Chantha Nguon, SLOW NOODLES

Chantha Nguon, SLOW NOODLES

Zibby welcomes Chantha Nguon to discuss SLOW NOODLES, a haunting and beautiful memoir about a Cambodian refugee who loses her country and family during Pol Pot’s genocide of the 1970s but finds hope by reclaiming the recipes she tasted in her mother’s kitchen. Chantha describes her experiences as a refugee, recounting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime and the importance of preserving Cambodian culture, especially through food—from Namya fish soup to spicy green papaya pickles. She also shares the therapeutic effects of writing her story and her hope that the harrowing experiences of her people will never be forgotten.


Zibby: Welcome, Chantha. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss Slow Noodles, a Cambodian memoir of love, loss, and family recipes.


Chantha: Thank you for having me. 

Zibby: It's my pleasure. Uh, where are you zooming in from today? 

Chantha: I am at home in Cambodia and, uh, we are on Cambodian New Year, the third day of the year, New Year. So tomorrow everybody's back to work. 

Zibby: Oh, well, enjoy the, enjoy the time. Tell listeners about your book. When did you decide to write a book and what is your book about?

Chantha: It's a story of my life and the reason the book is written because it's a story of a refugee. It's the story of the, the country that we have rouge called Paul Pot, who tried to erase the history, the, uh, everybody. So I was asked to tell the story is a living proof of our society, our country, our life and that, it cannot be erased, and that's, it is about. 

Zibby: Tell listeners what they would find most difficult to believe. What do you need people to know from your book that maybe they would not know and that you fear would be erased? 

Chantha: They try to erase culture, religion, schools, hospital, currency, I mean, everything they try to make it a year zero of a new country in their mind, and they so they killed all people with the lightest skin because for them, who were wearing reading glass, because for them, those people are educated.

So they need a new generation of non-educated people so that they can plan the new ideology in them. So the survivors like us. We try to tell the world Cambodia is a beautiful country with our history, our culture, our especially food. That's what I tried to revive from the memory of my mother's kitchen.

Zibby: You have a lot of recipes and each chapter is, has different things like Namya fish soup with chimer noodles and Mae's fish amok. You have sour chicken lime soup village style. Poor grandmother's spicy green papaya pickles. Uh, how did you Where did you save all the recipes? Did you write, make them again?

Did you keep a journal? How did you remember? 

Chantha: I lost everything. Everybody in my family and everything. My country, I was totally alone, but only man was the memory of the family I used to have. I used to be a normal person. Like everyone who has family, country, and, and, uh, so from the memory, I, I tried to survive throughout hunger, poverty, I keep the memory with me, and when I was able to revive them.

I made it until it stays the same in my memory when I was a child of nine years. 

Zibby: How, that's beautiful that you could do that. How do you move forward when you have lost so much? 

Chantha: I would say it's survival. So, it keeps you day after day, you have to find a way to live a new day and then the next day, and then the next day until you get out of the hole of the jungle or of the fire.

All I had was The memories and hope for the next day will be better, and it did. 

Zibby: Did you ever think about just giving up? Did it ever feel like it would never get better? 

Chantha: Of course I did, but I don't want to share that feeling with people who, who went through the same situation, or who are in the situation, because If I ended it, I didn't have today.

So then I realized just you are going through hell, keep going and one day you will get out of it. 

Zibby: Oh my goodness. So inspiring. Your whole story is so inspiring and your memories are so clear. You have a scene where you remember waking up, your dad is giving you a massage and the morning seems wonderful.

Talk about these specific memories and, and what you can really bring back from your family. 

Chantha: Maybe because I I had been living in hell and I used to have nine years of heaven and that's The benchmark for me to look at, like, it's a happy memory and I, I, I lean on it, I cling on it to live the life in hell.

And that's why the memory, I just sharpen it every day, every day, and it didn't go away, but it's, it's clearer and clearer for me to, to live on. It's like food for my soul. Remembering those and at least thinking about it make me feel a bit better. Like, yeah, my, at five, my father woke me up and, uh, and he just squeezed my knees and massage.

And, and so the feeling is, is like for life. And I remember the smell of his Pipe, sweet tobacco. And I still remember it until now. Wow. So maybe the willing to survive that helped you, you know, linked to all the memories in your life and help. 

Zibby: Wow. I am so sorry. This is so not fair for you and so many others in your situation to have lost so, so much.

You don't seem bitter, though. You don't write about it in an angry way. How do you, how do you take all that loss and, and evil and stay positive? 

Chantha: Yeah, I was very angry when I was alone because I lost everything. But. I went through everything and I, I saw people who are now in my situation. I was before it.

It just made me wanted to help them because I know how. Mm-Hmm. . Yeah. I, I'm angry with my situation, but to the people I know, just a bit of support. They will get through it. So I use it as a happiness, a new light of life and so helping people becomes my life. Yeah. 

Zibby: And tell me more about your life today. 

Chantha: I still like to, um, to help people in any situation.

And I mean, I went through everything and I saw around me everything I've been through. I know how to get out and I still reach out to support and it's healing and, and I still continue to work. All my work today are related to women, vulnerable women, young or old, and I feel healing. Yes and it's my happiness to see their lives change.

Zibby: Wow. That's amazing. Was it difficult to write the book? 

Chantha: It's a dream didn't come true that I wish I never had to tell the story in my life. But because I choose to tell the story when Something triggers my memory and it's about the meal, the food, and I told my children when we sit down to eat, every dish remind me of something.

It either make me laugh or make me cry. So, my children are very confused. They don't know what comes next. I cry or I laugh. And then with the NGOI, we set up Instant Women's Development Center. One of the buyers is unwilling, and she's the one who encouraged me to tell the story, and she's the one who always support the organ, uh, the NGO.

And she called it, give me some, some air to breathe. So this is how important some, everybody needs some air to breathe. And she saved my life. The women I'm working with again and again. So she built in me a deep respect and love, and I owe her. For what she has done, but I don't have anything valuable to pay back.

She doesn't need anything, but she wanted me to tell the story. And for me, that's very personal. We, we don't tell people our story in our culture, especially a woman. But so I agree, but it took six years for me to tell Kim Green. The, the whole story and it's extremely difficult for me. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Are you glad that it's done?

Are you happy? Do you feel peace that you have told it? 

Chantha: Yeah, it, it's kind of therapy turned out. It helps me to at least to slowly let the pain go after I, I set it out. It's it's a therapy and I didn't keep it inside like a landmine to it might explode one day. So I release it. And, um, and yes, the, the, the heavy inside it is now open up.

Zibby: Wow. Well, thank you so much, Chantha. This is wonderful. I am so impressed, inspired, moved. It's I'm so glad you did this. I know how many people you are helping in your day to day life, but also through the story. So thank you very much. 

Chantha: Thank you. Thank you for your time. 

Zibby: Of course. Okay. Bye bye. 

Chantha Nguon, SLOW NOODLES

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