Photo Journal: An Eternal Sunshine in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Ever since my father handed me his old Nikon FM2 for my beginner photography class in high school, I would come home year after year to show him new stills of the world through the lens he passed on to me.
Having escaped the Nanking Massacre in his hometown at the age of four, survived through the Great Leap Forward in his 20’s, run from the Cultural Revolution and persecution by Mao’s Red Guards in his 30’s and then emigrating to the United States in his 40’s with nothing but a suitcase of clothing and books, my dad did not have many happy memories. But those moments that gave him warmth, and perhaps every now and then made him laugh, were carefully documented with his camera and filed into one of his photo archives.
With 50 years of age between us, photography was the only joy we truly shared. The time we spent over our photos (he with his printed albums and I with my iPad) was when we, but for mere moments, overcame the vast cultural divide between us.
We would spend hours going through his film snaps neatly arranged in albums and the colorful stories that came with them. Trekking Yellowstone Park’s forest trails in the 1970’s, shooting faces and NYC street scenes in the 1980’s, documenting family trips to Disney and Shanghai in the 1990’s.
As my dad hit his late-70’s, he became less and less mobile and even the lightest of DSLR cameras became too heavy to tote around. I carried the torch now: grainy film black and whites for high school – 1990’s, grinning friends acting older than our age – 2000’s, vibrant cities and varied landscapes – 2010’s. While his body slowed with age, his eyes continued to dance as if he were the one behind the lens, traversing through endless scenes in search of that perfect shot.
For months after my dad passed away, I kept my camera locked away in my dresser; we both laid as still as the moments it used to so avidly capture.
During this long weekend in Cambodia, my first trip since his passing, the excitement to capture fleeting moments of life was still missing. As I clumsily adjusted the settings, I wondered if using a camera would ever fill me with the warmth and comfort it had for so many years.
On the morning of the last day, the alarm sounded at 4am — urging us to get up for the Angkor Wat sunrise. Turning it off grumpily, I decided to stay in and drifted back into sleep.
But soon a slow simmering feeling urged me out of bed — because for decades my dad’s passion drove him to do the same. A passion he would have wanted to live on in me.
And so I rushed to the edge of the Angkor Wat pond, elbowing my way through throngs of tourists and their tripods. I nestled my own on a 2×2 square foot plot of slushy mud. Over the next two hours, as the night sky slowly melted away to the rising sun, I was reminded of the eternal love my dad and I shared for capturing life’s ephemeral moments. That even though he’s gone now, every shot captured will always be for him — to make him smile and to add another memory to our archives.
Maybe somewhere, somehow he’s reviewing this latest camera roll and feeling the warmth of Angkor Wat’s rising sun and of the new memories made.
Vithei Charles de Gaulle
Khum Svay Dang Kum
1010 – SIEM REAP
(+855) 63 964600