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Title: Oral History Interview with Kong Phok, December 19, 2000. Interview K-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Phok, Kong, interviewee
Interview conducted by Lau, Barbara
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 168 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-09-30, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Kong Phok, December 19, 2000. Interview K-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0273)
Author: Barbara Lau
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Kong Phok, December 19, 2000. Interview K-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0273)
Author: Kong Phok
Description: 143 Mb
Description: 46 p.
Note: Interview conducted on December 19, 2000, by Barbara Lau; recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by L. McLain.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
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The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Kong Phok, December 19, 2000.
Interview K-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Phok, Kong, interviewee


Interview Participants

    KONG PHOK, interviewee
    PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB, interviewee
    BARBARA LAU, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
BARBARA LAU:
Today is December 19, right?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, 19.
BARBARA LAU:
That's 2000. I'm at the Greensboro Buddhist Center. This is Barbara Lau. And now see, I've forgotten. You said that people call you Tommy, but that's not really your name. Tell me what your name is.
KONG PHOK:
My real name is Kong Phok.
BARBARA LAU:
Okay. And also, we're with Phramaha Somsak Sambimb, who's sitting in on the interview, and is going to help ask questions. So maybe you could tell me, do you know what day you were born?
KONG PHOK:
I was born March the 6th, 1976.
BARBARA LAU:
And where were you born?
KONG PHOK:
Battambong, Cambodia.
BARBARA LAU:
I understand that you left Cambodia when you were very young. Do you remember, or has your family told you the story about how your family left Cambodia?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, but it's very long time. But I try my best to answer. My parents, we stay in Cambodia, I think in the refugee camp for I think at least one year. Then we move to, I think it's Philippines?
PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB:
Thailand.
KONG PHOK:
Thailand.
PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB:
Then Philippines.

Page 2
KONG PHOK:
Philippines andߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Were you very young when your family left?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, I was very young.
BARBARA LAU:
Does your family talk very much anymore about what happened in Cambodia?
KONG PHOK:
They did tell us once, but they try notߞ you know, it was very bad back then, and they don't want me to remember all those bad thing happen. But if I ask them any question, they would answer any question I ask, which I don't ask too many. All I ask is just how many sister, how many brother do I have. And we do have a big family, you know.
BARBARA LAU:
How many people left when your family left?
KONG PHOK:
Total we have eight family. And I have threeߞ I think two sister or one brother die. And I have one, the oldest, in Cambodia, which he's still living right now.
BARBARA LAU:
So one still lives in Cambodiaߞ
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
ߞbut some were killed during the Khmer Rouge time?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, killed, cause of starvation.
BARBARA LAU:
They died?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
So when your family went to the refugee camp on the border, how many of you were there?
KONG PHOK:
That Iߞ
BARBARA LAU:
You don't remember?
KONG PHOK:
ߞcouldn't remember.

Page 3
BARBARA LAU:
Okay.
KONG PHOK:
I have a bad memory, I guess.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, that's probably, like your parents sayߞthey're not necessarily good memories.
KONG PHOK:
No.
BARBARA LAU:
So you were saying that you then went to a campߞ after in Thailand, you went to a camp in the Philippines. Do you remember how old you were when you lived there?
KONG PHOK:
I think I'm around like four or five, I guess.
BARBARA LAU:
So you spent a couple of years in the camp in Thailand?
KONG PHOK:
Not that long, but pretty ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
And then did your family come from Philippines to the United States then?
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And where did they settle? Did they come directly to North Carolina or a different place?
KONG PHOK:
If I remember, I think we came down here first.
BARBARA LAU:
To North Carolina?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. It was my uncle who went to California before he came here. But I think my family came down here to Greensboro.
BARBARA LAU:
How old were you then? Do you remember that?
KONG PHOK:
I think I was eight or nine.
BARBARA LAU:
So you were old enough to go to school?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, I came here andߞ

Page 4
BARBARA LAU:
And did you have brothers and sisters then that came with you?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. I have one older sister and one younger brother.
BARBARA LAU:
So the three of you children and then both your mother and your father?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, Mom and Dad, yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
And then you said you had an uncle that went to California. He went to California first?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. He came down here before my family did, and came here a couple years. Then I think he sponsored usߞno, actually, the Lutheran Family sponsoredߞ bring our family down here, yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
Then he went to California with his familyߞ
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, he chose to live in California.
BARBARA LAU:
With his family or by himself?
KONG PHOK:
With his family.
PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB:
Just one year, then he came back here.
BARBARA LAU:
Oh, so he stayed there for a little while, and then he came back to North Carolina?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you remember what you thought about North Carolina or the United States when you first came here?
KONG PHOK:
When I first came here?
BARBARA LAU:
Uh-huh.
KONG PHOK:
Well, it was my first time in America. If you're talking about right now, I mean,

Page 5
North Carolina is really a good place to live. I've been here all my life. My family doesn't travel that much. I love North Carolina. It's very quiet and peaceful. The school and everything is real good. I haven't get any trouble in North Carolina. I mean, I think it is a good city.
BARBARA LAU:
A good city.
KONG PHOK:
Good city.
BARBARA LAU:
When you were little, did you go to school right away?
KONG PHOK:
In North Carolina?
BARBARA LAU:
In North Carolina.
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, I start offߞ actually, I start off in fifth grade. And then actually, I was kind of young. Then the teacher asked me, well, how old I am and stuff. And then it wasߞ the age wasn't qualified for the fifth grade, so they dropped me back down to third grade.
BARBARA LAU:
Were you in ESL [English as a Second Language] classes?
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
So when you came over, did you speak any English at all?
KONG PHOK:
Not at all.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you remember from being in elementary school? Was it hard because you didn't speak English?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. It is very hard. I mean, [as a ] kid, you know [you] get pick on. They'll pick on you. Yeah, it was very hard to learn.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, what happened to you? Did the kids pick on you? What kind of stuff did they do?

Page 6
KONG PHOK:
Like you know, not talkingߞ pronouncing correct words, and not able to communicate with them very well. They justߞ we just different, that's all. That was back then, though.
BARBARA LAU:
Were there other Cambodian kids in your class then?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. There was a couple Cambodian kids.
BARBARA LAU:
So were you able to be friends with them?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, we were friends. Some, they shy. You know how girls are, our parent trainߞ I mean, teaches most girl, they're shy, and they won't talk to you even though you're the same, Cambodian, you know, but they won't hardly talk to each other becauseߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Because you're a boy?
KONG PHOK:
Because a boy and girl, you know. But if boy, boy, is okay.
PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB:
That our tradition.
BARBARA LAU:
Right.
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. That's just the culture that's ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Do you remember the name of your elementary school?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. Vandalia Elementary School.
BARBARA LAU:
Was there any particular things that stick out for you, memories of your elementary school, things that happened, your teachers, or things that were good or bad?
KONG PHOK:
I would never forget the first time I saw snow. I think my teacher was kind enough. She told everybody to sit down, but she was kind enough for me to go outside and to play with the snow, because it was my first time seeing snow. She let me play out there. Everybody was staying in the classroom. I would never forget that. It was kind. It was her

Page 7
kindness for letting me do that.
BARBARA LAU:
So it was pretty exciting, then, huh?
KONG PHOK:
It was exciting, yeah, for me.
BARBARA LAU:
Was education important to you when you were a little kid?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, it was very important, because every single day when I get home, my parents will always remind me, you knowߞ cause since they came down here, they not speak any English. Dad was working two jobs trying to support us. Mom wasn't working back then. A few years later when we stayed down there four or five years , she got a job, which didn't pay that much back then, and they support us. They say education very good. You have to have it. I always think about it every time I go to schoolߞI mean, that's in high school, but talking about elementary, we didn't know anything about skipping and stuff. When we high school just kid always skipping and stuff. I mean, I'm not perfect myself. I do skip and stuff, but I chose, you know, not too far to fail the class or anything. It always in my memory, every time when I do something wrong and stuff in school, always mom and dad will always pop up in my memories.
BARBARA LAU:
Reminding you that the schoolߞ
KONG PHOK:
Reminding me it's important what they are.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you remember what kind of work your dad was doing when they first moved here?
KONG PHOK:
Oh, wow. When we first moved down here, he was working in a restaurant, and a janitor in some kind of hospital. I couldn't remember the name right now.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of place did you live?

