CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 5)

Genocide Museum: Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Friday 12,1999: The first thing Setan and Randa wanted me to see after lunch was the genocide museum. “If you don’t see the museum,” they insisted, “you’ll never understand the Cambodian people or the challenges of the gospel ministry in Cambodia.”

Cambodia 1999 (Part 5) a.jpg

The museum, which is housed in a former high school, was located on a Phnom Penh side street. When Pol Pot took command of the Khmer Rouge and began rounding up the “enemies of the people,” he commandeered the high school as his prison and torture chamber. The idea was to have a convenient place where his enemies could be taken for ruthless inquisitions that would force them to implicate and give evidence against others, who would then be put on the list for annihilation. Not many of Pol Pot’s suspected enemies were just conveniently shot without first being run through the torture chamber to incriminate others who might secretly like music or own books or magazines or attend a temple or be related to a monk.

If the Khmer Rouge wanted to eliminate someone, they simply needed to find the least bit of evidence against that person. Or they would use death threats against a man and his wife or children to force him to confess that another person was an enemy of the people. Then that person would be arrested, interrogated, tortured, and eventually killed.

Pol Pot started his murderous campaign with his own friends and those in any leadership position. At the beginning, in order to document and justify their actions, the Khmer Rouge took photographs of every person, recorded the words and evidence gathered against them, and documented their deaths. Later they didn’t bother with all the formalities and just got straight to the business of killing three million people. Their uncontrollable thirst for killing escalated, and in just four years, the atrocities grew to unbelievable proportions.

At first Setan and Randa quietly guided me room by room through the old, three-story high school situated in a lovely campus setting. There were about five main buildings, all with three levels. Some rooms contained the beds, shackles, and instruments of torture, and even pictures of the tortured, dead victims.

Holes had been knocked in the walls at the ends of each classroom to allow the guards and prisoners to move from one room to another without using the outside porch entrance. Bricks and concrete had been used to construct four-by-four-foot holding pens inside the classrooms. There were about thirty holding pens inside each classroom.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 5) b.jpg

Pictures of the inquisition teams, the torture teams, and the execution squads were proudly displayed in the hallways. Even Pol Pot’s picture with his closest men taking part in the killings was displayed. Each person would pose with a big smile displaying the confidence he felt about doing such a great and honorable thing for the advancement of Communism and a perfect society. The grand inquisitor even had his picture taken at the torture area with his wife and baby.

Wall after wall in the old high school displayed the photos of those rounded up and brought to the prison. Each male and female prisoner had a handwritten identification number pinned to his or her shirt. Babies were imprisoned with their mothers. Pictures showed how, under interrogation, a crying baby would be ripped away from the mother; then a guard would toss the baby into the air, and another guard would impale the child on the bayonet of his rifle as the baby fell. Babies were also taken outside with the mothers who were being tortured. A mother’s hands were tied behind her back, and a rope was thrown over the old chinning bar, which still stands in the playground. Then the mother was hoisted up to the top of the tallest bar by her wrists, which were still secured behind her, and they made her hang there while they smashed her baby’s head against a nearby tree.

It’s my understanding that over two hundred thousand people went through the high school prison and were ultimately killed there after the Khmer Rouge extracted any useful information from them.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 5) c.jpg

We quietly proceeded through the school until Setan showed me a picture of his family doctor and another picture of one of his closest childhood schoolmates. Then the talk began flowing nonstop. Randa, with tears in her eyes, told me how her father, who had two PhD degrees and was the president of the University of Phnom Penh, was arrested because he was educated, and he was tortured and killed while her mother, brothers, and sisters fled the city for safety.

We walked past the air-conditioned building where Pol Pot and his men reviewed the information gleaned from the enemy prisoners and made up their lists of who should be eliminated next. The fiendish orgy of torture and killing increased in momentum and intensity from 1975 to 1979. No one really knows what would have happened had the Vietnamese not invaded Cambodia and driven Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge into hiding in the mountains.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 5) d.jpg

The instruments of torture, the drowning tanks, the electrical shocking apparatus, and other devices are still on display in the high school for curious and horrified visitors to see. In the final room were pictures of skulls and bones that had been unearthed in the killing fields. The government of Cambodia tries to downplay the number of victims by saying, “Somewhere around a million people were killed,” but the records pretty well speak for themselves, and the numbers displayed on the walls of the old prison testify that at least three million people were killed.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 5) e.jpg

The best Cambodian leaders, the best teachers, the best musicians and artists, the best actors and actresses, the best historians, the best mathematicians, the best in the medical field, and the most educated civilians were all brutally murdered in the name of atheistic Communism. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were convinced that all they needed to do was reengineer society, and everything would be just right.

Setan and Randa were in a bit of shock when we left the premises. They had just relived the horrors of their teenage years one more time. As we were riding back through the streets of Phnom Penh, Setan asked if I would like to view the videotape of their involvement during the killing-field years. Just last year, Trinity Broadcasting Network engaged Christian actors and actresses to reenact Setan’s and Randa’s stories. The documentary will be shown not only in America but also throughout Cambodia as a Christian-outreach tool. I told Setan and Randa that I’d be honored to view the hour-long video. So we drove to their one-room office/apartment/ministry headquarters, which is located above a storefront.

The video picked up the story at the time when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power. Setan was a medical student, and while at home at a party, the young radical Khmer Rouge troops rolled in with military trucks and automatic weapons and killed some of Setan’s friends right on the spot. The survivors were rounded up and sent to the Khmer Rouge’s agrarian work camps. Part of the work-camp objective was to use cruelty and exhaustion to break the survivors down emotionally and mentally so they would become obedient and compliant.

The video picked up Randa’s story as her father hugged her and told her he was going away. He told her that now she was responsible for the well-being of the family and must take care of them while he was gone. She protested, but her father slipped away.

For three years the killing went on before their very eyes as they were forced into slave labor. Setan related to me how the Khmer Rouge gathered several thousand teens in an auditorium and warned them that they should become cotton trees that never saw anything, never thought anything, and never said anything. The military was very serious about impressing on the teens that they must obey in every way and completely embrace Pol Pot and the Communist ideal. They emphasized their point by having a twelve-year-old get up and speak about how great Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and Communism were. The twelve-year-old was then given an AK-47 automatic machine gun, and as he was talking and waving the gun around, the military brought out his own parents with their hands tied and sat them on chairs in front of everyone. The boy shouted how his parents had given him physical birth, but that was nothing compared to the enlightenment and good society Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were giving him.

Setan said that the twelve-year-old aimed the automatic weapon at his own mother and father and shot them to death in cold blood. The generals then got up, praised the boy, and said to those in the crowd, “If our young soldiers will shoot their own parents gladly, don’t think for one moment they will not shoot you if you disobey or stand in the way of the social revolution.”

The young military commandos in charge of the work groups were especially brutal and had the authority to kill at will. At one point, a young military girl overseeing the work group caught another teenage girl trying to give Setan a small crab for additional food. As Setan protested, the female soldier placed a plastic bag over the head of the guilty girl and suffocated her in front of everyone.

At one point, a young Cambodian Christian named Pastor Paul presented the gospel story to Setan out in the jungle, and Setan became a believer. A couple of years earlier, when Setan was about to be killed, he had called out for help from the God of the universe and promised that if his life were spared, he would serve God forever.

The video of Setan and Randa continued through their efforts to escape over the border to a refugee camp in Thailand. Finally they were successful, and they were able to locate and reunite with members of their families. The story also included Setan and Randa getting married in the refugee camp in the first-ever Christian wedding.

The video ended as Setan was preaching at the refugee camp. The female soldier, whom he hated for cruelly suffocating the girl for giving him something to eat, was in the audience. He stopped preaching when he recognized her and went over to her. In front of the group, he took her by the hand, told her he was sorry for the hate he held in his heart toward her, and forgave her. The woman prayed for Jesus to forgive her and then left. Neither Setan nor Randa have seen her again.

The video carried a tremendous message of salvation and forgiveness. I could tell that visiting the genocide museum and watching the video with me exacted a toll on them.

After the killing fields, Setan and Randa moved to Denver, Colorado, where Setan graduated from Denver Seminary. They still live in Colorado, where Randa cares for their two teenage children while Setan travels back and forth to Cambodia, overseeing their evangelistic and outreach ministry to their countrymen. I assured both of them that Project C.U.R.E. will be working with Dr. Singleton in Denver and Setan’s uncle in Battambang to send their people the desperately needed medical goods and perhaps some medical teams to work in Phnom Penh and Battambang.

