My ancestors are Hainan Chinese who have been active in politics and business in the coastal region of Cambodia in Kampot, Kep and Kampong Som as Sino-Khmer for more than three generations. After Phnom Penh was captured by the communist Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975, my parents, along with my three older siblings, began a 3.5-year-long escape from war, violence and constant fear. Only a few kilometres away from their homeland, they lived for three years on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, where I saw the light of day in the summer of 1977. One year later, my family fled as Vietnamese boat people in the direction of Thailand, where they lived for several months in the refugee camp under most difficult conditions.
A spontaneous decision by my father changed our fate towards Germany, a country whose former separation many refugees feared. In February 1979, my family's journey ended at the Niederreidenbacher Hof refugee centre in Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate.
Dort wuchs ich kleinbürgerlich auf, ohne jemals mit Kambodscha, der Sprache und der Kultur in Berührung zu kommen. Meine jüngste Schwester Li-Ly kam 1982 in unserer neuen Heimat zur Welt. Geprägt war meine Kindheit und Jugend von Familie, Freunde, Freude, Sicherheit und den alltäglichen Herausforderungen eines normal heranwachsenden jungen Mannes. Mein Gefühl, mein Denken, meine Sprache – meine Identifikation ist Deutsch – nur mein Heimatsort verlagerte sich nach meinem Abitur von Idar-Oberstein in die Hansestadt Hamburg. Hier lebe ich nun seit 1997 mit den alltäglichen Herausforderungen eines normalen, modernen Bürgers!
I grew up there in petit bourgeois German, without ever coming into contact with Cambodia, the language and the culture. My youngest sister Li-Ly was born in our new home in 1982. My childhood and adolescence were marked by family, friends, joy, security and the everyday challenges of a normal growing young man. My feelings, my thinking, my language - my identification is German - only my home town shifted from Idar-Oberstein to the hanseatic city of Hamburg after my Abitur. Here I have been living since 1997 with the everyday challenges of a normal, modern citizen!
Am Tag unserer Ankunft lernte ich meinen Onkel Lip, dessen Familie, meinen Cousin Vanney, der Sohn des verstorbenen jüngsten Bruders meines Vaters, kennen. Für mich waren meine Kambodschanische Familienmitglieder alles Fremde, dessen Verbundenheit sich erst nach kurzer Zeit entwickelte.
The day we arrived, I met my Uncle Lip, his family, my cousin Vanney, the son of my father's deceased youngest brother. For me, my Cambodian family members were all strangers whose bond developed only after some time.
I travelled for two months through the land of my ancestors, with new experiences, encounters every day that moved me and made me think. I was very interested in the people, their daily lives, their worries, their hopes - their perspectives. In conversations, I began to imagine what contribution I could make myself in order to be a part of their wish. At that time, I could not yet grasp concrete goals. I lacked any experience and prerequisites, but my motivation grew from day to day.
They did everything to give me a feeling of security. I will never forget their hospitality back then and it is still a great pleasure for me to enjoy it today.
I asked my guide what his personal greatest wish would be. He said he would like to teach English to the children of the village, because it would give them a perspective to find a very good job. I asked him what he needed for that. "A blackboard," he replied. Cost - 25$! Minutes later we asked the local carpenter to make a blackboard out of wood. I was asked to do the first lesson. Right at the first lesson, the forecourt of the stilt house was filled with children who followed me inquisitively, wide-eyed, deep into the night to learn a new language. Already with the rooster's morning cry, they stood at the gate waiting for the teacher to finally start the lesson. I was amazed at the development of the lessons, the joy of the children and parents reflected in all their faces, their endless motivation to learn something new. My lessons developed into the big happening of the village. Every evening, not only the children gathered on the forecourt of the house and listened to my strange words. This "small" initiative was the beginning of my greatest adventure - the birth and birthplace of Sorya!