Page 8
KONG PHOK:
We was living in an apartment, which is I think one bedroom and oneߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So a lot of people in not a lot of space?
KONG PHOK:
About five people.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of neighborhood? Who were your neighbors?
KONG PHOK:
The neighbors?
BARBARA LAU:
Did you talk to your neighbors?
KONG PHOK:
We try to talk, which at that time I was young. My older sister which know a little bit more English than I do, and my parents always tell us to respect others, and always try to talk to your neighbor and get along with them. My sister, we always talk. We have friendly neighbors, and we talked to them. It is kind of hard, because my sister, even though she know how to speak English and understand, English is herߞ like I said, her English weren't that perfect yet. We have good neighbors, and we do get along with them very well.
BARBARA LAU:
So you didn't have any trouble in the neighborhood really, with people thinking you were really different or you didn't belong here, or anything like that?
KONG PHOK:
No, we didn't have a problem.
BARBARA LAU:
That's great.
KONG PHOK:
I'm glad we didn't have that problem.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you hear about that from other people though? Was that a problem for some other people you knew?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, I heard.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of experience did they have that they would tell you about?
KONG PHOK:
They would have problem like, you know, the neighbor doesn't get along with

Page 9
the neighbor. They'll start a problem because they couldn't, you know, get along with the neighbor because I guess they're different. I don't hear too much. I don't like to get involved with any problems of something like that, because that was how I taught to sometime mind my own business if I could. If something I can help, I can help out.
BARBARA LAU:
So your parents really encouraged you to work on getting along at firstߞ
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, getting along, that's the number-one thing.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you spend a lot of time hanging out with kids in the neighborhood, or mostly just with people in your family when you were little?
KONG PHOK:
Hang around with kids in the neighborhood.
BARBARA LAU:
Did they influence you, do you think?
KONG PHOK:
A lot.
BARBARA LAU:
In what ways?
KONG PHOK:
Well, when I was young, going back to high school, I was involved with a lot of gangs friends and stuff. It was like I told my brother, like I tell myself, you know, it's not them who can make you join, it's you who, if you chose not to, you're not. I do hang around with them, but I'm not turn myself to be like them. I'm just being their friend, but not like a best friend. I'm playing around with them, but I'm choosing a smart way to, you know, to choose my life, what I want to do with my life. They can't force you to do it if you don't want to.
BARBARA LAU:
Did that kind of stuff start when you were really little? When you were in elementary school or junior high? If you were to go back to just a little bit and think about, when you were eight or nine or ten years old, then as you got a little bit olderߞ

Page 10
KONG PHOK:
I didn't go to school at all when I was in my country, because it's not like school over here, you don't have to pay for school unless you're going to college or maybe have a scholarship or something that will help you. But back then in my country, I think you have to have money in order to go to school, if you don't, you can't go to school or maybe ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So when you left elementary school, what did you like about that? I mean, were there certain subjects you liked or certain things you liked about school then? Or was it just something your parents wanted you to do, and you kind of had to go?
KONG PHOK:
Well, a little bit both way. I was excited when I started in elementary school. I was excited. Number one, to ride a bus, and two to meet friends and stuff. I thought the school was good, which it is okay. I mean, I love school, have good teachers, and meet a lot of friends, get to know a lot of people and ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Do you remember things you learned about Americans then that were different from like the way that you grew up or the way that you lived when you first went to school?
KONG PHOK:
The food. The food and the culture. This might sound a little personal, but the way you respectߞ the way they give respect to the parents. You see, our parentsߞ I mean, I have a friend which I think is good, I mean, the way they treat their parents. They will try to get along with their parents, like friend. Ours, we can't be friend with our parents. There's some level that you have to be, no matter whatߞ how much you love them and stuff, parents always parents. You can't like call the name by name. I have American friend which I like the way their lifestyle is, you know, his parents will try to get along with him, you know, and call your parents by name, like first name. We can't. They'll

Page 11
play with [their] parents, and go out and do little hobby thing like fishing and stuff. But our parents, they don't do those kind of stuff with us. I'm not mad at them or anything, but I wish they could do thatߞspend time with the kids and go out more often to show that you care for the kids. You know, if they do good in school, take them out [to] Celebration Station orߞ that's how I'm going to raise my kid, since I have a kid. But I don't blame my mom and dad, because they been over there in the country, and they follow the culture so long, and you can't expect them to change. I won't expect them to change. But I've been raised in the United States for a long time. I've been here almost 18 years. My wife been here longer than I have. We are Americanized. We always remember Cambodia. But like you ask me, do I consider myself Cambodian or Cambodian-American, I consider myself as Cambodian-American. I cherish both way the same amount.
BARBARA LAU:
Did your parents when you were young try to teach you things about being Cambodian?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, they would teach us not to forget Cambodian, but not to take Cambodian the first priority, but try to teach us not to forget how w what they've been through. I mean, I haven't been through a lot. But my parents, my sister, they been through a lot. They try to not let us forget all about that. When we came to United States, even though we have a job, have a place to stay, try not forget where we were before.
BARBARA LAU:
What did they want you to remember? What were the good things they wanted you to remember about being Cambodian?
KONG PHOK:
Good thing ߞ

Page 12
BARBARA LAU:
Language? They wanted you to speak Khmer?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, they really wanted me to speak Khmer. But like I said, I didn't go to schoolߞ I learn how to speak Khmer. See, in English, I went to school for it. Khmer I just learned from people talking to me. I just 'cause that's my language, and I just learn it. I don't even know how to read and write, which I am mad at myself about. But I'm not really, really mad because I did not get to go to school or stayߞ wasn't that old in Cambodia to learn enough in Cambodian. But I'm trying to talkߞI try once to learn how to read and write with the Adjan or with other teachers, and I just couldn't catch on so fast. Cambodian is much harder than English, maybe because I learn English. I no read and write, but I think my language is very hard to me.
BARBARA LAU:
What else, what about religion? Did they teach you very much about being Buddhist?
KONG PHOK:
No, not really. I mean, when I was small I went to church and all that. But to me, I believe it's just different religion. There's only one God. I mean, I go to church, I mean, go to temple. I mean, there's no hate, you just have to go. When I was young, those churches, they sponsor me. They help me with my family and stuff. They're real nice. I mean, temple too. Temple is good place. It's church. It's just you use different phrase, different words, you know, to make itߞ you know, church is church, temple is church, but it's one God.
BARBARA LAU:
So when you were little, did your family hang out with other Cambodian families or ߞ
KONG PHOK:
Yes. They have friends.