Next Week: Welcome to the Tapioca Team


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 4)

Ancient Buddhist Temple: Cambodia: Thursday, November 11, 1999: A peninsula of land jutting out into a pink, water-lily-covered lake is the setting of an ancient Buddhist temple. Cut stones from a quarry a great distance away were hauled by elephants and slaves to the temple site in the early eleventh century. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the grandeur of the temple fortress. The huge stones measuring about five feet in length and three feet in width all have holes drilled through them, two holes on each of the four sides. Over the years, enemies managed to ruin parts of the fortress, but the beauty of the place is still well intact.

Cambosdia 1999 (Part 4) a.jpg

As we walked around and drank warm Coca-Colas, Dr. Yutheasa started talking about a little more recent history. “When Pol Pot was killing so many people, he stuffed all the Buddhist temples full of bodies. They were left there to decay and turn to skeletons.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 4) b.jpg

All the religious people were killed because they couldn’t be trusted, and usually because they were educated enough to read.”

I then asked him to explain the mystery of the Pol Pot regime. “It seems to me that the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was part of a popular philosophy. There are so many similarities between Pol Pot’s actions and what took place in China’s Cultural Revolution. All the intelligent and culturally inclined people—except for the leadership intelligentsia who planned and carried out the whole terrible genocide—were accused of being ‘enemies of the people.’ They were tortured and executed, and their holdings were confiscated and divided up among the killers.”

“You understand quite a lot, Dr. Jackson” was Dr. Yutheasa’s reply. “Anyone who might ever be a challenge or a threat to the Khmer Rouge in action or philosophy was targeted for death. Somewhere around three million of Cambodia’s best people, including businessmen, doctors, teachers, and community leaders were killed off between 1975 and 1979. Then when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, Pol Pot’s slaughter stopped, but even more people were killed in the war with Vietnam. Pol Pot concentrated much of his killing around Battambang and Phnom Penh.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you think Pol Pot’s atrocities have never been punished? No one even seems to care about bringing any of the murderers to justice. In my lifetime, I have watched the Jews hunt down every prison guard and every Nazi military person involved in the genocide Hitler perpetrated on the Jewish people. But no one even seems to care about seeking justice for the three million innocent people killed in Cambodia during Pol Pot’s reign of terror. Why?”

“It’s all too complicated for a person to understand, especially one from the outside. It’s very possible that Pol Pot isn’t dead even now. Seven different times, the government has claimed that he has died. He was an old man with gray hair. But the last man they cremated as Pol Pot had very black hair. They wouldn’t allow any investigation or autopsy. Within three hours, they burned the body and destroyed all the evidence. But it would be very hard for you to understand all that, Dr. Jackson.”

The doctor became more and more comfortable talking to me about sensitive things regarding Cambodia, but he also made very sure we were out in an open spot away from buildings, cars, and other people when we talked. Even at that, his eyes were constantly moving past me to the surroundings nearby.

I asked one final question before we headed back to the van for our trip back to Battambang. “Dr. Yutheasa, you are a doctor. Why didn’t they kill you?”

He laughed nervously and kind of rolled his eyes at my personal question. “I learned to become like the cotton tree” was his answer. I left it at that.

This evening at the Teo Hotel, my mind kept working overtime comparing the hospital at Battambang and the military hospital we toured in Phnom Penh. I felt uneasy about the military hospital but felt very clear about moving ahead and helping Dr. Yutheasa in Battambang. Over the course of my unorthodox life, I’ve learned to pay close attention to gut-level feelings about people and situations. Some might attribute that to my survivor skills. But I know God has blessed me with a certain perception, and in the past, things have gone a whole lot better when I don’t ignore those insights.

Cambodia 1999 (Part 4) c.jpg

The Battambang hospital was clean. The doctors and staff were happy people working hard with the little they had. Even though they were using makeshift IV poles, had no mattresses for the beds, and had to treat some of the patients out on the porches, the patients were getting love and personal care.

The military hospital in Phnom Penh was very different. In the recent past, it was Pol Pot’s military hospital and then became the Vietnamese military hospital. Now it’s the government’s military hospital. Something seems to be wrong there, beyond just not having any supplies, equipment, ambulances, or nurses. On my assessment tour, I was ushered right into the operating room while surgery was in process. The room wasn’t sterile, the doors to the hallway were left open, and people were walking through the operating room with bare feet and civilian clothes. And as I toured the postoperative rooms and the wards, it appeared that no one really cared and no one was really in charge. 

Cambodia 1999 (Part 4) d.jpg

Before I went to bed, I determined that Project C.U.R.E. will help Dr. Yutheasa at the Battambang Provincial Hospital, and we’ll collect more information on the Phnom Penh hospital. Donated goods worth $400,000 wouldn’t be safe or used efficiently in an institution where people have a bad attitude and no accountability measures are in place. We could send a container of good medical supplies to such a facility, and a week later, the patients would be no better off, but the officials would all be driving new cars and motorcycles.

Friday, November 12

This morning as I ate my breakfast of chicken-giblet soup and noodles and a nice helping of french bread, I was curious as to whether Setan Lee would be at the airport in Phnom Penh when I returned to the city. As I picked most of the repulsive chicken skin and giblets out of the bowl with my chopsticks, I was pleased with the thought that I confronted him regarding his inconsideration. At least he knows my evaluation and interpretations.

Dr. Yutheasa and his driver took me to the airport. The propeller-driven airplane scheduled to take us back to Phnom Penh had experienced trouble and was over an hour late arriving at the Battambang Airport. Once we finally boarded and were in the air, I realized that it had been a while since I had flown in a commercial airplane with seats constructed of curved pipes with canvas material stretched over them. I sat behind the engine in a seat with a view out the little, round porthole windows. Again, I was amazed at how much flooding Cambodia is experiencing in the flat, central part of the country.

My questions were answered about who would pick me up at the airport in Phnom Penh. Pitou and Sally Lao were there, and so were Setan and Randa Lee.

Pitou and Sally had scheduled a full day for me, but a very repentant Setan was there to try to amend for messing up. While waiting for my luggage to be unloaded from the plane, I pulled out my Cambodia files and systematically walked with both Setan and Pitou through the chronology of Project C.U.R.E.’s Cambodian involvement over the past eighteen months. Fortunately I had all my documents, applications, and correspondence regarding Dr. Singleton’s requests and the arrangements for the entire trip. With my calendar open, I asked Setan and his wife if they were aware of each step, if they had received my e-mails, and if they were aware that I’ve been in the country since November 8 at their request.

About halfway through the questioning, I became convinced that Setan is an evangelist, not an administrator. I also concluded that Jim Groen and Greg Groh of Worldwide Leadership, who are coming from the US to Phnom Penh next week for a missionary conference, had unfairly overloaded Setan and Randa with details and expectations far beyond their capabilities in order to make their missionary conference a booming success.

Instead of being upset with Setan and Randa, I began to feel empathy for them because they had been placed in a difficult position. There was no way they could be expected to accomplish what they were assigned to do. I assured them of my support and prayers and told them I didn’t need to take any of their precious time, but that Setan’s uncle, Dr. Yutheasa, had shown me everything I needed to see in Battambang, and that I had a good report for Dr. Singleton upon my return to Denver.

But Setan and Randa insisted on spending a little time with me as a courtesy and as an act of appreciation for Project C.U.R.E.’s commitment in Cambodia.

Pitou and Sally made the situation easier by offering to postpone their plans until tomorrow and Sunday so that I could get acquainted with Setan and Randa today.

With all the interpersonal relationships smoothed over, we all headed to lunch—more boiled chicken, which had been hardened by a life of trying to outrun the motorcycles on the rural dirt roads of the province and compete with the wandering pigs for broken grains of Cambodian rice. Colonel Sanders of KFC never had it so good.

Next Week: The proof of unimaginable horror   


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 3)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Wednesday, November 10, 1999: The Cambodian hotel telephone systems leave much to be desired—like working! As soon as I returned to the hotel, I began trying to call Setan Lee on his cell phone. I then tried to reach Pitou Lao, thinking perhaps he could reach Setan. But I couldn’t successfully get a line out of the hotel to even reach Pitou.

