The teaching method my parents most often utilized was teaching by example. With 13 children a year and a half apart from each other, my parents did not have much time to sit down with us individually to help with our homework or to read our favorite bedtime story, they were always very busy. Nevertheless, they found ways to teach us the important lessons that would carry us through life, and they did this by example. So, throughout my life, I have been observing people and benefiting a great deal by “experimentar en cabeza ajena”, which means to learn from other’s experiences.
This time, I learned from Savanith, a beautiful Cambodian lady that works with me. She’s this excellent person who, with her actions, has taught me the value of being able to accept and adapt to new circumstances in life with graciousness and happiness.
She told me that in Cambodia, she used to have a maid just for herself; “I never had to move a finger”, she said. There were many servants who maintained the home as well as chauffeurs, cooks and gardeners but her maid’s job was just to play with her and entertain her. She said people used to tease her by saying she could order her maid to fly and it would happen, but she never gave such order. She used to live on a huge property with several homes for the family and relatives; they had lots of land with rice fields and many peasants that worked for her family. Savanith’s home was a compound of several houses and she lived in the main mansion built by her grandfather. Her father and his siblings, children and many grandchildren were born in that house. Nowadays, her house is one of the most luxurious hotels in Cambodia, The Pavilion Hotel. She showed me pictures of it on the internet and she pointed out a balcony that came off the second floor where her bedroom used to be. The balcony in the hotel is now overlooking the pool which used to be where the main driveway leading to the main entrance was. Her aunts’ houses were to the right and left sides of the mansion. From the balcony, she was able to spot the boys coming to visit her so she had a chance to tidy up before coming down to meet them.
|Artifacts from Cambodia and Laos|
Savanith and her family came to the United States in April of 1975 as a result of the falling of her country. She said she left Cambodia on April 10th to go on vacation in Burma where her father was stationed. When the Regime in Cambodia fell on April 17, 1975, the embassy in Burma was closed and the officials were ordered to go to Thailand. This included her father. Shortly after, he made arrangements and sent for the family. Mr. Leng, Savanith’s later-to-be husband, was the pilot who flew them out of Burma to join her father in Thailand. They were in Utapao, a military based where people who escape Cambodia came. They stayed there until the whole family was admitted into the United States as refugees on May 8, 1975. All 13 of them (parents, siblings, aunts and cousins) arrived at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Onofre, CA, where they stayed until June 12 of the same year.
|Here is Savanith sharing her culture at a recent event in my office|
As with many families, hers was adapting to their new life in the USA. They all got jobs doing whatever necessary to keep the family going. Her siblings graduated from Universities, her sister obtained a PHD in Political Science and is currently a Professor at UC Berkeley. Her brother is a Council for the USA State Department and is currently stationed in Thailand. In addition to fulfilling her job with the County, Savanith married Mr. Leng in 1980 and they raised four kids. She also took care of her elderly parents until they passed away in 1994 and 2003 respectively. For many years she tended to her sick husband who passed away last year. She practices Buddhism as her religion; very often I heard her talking how she needs to go to the temple to serve food for the monks. She is undoubtedly a well respected member of her community.
|Celebrating Cambodia and Laos New Year|
Savanith is obviously proud of her heritage. She shows it every day in the way she conducts herself and when she shares her culture with us in the office, and in the way she teaches by example, to accept and adapt to new ways with grace and happiness. I’m sure her parents would be proud of the great person she is. I feel privileged to have met and work with such a wonderful person.