Page 13
BARBARA LAU:
Yeah. And so what kinds of things did you all do when you'd get together?
KONG PHOK:
Talking about as family?
BARBARA LAU:
Uh-huh.
KONG PHOK:
Most time, they'll talk, you know, back in the country and stuff, which I don't know too much. Mom and dad will talk, mom will talk to her friends. And her friendߞ most of her friend lived in the same hometown with her back in Cambodia. They'll talk. They'll ask, you know, how many family they have in the United States that's still alive. Basically, they'll talk about that and cook, and they'll talk aboutߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So what do the kids do?
KONG PHOK:
The kids just play. We don't know anything about it. But that's me. I wish I could know more because I really want to learn more about it. Sometime I have to read Cambodian books to know about my own country. Sometime I very disappointed in myself.
BARBARA LAU:
When you were in school, were you interested in that kind of thing, learning more about Cambodian history or culture?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, learning different cultures. I very interested in it.
BARBARA LAU:
So did you do it? Were you able to do any of that in school, when you were, say, in high school?
KONG PHOK:
You're talking about doing research?
BARBARA LAU:
Yeah. Were there any teachers who encouraged you to do any of that, or did you read any books?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, my history teacher, he encouraged me to learn, but not in Cambodian. You know, like what school recommend, like the World War II and stuff like French. But I

Page 14
never learn about my country. We never learn anything about Cambodia in high school. It's not in the book at all. I have to do my own research to learn. I'll ask Adjan or my parents to learn more about Cambodia.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you do that when you were in high school? Is that something that was interesting to you, or did that come later?
KONG PHOK:
No, that was in high school. I was trying to learnߞ if I can't learn from the book, but there's some new student who came from Cambodia which learned more than I do. I'll ask them how it is, how you know so much about Cambodia? How you know how to read and write? How come you're so smart? I mean, 'cause I know English already, they think I'm good with English, and they think English is hard. I think Cambodian is hard. So we switch about. He'll teach me some word that I don't know, or something that I don't know about Cambodia, and I'll teach him something about America. But we all from same Cambodia, which he knows more about Cambodia, he just recently came to United States, that's why.
BARBARA LAU:
So you had to learn sort of from your peers and friends?
KONG PHOK:
From peers, friends, yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And your parents?
KONG PHOK:
Parents.
BARBARA LAU:
So as you got older what high school did you go to?
KONG PHOK:
Smith High School.
BARBARA LAU:
There were a lot of different kinds of people at Smith High School?
KONG PHOK:
Many, many different kind.

Page 15
BARBARA LAU:
What was that like? What was high school like?
KONG PHOK:
When I was starting high school, school is a little bit too hard. I mean, a little bitߞ not hard as in study, but hard as in like getting along with people. Since it's like different people mixing, different grade level mixing, and it was very hard to get along with people Smetime you have to join a crowd or you have to [be] average person to be, to have a friend. I wasn't an average person. But sometime I seen people picking on other people, not only Cambodian, but African or whatever. It really hurt me. That when I disobeyed my parents, you know, stop sticking nose in other people business, that when I take action. I do stick nose in people business. I mean, that's wrong for me. I involved with a lot of things like that, likeߞ
BARBARA LAU:
It sounds like you were sticking up for some people, you know?
KONG PHOK:
Not sticking upߞ I mean, not certain people. I don't care, like an American, I mean, this picking on not only like international people. Even in America, it's own people, they'll pick on. It would be like, for instance, like nerd and stuff, and that bothers me. That really bother me. I'll say something, even though that person is in my group or hang around me. To me, friend is friend. You have to understand how your friend feel. You can't force, or you can't do anything bad. If you want a friend, your friend have to understand where you're coming from. They have to accept that.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of friends did you have in high school?
KONG PHOK:
I have very bad friend. I have to admit it. I have friend who's in gang, who steal. I mean, the answer to your question, I mean, I hang around with a lot of bad crowd.

Page 16
BARBARA LAU:
How did you get into that, do you think? What drew you to that?
KONG PHOK:
Most the friend I have, they in my classroom. I was young back then, and I thought when I hang around with themߞ I thought education wasn'tߞ all I was thinking is to get GED for my parents, to finish high school. I wasn't thinking about college too much, but until I have family and job and stuff. What they require, bachelor degree, associate degree, now I realize school is very important. You have to get the degree. It doesn't matter what you know and what you do with those. Back then school wasn't that important to me, but my main goal was to finish high school for my parents, at least. And the kidsߞ back to your question, and sorry to have to skip like thatߞ andߞ
BARBARA LAU:
No, no. That's okay. Go on.
KONG PHOK:
And to the kids, the reason how I get involved with them is cause, like I said, classroom, student, you know, just classroom. I mean, sometime you just can't say 'no' or say whatever, you just have to get along with them. But you have to make the smart decision, not them make your decision. So I hang around with them, but they never make my decision. They always ask me, hey 'let's go, let's skip this, let's do this, do that,'ߞmany bad stuff. Most the stuff, I would say 'no.' But they always come to me and be my friend. I thought that if I say that they won't be my friend, but they treat me better now these day. I meet with them, they have family, some are killed. Some that I know that I meet, they have family. They change too. But they wait until it's too late to change. But I didn't chose their path. So after high school, I was working. When I was in high school I was working so hard. I wasn't able to do any school activities like play soccer or

Page 17
basketball, which I want to do. But me when I was in that age, I always supported myself. I always go to school. I work part-time. I was working nine hours at a restaurant. I get off like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and I have to come back and do my homework some and then try to go to school early and do homework. Sometime the teacher give you like certain minutes before class is over, like go ahead and start doing your homework, and I'll try to do that which is very hard. I wish I would have more time to do school activities, like playing football, soccer, volleyball or whatever, which I didn't have the opportunities like most other students.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, did you work because your family needed you to work or because you wanted extra money?
KONG PHOK:
You see, most kids, they depend on their parents. I'm the type of person, I like to depend on myself. I always respect my parents, but I like to support myself. I would like toߞ you know, like my wifeߞ like my sister, my parents chose her husband. Me, I disobey my parents for choosing my wife right now. I mean, which she not dislike her or anything. I chose my own wife, and I have to prove to her that she's wrong. She's not bad or anything. In our country we cannot go out or anything. Which I went out, but always go out likeߞ I mean, not take her out. I'd probably go visit her house or anything, go eat or something. I didn't introduce her to my parents unless about a year or two years because I know how my parent is. You know, they want me to get married to the girl who I don't love or anything. I chose my wife right now. I disobeyed them for choosing her. I have a little brother having the same problem like I do, but he's kind of confused right now. He wasn't the same problem like I do, I was sticking with one woman which is my wife right now, but he's

Page 18
gong back and forth. And it's not the same like me. Right now my parents even apologize to me, which I don't want them to, but they apologize. That you know, they'll sit and talk to me. They really realize that even though I disobeyed them, I chose the right path for my family, for my parents is always my parents, but my family is my family. What need to be done, that's me. I need to take care of it. And mom and dad is always mom and dad, would never change.
BARBARA LAU:
It sounds like your path with your parents started dividing when you were pretty young?
KONG PHOK:
When I was pretty young. Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think led you in a little different direction?
KONG PHOK:
Not to say that I and my parents don't get along. Me and my parents get along real well. It's just the way I choose. Like cars, like they want me to get a certain car. They'll make an offer with me lߞ like if I choose this car. But actually, it's not the car that I want to have. But let's say they're willing to pay you know, half if I chose a car that they love. And I didn't go that way. I chose the car that I like, which I end up having to take care of everything, the insurance and the car payment which they just say that because I guess they want me to work hard. But if I ever downfall, I know they would be there for me. But I don't think that way. So far, I chose my way. Everything is okay so far. They really admire me too. They tell me every day that they really like what I'm doing, and keep on doing what I'm doing.
BARBARA LAU:
So you're pretty independent.
KONG PHOK:
That's exactly what I'm trying to say. I'm a very independent person.