I needed to make contact with somebody tonight because my flight to Battambang is scheduled to depart at 7:00 a.m., and I need to leave the hotel no later than 6:00 a.m. to catch the flight. I really expected Setan to contact me and arrange for someone to transport me to the airport. After all, I’m his guest in Cambodia! But he has made absolutely no contact with me since I arrived. I know he’s busy with a training conference, which begins next Tuesday, but it’s beginning to seem ridiculous that I traveled halfway around the world and am in the same city where Setan is, but he has never once tried to contact me at the hotel.

Finally things began to narrow down, and I purchased with US cash dollars a nonrefundable airline ticket from Phnom Penh to Battambang for tomorrow morning. But I decided to give Setan the benefit of the doubt and figured his schedule must be so very exacting that he hasn’t been able to call. The last instruction I had was that he will meet me in Battambang tomorrow. But it all does seem quite strange. Now I needed to figure out how I’ll get to the airport in the morning. So before I went to bed, I had the desk clerk schedule a taxi to pick me up at the hotel at 6:00 a.m.

I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. so I’ll have time to pack and check out of my room.

Thursday, November 11

As I walked to the front desk in the morning, there was a call waiting for me. Pitou was worried about me and had been unable to get a telephone line through to the hotel last night. He informed me that he secured a car and driver, and he and Sally would be at the hotel in a matter of minutes to take me to the airport and see that I got off to Battambang all right. I told him that would be wonderful. I hung up the desk phone and instructed the clerk to cancel my taxi. Pitou and Sally were so gracious, and I departed on time on my President Airlines flight to Battambang. To answer Pitou’s query as to whether Setan ever got in touch with me, I answered no.

I made the trip to Battambang in an ancient twin-engine prop plane. We flew low and slow, but that gave me a good opportunity to view the rice fields, Cambodian jungles, and waterways from the air.

Cambodia 1999 (part 3) a.jpg

The touchdown and taxi to the small air terminal was uneventful. I walked down the rickety metal ladder from the plane, across the tarmac, and into the terminal to wait for my luggage. Once inside, I looked through the windows separating the baggage room from the waiting room, and I spotted a man holding a sign with “Dr. Jackson” written on it. I figured I would at last meet up with Setan Lee.

When I collected my luggage, I proceeded to shake the hand of the man holding the sign. “Hi. I’m Jim Jackson. At last I meet the elusive Mr. Setan Lee.”

“Uh no” came the staccato reply. “I’m Setan’s uncle. He’s still in Phnom Penh and won’t be able to get here until sometime tomorrow or Saturday.”

“What?” I demanded as my voice not only intensified but jumped a number of decibels in volume. “He said he couldn’t meet with me until today in Battambang, and now I’m here and he’s still in Phnom Penh? How can I talk to him immediately?”

Setan’s uncle just happened to have a cell phone with him, and within seconds he had Setan on the line.

“Setan,” I shouted, “you’ll need to explain real fast just what is going on. I have flown halfway around the world and burned up two weeks of my life being jerked around by you. Talk fast before I stop listening. Just what’s your problem?”

I thought I would take the nondirective pastoral-counseling approach and let him know that he’s okay and I’m okay, and there really aren’t any absolutes, and any choice of behavior is fully acceptable in this world, where we don’t use words like accountability or responsibility or consideration.

“Well, Dr. Jackson, I think we’ve just experienced a little bit of miscommunication.”

“Miscommunication, nothing,” I replied.

He had just crossed the threshold where tolerance begat Scotch-Irish wrath. I started at the very beginning and went right down the list to where I canceled the other trips to reschedule his, and how the e-mail I sent him back on November 5 detailed everything explicitly, and how my purchased tickets had me arriving in Cambodia Monday, November 8.

Then I stepped things up a notch, “But since Dr. Singleton in Denver said you just couldn’t meet with me until November 11 in Battambang, I got busy and located a couple I’d never even met before to pick me up at the Phnom Penh Airport and host me for three days while I waited for my supposed host to conveniently arrange his schedule to meet with me. Then I had to ask my surrogate host to contact you and confirm that I should purchase tickets to Battambang for our meeting today, only to find after I paid the money and arrived in Battambang, that my real host just didn’t find it convenient to show up but decided to stay in Phnom Penh until who knows when. No, Setan, we don’t have a bit of a communication problem. We have an entirely different kind of problem.”

His reply was, “Well, it’s your fault because you were trying to call the wrong phone number.”

“I’ve been in your town since Monday,” I replied, “and you knew where I was staying, and you never even tried to make contact with me. And it’s my fault because I was trying to call a wrong number?”

I continued, “Don’t come here. I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow morning. And since I’m here, I’ll do the honorable thing and perform the Needs Assessment Study on the Battambang Provincial Hospital if you will inform your uncle to take me there.”

When Setan’s uncle and I got into the car, I joked with him and apologized that he ended up in the middle of a distasteful and unnecessary situation. I passed a piece of paper to him and asked him to write down his name so I could remember it.

He took the paper and wrote Dr. Sim Yutheasa. When he passed it back to me, I recognized the name from the original Request for Assistance form in our office, which Dr. Jim Singleton filled out eighteen months ago.

“You’re Dr. Yutheasa? You’re Setan’s uncle?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You’re just the man I’ve been needing to meet. Setan never said who you were or that you were the doctor I came all this way to see. If I had known how to get ahold of you, I would never have needed to rely on Setan. Are you ready to take me to your hospital?”

The whole pile of lemons that had been dumped on us was suddenly transformed into a large pitcher of lemonade. The rest of the day went just beautifully. I spent most of the day at the Battambang Provincial Hospital, where I met the hospital director and all the department heads and toured every hallway, surgery room, and patient ward. We hadn’t had just a bit of a communication problem with Setan; we had experienced a major faux pas. But God miraculously helped to iron it out so that good could be accomplished.

Dr. Yutheasa helped me get checked into a very clean, modern hotel in Battambang. The Teo Hotel was built in just the past few years and is the place where most of the city’s international guests stay. I tried not to show any signs of shock or disbelief when they told me the price for staying at their hotel would be ten US dollars per night. The price of their meals was nearly as reasonable.

As quickly as I could deposit my luggage in my room and hang out my shirts and pants to unwrinkle, I climbed back into Dr. Yutheasa’s van, and we made our way out toward the rural countryside. A lot of the Battambang Province people have abandoned their ox carts, buffalo-drawn carts, and pony carts in favor of the motorcycle. Most of the motorcycles are made in Thailand and come into Cambodia illegally through Vietnam. Not much is done to correct the problem because the government leaders benefit from the game.

Cambodia 1999 (part 3) b.jpg

A motorcycle, even if it is well used, represents a huge investment for the Cambodian people. In the city I asked one of the young men at the hotel restaurant how much he’s paid. He told me that because he can also speak English and some French, he is paid pretty well. He has to be at work at five o’clock each morning, and he serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He gets off work at 10:00 p.m. but has been able to negotiate one hour off per day to attend English school. So he puts in sixteen hours a day on the job. The other restaurant workers have to work seventeen hours per day. For that labor he receives eighteen US dollars per month—not per day or per week, but eighteen dollars per month! And his rent is ten dollars per month.

Of course, the rural people who raise and sell rice or ducks or chickens make a whole lot less than that. So when I saw a family of five riding on a motorcycle, I knew that family made a tremendous investment in that piece of machinery.

The road we took out of Battambang followed the top of a water-retention dike built for the rice fields. Nothing has been done to maintain the Cambodian roads. Travel was very slow as we picked our way through or around the ruts and craters. Eventually we arrived at our destination. Dr. Yutheasa told me the story behind the name Battambang. Somewhere in the province, a mythical warrior lost a baton or battam, which is a fighting stick. The bang part of the name means “lost.” So Battambang means “lost baton.” I personally surmise that the warrior lost his stick in one of the cavernous ruts in a Cambodian road.

Cambodia 1999 (part 3) c.jpg

Next Week: Trusting God to give me insights and wisdom.


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 2)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Tuesday, November 9, 1999: Sally and Pitou came to my hotel to pick me up at 8:00 a.m. It took me no time at all to finish my breakfast—a medium-sized bowl of rice soup with chicken livers, skin, and onions in it. Along with warm green tea, I considered it a real “breakfast of champions.”

