We certainly hadn't planned to begin blogging on a solemn note, but so be it. Dith Pran died today. I'm a little bit shocked that his passing has hit me so hard.
I hadn't seen the De Monteiros - my partners in and co-founders of The Elephant Walk - since the summer of 1978, and Nadsa and I hadn't exchanged letters or phone calls in perhaps a year or more when "The Killing Fields" hit Boston theaters in November of 1984. Although I had in many ways gone on with my life since the end of our fairytale high school romance, every appearance by Cambodia in the local news stirred up the adolescent memories. The effect of Dith Pran's story told on film on me was profoundly jarring.
While Nadsa and I held hands, falling silly-in-teenage-love between classes at Taipei American School in the spring of 1977, forming the bond that brought us all together many years later to create the restaurants you know today, Mr. Dith - and many of Nadsa's aunts, uncles and cousins - was enduring the unspeakable horror that was the Cambodian autogenocide imposed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. We had no idea...
In late 1985, a year after that film came out I would meet the De Monteiros again, this time in France, and this time - thanks to Dith Pran - with a little bit of perspective, understanding for the first time something deeper about who they really were and what they had been through - and continue to live with - as a family and as a culture. No, notwithstanding romance and many other happinesses and worthwhile celebrations, life is no fairytale.
I'd like to add my voice to the many who today are appreciating the courageous life of Dith Pran.