Page 19
BARBARA LAU:
I guess a lot of Cambodian kids aren't very independent, or Cambodian kids that would grow up in a real traditional family. But it sounds like when you were younger you made some decisions. Do you think that was because you were around more American kids, or just because that's who you were inside, you would be that whether you lived here or in Cambodia?
KONG PHOK:
That's how I am when I was young, I guess when I was growing up. It's not because I hang around with friends. And I have Cambodian friend, which that's their problem. If they chose to live with their parentsߞ which is okay if you help. But if you're going to live with your parents, at least help them pay rent. Some kid they just stay there, just using their parents, which I, if I ever stay with my parents, I probably pay bills and that. The reason why I move out of parents' as soon as I got married, probably a year after. I think after I graduate, I stay with them for three years, and then I move out. It's not that I move out because I don't want to worry about them, it's just because I want to start my life early, because life is short. You have to have fun and do what you want to do, because you never know, life is very short. I'm an independent person, and I chose to move out and start my own family real early when I'm young. I mean, after I'm married. I had a baby after my wife and me, we married. My wifeߞI didn't never give her a chance to go to school, but I'm working on it right now, to find a good job so she can go to school. It's not because she's married, we have kid, it's not we're going to stop our life right there. It's going to be the same. Since we have kid, we have to make plans. We have bills to pay, and we have to make plans step by step. I'm only twenty-four. My wife she's only twenty years old. She's young, and she's not

Page 20
too young to go back to school at all. She has a good job. We have house. We have car. Even though we have that, we still going to have to go get, like I said, degree, some kind of degree. We both can't do it. One of us have to do it somehow.
BARBARA LAU:
One at a time.
KONG PHOK:
One at a time. Maybe I let my wife do it first . She's smarterߞway smarter than I am, so ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So did you finish high school?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. We both finished high school.
BARBARA LAU:
So you graduated, or did you get a GED?
KONG PHOK:
I graduate high school. That's the main goal, no matter what I do, that's the main goal I have to get for my parents at least.
BARBARA LAU:
The guys that you were hanging out with in high school, were they Cambodian guys?
KONG PHOK:
Vietnamese, most of them.
BARBARA LAU:
When people would ask you who you were, would you say you were Cambodian or would you say you were Vietnamese?
KONG PHOK:
I would say I'm Cambodian.
BARBARA LAU:
I've heard that sometimes kids would kind ofߞ because people from theߞ
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, who theyߞ
BARBARA LAU:
ߞlike Americans, they wouldn't know.
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
You know, they might not know the difference.

Page 21
KONG PHOK:
Oh, I would say I'm Cambodian. They'd have some people like Cambodian not speak Vietnamese and stuff, but they kind of think I'm Vietnamese anyway, but I always say I'm Cambodian. I never lie where I'm from or where I am.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you feel proud of where you were from or was that hard in high school?
KONG PHOK:
I'm very proud of where I am, and high school, even though lot of picking going around and stuff, but I never let down like, oh, I'm not Cambodian, I'm something else, or I'm not Asian. What they don't understand when they callߞthis might be a little racial, but what they don't understand, you know, like they not only like American kids, they'll call us Chinese or Chink or whatever. They don't realize, Chinese, Chink, Vietnamese, Laos, Vietnamese, they are two different thing. We're not Chinese. We might look the same, but if you look, really look at it, we are different a little bit, you know, the way we look. It always one name that they use is Chink, which to me it really bother me. I even had a fight in school because of that too. I mean, I went to my counselor, Dr. Pember [phonetic], and she lecture me about how life is. When I was young I became the student of my teacher, Adjan, and he teach me. He taught me a lot how life is and stuff, and how respect, discipline. I think without him I probably end upߞ I don't know how my life is. I learn how to respect elders, how to control myself, my temper, and what to do when I'm really frustrated. You know, just have to have relax feeling. He taught me a lot of those when I was young. I became a monk for three months. He taught me a lot. I'm very, very thankful for him to teach me all those.
BARBARA LAU:
How old were you when youߞ it was you became a Novice?

Page 22
KONG PHOK:
Oh, I can't remember. I think I was fifteen.
PHRAMAHA SOMSAK SAMBIMB:
Twelve, thirteen.
KONG PHOK:
Twelve, fifteenߞtwelve, something like that.
BARBARA LAU:
So I were in monk for three months like in the summertime?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, for the summertime.
BARBARA LAU:
So tell me what your day would be like when you were a monk? What did [unclear] ߞ
KONG PHOK:
Well, he did this to teach us in a way. Every morning we'll go with him, do a little ceremonyߞ pray. After that, we'll work. We'll wake up early in the morning. He'll try to wake us up in the morning, because we couldn't wake up. He'll knock on the door, bang on something. He'll wake us up and we'll go. You see this temple right here, most of it is trees and stuff, wood and forest. We'll go and cut it down. And we'll work until lunchtime, until our only lunch. And we'll eat. At that time I wasn't used to it. I wasn't used to one lunch. You have to eat, like really eat. I usually eat two or three time a day. You have to really fool yourself, and can't be shy when you eat. You have to eat, because that's the only time you can eat. After that, you go back to work, I guess. And some monk will go and take a nap, which I know my teacher wouldn't like that, but I did rest some too because my first time work because I wasn't used to it, and after that we'll work and stuff. There's a lot of discipline going on. And you know, to me, I think I was a bad monk , but he forgive me. He teach me and stuff. And every day I still remember that, and I wouldn't forget about it, because without him, without my parents, I don't know where I'm at. The reason where I'm at right now, having good family, having good life is

Page 23
because of them, so I won't forget that.
BARBARA LAU:
Did your parents want you to come live at the temple, or was that a decision you made?
KONG PHOK:
Come to be a monk?
BARBARA LAU:
Uh-huh.
KONG PHOK:
Well, you can say both ways. I want to have experience as a monk. In our country, you be a monk, and like that, you call it repaying the respect to your parents, or giving your parent respect, because being a monk is so much different from being like you and me, you know, like regular person. It's so much rules, so many rules you have to follow. It's not easy to follow. I just want to have that experience. I'm a type person like in job and everything too, and I like to have a lot of experience, learn more. That's the only way to learn more, to have more experience. I try and for first month I thought it was very hard and stuff. I think, first because of the food because only one day that you can eat. And the second is just was very, very hard and like I say, there's so many different rules that you have to follow. I'm not used to that. It took me at least a month and a half or so to follow him. I break some discipline, but I was taught, I was punished. Being punished taught me a lot. Adjan, he taught me a lot, and I would never forget that too. One thing I won't forget was like when I was a monk it was like six seven of us, and we became a monk. And I have-
BARBARA LAU:
Was it for the summer, during school?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, for some monk, they will extend more than summer because they out of high school. Because I was still in schoolߞ they were out of school, and they'll extend like another three months or so. But you have to have at least a week or so, if you're going to be