We drove a couple of miles from the hotel and picked up a lady government worker who helps Sally and Pitou in their work. Our first stop was the Preah Khet Mealea Hospital on Street 47 in downtown Phnom Penh. It’s a government hospital that the military had commandeered in the past.

About the time I think I’ve seen all there is to see in the world of medical institutions and misery, reality hits me upside the head. That was my experience at the Preah Khet Mealea Hospital in Phnom Penh! It was awful. It was disgusting. It made me sad. It made me angry. It made me cry.

After an hour meeting with Dr. Pvom Kan, the chief of the hospital, we conducted our walking and photo-taking tour. The facility was once a French-style hospital, and during colonial days, it had eight hundred beds. Now it’s the pits.

Cambodia 1999 Part 2 a.jpg

In recent years, government control of the hospital has changed three times. Anyone is allowed to go to the hospital, but no one gets any medical or professional attention. There are no supplies and no instruments. I didn’t see one ventilator, respirator, EKG machine, defibrillator, monitor, or even a blood-pressure cuff in the whole place. There were almost no nurses, and all the doctors were congregated in one surgery room doing a procedure. The fact is that nearly all the doctors, nurses, and secretaries in Cambodia are dead. They were educated, and to Pol Pot that meant treason. Khmer Rouge soldiers killed off their own medical community to achieve a pure Communist society!

The hospital laboratory was pathetic, with just one working microscope and a sterilizer that works only part of the time. The X-ray machine in the radiology department is over fifty years old, and the technician showed me how they had hung up an old lead vest to shield the radiologist when he fires up the radiation-zapping machine. The roofs all leaked in the campus-style hospital buildings, and even the surgical theater had plaster falling from the ceiling. 

Cambodia 1999 Part 2 b .jpg

When we finished the tour, we stood outside, and I leaned against an old ambulance, which was an inoperative relic from a bygone era. As Pitou, Dr. Kan, and I talked, it seemed like a good plan to bring a group of doctors and nurses from the US to spend about three days out in the villages and refugee camps doing general-practice work. Then the team could spend another three days at the hospital working alongside the few doctors and nurses there. The Americans could be a great encouragement to their Cambodian colleagues. They could also bring donated medical equipment like EKG machines, monitors, and defibrillators with them and train the Cambodian hospital staff to operate the machines. There are lots of details to be worked out, but my eyes are being opened to the tremendous needs in Cambodia.

My hosts wanted to take me next to a new village south of Phnom Penh in the province of Kandal. Some NGOs had persuaded the government to set aside a small plot of land out in a rural area about an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh. People who fled their homes during the killing years settled in the mountains on both sides of the border with Thailand as well as in Vietnam. Now the refugees have been moving back to Cambodia, but they have nothing left and no place to go. Those who arrive in Phnom Penh can’t find any employment or housing, so they collect some bamboo and banana leaves and make squatters’ shelters to get their families out of the weather.

Hundreds of thousands of such refugees have been flooding back into the cities since the political climate became safer. But the refugees are creating big problems for the cities. The plot of land we were going to view was designed to hold three hundred families in little side-by-side bungalows consisting basically of one room and an outhouse. There is just enough room to live, but not to plant anything.

When we arrived, I was told that the land was made available in late August. In a little over two months, more than one hundred of the potential three hundred families have already settled there and are in the process of constructing their dwellings out of whatever they can find. The city of Phnom Penh is supplying some leftover bricks for them to use.

I met and talked with the new self-appointed mayor of the settlement. He showed me where they marked off a spot for a school and a medical clinic. They have no idea how to build or equip a medical clinic or staff a school, but the government promised to furnish them with a nurse if they can get their clinic built.

I spent some time taking pictures of the people and trying to talk to them. They all seemed very happy and excited to think they’ll soon have a roof over their heads. But with no place to plant food for their families, most of them will have to ride a bicycle or walk to and from the city each day to find work.

To show me the other side of the refugee problem, Pitou, Sally, and the government lady took me back to Phnom Penh, and we walked the muddy paths of the shanty communities and the back alleys where people are staying wherever they can set down their belongings. The people are dignified, and I could sense their embarrassment. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that they once had extended families, jobs, and accumulated possessions. But they fled for their lives to escape the murderous rampage of Pol Pot and exchanged all they formerly possessed to survive.

Near the river’s edge, where the shanty dwellings were built out over the water, we came upon a young couple with two small children. The man had a bicycle rickshaw. He wasn’t riding the rickshaw but was in front of it pulling the carriage through the mud. Inside the rickshaw were piled all their belongings. The wife was carrying two green plastic chairs and helping to push the rickshaw from behind. The two little kids ran and played along behind them.

Cambodia 1999 Paer 2 c.jpg

Pitou helped interpret for me. We asked what they were doing, and they said they had settled in the squatters’ area after returning to the city to try to locate other members of their family. He had obtained the rickshaw to try to earn money pedaling people through the streets of Phnom Penh. But just a few hours earlier, the authorities came by and ordered them to move away from the shanty area or be thrown into jail. They are leaving, but they have no idea where they will end up. The sun was setting, and in the haze of the Cambodian evening, all I could read in the eyes of this refugee family was fear and frustration as they tugged on the rickshaw, slowly moving it through the sticky mud.
 
Wednesday, November 10

When Sally and Pitou picked me up at the hotel at six o’clock this morning, they presented me with an extensive proposal for locations that desperately need medical supplies and equipment. They even requested an entire mobile clinic from Project C.U.R.E. that will enable teams of doctors and nurses to travel to all the nooks and crannies and villages throughout the country.

The travel agenda for today was, I thought, aimed at giving me a firsthand look at the situation in the provinces surrounding the capital city. Pitou and Sally also invited another Cambodian doctor to travel with us.

It rained last night, and everything was cool and fresh as we started traveling south. They had warned me about the conditions of the roads and said it would take us over two hours in some places to travel twenty-five miles. I found early on that their warnings weren’t exaggerated.

By heading out at 6:00 a.m., we ran right into a sea of motorcycles with commuters heading into the city for work. The cycle density in Phnom Penh isn’t quite like that of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but the city is rapidly catching up. A new sight for me was to see the way the Cambodians transport their large loads of produce and commodities to the local market. They don’t have the capital to invest in trucks, so they’ve come up with an innovative way of building a metal trailer about ten feet long, with motorcycle wheels and heavy duty springs beneath. Then, like a fifth-wheel setup, they attach a ball hitch to the motorcycle, positioned just above the center of the seat. Then a goose-neck hitch is welded to the front of the trailer to pull the unit.

It looks like a miniature semitruck with a large 250-cc to 300-cc motorcycle pulling the rig. I blinked twice when I saw the first machine, but my admiration for their ingenuity grew as I watched how useful the apparatus really is. Out in the rural areas and jungles, I saw them using the same rigs as buses. They just placed boards from one side board to the other to make benches. There were at least twenty people in one such open bus being pulled by one motorcycle.

We continued on our way to the provinces of Takeo and Kampot. Both provinces are coastal and are largely made up of rice fields and jungles. The people are rural agrarian farmers, and most live in houses raised on short stilts to keep them elevated during the May to November rainy season. I can’t tell you how very much I enjoyed the two-hour trip to the Angkor Chey hospital and clinic deep in the heart of the Cambodian jungle. I knew at each bend in the horrid road that my eyes were seeing things only a smidgen of the American people ever see. And conversely, not many people out there in the jungle have the chance to catch a glimpse of an American in their part of the world.

Water is very plentiful in Cambodia. The Tibetan Himalayan mountain-glacier runoff settles right into the heart of the country, where Tonlé Sap Lake stores the water before many rivers, including the large Mekong River, carry it to the sea. Nearly every house is close to a rice paddy, and pools of water and irrigation ditches are everywhere. The water is muddy, but that in no way deters the children from diving in and swimming. Even little kids who are hardly old enough to walk enjoy playing in the pools and ditches. The ladies wash all their dishes and clothes in the same water. Because the water flows toward the sea and isn’t stagnant, the menfolk throw their circular nets from the banks in hopes of catching some large bass and catfish for the dinner table.

Dr. Khek Vantho, the director of the Angkor Chey hospital, and his deputy, Dr. Prum Daracham, helped us with the Needs Assessment Studies. The hospital draws from an area of about nine hundred square kilometers and a rural population of about eighty thousand residents. As we walked through the simple, almost archaic, and terribly inadequate facility, I felt that Project C.U.R.E. could make a significant difference in the health care for the entire area. No one else is going to be there to help. But we can go with acts of love and deliver terribly needed medical goods in God’s name.

