What’s important to remember about the Khmer Rouge regime is that, when it ended, it sent the country into a civil war that continued raging for about a decade and a half. The Vietnamese were in power, sure—hiring the current Prime Minister Hun Sen and others after they defected from the Khmer Rouge—but this didn’t exactly end the struggle over power or the poverty that led to the revolution in the first place. So Leon Lim and his wife decided to walk to Thailand, where a refugee camp called Khao-I-Dong awaited them just over the Cambodian border.
And they didn’t look back. At least until a year after our interview, when Mr. Lim did return to Cambodia. But that was after a long, long time, spent here, in Chicago.
Even though you’re in the Khao-I-Dang camp, it’s still—I still had a difficult time to live in that camp. The camp is just, like, in the middle of nowhere. [Laughs.] Khao-I-Dang is a mountain. And near the mountain there is just a lot of farm fields, no trees, and very hot. So UNHCR* transported a lot of bamboo and all kinds of things to build huts and so on, so we could stay inside. So it took a week or two to put things together, from the ground until you build the hut so you could live there.