Page 24
a monkߞ I mean, not really. It can be a day or whatever. But I chose three months, my whole summer.
BARBARA LAU:
So you didn't leave even though it was hard?
KONG PHOK:
No, I did not give up. Like I say, it was hard, but I did not give up. I don't give up easily.
BARBARA LAU:
It doesn't sound like it.
KONG PHOK:
Uh-huh.
BARBARA LAU:
So after you graduated from high school, by this time, by the time you were in high school, were your parents doing better? I mean, you said your mom was starting to work. Had they adjusted to the United States, do you think?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. At the time I was in high school, everything was real, I mean, not perfect, but okay. We can support ourselves right now. Back then we were living off like Lutheran Family Services. Now, when I was high school, that was longߞ already long ago before weߞ you know how Lutheran Family Services help us, give certain amount of money to buy food and stuff? We were long away from that and in high school, my familyߞ when I was in high school my family, dad was working. I think mom was working for a couple years. When she had me in her stomach or whatever, she fell down and broke her ankle and stuff. Right now she's still going to the hospital. I take her every three months or so, go see the doctor about her knee and stuff. Her knee is very bad, and they won't let her work. But still she go and try and find another job, because in order to support the family, we have to have two incomes. Sister is just working part time to buy clothes and stuff for her and for us. And she worked there for a couple years, and the company closed down. She try to

Page 25
work in a seafood place for a couple months, but her pace was so slow because of her leg and stuff. I think they not fire her but just giving her a hint. So I just told her, I guess they're just saying that you're moving too slow and you're not getting the job done. And she just stopߞ worked a couple months. That's when my sister was thinking about working full time. I guess at that time, Dad was still working two jobs. But this time he found a better job, not a janitor, work at Gilford Mills, and plus he work in a restaurant. He was making pretty good money, but long hour. I hardly see my dad. I remember me and my brother used to be likeߞ he would get off like 11:00, 11:30 he'll get home after his second job. And we'll wait for him, you know, just to see him before we go to school and stuff, because I mean, he worked from day until night. He been doing that for almost seven years, support him. That's why I would never forget that, and I will try to be like him, you know, I mean, working hard. I mean, working hard is good, but there's other wayߞyou don't have to work hard to get money and stuff. It's like go to school and get a good job. I mean, but working hard does pay bills. He showed it to me that working hard pay bills. He did prove to me. He pay off the house, the cars and stuff. He doesn't speak English, not even a bitߞ probably he know how to say yes or no. I'm very proud of my dad a lot. And he work at Gilford Mills and stuff. I work in Gilford Mills too, but different plant, which I don't work there no more. But it's a lot of computers, a lot of thing you have to do with computer and a lot of machine control, manual control that in English. I just couldn't believe he been there for ten years now, and supervisor love him and all that. I just couldn't believe how he understand the computer and stuff, which he never go to school. I'm very proud of him. I just couldn't do it. I work at Gilford Mills, and I'm a lead person, like a

Page 26
supervisor over there. And I seen a bunch of people, which is, again, this might sound racial, but Americans who work there, who do not know how to start a computer up or reset the computer. But I never see my dad done it, but if he can stay there for ten years, he must know something or else he'll be gone. They couldn't even like pull a computer or you know, bring down orders, or like read tape measure, you know, and all that. And that will bring me back to my dad, how could he do it? I worry about him because the machine is so big. And in my plant, there was two or three people die in the plant. I just worry about my father, because every day I tell him, don't work so hard, or don't work too much overtime. The way I see it, I seen people cut their hand off and stuff, and it's justߞI'm at Gilford Mill and he work at Gilford Mill too. We do the same stuff. I'm just so afraid for him, and I'm very proud of him. He been there for over ten years now, and hasn't no problem. Has good attendance and everything, and took care of me until I have my own family, even take care of my wedding for me. You know gave some to me to startߞ me and my wife to start our life with. I think because where I'm at is all because of my mom and dad. They help me out and they teach me and all that.
BARBARA LAU:
So what was all the stuff then going on before that when you were hanging out with the bad crowd? What do you think was going through your mind then because it sounds like your parents have made a lot of sacrifices for you and you appreciate that.
KONG PHOK:
Yes, because back thenߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think it had anything to do with how much you really got to see your dad?
KONG PHOK:
I have experience with my brother now. I'm teaching him every day. It's not

Page 27
the parents who tell you and you will follow, it's if you choose that way. The parent can talk whatever they talk twenty-four hour or 'twenty-four, seven.' They can talk whatever they want. If their kid won't input in their head or want to be that way, chose to be that way, you can't change a kid. I chose to follow my parents' footstep. Because my daddy doesn't drink, smoke or gamble or anything, and it's hard to find parents like that. And my dad always, even though he doesn't know how to speak English and all that, he always give my mom respect. That's how I'mߞI give my wife respect because I think I want to have a life like him, you know. Dad neverߞI mean, I never ever see them argue physically or mentally, you know, doing something in front of me that to teach meߞ you know, how like some kid, they talk about child, you know, the parents and stuff, divorce and stuff? I never have that in my childhood life. I mean, that's the reason why I'm having a family too. I'm going to raise my kid the way that my mom and dad were together. And I try to beߞ my wife, I'm trying to give my wife respect. Like I say, all woman needs some respect from the men. I see my dad, he give Mom respect a lot. I guess that's the reason why they love each other, even though they don't show that they love each other, you know, that much like me and my wife do, because they back in the old age or whatever. Never in my life they would say, I love you or whatever, I like you, or whatever, or calling each other like wife or husband or honey or whatever, which me and my wife will always use that phrase all the time, cause that's how we are. And sometime I'll go pick on mom and dad. I will tell them, why you don't you say that you like dad or sayߞ call dad husband or honey or whatever? But you knowߞthey just laugh. I mean, my parents are older. I like to make them laugh, because I think thinking too much make your lifeߞworry too much, too much stress is not good for

Page 28
you, you know? And sometime I'll go and make them laugh and all that. My parents sometimes they'll laugh at me too when me and my wife will call each other honey and stuff. But even though they don't show too much, I know inside they really care for each other. And dad, when he was young, he made mistake too, but everybody make mistake. It's up to you if you want to change it.
BARBARA LAU:
Did your parents ever think about leaving North Carolina and taking the family and going to a bigger Cambodian community or anything?
KONG PHOK:
Never. They going to live here until their retirement because they think that Greensboro, North Carolina is a very good place to stay. They hardlyߞ to tell you the truth, my brother and sister, we never went to the zoo until we got married, until we know how to drive ourselves or go with our friend. My parents never take us. We never do any of those kind of stuff, never ever. We never even know what Busch Garden is until I got married. Me and my wifeߞ but my wife's side, they always travel, because why? They much younger than my parents. They are muchߞ
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
KONG PHOK:
ߞthey're Americanized too. And like I'm saying, I'm not mad at parents, but we never get to go anywhere like other family do. All we do is just go to school, play in Greensboro. Most of the time I played basketball and have time to just come to temple. But since I got married, never have get any chance. But when I was young, I always come to temple and watch, you know, my teacher. But now I got married, I know he understand too

Page 29
that I have family, you know, [and] work. I have to pay bills and stuff. Which I always tell him, whenever he need me, like today, if he needs me or anything, I'll always be here.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think they liked about North Carolina? You said they don't speak a lot of English. And a lot of people who have that experience, they want to be just around other people who speak the same language as them.
KONG PHOK:
I think they know a lot of family here that from the homeland, and that's been settled down here for a long period of time. And other thing is that it's going to be hard to find a job. I think that's the reason why they don't like to move around so much. They don't like to move around, I'm talking about in job too. They like to stay in one place or do anything. They just a steady person, my family isߞthat's the name to use, they're very steady, yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
What about the environment? I know you were talking about how you got to see snow here. And of course, it doesn't snow in Cambodia, but do you think they like theߞ
KONG PHOK:
The weather.
BARBARA LAU:
ߞlandscape and you know, sort of theߞgenerally, is that important to them?
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Does your dad go fishing or anything like that?
KONG PHOK:
Oh, he went fishing back then when Iߞ but I brother-in-law, he love to fish. We went to fish too. But now he stopped doing that because he's old. All he think about is sadness. He'll come to the temple all the time. He doesn't go fishing no more since he really put himself into like temple and stuff. He think if he want to eat fish, he'll go buy fish. You could say he's a very religious man. 'Cause the old, they don't know what else to do

