Cambodia: Things My Mother Never Told Me

MsCaroline's father, ca 1971, probably in Bangkok
(Note:  This post, while technically not a part of MsCaroline's Cambodia trip reviews, does actually relate to Cambodia.  Our regularly-scheduled temple travelogue will resume shortly.)

When MsCaroline started this blog back in April 2011, one of her intentions (among many) was to explore the experience of being an expatriate adult many years after having grown up as an expatriate child. Most of the time, it doesn't seem to have much bearing on her daily life, but every once in a while MsC is reminded of her unorthodox upbringing by something as simple as a routine conversation with her mother. The one she is referring to took place not long after her return from Cambodia, when she called to chat about her trip.

Most of the time, when MsC has traveled, she has compared notes with her mother, who traveled quite a bit during the time she lived in Asia and has fond memories of her travels.  However, this call was significantly different and served to remind MsC that, expat or no, there are some aspects of her childhood that are so odd that they simply cannot be categorized.

(Note:  For background purposes, it is necessary for readers to know that MsC's late father was one of many intelligence specialists and linguists sent to Asia by the US government during the Cold War in the 60s and 70s.  He was a specialist in Sino-Soviet relations and a Chinese linguist, in addition to being a really tremendous human being who left this world far too soon. It should also be noted that his work involved a certain amount of covert and/or unorthodox activity;  MsCaroline was not even aware of what he really did for a living until she was nearly in her teens. MsCaroline's mother, of course, had to be enormously flexible, given that her husband disappeared on occasion or went by another name (they were very happily married for 34 years.) It is to be hoped that all of this now-unclassified information is too old to be of use to any Bad Guys, but if MsCaroline -or her blog - suddenly disappear, you will all know why.)

 MsC imagines a 'normal' post-Cambodia conversation between an expatriate daughter and her mother to follow one of the following two general trajectories:

Option 1:
Daughter:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
Mother:  Yes, we enjoyed it.  Of course, it's probably changed since we were there.  We did that at the same time as our trip to Laos.  Did you go to the Floating Village too?

Option 2:
Daughter:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
Mother:  Wow, it sounds fantastic. It's really been amazing, all the traveling you've been able to do since moving overseas.

Naturally, this is not at all how the conversation between MsC and her mother went down during their weekly Skype session:

Option 3:
MsC:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
MsCaroline's Mum:  Well,, it all sounds like it was a wonderful trip.  We really enjoyed all the FaceBook photos.
MsC:  Did you and Dad ever go to Cambodia?
MCM:  (pondering)  No, I never went there -of course...(as an afterthought)...  Daddy did, you know.
MsC: (with interest) He did? Did he go to Angkor Wat?
MCM:  (musing) No.  Well, I mean, not that I know of.  He went with someone from work, I think...
MsC:  (rolling her eyes) Oh. A work trip.
MCM: (warming to the topic) Now wait.  Yes, that was the trip where he came home with that huge hole in the seat of his pants!
MsC:  What? Why?
MCM:  Well, he and the guy from work had to slide down the side of a mountain.
MsC:  What? Why?
MCM:  (trying to remember) Well, they were trying to get away pretty fast...and, of course, he'd spent the night in jail, and-
MsC:  WHAT? Dad spent the night in a Cambodian jail?
MCM:  (dismissively) Oh, they got him out, of course..(vaguely)...they got him some other papers or something...
MsC:  (Flabbergasted ) Wait.  So Dad spent the night in a Cambodian jail and they got him out with forged 'papers' and then he tore the seat out of his pants sliding down a mountain trying to get away from the police or militia or someone?
MCM:  (laughing and shaking her head) He showed up at home with his jacket tied around his waist, and he was laughing so hard, he couldn't even talk.  (reminiscently) Oh, we laughed for years about that...
MsC: (slightly impatiently) Yes, the hole in the pants must have been funny.  But what about the jail? And what if they'd shot him or something? Did you even know where he was?
MCM:  (dismissively) Oh, I don't remember all the details, and besides, he probably couldn't tell me most of them anyway.  And he had that other identity, you know.  So he didn't have to stay in the jail that long.  But that hole in his pants...

And MsC still doesn't know whether or not her father ever went to Angkor Wat.


Wilma said…
So, you're James Bond's daughter, eh? *grin* That must have been a little nerve-wracking when you figured out what he did for a living.
Stacy said…
I can only imagine that your mother has a thousand of these half stories to tell. I am very sad for you that your dad is no longer around to fill in the rest of the details. Thank you for sharing this, Carolyne.
Stacy said…
I can only imagine that your mother has a thousand of these half stories to tell. I am very sad for you that your dad is no longer around to fill in the rest of the details. Thank you for sharing this, Carolyne.
Wilma said…
So, you're James Bond's daughter, eh? *grin* That must have been kind of nerve-wracking when you figured out what he did for a living.
BavarianSojourn said…
He sounds like an incredible man! Bet there are a good few stories your Mum could tell! :D
I'm impressed that he even went to Cambodia in the 70s (presumably that's when it was?) - must have been a pretty dangerous place at the time. And I wonder if Angkor Wat was even developed as a tourist attraction then?
MsCaroline said…
Stacy - yes, she has some pretty good stories, but of course, I wasn't aware of any of it when it was actually happening!

Wilma - It was a little bit, but I think I was too young (or too dumb) to realize the potential danger in what he did. Not til much later did I really 'get' it.

Emma - He really was. Still miss him every day. And know he would be so enjoying our living in Asia!

NVG - Yes,late 60s/early 70s. I would say that it was definitely dangerous then, which is probably why he was there clandestinely and under an assumed identity, and a probably why he ended up in jail! It was probably also why he and his colleague were moving so fast that he tore the seat out of his trousers! It would have been shortly after the Vietnam War when Cambodia was under control of the Vietnamese, before the Khmer Rouge took over. The US would have had a strong interest in not having Cambodia become a communist country after the Vietnam War, so I assume they had operatives in and around the region at the end of the war gathering information on political developments. Of course, I don't know for sure what my dad and his colleague were doing there, can only guess, but I seriously doubt Angkor Wat was developed as a tourist attraction then - all I know is that it was in continuous use as a place of worship and/or monastery, which it would have been at that time. I do know that people were aware of it, though, because my parents had a large bronze relief of it - no idea where Dad picked it up, whether on that trip or somewhere else.
Trish said…
Bittersweet, hearing such exciting, funny tales about your beloved father but being unable to ask him all about it. I feel your pain but your pride too xxx
Truly wonderful. I am laughing as I type. Am also super impressed obviously at the fact that you come from a family of spies. Love it and am really impressed as well as amused.
MsCaroline said…
Trish - yes, I imagine you of all people would understand very well. I am just realizing now how comforting it is to write down this stuff - sort of like he is here again for a little while. I hadn't realized that, but should have caught that from reading your dad's memoirs.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - well, technically only my dad was a spy - not the rest of us, so I guess we could have been categorized as a spy's family! I studied Russian as well as German and international political science at Uni and seriously considered a career with one of those mysterious 'agencies' but decided I'd never survive working somewhere I couldn't talk about! And yes, very bittersweet. I love seeing the photos, and it's actually been a delight to visit some of these places knowing how much he'd enjoyed them as well as how pleased he would be to know that we are living here now.

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