The medical staff gave us coconut milk to drink and sent coconuts home with us. I watched the staff perform several emergency procedures on patients who had been involved in motorcycle wrecks on the rutty jungle back roads.

Our trip back to Phnom Penh took us much longer because we visited several more villages in the two provinces. I still had airplane tickets to purchase and arrangements to make for the trip to Battambang tomorrow. Cambodia has already been an incredible experience.

Next Week: “We don’t have a communication problem – we have a crisis.”


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 1)

Hong Kong and Bangkok, Thailand: Saturday, November 6, 1999: My United flight 1247 left Denver Saturday morning. I needed to be at the airport at 7:15 a.m., and Anna Marie’s flight to Boston was scheduled to leave at 2:00 p.m. So she took me to the airport, drove back to Evergreen, and then returned to the airport, left her car there, and boarded her flight in time to make it to the conference.

My United flight left LA International Airport at about noon and touched down in Hong Kong at ten o’clock Sunday night. That was a long flight. Now granted, I crossed the international date line en route, and I completely lost a day. But still, the actual flight time, sitting in one seat in the airplane, was sixteen very long hours. I remember when planes once had to land and refuel somewhere along the route to get to Hong Kong.

From Hong Kong, I reboarded the plane and flew a couple more hours to Bangkok, Thailand. After clearing customs and passport control, I took a taxi to the Rama Gardens Hotel, where I’ve stayed several times on previous trips to Chiang Mai and Vietnam. It was well after midnight when I finally got to my room.

Monday, November 8

I’ve visited the countries surrounding Cambodia a number of times, but this trip will be my first time to spend more than a week in the kingdom of Cambodia. Cambodia has been subjected to some pretty harsh political and economic treatment, especially in the past fifty years.

In 1953, Cambodia was granted independence from France after about one hundred years of colonial rule. In 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s monarchy was overthrown, and in 1975, tragedy swept the country. An ultraradical group of Communists, known as the Khmer Rouge, gained control under the despotic leadership of Pol Pot. Pol Pot and his gang of thugs wanted to show China, Russia, North Korea, and other Communist-controlled countries of the world just how a pure Marxist-Leninist country ought to be run. He had watched the brutality of Stalin and learned from the bloody Cultural Revolution of China, where millions and millions of people were purged.

Pol Pot decided to outdo them all and go down in history as the sole Communist dictator who perfected Communism in the shortest amount of time. He decided to radically return Cambodia to an agrarian, communal society. Everyone would be a simplistic, obedient farmer living under his control, carrying out his every whim and expectation. He would show the world how to do it!

Within a period of four years, Pol Pot systematically murdered every person who was educated, right down to the children in grade school. All university professors and every teacher met a brutal death. Death didn’t come quietly or quickly to the victims; it was a spectacle of bizarre brutality. Pol Pot had something to prove to the world.

Every person educated or disciplined in the arts was slaughtered. All people of religion were murdered because they could read, think, and speak. Only farmers and those willing to live in a commune or serve as Pol Pot’s stupid soldiers were spared.

During that four-year period, Pol Pot murdered nearly two million people. Approximately one out of every four living human beings in Cambodia was eliminated. All the systems of education, health, transportation, government, and commerce were ruined. There was no formal economy or structure except for the Khmer Rouge’s arbitrary rule.

In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and halted the carnage. The Vietnamese installed a government with Heng Samrin as president and Hun Sen as prime minister. Pol Pot’s genocide stopped, and he fled the country.

But at that time, Vietnam was considered an enemy of the US, so we condemned Vietnam’s actions. As Vietnamese troops fought the guerrillas who opposed Hun Sen, the US and the United Nations recognized the government in exile and supported Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, along with Khmer People’s National Liberation Front and the remnant Prince Sihanouk’s supporters.

Finally in 1990 the United States withdrew its support of the government in exile, and all factions agreed to adopt a UN plan calling for the Supreme National Council to run the country until elections could be held. Prince Sihanouk, who was in power after Cambodia gained independence from France, returned to head up the council as interim leader. In 1993, more than four and a half million eligible voters turned out for a peaceful, free election.

Prince Sihanouk wasn’t a candidate, but the people elected him. Hun Sen, who was a candidate and had been the Vietnam-appointed prime minister, threatened to reject the results. So a compromise was worked out.

Prince Sihanouk became king of Cambodia with no executive authority. His son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was named first prime minister, and Hun Sen became second prime minister. During the first few years of the unusual coalition, the king was greatly honored and revered throughout the country. More and more, Hun Sen filled the role of the first prime minister. The ailing Pol Pot, who was hiding out with about two thousand guerrilla soldiers, ordered the execution of his top military leader, Son Sen, which caused even his most loyal followers to rebel against him.

Afterward, an occasional skirmish broke out between Prime Minister Ranariddh’s followers and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s followers, but no one expected any major unrest or civil war. The lasting sadness of Cambodia’s history is that a country could so quickly lose all its top leaders, all its educators, all its medical professionals, all its religious and moral leaders, all its performers, and anyone else who showed the least bit of ambition or potential.

Cambodia will continue to suffer the effects of Pol Pot’s devilish experiment for generations to come. It has been extremely interesting to live my life at a time when the social freaks of this world have had full sway to carry out their godless experiments of social reengineering. With unchecked freedom they’ve slaughtered hundreds of millions of innocent lives in an effort to raise men to the level of God and lower decency to the level of a poisonous snake. Hitler and Pol Pot killed their millions, Stalin and Mao killed their tens of millions, and Idi Amin, Kim Il-Sung, and other despots drained the blood and brains in their countries in the name of Communism and social reengineering. Yet I’ve also lived to see those experiments carried out to their fullest extents and utterly fail. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Engels were all flawed thinkers, and their premise was false. Once again Project C.U.R.E. is bringing help and relief to a country that continues to pay the fiddler long after the dance has ended.

My Thai Airways flight from Bangkok landed in Phnom Penh at about 5:00 p.m. As I entered the passport-control area, I spotted an older couple holding a sign with my name on it. That’s always a welcome sight. Pitou and Sally Anne Lao were at the airport to meet me and brought with them one of their friends, who is connected with the government in some way.

Cambodia Pt 1 a.jpg

As we got acquainted, I told them I needed to apply for a visa for Cambodia, since I didn’t have enough time to apply for one through the Cambodian embassy in Washington, D.C.

Pitou said, “No problem” and told me to give my completed application and passport to his friend, along with twenty-two US dollars in cash. I did as requested, and within minutes I had my passport back in my hands with an approved, stamped visa. The other people who were standing in line waiting to receive their visas just looked at me and raised their eyebrows.

Pitou and Sally were both born in Cambodia. When Pol Pot began his killing spree in 1975, they happened to be in Thailand. So instead of returning to Cambodia, they emigrated to the US, and the US government placed them in California. Both would certainly have been killed in Cambodia, since they are highly educated and were community leaders.

Just recently Pitou and Sally quit their California jobs and returned to Cambodia to see if they can help their countrymen rebuild their lives. They are now spending all their time without pay helping the refugees and displaced citizens.

Cambodia Pt 1 b .jpg

The Laos and I became friends at first sight. They already made reservations for me at a hotel in a busy part of Phnom Penh. They had just returned to Cambodia on Friday after a month’s trip back to the US, when Dennis Catron contacted them and informed them of my visit. They dropped everything they were doing to be my hosts while I’m in Phnom Penh.

As we drove across the city to my hotel, I had a good feeling about my trip to Cambodia and Pitou and Sally Lao. It will be exciting to see what adventures God has in store for me in Cambodia.

Next Week: It was disgusting. It made me sad. It made me angry. It made me cry. 


TRIBUTE TO THE KOREANS

To transform a historical atrocity into a positive, teachable experience for successive generations, it’s first necessary to accurately recount the incident. Few practices are so devilish as the false and purposeful revision of historical facts. In this article, I want to highlight a little-known historical occurrence and honor the character and culture of the Koreans during a sad and dark time in their nation’s history. 

In my early travels to northern Russia, and especially as I made my way across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan, I continually met up with some of the most dedicated and compassionate expatriate doctors, nurses, and teachers I had ever met. They were driven and intently focused on their pursuits, willing to put up with the most severe and inconvenient circumstances. These dedicated professionals were Korean, and I soon began referring to them as my “Seoul mates.”