Page 30
but to come to temple and I guess that's their hobby, their free time is working atߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So having the temple is really important.
KONG PHOK:
Yes, very. To me, I'm happy. If I ever have money or temple is going, say, bankruptcy or something wrong, if I ever have is money, I would never let temple disappear, because I think it's good for my parents, because it's like Cambodian to them. It's like a Cambodia in America for them. It's very important, temple, to them. They would do anything to keep temple. And that's what they do in Cambodia too. They try to build a temple there. They spend so much money. Sometime they don't care about themselves, you know, to keep some money to themselves, they worry about Cambodia so much. That's why I help some. If I have some, I help. I just tell them not to spend so much, because like I say, they have family over here and we have is bills to pay too. You know, just help whenever we can. It's just sometime they help so much. I mean, I see them once they help so much they don't even have money left to pay the bills and stuff. And that's improving ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So after you got out of high school, what did you do?
KONG PHOK:
After I got out of high school, okay. I found me a full-time job.
BARBARA LAU:
Doing what?
KONG PHOK:
Which is Gilford Mills. I was a machine operator. I'd been there for two years, then I got promoted to be a supervisor, a lead person. Right now, the company is closed. I found a job right now. I mean, I've been home for two months now. But they're paying me for severance pay package. I have like a package. They move to Mexico, my company. Right now I found a job which is a good job, but I'm waiting for the answer this week. They're supposed to let me know by this week.

Page 31
BARBARA LAU:
Another mill? A different kind of mill?
KONG PHOK:
You can say mill, but it's like a product company. Have you heard of Olympic Products?
BARBARA LAU:
What do they make?
KONG PHOK:
Carpets, foam and stuff for carpets.
BARBARA LAU:
I haven't heard of them.
KONG PHOK:
Like the pads and stuff.
BARBARA LAU:
But do you would work there running the machine or be a supervisor or ߞ
KONG PHOK:
Production manager. Since I have the experience as a supervisor, I always try toߞbecause I know how hard it is to be a regular worker. If I be a manager, because I know what kind of person I am, I will be fair, because I have a lot of experience under a supervisor who is likeߞlike in Gilford Mills when I was a regular worker, they have a little crew, I mean a little squad. Some squad is hanging around with the supervisor, they always, you know, think about him, take care of them. Like come late, they'll take care. I wasn't in one of those squad, but you know, I feel sorry for others. I don't know why I get lucky, so lucky, always meet a good person. I meet somebody who always care about me, or you know, never want to harm anything, which my parents always pray every time to let me meet those kind of person and stuff. And I have experience as a regular worker, you know. It's always crook everywhere. I'm telling you, even though they say, it's no equal ߞeven though the job say it's equal employment, it's inside you don't know. I mean, I seen what it is. We run machines. Though I've seen old people, they'll work and stuff, and young people, because they know the supervisor, they'll stay in the break room so long, let the old people

Page 32
work and stuff. When I got promoted to be a supervisor, I don't let that happen again. I just tell them, you know, that's not it. You have to follow the policy. Everybody is the same thing. It's like you get to work more if you don't know to supervise. You know what I'm saying? You just work harder than regular other workers. So, since I have the experience, I always like looking for job, I'm always looking in the manager, you know, supervisor position.
BARBARA LAU:
In Gilford Mills, were there a lot of other Cambodians that worked there, or was it a mix of people?
KONG PHOK:
In my plant, there was only three Cambodians and a few Indians. In my father plant, which is Gilford Mills too, yes, they have a lot of international people, different people.
BARBARA LAU:
A lot of different people. When you supervised people, you supervised a lot of different kinds of people?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, different. Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
Did that ever create any problems for you?
KONG PHOK:
Not really, because I treat people the same thing, except that you know, it'sߞ even though when I talk to the Cambodian workers sometime in my own language, they probably think that, oh, you trying to workߞI do have those workers saying to me, oh, you take care of them because they're your own kind and stuff, but I don't do that. But like I say, like my boss tell me, there's always people trying to make you get mad at them, because they're trying to make you jeopardize your job. It took me a long time to get that position. I mean, I'm the boss, even though they do that, if I tell them to do it, they have to do it. That's the main thing. Why would I worry about what they say? I mean, I treat everybody

Page 33
fair.
BARBARA LAU:
So how long did you work at Gilford Mills, then, before it closed?
KONG PHOK:
I worked there for five years.
BARBARA LAU:
Then they moved the plant to Mexico?
KONG PHOK:
Mexico.
BARBARA LAU:
So they laid you off, but they gave you a severance package?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. They did offer me in Mexico. But like I said, I have family here, and I wouldn't go over there for whatever they give to me, even though gave me a raise to go over there. But I just sayߞ I don't believe I can't find a job over here soߞ which right now, I almost give up, but I have several company calling me, which is a good position too. I'm not giving up yet. It took me two months and I couldn't find anyߞ no respond to anything. That's when it is hard. I should of taken the package in Mexico and stuff. So right now I'm kind of like lift up a little bit because I have three, four company calling me to have interviews and to offer me those position which is good pay, so I'm not really regret of letting it go.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you meet your wife when you were in high school?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, I met her in high school.
BARBARA LAU:
Is she Cambodian also?
KONG PHOK:
No, she's Laos.
BARBARA LAU:
She's Lao.
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
Did that create any kind of problems, I mean, going dating a Lao girl, with say, your Cambodian friends or other friends?

Page 34
KONG PHOK:
No. Really, back in the day I was dating, the only girl you could see is Laos. I mean, Cambodia is a good country and all that, but it's just back then, Cambodian, they follow their parents more than the Laos girl back then when I was dating. That's the reason why I say my parents was having conflicts between my wife and stuff because she was Laos, and you know, how was Laos girl back then in the day. But that's back then. But now it's changed.
BARBARA LAU:
So the Cambodian parents wouldn't let their daughters date, is that what you're saying?
KONG PHOK:
Not daughter, but guys. Mostߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So even their sons, huh?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
You weren't supposed to date?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, even the son and the guy. It's not that we hate each other. This again might be a little racial, but every parent always want, you know, your kid to get married like Cambodian/Cambodian, Laos/Laos. But to me, they don't understand. Like I said, they don't understand what love is or whatߞit's you, yourself, even though they pick for your spouse, you have to pick for your wife and stuff, it's you have to spend time, who have to live with your wife, not them. But when I talk like that to them, it's kind of disobeying them. I never, ever talked to them like that. But that's how me and my wife talk. That's how we chose to have own place and to get married, because if we won't get married, you would always hear people talk behind your back no matter what, you do good or bad.
BARBARA LAU:
So you kind of found the middle ground there?

Page 35
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. In order for that to stop is to get married. That's the reason why I got married too, because I wanted my wife to go to school, further school. But it's too many rumor, and it's too much stress like that. And I don't wantߞI mean, my parents very, very care of what people say about me. They really care. They not like most parent, oh, don't worry, you know, don't care at all. You know, they really care. That too much stress for me. So I just talk to them and said, okay, I want to get married. Stay with them for one year and have my own family, have my own place. I always go visit them every single day. Just start my own life and just prove to them that we love each other and we can support each other.
BARBARA LAU:
How old were you when you got married?
KONG PHOK:
I wasߞ
BARBARA LAU:
How long have you been married?
KONG PHOK:
I've been married for two years now, so I think I wasߞ
BARBARA LAU:
So you were twenty-two?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, about twenty-two, twenty-one, yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
She was eighteen?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, she was eighteen.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of wedding did you have? Cambodian? Lao? Both?
KONG PHOK:
We had to do both.
BARBARA LAU:
So you had two different weddings?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, two different one.
BARBARA LAU:
One with her family and one with your family?

