In the Dark

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When the sun sets in Cambodia… (2005)

In honor of Father’s Day, a conversation with Ba.

Sept. 13, 2006

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Deep, navy sky surrounded us.  Only the reflection of the moon and a peep of light gleamed from inside the house.

“Ba, do you want the light on?” I asked.  To keep the house smelling new (and less likewhat we’re eating), we always grilled and fried all our food outdoors.

“It’s okay,” he replied.  Blue flames danced underneath the wok.  He poured in the oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

How can you see what you’re cooking? I wondered.  But I didn’t say anything, just watched my dad as he worked his magic.  His wrist moved the spatula around like a magician’s wand, evenly browning each piece of garlic.

“During the Khmer Rouge… it was just like this.  Every night, you do what you can, by the light of the moon.  No other light.  That’s it,” Ba began.

I envisioned my dad fleeing through the black night of Cambodia, escaping death.  No compass.  No map.  No directions.  Only the sun, the moon, and a heart destined for freedom.  How did he survive? How on earth did he make it here, alive? Continue reading

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The Secret

September 12, 2012

“Once you decide on your occupation…you must immerse yourself in your work.

You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job.

You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.

That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

– Jiro Ono

The greatest sushi chef in the world, Jiro, in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, works relentlessly to master his skill.  Everyday, for the past 70 years, he has committed to making sushi that tastes better than the sushi he made the day before.

How much of my own life have I dedicated to mastering my skill?

For 12 years, I played piano.  Continue reading

I Miss Sweet Potatoes

Reaching over, the parents handed steaming hot, half peeled sweet potatoes to their children. One for each.  Their kids, actually, growing teenagers, grabbed the sweet potatoes with huge smiles and bit into them, steam hitting their faces.

“Wah! I really miss sweet potatoes!” I declared, watching that TV scene. It reminded me so much of my family. “Did you ever eat sweet potatoes with your parents growing up?” I nudged my husband.

“Huh? No,” he continued reading. He didn’t bother looking up from his book, sitting beside me as I watched a Kdrama.

“Ahhh… but I love sweet potatoes,” I sighed.

Growing up, Continue reading

We Don’t Say “I Love You”

IMG_7560Some nights waves of nostalgia hit me.  I’ve been thinking about food and the meaning of food quite a bit lately, and it reminded me of an old blog post I wrote, 4 years ago…
March 15, 2012

Scooping out the rice from the rice cooker, the fresh jasmine aroma overwhelmed me with memories of my family…

~ ~ ~

“What did you eat today, koun (daughter)?” Mak asked over the phone.   Continue reading

Keep on Dancin’

Toes tapped and heads bobbed to the groove of electric guitar, keyboard, and drums. The lead vocalist serenaded the audience. As he sang, I searched the tables for familiar faces.

Wrapped in her black coat, she sat quietly, hands folded in her lap.

Jum reap sua (hello),” I pressed my palms together, raised them to my nose, and bowed my head in a formal Khmer greeting.

She hesitated.

Maybe she didn’t recognize me without the scrubs. Or maybe she couldn’t hear me, with the Khmer rock band blasting on the stage. The band was the highlight of the fundraising dinner for the Khmer community.

“Oh, it’s you!” her stoic expression transformed into a toothy grin. She patted my hand.

How far we have come… 

Continue reading

Music from the Mortar

Clunk clunk clunk.  The sharp sound of a clay pestle striking against the mortar startled me.

Nearly every Saturday morning, the sounds of my parents laboring in the kitchen awoke me from my slumber. Still in bed, I wondered, what were Mak and Ba cooking today? Continue reading