I had met and worked closely with John Kim and Dr. Soon Ja Choi of Messengers of Mercy, centered in Chicago. John had traveled with me to Afghanistan and Albania and had introduced me to a Korean husband and wife medical team Dr. Jae Doo Shim and Anna. They had bought a piece of property with their own money and had personally designed and built a two-story clinic on the site.

“We never knew where we would ever get the necessary equipment or supplies to run this clinic. But then God sent Project C.U.R.E. to help finish our dream,” John told me. 

I asked him, “Where are all these excellent Korean doctors coming from? They’re absolutely the best!”

Project C.U.R.E. had been requested to help many Korean medical and ministry organizations working in central Asia, including Daniel Kim, CEO of the Young Nak Foundation in Seoul, South Korea; the Central Asian Free Exchange (CAFÉ); and Drs. Joshua Koh and Herbert Hong, representing the Institute of Asian Culture and Development (IACD). I slowly began to understand that Project C.U.R.E. had landed in the middle of an incredible miracle story of love and international compassion. All those Korean doctors and organizations began hearing distinct calls for help from their displaced kinfolk, who emerged from the shadows as soon as the old Soviet curtain of secrecy came crashing down. Those calls had emboldened these doctors and missionaries and had ignited their passion to help their betrayed and violated brothers and sisters. Nothing makes people stronger than when they hear a call for help.  

As I mentioned earlier, the brutal invasion and occupation of Korea by imperial Japan in the early 1900s resulted in many Koreans fleeing to Russia. The Koreans were diligent workers and good businessmen who became successful landowners and farmers. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, most of the Koreans sided with the Bolsheviks, who were members of the workers’ Social Democratic Party. But as Joseph Stalin and the Communists began to steal the revolution away from the Bolsheviks, the comrades who lusted after the Koreans’ productive farms began to view the land-owning Korean entrepreneurs with suspicion and distrust.

By 1925, approximately 120,000 Koreans had settled in the Russian Far East, including Vladivostok. In subsequent years, a secret plan of ethnic cleansing was adopted to resettle the Koreans in central Asia. The propaganda claimed that it was to prevent any possibility of Koreans spying for Japan. Joseph Stalin’s plan of systematic population transfer was carried out between September and December of 1937, forcibly relocating nearly 180,000 Koreans to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in central Asia. Orders called for an immediate removal of the Koreans to be completed by the end of the year.

The Koreans were transported by railway trains, consisting of 124 livestock and merchandise wagons, to undisclosed destinations. Deportation took place in two stages of around thirty days each. To accomplish the quicker deportation schedule, people were crammed into the cattle cars without heat or other provisions. Thousands of Koreans never even survived the trip.

According to one account, thirty-four thousand Koreans were resettled in Ushtobe, Kazakhstan, a desolate region in central Asia. People had to fend for themselves, struggling to find shelter and enough food to survive, and many died of starvation, illness, and exposure during this time. One survivor wrote of his arrival at an unknown destination, “Each family dug a hole to live in. We made a Korean ondol (heated floor). We burned bushes for heat. There were no trees or charcoal. We lived that way for two or three years.”

Project C.U.R.E. was working right where most of the displaced Koreans had ended up during Stalin’s murderous transmigration scheme. Over time, these Koreans had lost their ethnic identity and even their language, speaking only Russian.

Koreans 2.jpg

One Korean family I met, who had come to Uzbekistan to help, represented the Good Samaritan Medical Aid Foundation. Dr. Chong Soo Kim started out his medical career in Seoul, Korea, as a neurosurgeon. In 1971, he traveled to Indiana University School of Medicine and became certified as an anesthesiologist. But in 1994, Dr. Kim heard about the plight of the Koreans in central Asia and decided to take his family to Uzbekistan. They sold everything they owned, and he walked away from a lucrative medical career paying well over $300,000 a year.

Dr. Kim grappled with the harsh realities of Uzbekistan. Offering medical service was a way to establish a relationship with the people. But there were problems with the local authorities. There was also a shortage of medical training in the Tashkent province, so Dr. Kim began teaching Western medicine. Most medical textbooks in Uzbekistan were outdated, so Dr. Kim taught from American textbooks, and his daughter moved to Tashkent to help teach the students English and Korean. 

Koreans 1.jpg

Dr. Kim had purchased and remodeled an old Soviet kindergarten building in the city of Almalyk using his own money. The buildings were terribly run down, but Dr. Kim turned the facility into a delightful clinic. All he needed was for Project C.U.R.E. to stock the clinic with medical supplies and equipment. We not only provided the desperately needed items, but we delivered medical goods to the local government hospital in Almalyk as well!

As I continued to work in central Asia after the fall of the dismal Soviet system, my heart would at times nearly burst with compassion and pride for the thousands of heroic Koreans who responded to the  urgent call for kindness, justice, and righteousness. In my quiet moments, I would think . . .  

          Show me your hands—are they scarred by compassion?
          Show me your feet—have the rough trails left them bruised?
         
Show me you heart—has it been broken in love for your wounded                  brothers?  
          I salute you, my Korean friends!


NOT JUST THE BEST, BUT LEGENDARY

I knew I was in trouble. There was no domestic air service from the Chinese city of Shaoyang to Zhengzhou. I would have to travel four hours on an area transport bus to a city called Changsha. There I could catch a train to Zhengzhou for my next hospital assessment.

Traveling in northern China wasn’t easy. In the early 2000s, as the Chinese people began to work their way out from under the restrictive and oppressive restraints of the government and once again exercise their natural talents for business and enterprise, the nation as a whole awakened like an aroused giant. Such things as transportation systems were still trying to catch up with the new demands.

I successfully boarded a rickety, old bus headed for Changsha. But mechanical problems had us stopping periodically to refill the leaky radiator. My translator and I were losing precious time, and I could see that getting to the train depot before my train left for Zhengzhou was going to be a close call. As our driver approached the outskirts of Changsha, we encountered a stand-still traffic jam.

I explained to my young translator just how important it was that I not miss the train to Zhengzhou. When we realized that the bus would never get us to the station on time, we agreed upon a risky and creative alternative. We asked the bus driver to open the door and let us out. We then scrambled out with my luggage and ran across the road to the lane of traffic traveling away from the city. That lane wasn’t deadlocked. Within two minutes, I was able to hail a local taxi. My translator explained to the driver our urgency to get to the train depot immediately. The driver was a young, aggressive man who couldn’t take his eyes off the US dollars I was holding in my hand. After we had piled into the car, he took the next side road, and we were off like thistledown in a wind storm.

In minutes, the little taxi came sliding to a stop at a side entrance to the train depot, with dust billowing around us. I graciously paid the aggressive driver, and my translator and I went running down the platform to coach number fifteen in spite of all the train attendants waving their arms at us. The door on our coach was still open, and I tossed my luggage into the coach as the conductor began blowing his whistle to start the train rolling. Our goofy gamble had paid off, and we had made it!

The train coaches were completely packed, but eventually we were able to find a place where we could hunker down for the balance of the fourteen-hour trip to Zhengzhou. Upon our arrival, we located a small, clean hotel room, where I was able to sleep a couple of hours and take a refreshing shower. Then I was ready to visit the next two hospitals.

Zhengzhou was located in the province of Henan, which claimed a population of more than one hundred million people. The first hospital I was slated to assess was the Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou, a onethousand-bed hospital that was involved in some very extensive remodeling. The second hospital I was to assess became the delight of my entire trip.

As we walked through the front doors of the Zhengzhou Fifth People’s Hospital, we were met by three young, attractive Chinese ladies in white, crisply starched nurse’s uniforms and caps. Across the front of each uniform was neatly draped a bright-red satin sash with gold writing. One of the nurses approached us with a beautiful smile and kindly asked us how she could assist us? My translator told her that we were there for an appointment with the hospital director Dr. Rang Da Zhong.

The young lady informed us that the director was anticipating our arrival and asked us to follow her. The other two ladies stayed near the door in the front lobby. As we followed our hostess, I couldn’t help but notice that the hallways and lobbies, and even the elevators, were bright and shining clean. As we passed through the ophthalmology department, I mumbled that we just as well could have been walking down the halls of an eye clinic anywhere in Chicago or Los Angeles. The new equipment was state of the art, and the facilities were attractive in every way. I later found out that their eye surgeons had been trained abroad and were already using their laser- and microscopic-surgery machines to their fullest.