Page 36
KONG PHOK:
One. Well, it's one whole wedding, but in that one whole wedding, we just do it two different ways at one time. You get what I'm saying, right?
BARBARA LAU:
Uh-huh.
KONG PHOK:
Okay. Not like marry Cambodian then the next year Laos, not like that.
BARBARA LAU:
So did you have the wedding at her house? What did her family think about you?
KONG PHOK:
Oh, they like me because of Adjan. They come to temple too. They ask Adjan about, you know, my mom. Adjan knows everybody in the community, you know. And some people, they likeߞ especially my mom, she'll come and ask Adjan, how's my wife, you know, family and stuff. Adjan will tell her whatever he think of them. She always take Adjan word, you know.
BARBARA LAU:
So your parents and your wife's parents might see each other at ceremonies at the temple, but you guys live separate from both her parents and your parents?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, we live separate. But they always kin. Like I said, my mother-in-law's side, they're Americanized and it's hard for them to communicate, because they are two different nationality, talk different languages. Only thing can do is just smile at each other and stuff. But getting along. They have nothing against each other. It's just that they don't see each other very often because of the communications.
BARBARA LAU:
And how old is your son?
KONG PHOK:
He's a yearߞI mean thirteen months and a week.
BARBARA LAU:
Was everybody very excited when you decided to have a baby?
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Both parents, both sides?

Page 37
KONG PHOK:
Both parents. Actually, my father-in-law, he dreamt about it too. Because myߞ he want his daughter to go to school and stuff. And we just want to have own family, start a family early. I thought he would say something to me, but instead he didn't say anything because it's like his dream come true or something, because he was dreaming that he was having a grandchild.
BARBARA LAU:
Is your wife the oldest child in her family?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. That's the oldest child in my mother in ߞ
BARBARA LAU:
She was the first one to get married in her family?
KONG PHOK:
The first one, yeah. And the next step, her little sister got married.
BARBARA LAU:
So your son is the first grandchild?
KONG PHOK:
The first grandkid and grandson in the family. So they love him so much.
BARBARA LAU:
You said before that the temple was really important to your parents. Is it also important to you and your family?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, very important to us, temple.
BARBARA LAU:
You said alsoߞearlier, we were talking about how you think about yourself, you think about yourself as Cambodian-American?
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Why that instead of Cambodian? How do you figure that out?
KONG PHOK:
Because I spend so many my lifeߞI mean, you can say more of my lifetime in America than Cambodia, but I am always Cambodian, would never change. But I celebrate every holiday like American people do. Actually, I'm doing everything almost exactly the same like American. That's how I consider myself as Cambodian-American, because I spend

Page 38
more of my lifetime [in the U.S.], more than in my own country. But I'm Cambodian.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you sometimes feel like there's a struggle there, or you're being pulled in different directions?
KONG PHOK:
No, never. I never had that problem.
BARBARA LAU:
You just kind of bring it all into the center?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, just I have people ask me all the time, just say, how you feel? You think you're American or Americanized, or whatever. I think I say I'm both. I'm Cambodian and American, I guess. That's how I feel. Maybe it's not like that, but that's how I feel.
BARBARA LAU:
What kind of people ask you that question?
KONG PHOK:
Friend, workers, people who you know . See some people, they won't admit to themselves, you know. They don't believe themselves like Cambodian or Cambodian-American or Americanized Cambodian or whatever, because that's two different thing. I am Americanized Cambodian, and like I said, I'll respect, I'll cherish, I'll do everything Cambodian, but right now I consider myself as Cambodian-American, because America is like my country too.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think about your son? What will you tell him?
KONG PHOK:
I'm not going to tell him. I'm just going to tell him that you both. You're Cambodian, Laos, and I'm not going to teach him what, hey you are Cambodian, you're not Laos or anything. It's up to him. It's not up to him if I keep on telling him, yeah, you're Cambodian or whatever. Like myself, I am Cambodian, Laos and American, you know. I mean, it's not Cambodian only, I'm Laos because my wife is Laos. I have, you can say, two different blood because I'm not really American blood, but I consider myself American. But

Page 39
my kid has, you know, two different bloods, and he is Cambodian, Laos and American. I know this might be hard for him when he grow up.
BARBARA LAU:
Are you teaching him to speak Khmer? Do you speak Khmer to him?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, I talk Khmer to him because I don't know how to talk Laos. If I knew how to talk Laos, I would talk to him. I try to tell my wife to talk Laos to him, but sometimes she'll talk, but most time she'll talk Cambodian. See, lmy wife, she very smart. She know how to talk my language. I don't know how to talk her. Sometimes she'll talk Cambodian to him, and I say, okay, if he learn Cambodian, don't blame on me. It's not my fault.
BARBARA LAU:
But if he doesn't learn Cambodian, he won't be able to talk to his grandparents, right?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah. I'm kind of figure he's a pretty smart boy. I mean, he is very smart kid, and he'll learn both. He'll talk to his grandparents in both ways.
BARBARA LAU:
What hopes do you have for him in the future?
KONG PHOK:
The way I'm raising my kid up is a little bit different from my parents. I'm not saying my parents raised me to be like bad. And they are good parents. But like I said, remember I told you about they don't take us a lot and stuff you know, to learn about different places and stuff. I'm going to be different from them. I'm going to travel a lot. I'm going to take my kids. I'm going to let them know what zoo is, what Busch Garden is or what different playful stuff is cause kid need to have fun. I'm not going to spoil him. But if he does good in school , he's going to get award. I will, do that to him. That's the only different thing I'm going to do different from my parents, is that me and my kid, we going to be friend. He's not going to call me by the name, but I want

Page 40
him to know that I'm his friend. I will be there for him, you know, because I am his best friend, and which I never had any experience with my father like that because I never did tell him how I feel like that too until today. I want him to treat me like I'm his friend. And you know, I love him, but it's always like, mom, dad, you have to give them respect. You can't take them out. Sometime I want to take them out eat, because my family, we always go out and eat. We hardly buy food and put in the refrigerator. We always go out and eat. My parents, they don't do that. I mean, he been here for ten years. I'm not saying this to put him down, but he got lost in Greensboro, you know, because he don't travel a lot. That's why I'm trying to teach himߞI mean, not teach him, but trying to show him my way around Greensboro, how it is, so know more. The more you travel, the more you explore, the more you know. That's how I feel. Like my parents, me too, I don't know anything a lot of different places until I met my wife. We go around and stuff. But my parents always tell us not to go so much. They tell us that because they afraid something might happen or whatever. But we always be careful. That thing always in my head, always input in my head. And we will travel a lot. We'll go to mountains and stuff like on vacation. Holiday, like Christmas, we'll celebrate Christmas. We'll put Christmas tree. But my parents, if I don't put it for them, there will be no Christmas tree at all. We'll buy present for them. They will try to tell us not to, to let us save money. But you know, I'll tell them, it's Christmas time. Money you always can find. If you work, you always can find money. And you know, I try to make them change a little bit, to become American a little, because they all going to live in America. I know in my heart we can't never go back to Cambodia because the way the economy is, it's not going to settle down that soon. The way

