Thursday, January 29, 2009
It’s a nightmare I’ve had many times—a particularly frustrating episode that’s more distorted memory than random delusions. Moments of confusion and fear flood my nocturnal dreams. In one incident, I'm lost, stuck on a mountain, alone and cold, shivering to my death. In another, I'm shooting a war; bullets graze my head as people fall to the ground around me. And unlike the movies, there are no slow-motion falls, no crying out the names of their loved ones. People are hurt, and they die.
I hate having these dreams. I hate waking up in the middle of the night wondering where I'm at, listening for the echo of a bullet slicing through the air. And as my eyes adjust to the darkness of my room, my hands search my body, looking for blood, feeling if I'm hit. It's a haunting scenario that evades my wandering soul.
I hope I sleep better tonight...
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W
Monday, January 26, 2009
Strange thing about a blog: you write something and people actually read it. At least that's what I hope the people that come here do. Lately, I've been writing about past experiences, moments that made me say "Oh Sh!t," and times gone by that are forever fragmented in my heart. This blog has been a blessing to me; allowing me to meet amazing people and further expanding my horizons by writing on topics that I dare not share with even my own mother--yet I share them with you, my dear readers.
Growing up, I used to think journals were only for girls! I'd have the biggest frown on my face when the teacher yelled out, "alright boys and girls, it's journal time!" Man I hated her! I just wanted to give her my two cents, but I never did (lunch money). Gripping my standard orange H2 pencil, I started every entry with "Today...." It always started with the word "Today." Unknowingly, I followed that rule with everything I wrote, even in college. It wasn't until a prof one day asked me why I began my essay on World War II with the word "Today" that I realized I needed a change in style.
Today, I found out that the suits at work are shipping me abroad...again. I'm starting to think they get a chuckle from seeing me eat duck embryo's and fermented fish cubes. It's either that or they can't stand having me around the office. Every morning when I arrive I get this western stare, almost as if they're stripping me with their eyes, trying to break me to see if I'll confess to doing something dumb again. Hey, it wasn't me who stole the air freshener from the men's washroom!
Walking to my office, co-workers would clear a path for me--making sure I have enough room to navigate thru an empty hallway to get to my cave. Do I stink or something? Shutting the door, I realize I have the best job in the world because my office is decorated with Sponge Bob Squarepants action figures, a Babe Ruth baseball that I signed myself, and a plaque I stole off someones wall. Damn, I hope my boss doesn't read my blog...
Anyways, yes...I got a new foreign assignment today: Vancouver, Indonesia, Malaysia. Stay tuned...I'll be blogging.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada/ 42°19′60.0″N 83°1′60″W
It's been twenty two years since this picture was taken. Twenty two years of wondering where you are, what you're doing and why you dumped me that day. I used to spend my nights looking out the window, wishing upon a star, hoping one day you'd come back to me. But no, you never did.
I gave you my heart, my soul, and even my tooth. I hope you now realize that tooth fairies aren't real--just like Santa, the Little Mermaid and the monster under your bed. There was a time in my life when I'd give you the world, shower you with gifts from my mothers closet and even let you have first bite of my jelly sandwich. At recess I used to push you on the swings, stand at the bottom of the slide to soften your descend, and held your hand when it was time to line-up.
Remember me? I was the only boy on the block with a banana seat BMX and colorful strings dangling from the handle. It even had a basket but it broke when I tried to fit you in it. Remember? Sure the other boys made fun of me because of my bike, but in your eyes it didn't matter because I was still your knight in shinning armor, your chauffeur peddling you to the midnight ball--and that handsome boy who defied all odds by choosing to ride with training wheels until they fell off.
Lily, you had a gift that no first grader ever had. Your drawings inspired me, touched my soul, and made me quiver in a spiritual disbelief at how beauty can derive from such small fingers. Your stick people were always straighter than mine, your smiley faces really smiled, and your portrait of me made me look...well, like all the other stick people you drew, but you always had the loving courtesy to tell me which one I was. And for that I loved you.
Wow, Lily, twenty two years and I haven't seen you since. Do you think of me? Would you recognize me if you saw me on the street? Do you still have my tooth?
I don't know why I'm writing you this letter, maybe I miss you, maybe God is reminding me you're still in my heart, or maybe...just maybe it's ALSO because I've been tagged by Angel from Insights From the Demigoddess to write about love, pick-up lines, and sheer moments of embarrassment. Well, what better time to write about you on this 'Where the F am I' blog than now?
