— The Land of Smiles

Ambassador Sichan Siv

Last Friday, right before I got incredibly ill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador Sichan Siv, came to Payap University as a guest speaker and gave a talk on his life story (growing up under the Khymer Rouge, his entire nuclear family along with 15 members of his extended family being killed by the regime, escaping from a labor camp through the Cambodian Jungle, and living in asylum) all of which culminated into his appointment by George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N..

The lecture mostly centered around the Ambassador’s fairly new memoir, Golden Bones. It became apparent very early that the Ambassador wasn’t going to give away any of the emotional details of his story (“which you can find in the book” was a commonly used phrase) but we did get a basic framework. His story is very inspiring and champions the notion of the human spirit but what I enjoyed most from the talk was when he stepped back and commented on the role that his past now plays in his present.

“No matter what happens, never give up hope”. The Mother of Ambassador Siv often used this saying in times of hardship or darkness. His mother, along with many other members of his family, was killed under the Khymer. The Ambassador continually relied on these words to get him through life. Whether it was trekking toward Thailand for 3 days in the jungle with a severely injured leg or getting off the plane in America with less than two dollars to his name, in his mother’s honor he promised never to give up hope. The Ambassador’s story is at times heartbreaking, at times uplifting, and at times a little saturated with the “america saved my life” kind of stuff, but the comment that touched me the most was when he said “This is not my story, its the Human Story”.

That quote is a great soundbite for anyone trying to sell a memoir, and I’m sure someone in the marketing crew came up with it, but, in this situation it does hold weight. We are an extraordinary species and stories like this demonstrate our potential as individuals and our potential as a community, not only our potential for good but also our potential to promote pain and hate. The KR’s Cambodia, Than Shwe’s Myanmar, and Hitler’s Germany all demonstrate the human being’s potential for hatred, but, even more numerous, are the stories like Sichan Siv and Halima Bashir where strength, bravery, hope and compassion explain the power behind a human community based on respect for the individual and universal equality. I guess it just depends on each of us, as individuals, to choose where we want our own story to land on the spectrum of hatred and respect.

Meet Ambassador Siv was a sure highlight of my trip so far. He is an extraordinary individual and has done a lot for both Cambodia and the U.S.. I also got his business card and will definitely try to use his connections. On a personal note, I have gotten better but I’m still somewhat ill. Hopefully I will be 100% in the next few days. I’ll post again soon I promise!

— Bobby