Dr. Zhong was a personable fellow and seemed genuinely glad that we had come. He was not only the director of the hospital but was also one of the chief surgeons. He was an interesting combination of a pleasing personality, high energy, and dignity. Following a few minutes of introduction, we got into the assessment questions. In addition to walking the halls of the facility and visiting every department, I asked if I could dress in scrubs and observe the procedures going on in the operating theaters. The director was gracious in every respect.

Not Just Best, but Legendary  aa  Project22.png

When finished, I was welcomed back into the conference room, where I met the president and vice president of the hospital. They shared with me briefly about their plans for new construction and then frankly asked me for my input and observations about their hospital and how they could make it better.

I told them that I had walked the halls of thousands of hospitals in developing countries around the world, but their hospital was different from any other. From the greeting I had received in the lobby to the observations in the surgery theaters, I had a sense that everything was under control, that everyone was happy to be there doing what they were doing, and that they were all headed in the same direction philosophically and administratively. I told them, “No organization will rise above its leadership. What I’ve observed today is that the success of your institution has started with you, the leaders. In my opinion, you are the greatest example of entrepreneurial, capital-intensive marketing that I’ve seen in a developing country. You’re leading very effectively. Keep at it!”

They sat there stunned for a minute and then replied, “How could you see so much by just briefly walking through our hospital? We want to take you to lunch and continue our discussion.” At lunch, we discussed China, economics, and the health-care industry. At one point I asked them to tell me what had happened at their hospital that made them so different.

They looked at each other and then began telling me the story. A man by the name of Sam Walton had come to China to open up some supermarkets. The people from Zhengzhou Fifth People’s Hospital had all gone to the Sam M. Walton College.

This is what they had learned:
Rule 1: Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anything else. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do the best you can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you—like a fever.

Rule 2: Share your profits with all your associates and treat them as partners. 

Rule 3: Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting ways to motivate and challenge your partners. Set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score.

Rule 4: Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. . . . Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors.

Rule 5: Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. All of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them.

Rule 6: Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself so seriously. . . . Have fun and always show enthusiasm.

Rule 7: Listen to everyone in your company, and figure out ways to get them talking.

Rule 8: Exceed your customer’s expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want—and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don’t make excuses—apologize.

Rule 9: Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage.

Rule 10: Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.

The hospital administrators then said to me, “Dr. Jackson, the government in China has stopped giving free medical service. We think that’s good for us. Now we need to figure how to finance the system, because everyone still needs medical help at some time. We’ve decided that there will be enough money available to support our hospital, and if we’re in competition with other hospitals for the money that is available, then we’ll make the people want to come to our facility and buy medical service from us.

Sam Walton says that people want a good shopping experience. We’ll give the people the best medical experience. If they want good parking, we’ll make good parking available. We’ll give the people friendly service from happy and helpful employees and staff. We’ll give them clean and attractive facilities and the best and most modern equipment. But Sam Walton says most of all, we must train our people to have teamwork and always attain excellence in everything. We must have goals and become the best.

Dr. Jackson, if there is money in Zhengzhou for medical services, then we’re going to capture that money for our hospital. We think people will find the money if we’ll give them good and happy results. When we receive the money, we can continue to buy the best equipment and give even more excellent service.”

“We don’t want to be just the best; we want to be legendary.” 
 


I SHOULD HAVE BECOME A WATCHMAKER

Clocks have always intrigued me. For those of you who have visited  our home, you know that we have at least one wind-up pendulum clock in every room, except the bathrooms and closets. The pendulum clock that hangs in our kitchen has been in our possession for more than fifty years.

I’m especially fascinated by old clocks and captivated by the concept of time. Anna Marie and I have traveled to Greenwich, outside London, and viewed the Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory. I’ve carefully lugged home interesting clocks from South America and Asia for my family and have even visited the rare display of ancient clocks at the Forbidden  City in Beijing, China.

The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, and if I had become a clockmaker and an official studier of time, I would have been called a “horologist.” The word clock comes from the Celtic words clagan and clocca, which mean “bell.” If a device doesn’t have a bell or a chime, it’s simply called a “timepiece” or “watch.” For millennia, devices such as the sundial, the candle clock, the hourglass, and the ancient water clock were all used to precisely measure units of time during any given day. So in layman’s language, clocks measure time, and time is what keeps everything from happening all at once. That sounds simple enough . . . but wait. What is time? 

We all know that an hour can seem like an eternity or pass in a flash, depending on what we’re doing. You can’t see or feel time, yet your car mechanic can charge a hundred dollars an hour for it without fixing a thing. And some wise guy can convince you that “time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.” I even had a sacrilegious bloke once ask me, “What year did Jesus think it was?” 

Time was a serious enough issue that when Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland was on her deathbed in 1603, she begged, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” 

Ancient philosophers and theologians have never been able to agree on the nature of time. Saint Augustine handled the subject cleverly. He thought he could grasp the meaning of time but admitted that when it came to explaining it, he had a difficult time: “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” He ended up explaining it as a “ ‘distention’ of the mind . . . by which we simultaneously grasp the past in memory, the present by attention, and the future by expectation.”

In ancient Greece, philosophers like Epicurius believed that time and space were infinite, and the universe had no beginning. By contrast, monotheistic faiths, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have traditionally believed that God alone is infinite and that he created a finite universe in which time had a distinct beginning. In medieval times, philosophers and theologians also argued that the universe was finite, and time originated when the universe began.

So people either believed that time was part of the basic framework of a finite universe, and that events happened in a sequence that could be measured in some way, or they believed that time, like the universe, was infinite, nonsequential, and couldn’t be measured. That’s about as clear as mud, isn’t it? 

When I get tired of reckoning with the dusty minds of the past, I resort to the real world and philosophy of Dr. Seuss to shed some light on the subject of time:
                              How did it get so late so soon?
                              It’s night before it’s afternoon.
                              December is here before it’s June.
                              My goodness how the time has flewn.
                              How did it get so late so soon?
Then he quips, “They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

I started paying attention to historic clocks as I traveled the world. I’m totally enraptured by Big Ben along the river Thames in London.

I should have become a watchmaker Project22.png

Another intriguing clock is the the Salisbury Cathedral clock, built in 1386, which is said to be the oldest surviving clock in the world that mechanically strikes the hours (which means it operates by weights and doesn’t have hands or a dial). I also learned a bit about pendulum clocks. Apparently, Galileo was one of the first scientists to come up with the pendulum concept, but Christiaan Huygens is credited with inventing the first pendulum-regulated clock in 1656. He also determined the precise pendulum length required for a clock to make a one-second movement.

Spring-driven clocks came on the scene in France during the fifteenth century. Then, in the eighteenth century, on November 17, 1797, the first clock patent was awarded to Eli Terry, who ushered in the era of clock making in America. Early in the nineteenth century, Terry was the first clockmaker in America to develop mass production and interchangeable clock parts.

About twenty years before the American Civil War, Alexander Bain, a Scottish clock maker, invented and patented the electric clock. By the twentieth century, technological advances paved the way for the invention of timepieces without any mechanical clock parts at all. These types of clocks keep time by different means, including tuning forks, quartz crystals, or atoms. Since the 1960s, the frequency of a cesium atom—9,192,631,770 oscillations per second—became the international unit of time.

Albert Einstein once said, “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking. . . . The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

I believe Einstein was saying that since this phenomenon called time seems to exist for the convenience of humankind, it certainly stands to reason that the most significance connected to it lies with the hearts and behavior of individuals. Each person has exactly the same number of hours and minutes in each day. Wealthy people can’t buy more hours, and even the smartest scientist can’t invent more minutes. Try as you may, you can’t save time to spend it on another day.

The dazzling concept of time reminds us to cherish all the individual moments, because they will never come again. If you don’t value yourself and those around you, you won’t value your time. Until you begin to value your time, you won’t fully maximize it.

There’s a clock on the wall, and it’s ticking down the time you have left till you’re dust in the ground. How you love the people with the time you have determines if you’re judged worthy or not.

William Penn said, “Time is what we want most, but what . . . we use worst.” Had I understood that fully, even at a younger age, I probably would have joined Albert Einstein in saying, “If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.” 


