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A Meeting with Two Top Khmer Rouge Leaders

(copied from HURRICANE, the uncut ongoing production diary of Camerado)

Went to Pailin with Long Heng and Hi, his colleague who used to visit former top KR leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, and met with both through great luck, with the hopes of getting their participation in an innovative, non journalistic documentary portrait about themselves.

Anyway, strange meeting with Nuon Chea first, aka Brother Number Two (Pol Pot was, of course, Brother Number One) After a long hard day on the road by bus and shared Toyota Camry, we arrived in Prum, the small town where he lives — LITERALLY right next to the Thai border (so he can still make his escape if need be). The taxi let us out next to a Casino on the border, then a few motodops arrived to see where we were headed.

Hi told them we were headed to Nuon Chea’s house, and of course everyone knows where it is…headed down the small dirt road, now muddy a bit from the rain, mountains nearby fully wooded and shrouded in fog which rolled from the peaks.

Arrived at a small house, the house of his daughter. She greeted us at the door…first thing I recall is the beautifully manicured garden, neatly trimmed bushes, mindfully cultivated.

Anyway, she told us at first that we should come back later, since it was getting late, now almost 5PM, but somehow Long Heng convinced her that we needed to meet Nuon Chea and that we only had a short time. She asked us to sit and we waited on the porch, next to an empty glass case at a big wooden table.

A small boy rolled around on his bicycle, it still had training wheels. I nervously mutterd a few things, not wuite sure what I would say when it came time to try to convince hiim to be a part of our picture.

So the woman comes back and tells us it’s okay to go meet him; we go down a small path on the side of the house, towards a nother more modest Khmer house, traditional looking. An old woman waited on the poorch for us.

“Jiumpripsu” we all said, and she smilingly raised her own clasped hands to meet ours. Inside, through the open wondow, I could make out the dim form of Mr Chea himself. He wore his trademark dark glasses and his hair was neatly combed back, Godfather like, and slowly he sat forward so that we could now see him and talk to him through the window.

Long Heng introduced us, and then turned to me:

“It’s okay, you can talk to him in English, he can understand English.”

So I began—

“Ahem, yes, hello, uh sir, we have come here today—“

Nuon Chea interrupted, saying something to Long Heng very quickly, his square jaw working well. Of course I could hardly follow his Khmer, cause my Khmer is still not fluent, and my voice stuck in my throat in any case. The forms of all objects–leaves, the rail of the house, stood out defiantly against my eye, the objects conspiring against me and smooth speech.

Nuon Chea stopped talking and once again turned his attention to wards me.

“Go on” Long Heng said, “he’s listening”

“So, anyway, we’re here, you see because there are important things that we wanted to talk about. I’m his teacher, and he is my student. And hey don’t worry, we’re not journalists —“

At this word, journalists, Mr Chea suddenly broke in again and said a few more things, very quickly, began his own quick speech.

I turned to Long Heng

“Go On” he instructed.

So I peered up again at that square face, the dark glasses peering down at me, studying me, all of us, the smiling face of Hi quietly nearby. The kindly face of Nuon Chea’s wife, the old woman, up on the porch.

So I continued to try to make my case to him, that we had come such a long way to meet him, and that he should take part in our movie. But then, just as I was getting on a roll, just as I wa warming up and my old persuasions had risen up, Nuon Chea slowly faded back and into the shadows, saying something matter of factly and quickly to Long Heng, saying it with cold precision and concrete finality.

And I knew, alas, we would not be able to convince him to be in our movie.

Indeed, when he raised his hands and said “Arkun Ch’ran” , then settled onto his bed, his face now lower in the window and deeper in the shadows, I knew we’d been given the brush off.

I stood there dumbly a minute, looked over at Long Heng.

“He says thank you”
“So we should go?”
“Yes. We should go now”
“Oh. Okay. Arkun Chran” I said a bit numbly, raiseing my clasped hands and bowing slightly.

Mr Chea’s face was stony, unimpressed. But his kindly wife raised her clasped hands to us and smiled.

And so we left, to head back to the trail and think of how things might have gone if we had done things differently, if I had done something different with my delivery, my speech…

But Long Heng was convinced when we left that nothing would have convinced Mr Chea to be involved in our picture, that he could not have been moved in any case. And at least we had tried.

We headed backdown the trail, without motodops, past curious families who also knew their neighbor well and wondered what we might have said to him.

Later, at the Hotel of a Casino up on the hill we drank a coffee and some soy drinks, and we decided that we would approach Mr Khieu Samphan the next day, and that we might have better luck. (and indeed, as it would turn out, we did…more on this meeting later)

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