Lily, I hope by some devine fate you some how stumble upon this little property of mine on the World Wide Web. I hope you read every word I've written and find it in your heart not to sue me for publishing your photo online. If anything, please know this: you were my first love.
You will always have a place in my heart because I know that deep down, I'm still in yours, too. Your smile still lingers in my mind. Your bubble gum and chocolate scent still makes me giggle when I walk thru candy aisles. And every time I go to the dentist, I can't help but to think of you.
So with that, I bid you farewell once again. I wish you love, success, and peace...in the Middle East.
Forever and ever yours,
P.s: "If you were a booger, I'd so pick you!"
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W
While we're on the theme of food, I've decide to publish a Re-Post from 2008.
When I'm not behind a desk pushing keys and juggling edits, you can find me behind a camera at some of the weirdest places on earth. Take for instance, my experience shooting with the crew of DEPARTURES, a travel show produced by former college roommate and dumb-ass extraordinaire, Steveee White-Boy Bray.(Yes, that is his real name).
Steve's Synopsis of the Show:
Aimed at the adventure seeker, Departures is an action-packed and personal journey about two travelers. Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach leave their lives behind in search of unique experiences through some of the most beautiful and remote places on earth. From epic landscapes and unforgettable culture, to the often trying times that come with international travel, the series chronicles the unforgettable friendships, personal successes and sometimes crushing disappointments that befall them on their journey. Departures showcases the revelations of two travelers who strive to find themselves and new perspectives while trekking across the globe.
Ron's Synopsis of the Show (In five words):
Where The 'F' am I?
Departures is as much about the journey as it is the destination. No prizes, no contests, just real life and real travel. As a former classmate of Justin, Scott, shooter Andre, and producer Steve, my work and experiences with them are truly life changing--to say the least, as you soon will see.
From riding backwards on a donkey to eating snakes and grasshoppers, this lens toting traveler can honestly say he's done some pretty stupid stuff. And sometimes, when we're just having fun, the camera turns to the crew. So, without further adieu, starring yours truly, below are two outtakes from the episode we shot in Cambodia.
Please do not try this at home....for real...I'm serious!
You can catch the show on Outdoor Life Network in Canada and on National Geographic in 45 countries around the world.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
For those who truly know me, know that I eat everything and anything! My passion for food rivals my passion for photography. I truly live to eat. Yum!
Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The best food ever in South America. Beef, beans, salsa, peppers, and onions.
Bangkok, Thailand. Tom Yum Soup. This is awesome! It's truly one of my favorite soups in the world. Shrimp (with heads on), princess mushrooms, squid, green tomatoes, mints, chives.
WARNING: BELOW IS NOT FOR THE UN-EXPERIENCED EATER
Skoun, Cambodia. Fried tarantula. Marinated with salt, sugar, pepper, spices. The legs I like, but the body explodes like a grape.
Kandahar, Afghanistan. Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). Notice the Guinness coaster I stole from the hotel in Dubai? Yah, a cold one would've been nice to wash it down.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Friends constantly ask me if I ever feel fear when I’m shooting. In short, yes, I’m always scared. You begin to lose sight of the world when you’re no longer in fear of where you’re at. Any photographer who tells you he's never scared is a fool or a liar, and probably both. Fear is what kept me alive. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Under fire, you swear you'll never do it again. But when the dust settles and the shooting subsides, you look upon the faces of the innocent lives around you, and you realize that this is their daily existence. It encompasses every waking moment of their lives. They are hungry, exhausted--exhausted by violence...by turmoil...by bombings and gunfire and kidnappings and destruction and fear and helplessness and hopelessness. Exhausted by death. Exhausted by life.
As a photographer, you journey on. You pick up your camera, wipe your lens and vow to make every frame count.
Journal From The Front Lines
March 24/25, 2002 (excerpts)
I've been assigned with a group of 75 elite Canadian soldiers whose task is to patrol the hills surrounding Kandahar. We are travelling in a convoy of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV III's), as American F18's and Apache helicopters provide air support above us. One soldier had also mentioned that a Death Star 130 Drone is also hovering to provide minute by minute visuals back to Central Command (CENTCOM). These guys can truly summon up fire power whenever they need it. A truly elite operation.