Page 41
I've been hearing from news or from people, other people, it's not going to settle down that soon. Might as well just try to live happy. I mean, old age or the culture, the feeling that they have for a long time, just put it on the side a little bit and bring a little bit happier, a little bit playing around, because my parents, they don't like to play around, and they old and stuff. I try to make them happy too. That's what I'm trying to do to them right now, trying to make them, you know, get involved, be relaxed more, because old people need relax. You know, too much stress is not good.
BARBARA LAU:
It sounds like they've had a pretty serious life, you know, having to go through the war.
KONG PHOK:
Yeah, yeah. I know. That's why I say I'm not mad at them for not being what I expect, because if I was in their situation, their shoes, it's going to be hard for me to change just like that. I'm give them time, and it's up to me to make them happy.
BARBARA LAU:
Have you become an American citizen?
KONG PHOK:
Me, I'm waiting on the paper that they supposed to send to me. I went to apply for it. But it been a long time already, and I haven't get the card yet, the American citizen card.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think that's important to become a citizen?
KONG PHOK:
To me? Yes and no. To me, it doesn't matter if I do. I do want to be American citizen because, like I say, I am a Cambodian-American. I want to have something to show that I am an American citizen. To me it's not very important to be an American citizen or not, because people afraid that when war go they'll send back to Cambodia to me. I mean, to answer your question, it's not very important to me, but I'm trying to get it right now. I

Page 42
do want my whole family to get it.
BARBARA LAU:
What about your parents? Do you think they have any interest in becoming citizens?
KONG PHOK:
Well, they really want to, but what they say is it's too hard for them. Dad, he tried to andߞ
BARBARA LAU:
English?
KONG PHOK:
ߞyeah, his English. They tried their best, and theyߞ you know, that's number one, theyߞ
BARBARA LAU:
Has anybody encouraged you not to be a citizen, or that that's somehow not a good idea?
KONG PHOK:
People out there always want to be a citizen. It's just, can you be a citizen? That's the question right there.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think you're going to stay in North Carolina for a long time?
KONG PHOK:
Right now, in job-related, if I can find a job that takes care of my family, I would. But if I have a better job that pay me better, you know, I'm talking about good pay, good salary, I probably would relocate myself. But it's going to be hard because my parent wouldn't understand me either. But like I said, I have to do what best for my family.
BARBARA LAU:
So do you consider North Carolina your home then?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, my retirement home, yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Your retirement home?
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
But you'd move if the economic situation were different.

Page 43
KONG PHOK:
Yeah.
BARBARA LAU:
What are the things that you like about North Carolina?
KONG PHOK:
Well, I develop my life here. I spend most of my life in Greensboro, North Carolina. I do have the blood like my dad, you know, like to stick with one stuff all the time, not try to move around. And I do have that instinct inside myself andߞ but North Carolina, I mean, it's very good. I wouldn't let it go for anything if I don't have to. I would try to stay in North Carolina.
BARBARA LAU:
Are there some other people who have moved here from other Cambodian communities like in Boston or in California that have described what that's like, and how does that maybe compare with the experiences here in North Carolina?
KONG PHOK:
I have friend who move down from Boston . From what they told me, I think Carolina is number one, because the way they talk about crime. You know, crime-related, it's a big issue, crime. So in North Carolina, you probably have once every, what, five years or so, you know, have a big crime. But that's the reason why they move down here to live, start a family down here, because North Carolina is good.
BARBARA LAU:
And have you had any experiences [with] discrimination in jobs or in the mills that you've worked in because you're Asian?
KONG PHOK:
Yes, I have. I have that experience. I overcome that experience, you know, what happened.
BARBARA LAU:
Can you tell me what happened?
KONG PHOK:
Well, when I first started, I mean, like I say, you know, you get pick on. And you get to say, you know, Asian, they think Asian or whatever is dumb. And they can use

Page 44
you and stuff that. That's why when I was worker, I have that, but I never let them overrule me like that, because I know the policy of the thing. I speak English, and I know what's going on. I probably know more than they do what's going on. I know how the attendance is sometime. They'll tell me, hey, you take much too long bringing that. I said wellߞ [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
BARBARA LAU:
You were just telling me about experiencing a little bit of discrimination when you were at your job.
KONG PHOK:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
What that was like? What happened and how did you dealt with it?
KONG PHOK:
Okay. About the break time and stuff, about the policy of the company and stuff. They think I don't know the policy of the company, which I know the policy of the company. They will try to trick me. Hey, you need to go back before I tell the supervisor, this and that. As I move up, I got promoted. That's why I told myself I would treat everybody fair, no matter [what]. That's the reason why I want to get a supervisor position, not because I stick up for my own people or for the international people. I would try to treat everybody fair. In order for me to do that is to become somebody, you know, become a supervisor or something, to be in charge.
BARBARA LAU:
So what do you hope for your own future? What are your goals?
KONG PHOK:
My goal is to raise my kid to have everything for them, not to spoil him, but to have everything what my parents didn't have for me when we move to United States. So I'm trying to find a good job that we can rely on until our retirement, and I guess to go further school to get my degree, and have, you know, decent money in case of emergency.

Page 45
Like I said, if temple ever get bankruptcy, if I have money I will always stand for him. I would be the first one to stand for him, and support the family, and support, donateߞor not just only for Cambodian or temple, anybody who needs help.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think you have a responsibility to the community?
KONG PHOK:
To me, I do, because Adjan, my teacher, he taught me everything. And I didߞ became a monk at the temple, and actually that's like my second home, temple. I mean, we do stuff. I do stuff around here. I help so much at the temple that I feel like that is my second home. I have so much relationship with Adjan, which is my teacher. I would never let that go. And yes, temple is very important to me.
BARBARA LAU:
So that's the important thing doߞto make contributions to the temple?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. That's the only thing, because the monk do not work like you and I. The only way is to get contribution and donation. That's the only way to pay for the temple and to keep the temple, which I want to keep. That's the only way to help out.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think that outside the temple, in the greater-Greensboro community, that young people have some kind of responsibility to represent the Cambodian community because you can speak English?
KONG PHOK:
Some kids my age, they don't even care about Cambodian or temple. They have their own way. But me, I have my own ways. I'm going to stick upߞI'm going to keep the temple, and I will follow the rule. Right now there's more kids who doesn't care where they're from or the temple and stuff. There's more of those people than people who care.
BARBARA LAU:
Why do you think that? What's happened to them?
KONG PHOK:
I guess it's just rumor. I guess their parents just don't teach them, just don't

Page 46
lecture them. It's just so many different ways thatߞI mean, I don't know. I have my ways to have that feeling. They have their own ways. I mean, everybody have their feeling, and I can't change their feeling because I feel like that. But that's how I feel. I care for temple, about temple, and always will.
BARBARA LAU:
And what do you think is going to happen to those kids who have kind of lost their way?
KONG PHOK:
I guess they will forget all about what temple is, where they're from. I guess just most of those kids is probably just parents not telling them every day or once in their lifetime share with them what temple is, where they're from and stuff like that. That's the reason why they're like that. You can't blame them. Maybe they have other problem that you and I don't know. Maybe they chose their life to be that way and I chose my life to be this way.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think you'll be happier than they will?
KONG PHOK:
Yes. Right now, yes, because I'm married. I don't know where they're at, all my friends who I know. They everywhere. Some in jail, some just couldn't make it. I'm going to continue doing the way I'm doing and caring about people. That's the main thing that my teacher and my parents, everybody, old people, elders teach meߞto have respect for others. That's the only way for you to live happy, or to live happy and [to feel] good about yourself.
BARBARA LAU:
That's great.
END OF INTERVIEW