Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond, whose life and work was profiled in The Flute Player, answered your questions.
Jill from Louisiana asks: How did you survive emotionally when you left Cambodia and came to the United States? What kind of coping mechanisms did you rely on to help you function in American society?
Arn Chorn-Pond: Dear Jill, thank you for your question. When I first got to America, I was very confused, sad and angry. I knew nothing about America. The only thing I heard about America while I was in the camp was that America had a lot of money, cars and big buildings. But I ended up in the countryside of New Hampshire instead because that was where my adopted family lived. It was not matched with my expectation of America. Yes, earlier life in America for me was a bit rocky and crazy. Finally, I was able to speak English and was able to communicate how I was feeling inside and even able to give my first speech about my life to a small church where I got a lot of support emotionally. It was the first time that I knew that Americans would care about what I went through. From that day on I have never turned back and keep myself doing it. Sharing my story and the horrible experience I went through with my family and my people, to as many people as I can, is always keeping me from going insane.
Jill from Missouri asks: I heard you say on your Fresh Air interview that you played an instrument similar to a dulcimer that sounded sort of like a harp during your ordeal in the prison camp. You mentioned that it made you feel like you were in heaven for a little while. Are there any harp players in Cambodia? Do you have any experience with the healing power of harps, especially live harp music?
Chorn-Pond: Hi, Jill, thank you for writing to me. There are no more harps in Cambodia now; they have disappeared in my country. The wall of the monument of Angkor Wat — the Seventh Wonder of the world — shows us that our culture and our society once had a half harp. I am really interested in bringing it back to life again. We need to start building the Cambodian Harp and we need to train people how to play it. I need help…
Robin from Michigan asks: Have you found a way to free yourself from your past?
Chorn-Pond: Hello, Robin. No, I have not. Maybe not just yet… and I am really working very hard on it. I still have a lot of nightmares about my experiences, which I can not stop. I wish I could stop and control my dreams! But I do believe that the more good things that I do to help and care for other’s suffering (not just my own), I know that I will find myself free from my own suffering and from my own horrible past.
Jared from California asks: I have a Cambodian friend who plays a khimm and we are in a band together (I play drums). I was wondering if there was any way I could get a khimm for myself because the one my friend has is very old and I barely even know where to look for one of my own. I would very much like to learn to play the khimm. Any help you have is greatly appreciated.
There are masters who make the Khimm in Lowell and I am sure in California as well. Please contact Seasia, a Hip Hop group with whom I work in Lowell, Massachusetts, to help you, okay? Ask the band leader, Tony, to contact master Bin Phan about the Khimm.
Soultana from Ohio asks: How did you manage to get back in touch with your feelings about the time you spent in the Khmer Rouge, after having made yourself numb in order to survive all the hardships you endured? Did public speaking help you with this?
Chorn-Pond: Hi Soultana, thank you for writing to me with your question. Yes, I wanted so badly to communicate with people as soon as I got here. I had so much trouble because I did not speak any English. I had to survive my very first time ever in school, when I came to the United States. I was put into high school and that was my very first schooling. At home my adoptive father and mother helped me to talk about what happened to me. Public speaking also helped me to heal myself because I really wanted to tell the world about my life and the suffering I, my family and millions of my people had endured. I also met so many good and caring people here in America like my adopted father and mother, Jocelyn the producer of this film, and few others that really took an interest in helping me and helping Cambodia. They are very loving, caring people I have met. So, they are my role models. I want to be like them for others.
Linda from Colorado asks: Mr. Chorn-Pond, this music is wonderful and your project shows the best of humanity. Will there be or do you have a CD of this music for sale? I love Kong Nai — he is the Asian brother of Ray Charles. My other favorite is your teacher, Yoeun Mek, however all that I heard were very talented.
Chorn-Pond: Thank you for your good words for the masters. I will indeed tell them when I return to Cambodia. We are just at the stage of producing CDs. We have already recorded many pieces from each of them and from other masters as well but needed more funding to produce CDs. Peter Gabriel has shown interest in helping me to put the masters’ CDs on his World label, we will see. We will announce when the CD is ready on the website for my project, www.cambodianmasters.org.