But no matter how sophisticated we may be, I know for certain that the enemy can easily launch an attack on us and take down even the toughest of any well equipped soldier...which is exactly what happened today.
It was all so quick.
While heading towards a bridge, we spotted a group of insurgents with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) aiming directly at us. All I heard was someone yelling "incoming!" Followed by a distant shriek that ripped through the air, almost like fireworks on the fourth of July. Instantly we all began to move in a scatter formation, keeping enough distance between each and every one of us. I followed PFC Steve Cole to the back of our LAV. I felt the adrenaline in my veins wanting to explode, as loud booms and machine guns echoed in the air.
As our LAV took more incoming rounds, Cole and I ran towards a nearby house made of mud and clay. I was lost. Didn't know what to do. My camera kept rolling, aimed at the ground. I was too scared to shoot.
Suddenly, the wall we were hiding behind also started to take fire. Quickly, we moved back. I was reluctant to leave the cover of the wall until I realized I was the only one still there. Afraid of being left behind, I scrambled over the wall of a nearby compound and moved through a garden blooming with purple flowers. Looking across the roadway, I noticed a Canadian RG-31 heavy armored vehicle raced to fill the space in the firing line. "Get behind the RG!" shouted Cole. I followed him. My camera still pointed downwards.
From a distance, I see a group of soldiers carrying one of their own towards the RG vehicle. Realizing that I still had a camera on my shoulder, I pointed upwards and got the shot. After loading the injured, Cole and I got in and retreated back to base.
It was the longest 4 minutes of my life--full of adrenaline and fear. I felt my heart skipped more beats than bullets fired.
"It shows how all the military might in the world can't stand up to 10 ragtag fighters who believe God is on their side," a fellow embedded photographer said. With my face buried in my hands, I looked up and stared him straight in the eye, "that was fucked up," I replied.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I watched an amazing documentary last week called 'War Photographer,' by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei. In it, he chronicles the life of James Nachtwey, acclaimed by many as the best war photographer of our time. I loved every second of it and was caught in rapture by the man behind the lens. It brought back memories. Below is a journal I wrote from the front lines of Afghanistan:
March 23, 2002:
Kandahar Airfield Base
I've crossed three continents to get here. Forty eight hours of sheer anticipation--sitting on the edge of my seat, counting the minutes until we land. And through it all, I saw the coast of Ireland, France and England, the Danube River as it approached the Black Sea, Turkey's sprawling capital of Ankara, and fiery orange wellheads glowing in the darkness of the Persian Gulf under a full moon. A world of beauty before my eyes.
I decided to come here because I wanted to see the world--in a very weird and fascinating way, to say the least. Dangerous, too. But perception aside, my decision to come to the front lines of war wasn't an easy one to make. Friends thought I was crazy. Family fought me with bitter sweet words in opposition, mixed with anger, fear and reverse psychology--in a desperate bid to change my mind. None of it worked.
Growing up, I was never a troubled child. I followed the rules. Ate my vegetables and went to bed when I was told. But when I couldn't sleep, I'd touch the globe that sat beside my bed. My fingers traced the contours of every continent in the dark. Some nights, my small fingers would hike the ridges of Everest, or struggle to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. Many times, I rounded the tip of Asia; more than once my fingers stumbled on rocks off the coast of Thailand. My globe was covered with names of nations that no longer existed: Tanganyika, Siam, the Belgian Congo, Ceylon. I'd fall asleep and dream of traveling to them all.
Some day, I hope my parents will finally understand why I've chosen to be here. In a way, I think they already do, but just too scared to tell me. While hugging me at the airport, my mother cried. Her voice trembled as she said goodbye. Holding her, I choke back tears of my own.
I now sit in the midst of war, thousands of miles from home and those who love me. Fear and anxiety dictate my every move. Riding in a Canadian LAV III recon vehicle, the tension waiting for "contact" to begin seems unbearable. Waiting for the inevitable slowly erodes my soul.
Intelligence reports said insurgents planned an ambush or might have planted an Improvised Explosive Device under a bridge west of Kandahar. Tomorrow morning, we head out on patrol. I will also be following a team of medics as they travel beyond Kandahar and into rural villages. I'm scared, yet I'm excited. It's a strange and eery feeling.
Mentally and physically, I'm ready. My training the last few months has come in handy. Even though I've only been here for four days, I think I'm quickly getting used to living with soldiers. Then again, I've yet to see combat, so I'm sure things can change pretty rapidly.
