The Stars and Moon Align For Cambodian-American

Sichan Siv in town for Asean tourism forum, book unveiling and visit from Colombian friend

“Everything happens for a reason,” says Sichan Siv, a man who escaped the Khmer Rouge by jumping off a truck and, having immigrated to the US in 1976, went from driving a taxi in New York City to serving as de­puty assistant to former US Pres­ident George HW Bush at the White House in 1989.

And the quasi-unbelievable seems to keep happening in his life.

Such is the case in his current visit to Cambodia.

For the very first time, Mr Siv said, he was officially invited by the Cambodian government, the occasion being the Asean Tour­ism Forum held this week in Phnom Penh. “My official title is former US ambassador to the UN and former deputy assistant to the president. So I do not represent the United States,” he said.

Having accepted the Cam­bodian government’s invitation, he decided to have his visit to Phnom Penh coincide with the release of the Khmer-language version of his autobiography “Golden Bones.” He will be at­tending the launch of the book published in Khmer by The Cam­bodia Daily Press tonight at Monument Books.

One of the guests at the launch will be Colombia’s For­eign Minister Maria Angela Holguin who is paying an official visit to Cambodia this week.

This is her first visit to Asia in an official capacity, and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong held a dinner in her honor yesterday with Mr Siv as a guest.

About a month ago, Mr Siv let her know that he would be in Cambodia this week and would like to show her his country if she happened to be in the region.

Ms Holguin arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday directly from Colombia and will be flying to Paris after visiting Angkor Wat with Mr Siv on Friday, he said.

He and Ms Holguin have been friends since their days at the UN, where she served as Co­lombia’s permanent representative and he as US ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council from 2001 to 2006.

The fact that they both spoke French had first brought them together, he explained—he learned French in the 1960s in Cambodia, and she studied French in Paris in the 1980s.  During a UN meeting given in French, Mr Siv had noticed that she was not using simultaneous translation headphones. “So I bravely presumed that she spoke French” and addressed her in French, he said. “I told her that I was an American am­bassador but that I was born in Cambodia…. The minute she heard that, she said, ‘I’ve always wanted to see Angkor.’ I replied, ‘If ever the stars align themselves, we might be in Cam­bo­dia together.’ So here we are.”

One last coincidence: A delegation of Cambodia Town USA consisting of Cambodian-Amer­icans from Southern Cali­fornia is currently in town and, as the or­ganization’s honorary chairman, he joined the delegation on Sun­day at the Roy­al Palace for an audience with King Noro­dom Sihamoni.

Mr Siv had represented the US at the King’s coronation in 2004.

All these events happened to take place this week. In addition, Mr Siv said, it was a full moon last night. “My name, Sichan, means ‘beautiful moon.’ I was born un­der the full moon, and when I was under the Khmer Rouge…I felt that in order to be connected with my mother, I had to look at the moon, and perhaps I would see her face on the moon.” Mr Siv, who had managed to hide the fact that he was an educated man from the Khmer Rouge, es­caped the regime in early 1976, fled to Thailand and immigrated to the US the same year.

In view of his amazing career and the fact that things in his life tend to perfectly fall into place, what advice would the 62-year-old give today’s young Cambo­dians?

“The same message I’ve been telling people and my mother told me: No matter what happens, never give up hope.”

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