Displaced Yankee Productions | SoPhy


By now we should own stock in White Rose restaurant in Battambang. I wonder if the staff, which includes a couple of fairly little boys who clean and bus, actually leave or if they sleep there. We have been there for breakfast, lunch and dinner our entire stay and the only thing that changes is the shirt they are wearing. The panhandler is the same too –a teenager boy with one diseased milky eye whom I gave 1000 rels to the first day. He has taken up sentry at the doorway and stares at me each meal, It’s a little disconcerting but effective for him. I’ve given him rels after every meal.
Our plan this morning is to get some footage of the rice farmers in the countryside. SoPhy has relatives that live in Battambang and they have agreed to escort us to some scenic farmland. We drive down a forested, narrow dirt road and arrive at their house. It is a very nice house by the neighborhood standards and within moments of disembarking, there are fifteen or more family members hugging, kissing, laughing and good-natured wrestling around with SoPhy. They are thrilled to see him. SoPhy was born in Cambodia, raised in a refugee camp as young boy before being brought to America with his family by a Lutheran Church charity program. They settled in Amherst, Massachusetts. His mother is here today at her relatives house visiting. It is only her second trip back to Cambodia since fleeing the country. Like all the Cambodians we have met, hospitality is something they take very seriously. Chairs are brought out, cold drinks materialize before us as soon as we sit down and the gift of fruit we brought is immediately shared out for all to enjoy.
Unfortunately, we cannot stay to long and we pile into the van again with SoPhy’s sister in law Chook. She is our escort to the farmlands and is quite excited to be part of the production. We soon run into trouble on the roads. The heavy rains have made the dirt roads into treacherous mud pits and the van skids alarming along with water and rice fields on either side of us. After a long thirty minutes of basically getting nowhere, I am frustrated and concerned that we will eat up our entire day trying to get to their family farm. We need to be back before the rains start again to film Leakhena’s interview. There is a lone boy in the rice field with a pair of cows, but he is a distance away. A little further up the road, a group of men are trying to repair it for travel. Another factor that weighs against us. We get out to try and capture the boy and the cows with the zoom lens. Neither Art nor myself are too thrilled with it but can see no other options.

However, our new set coordinator, Chook, is on the case. She wants things to be good for SoPhy’s Hollywood film crew. Within minutes she has sent one of the workers from the road out to the field to tell the boy to plow closer to where we are. Like a crusty old general, she barks orders at the men and tells them to get back out in the field and start working. The road can wait, in her opinion. The camera crew cannot. She continues to shout instructions and within moments, she turns to us with a pleased grin. A gorgeous scene now unfolds before the camera of rice harvesting and plowing. I may have to fly Chook to the states the next time I shoot a movie with unruly extras. She can organize a scene better than any AD I have seen.
Little Sray Kong is waiting at the Pagoda with Leakhena when we return. Her mother has brought her down from the village to save us the ride up there again. Nin, for one, is extremely happy. She wasn’t looking forward to that journey again. We have our first formal interview with Leakhena. The kids of the pagoda are all fascinated and we have to continually chase them away from the set. Leakhena’s little brother, the scamp, makes off with her journal. Such a typical little brother. I chase him down and he hands it over with a sheepish grin. SoPhy asks him where his front teeth are and he tells a very entertaining story of how Leakhena told him to chew on rocks because they were candy and they crushed his teeth. I’m half inclined to believe him. I grew up with older siblings.
There is a formal goodbye in which Leakhena sits on the porch of her grandmothers hut and listens to her grandmother dispense advice about life: be honorable, do not lie, cheat, steal…. She blesses Leakhena, who touches her forehead to the ground before her grandmother in a sign of respect. The family bids farewell and we all pile into the van. I thank the grandmother for her hospitality and she touches her forehead and templed hands to my forehead and blesses me. I am moved, emotionally and spiritually. There is a tingling in my entire body and I feel this blessing it in every fiber of my being. It touches the very life of me.
We head to town to film some establishing shots of the market and get lunch for ourselves and the girls before we start the long drive back. Art and I leave everyone at the van and head into the market to film. I realize this probably wasn’t the best idea BEFORE lunch as we watch an old woman with a butchered pig hacking away at a side of pork with a large hoof and leg resting on top of the pile. Nearby, a man is tossing handfuls of intestines on the pile for her. I make a mental note to stop eating pork. You might think being in market like this would make one a vegetarian, but really, it just inspires you to stop eating altogether. The sun, flies and garbage-strewn stalls don’t do the vegetables any favors either. We make our way back to the van and I am anxious to get in and head to lunch to leave the smell of durian fruit behind, but alas, the smell is coming with us. Turns out SoPhy has bought a plate of durian for Art. Art is thrilled, I am not. SoPhy is grinning like a fool and I just know he thinks this is the funniest thing ever. What I wrote about the smell before was no lie. It is so horrible; it is actually banned inside the hotel we were staying at. It literally is written right into the guest rules. NO DURIAN FRUIT. That is my new rule in life as well.
Like a guest that will simply not go away, the durian is trucked into the restaurant with us. Apparently it is going to be dessert for the boys. I would love to know who discovered this fruit and how hungry they must have been to try it in the first place. Of course, the whole restaurant can smell it. It actually brings a man from Australian who was sitting several booths away over to investigate. He wants to know if he can try it as well. This of course gives SoPhy and Art ammo to peer pressure me into tasting it. By the time they do, the smell has attracted a lot of attention and the Cambodian staff is watching me with grins to see if I’ll do it. I never like to back down from anything, so I suck it (and the durian) up. Let me tell you… the taste is NOT worth the hassle of the smell. I don’t care what anyone says. Little Sray Kong apparently agrees with me because while Leakhena is enjoying a piece, she has a napkin covering her nose and her face scrunched up in dismay.
It is quite dark by the time we return to Phnom Penh. The girls are exhausted and Leakhena is carsick. And let me tell you, durian doesn’t get back regurgitated. We are all happy to unload and unpack before turning in for the night. I stop in the CCF to say goodnight to Scott and find the Daniel sisters have delayed their trip to Siem Reap to spend more time with the children. It thrills to me see how moved they have been and how giving they are with the children. These kids simply deserve all the love and attention we can bestow. My own sponsored little girl, Lyda, slips under my arms for a quick hug before scurrying shyly away. I think how much my life has been richly rewarded by coming to the some of the worst of places and finding the purest of souls in these children. May we all seek that same purity within ourselves.


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