Missing everyone back home.
....To Be Continued.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada/ 42°19′60.0″N 83°1′60″W
Like all humans, I fear. Fear for the unknown and the unexplained--a constant and daily struggle to find meaning, rhyme and reason to some of the worlds most daunting problems. Climate change, lack of clean water, food, shelter, and disease. Through my travels, I've used my camera as a backstage pass to the world--hiding behind it, shielding myself from darkness and beauty, pain and reward. Filtered by glass, feeding on light; my life is a mirror of my work, a cinematic genre of my own.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Lost in an ever flowing stream of thoughts--weaving thru a gauntlet of fear and trepidation. All the while, the world spins and turns, pivoting ever so cautiously as it tries to hold on--much like that of its inhabitants.
I fear not for what we've done as a society in the past, but more so, for what we do as individuals in the future. The solutions must come from each and every one of us. We all have a role to play.
Thanks to my current employer, I've been able to volunteer my cinematography services with International Aid, a Christian relief organization that specializes in providing clean water, medical, and sanitation to some of the worlds poorest people. The following, as little as it may be to help solve our problems, is a glimpse at some of my most recent work to help spread the awareness for clean drinking water. I hope you enjoy. For more information, please visit the International Aid website.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Friday, January 9, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Walking thru the library today, I got lost. Too many aisles, too many books. A steady flow of rascals passed me by; seniors too old to care looked away. Please be quiet and no smoking signs hung rampant on chalked up walls . An orchestra of pages flipped and turned. Fluorescent lights flickered in perfect harmony. Silence set the mood.
Not knowing how to search on the computer data base, I searched manually in vain. Aisle by aisle, shelf after shelf. A stream of unknown titles flood my peripheral vision. Randomly picking a book, I turned the pages looking for pictures--sadly, none to be found. Text, all text. Text books, I thought.
Finding nothing that sparked my interest, I kept walking. While turning right, I looked left. Looked left again--a double take. Crashed into a pile of books. Regaining my posture, my eyes had to refocus, had to squint. Wow. The Audio Video section! I never knew.
Like a kid seeing boobies for the first time, I smiled. 'Videos are my favorite,' I proclaimed.
Head tilted sideways, I walked backwards--reading spines. Memories from film school flickered in my proverbial mind. A sea of genres thump to the beat of my Hitchcock heart. I had died and gone to heaven. A million videos, free to borrow.
While driving home, I weaved thru traffic. Pedal to the metal like NASCAR greats. Home in record time.
Popcorn popped. Lights dimmed low. Going to insert the tape, I realized something missing. My heart skipped a beat. SHIT.
I no longer use nor own a VHS machine.
Monday, January 5, 2009
As I'm typing this, a silky-smooth layer of oil and sweat slowly creeps to the tip of my fingers. My heart pounds to the beat of every key stroke, while and my mind spins to the tune of faded memories from long ago.
Faded, but never tarnished.
I never thought I'd post about my journey--never knew anyone would be interested, except for the few who find my life fairly fascinating, if at all. I'm no one special. Not a writer, nor a preacher. Just an average Joe who eats at your local diner, drinks from the carton and sleeps til noon whenever he can. As as child, I went to public school, played little league hockey, went Trick-or-Treating, and enjoyed snapping girls bras. Heck, in college I even once dressed up as Santa for a children's Christmas party when the original Santa fell sick. An Asian Santa. Wow.
By all accounts, I had a normal upbringing. And today, if you were to look me straight in the eye, you'd never believe my story. You'd say I'm lying. You'd say I'm full of shit. But believe me when I say this: "war is no lie."
It's not easy telling your friends that you're a child of war. While growing up in Canada, I never did. I hid it deep within me. I was ashamed. I was ashamed to be called a refugee, an immigrant, a minority. I was ashamed to say I am Cambodian. My face would turn red and I'd stare at my feet while the other kids laughed and giggled in amusement. Cambodian. Where's that?
My parents worked twelve hour days, seven days a week. When I got home from school, I'd cook for myself, vacuum the house and made sure the meat was defrosting so mom could make supper when she arrived. On weekends, I'd go to church when my neighbors invited me. When it was a Buddhist holiday, my parents would take me to a temple. They never discriminated. I was taught to love, to cherish each other and to forgive. They never cared if that message came from Jesus, Buddha, or Allah. A far cry from the world they had left behind.