SEEKING TRUTH

Many old, salty sea captains have managed to sail their ships back to the safety of harbor lights with nothing more than a magnetized sewing needle balanced on a cork, floating in a cup of water. That was the only compass they needed to get back to the comforts of home and hearth. And while it is touted that a compass never lies, it can deceive you. The direction of north that your compass gives you just might be wrong. Compasses point toward the magnetic north pole, located near Ellesmere Island in north Canada. But true north is not there. It is over seventy miles away. Depending on where in the world you are located, the difference between where your compass is pointing and where you are in relation to true north can be considerable. 

When I was just a kid, I learned that it was possible to take even the finest compass and make it tell you that north was anywhere you wanted it to be. All you needed was a cheap refrigerator magnet close by, and you could perform miracles. No longer would the needle of the compass point to earth’s magnetic north, but it would point to wherever the refrigerator
magnet was placed in close proximity. Of course, the accuracy and utility of the compass was completely spoiled. No longer would it perform the function for which it was designed. No salty sea captain would set his cup of water, cork, and magnetized sewing needle on top of a refrigerator magnet and expect to sail safely home. 

iStk_compass.jpg

Through the years I have been concerned about how easy it is for folks to employ their handy refrigerator magnet to situations of life and truth. It doesn’t take much for someone to slip his refrigerator magnet onto the table and proclaim that north is precisely where he says it is. I have become increasingly bothered with the proliferation of relative truth and the difficulty of determining “true north.” While growing up, I used to wonder why glib politicians were referred to as having magnetic personalities. Today, I think I better understand. With their handy little refrigerator magnet, they can change the compass direction of north two, three, or four times in a day—or even within a debate. But where precisely is true north?

I was traveling in the Bulgarian city of Haskovo, performing a medical Needs Assessment Study for Project C.U.R.E., and I struck up a conversation with one of the health officials, a former officer of the Soviet Union. We began talking about what it had been like to live in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime. “Everything was relative,” he said. “You never knew just what to expect as ‘truth.’ You could only depend on what you were told at the moment and you were expected to respond accordingly. Everything was relative with no unattached or independent ‘absolutes.’” Then he related a story to explain his point.

“There was a certain clock shop on the main street of our town. The man who operated the shop had a good reputation in the community. He was conscientious and kind and knew a lot about clocks. On the back wall of his shop, he had on display a large and beautifully hand-carved clock with an expensive and precise set of works inside. It was, indeed, a masterpiece
and kept very accurate time. The clock man loved the clock and was very proud of it.”

My new friend went on to tell me, “Everyday an important-looking man walked by the clock shop. He would stop momentarily and study the clock on the back wall. He would then pull out his own pocket watch that was attached to his jacket by a handsome chain. He would reset his pocket watch, place it back in his jacket, and hurriedly walk away. One day the clock man stepped out of his store and stopped the man as he reset his pocket watch. ‘Do you admire the clock on my wall? I see you stop every day and look at it before you walk on.’

‘Yes,’ the man said, ‘I love your clock, and I know that it is very accurate. I have a very mportant job. I work at the large factory by the river, and I am in charge of blowing the whistle precisely at eight o’clock. I check the time on your clock every day so that I will know exactly when to blow the whistle.’ 

The clock man gasped. His mouth fell open as he stumbled with his words. ‘You are the man who blows the whistle each morning? But I set my clock each day by your whistle!’”

I've made a determination and set a personal goal for the future: Don’t get caught up in depending upon relative truth, but diligently seek, as if for the finest treasure, truth that is unattached, loosened from, and non-manipulated by the agendas of this world. 


MY AFFAIR WITH DAFFODILS

William Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils opens with these inspiring lines:
                               I wandr’d lonely as a cloud
                              That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
                              When all at once I saw a crowd,
                              A host of golden daffodils,
                              Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
                              Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


I swear, I really didn’t mean to fall in love with daffodils. It just sort of happened. Wherever I would wander “lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills,” I, too, would catch a glimpse of the crowd, “a host of golden daffodils.”

Daffodils grow naturally in woodlands and meadows throughout Europe, North Africa, and west Asia. There are anywhere between forty and two hundred varieties of daffodils, but you don’t get to view them very long. They’re in bloom for about three weekends, and then they’re gone for another year. 

The name daffodil started out as affodell. No one seems to know why the initial d was added, but it most likely came from the Dutch article “de,” as in “de affodil.” From at least the sixteenth century, folks have been fooling around with the name, as in rhymes like “Daffodowndilly has come to town, in a yellow petticoat and a green gown.”

Daffodils are also the stuff of legend and myth. An ancient Chinese legend, for example, speaks of the daffodil bringing a poor but good man much wealth. This spring flower is also a symbol of the Chinese New Year. Daffodils that bloom on this occasion are said to bring good fortune during the year. The Chinese also love and revere the flower because of its sweet fragrance.

In Persian literature, garden flowers often symbolize facial characteristics. Daffodils, for example, resemble beautiful eyes, roses symbolize cheeks, and hyacinths resemble shining locks of hair. Some countries associate yellow daffodils with Easter. And in the German language, the word for “daffodil” is osterglocke, which means “Easter bell.”

As far as I’m concerned, “a house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or no the sun be shining outside.”

The place where I fell in love with daffodils wasn’t Germany, China, Persia, or Holland. It was in dear old London town. In my years of travel, I would be required to pass through London as often as ten times a year. I looked forward to being in Great Britain in the spring. Many times I would be in London on my birthday, March 22. Even if I only had a few hours’ layover at Heathrow or Gatwick, I would grab my camera, put the rest of my bags in “left luggage” at the airport, get on the train, and head for Victoria Station. From there I could walk into a fantasyland of weaving and nodding gold. The daffodils would be in bloom in Green Park, Hyde Park, St. James Park, and all along the Pall Mall from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. It was ecstasy. It was peace. It was a delight to the eye and a solace to this weary traveler’s soul.

One spring I had been traveling in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and it was necessary for me to pass through London before continuing on to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda. It had been very cold in Pakistan and would be very hot in Africa. I needed a whole new set of clothes but didn’t have enough time to go all the way back to Denver to exchange suitcases. Fortuitously enough for me, it was spring break at Anna Marie’s school, and it was also going to be my birthday. She packed another suitcase for me, jumped on a flight out of Denver, and met me in London.

My Affair with Daffodils 2 Project1.png

We walked through the parks and returned to our hotel near Westminster Abbey. I was very exhausted from the travel and fell soundly asleep in our room. When I awoke, I was reclining in a room filled with fresh daffodils and roses. Anna Marie had gone to the market to purchase flowers and fresh strawberries for tea and shortcake.

A few years ago, Anna Marie asked if there was anyplace special I would like to go for my birthday. My answer was, “No, I don’t believe so. I think I already know what’s on the other side of most of the mountains on the map.” Then I stopped and said, “Oh, there is one place I would love to go . . . Let’s go to England and chase the daffodils.”

So we flew to London and then caught the fast train to Carlisle. We met up with some friends and headed to the Lake District in the north. Our destination was the village of Grasmere, the old stomping grounds of William Wordsworth. We visited fields of daffodils, the ancient stone church and courtyard of dazzling yellow, and the gravesite and headstone of William Wordsworth. 

To my surprise, busloads of Japanese and Korean tourists were there to honor Wordsworth and view the daffodils. I later learned the significance of daffodils in the Asian culture. It seems that Japanese practitioners of a traditional medicine called Kampo mixed daffodil roots with wheat-flour paste to treat wounds. In a more recent medical breakthrough, scientists discovered a compound in daffodils called galantamine that has shown promise in treating Alzheimer’s disease. And it just so happens that commercial crops of daffodils, the national flower of Wales, are grown in Powys, Wales for this purpose.

Most visitors travel to Great Britain in summertime after school is out, and they mistakenly think that all English parks have to offer is green grass. Little do they know that under that carpet of green grass are tens of thousands of daffodil bulbs ready to cast aside winter and announce the beauty and vibrancy of yet another spring. By the time the tourists arrive, lawnmowers have cleared away the transitional gold and have prepared the parks for another summer.

I can identify with the final stanza of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils:
                                       For oft, when on my couch I lie
                                       In vacant or in pensive mood,
                                       They flash upon that inward eye
                                       Which is the bliss of solitude;
                                       And then my heart with pleasure fills,
                                       And dances with the daffodils.


Next time spring rolls around, why not experience an affair with the daffodils?