem Reap and had a daughter twin. They built a decent house at a cost of over ten thousand US. Dollar by requesting loan to a Microfinance. To pay the mortgage, Mr. Kok did not relax but expanding the business. That financial tension made him to leave the family to carry on with his trading. At that time, he went to buy the cows in Sorin and Srah Keo provinces in Thailand in some big numbers. Those cows traveled through Cambodia for selling in Vietnam.

While doing the trading in Thailand, Mr. Kok shared his toughest experience partnering with a Thai trader / dealer. Mr. Kok told Sam that his Thai partner had a big credit to him and always made excuses to pay him back. To claim back his money, Mr. Kok and his Cambodian partners decided to plan a wild solution. He caught a taxi from the Cambodian and Thai border. On the way to Srah Keo downtown, Mr. Kok asked how much the taxi driver wanted. The driver said two thousand Thai Baht around fifty US. dollars. Then, Mr. Kok said how well the driver know the road especially escaping routes. The driver told him he would be the only geography master there. Then, Mr. Kok negotiated the deal and agreed to pay him double of whatever prices the driver wanted. Mr. Kok just told the driver to drive the fastest possible using any unusual roads but he did not tell the driver what he would be doing.

First thing, he asked the driver to drive to, was to his Thai partner’s house. Once arriving, Mr. Kok with a short gun got off the car and walked straight to the house. He knew that his partner was not there, just a beautiful daughter of the Thai partner was home. Without saying much, he just dragged the girl into the car and driving fast to Cambodia border side. Yes, they were kidnapping the daughter of his Thai business partner as a thread to claim his money. They walked a long way far off the border side in the jungles. Mr. Kok told Sam that the girl was extremely exhausted and could not make any move and her feet also got some injuries. The girl was begging them to do whatever they want and even to kill her in exchanges for some stops. To make the situation better Mr. Kok decided to carry her on his back. They found a small farm cottage and decided to have a rest and overnight there.  During the night, they negotiated the deal with the girl that she called her father asked to bring all the money credited with him in exchange for his daughter. Otherwise the story will be ended by losing her forever. The trader was in a big panic and agreed to follow Mr. Kok’s team’s instruction.

The next morning, they made appointment to meet at the border. Mr. Kok was keeping the girl with him around fifty meters away and Mr. Kok’s partner went to pick the money. Once taking the money and went some hundreds of meters away, Mr. Kok freed her and ran away safely. That trip was the last one doing the cow trading in Thailand. His house mortgage had been also paid off successfully by that time.

After returning from Vietnam when selling all the cows. On the way back to Siem Reap, Mr. Kok got an unbelievably shocking news that his wife got a new husband. (Would this be Kamar of kidnapping the girl?) Once arriving back in Siem Reap, without any delay, Mr. Kok visited his family and met his wife. Mr. Kok told Sam that he was really down and furious but he managed to control himself. He went to his wife and asked “Honey, are you really having a new husband? Why are you doing this to me? I’ve worked so hard for the family from nothing till this level.” The wife confessed that it was true, and she added that she was upset and fed-up of living by herself most of the time.

After hearing his wife’s responses, Mr. Kok just left the house with his backpack and wished her good luck. Having no where to go, Mr. Kok decided to visit Mr. Loan, his money lender. He told all the stories to Mr. Loan and decided to stop doing any business or work. Mr. Kok also pay back the fourteen thousand US. Dollars to Mr. Loan as well during that time. When handing the money back, Mr. Kok asked Mr. Loan how much interest he wanted. Mr. Loan said to him, for you is nothing but if you want to pay a special friendship courtesy to us, why not inviting me and some friends for a night in Karaoke club. Mr. Kok happily accepted and Mr, Loan managed to have a big family party at his home. Mr. Kok also sponsored the party with two calves. In the evening, everyone including some friends of Mr. Loan went to KTV and had a special night. By the end of the day, Mr. Kok spent seven hundred US. Dollars for the club and two hundred Dollars, the cost of the two calves, so in total his contribution back to Mr. Loan for those years of borrowing money was one thousand US. dollars.

Mr. Kok’s Home Repatriation

The next days, Mr. Kok decided to come to his own family home where his seventy-year-old mother was living alone. From there in early 2010s, he has lived his single life until now. He is doing nothing, just taking care of his mother and looking after a flock of Buffaloes. His main income for survival is his Veteran pension. Mr. Kok also told Sam that his daughters are in touch very often and their step-father already passed away due to the alcoholic addict. In answering to Sam’s question if he would like to marry another lady. Mr. Kok told Sam that he has no more energy to think about it. Being a husband and father, has to take a huge responsibility, can’t be living as his peaceful life as now. His wife also asked to be together again many times but he rejected, he doesn’t want to have the same experience again.

To conclude, Mr. Kok now is happy, free and peaceful. Thanks for reading all the way through, believe you enjoy it. This story just reflects a single life of Mr. Kok Sopheap not every veteran experience the same lifestyle.

Sam Inspire will share more stories of more people as he meets and impresses. Please share this story out to the world. If you wish to support or make any cash or in-kind contribution to Mr. Kok Sopheap, please contact Sam.

Note: This article is for information purpose only, no liability will be taken for legal or official reference. Revisions could be done at the author’s discretion.

SAM INSPIRE family hopes you find this information useful to your research. This article is the reflection of Mr. Sam’s findings with zero political touch. If you need further support, please feel free to contact Sam, he will be so happy to do more steps to help you out.

If you find value in this article and wish to support Sam to do more, please feel free to pay him a coffee to his bank below. Thanks for being part of Sam’s journey, Sam Inspire – Cambodia Travel and Event Blogger – the Power of 3 E’s, Energize, Educate, Empower.

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