It's interesting when you think about it. They've gone through so much pain and suffering, yet, they still find it in their hearts to forgive. To forgive the soldiers who killed their families, robbed them of their childhood and raped them of their freedom. To forgive, but never forget.
Some nights, when my mother couldn't sleep, I'd see her sitting alone, arms crossed, eyes glistened in pain. I'd ask her what's wrong--and slowly, she'd raises her head and look deep into my eyes. Her voice trembled in sorrow, her face washed in fear.
As a child, she would stay up at night and wait for her father to return from the farm. They would spend hours every night, reminiscing about life and times gone by, planned her future and imagined dreams coming true. He'd tell her everything that happened in the village that day, not even the slightest gossip could escape his ears. For a twelve year old, it was the best part of her day.
One night, as she heard her father coming up the steps, she pretended to fall asleep--just to see his reaction. She laid still. Her father, realizing that he had worked late that day, stood there and watched her in silence. He said a prayer for her and closed her door.
The next morning, the Khmer Rouge invaded her village. Lives shattered like broken glass. Blood seeped into the ground, forever leaving their mark for reincarnated souls. Piles of bodies flood the landscape while those who escaped ran for their lives, only to be caught and forced into slavery. She never saw her father again.
I'll never forget that night when she told me this story. I was twelve.
Today, I'm writing for you this story--not to make you weep or to cause you pain, but more importantly, for myself--for a soul looking for closure, looking for light. If I could, I'd take back every moment I felt ashamed, every instance I felt sorry for who I am and where I'm from--I'd take it ALL back.
As I read the comments that you have generously posted, I find solace in knowing that I'm not alone. And even though I've never graced your presence, I know that there's a world out there that understands the complexity of our being, the triumphs and tragedies of human kind. From the depths of my heart I thank you for reading and for understanding.
May peace be with you.
Friday, January 2, 2009
This picture is my story. An image that speaks for every fiber of my soul, every reason for my being. It is, in many respects, the image that I've longed to recapture.
Every time I look at this image, I am born again. A constant reminder at the journey we've been through as a family, as refugees, as survivors of war and genocide. It is a reflection of me that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
From 1975 to 1979, my parents were separated from their family, torn apart by civil war in Cambodia--a spillover from the war in nearby Vietnam. Lead by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge began a campaign to exterminate anyone who could rise against them: doctors, teachers, monks, and civil servants--anyone who had a voice. The rest were put to toil in slave camps through out the country--working 16 hours on one meal a day. Those who received a bullet to the head were considered lucky--the rest were left to starve. By the end of their reign in 1979, over 2 million Cambodians had perished, half of Cambodia's population. It was later dubbed by the international community as the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
In July of 1979, my parents escaped the slave camp they were in. Walking for 3 days without food or water thru dense jungles littered with landmines, they finally made it to the safety of a UN refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodian border. In December of 1980, I was born.
Sitting here tonight, I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed to tell this story. In fact, I'm rather proud. Proud of my parents. Proud to be their son.
But as I gaze upon this image, sorrow invades my soul. I remember the hardships we faced, the hunger we felt and the poverty we endured. Combined with a constant barrage of robbing and looting from within the camp, we were forced to live our lives in constant fear. At night, the stars would illuminate the sky, lighting a path for us to run for safety from within our very own safety zone--as Thai soldiers would invade our camp, sometimes, taking everything we had--our pots and pans, pillows and blankets. Life as refugees meant you were nothing more than an international homeless person.
The first five years of my life was spent there. I don't remember much, but what I do remember most was the hunger and fear--it's something you can't forget, no matter how old you are. On a weekly basis, aid workers would hand out rice and tuna, but it was never enough. Sharing food rations between the three of us, there were times when my parents did not eat, so I could. People died from eating whatever they could find in the jungle.
This picture is a testament to our survival.
Sometimes, I envision myself behind the camera, the photographer taking this picture. I wonder if he or she had ever imagined that an image like this could have such a profound effect on ones life. I wonder what the photographer was thinking...
As old and torn this picture may be, it is the picture of my family that I treasure in my wallet--reminding me of my haunting past. I've come a long way, that' s for sure. But when people ask me how I got started doing what I do or what motivates me while I'm shooting, I show them this picture--and just like that, they understand.
I hope you understand too...