We had a large dog at the time, a sweet-tempered black Lab-Doberman mix named Divot. When Song wanted to say something was excellent, he'd say, "Oh, that's number one." Something bad was number ten. My wife and I were going to work and dropping our son and Tong off to school, leaving Song and Sceur Ly home alone with their baby. Song hadn't found a job yet. Divot stayed outside on a leash and a run. Song told us that in Southeast Asia, dog was excellent food. "In Cambodia, dog is number one!" he said. That scared me, because I didn't know how big a cultural or language gap we were dealing with. Did they plan to cook Divot? "If you hurt my dog, you're number ten," I told him. He got the message that Divot was a pet and not a food source.
|Our good friend Tong|
Our guests proved unpopular among the increasing number of refugees living in the Lowell area. Song had a hard edge to him--his English was rapidly improving, and he did a good deal of translating for other people. But he quickly gained a reputation for cheating his fellow refugees in various business dealings. He always dealt with us honestly as far as we could tell, but among some Americans helping other families, his reputation threatened to rub off on us. Luckily, many people who disliked him actually liked and felt sorry for the rest of his family. A rumor even circulated through the city that Song had once been a Khmer Rouge--now, wouldn't that have been interesting? I spoke privately to his wife and sister, whom my wife and I were trying to protect from him. "Is it true? Was Song part of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?" No, they both insisted, he wasn't Khmer Rouge. He was just a jerk.
Even that was only partially true. The whole family including Song were hard-working. Song was an entrepreneurial sort, apparently outworking most of his fellow countrymen. Sceur Ly got a job on an assembly line where she became known for her hard work and reliability, and Tong assimilated well into public schools, eventually going to George Washington University. They always showed us respect and gratitude for sticking with them.
After they moved away from the area, Sceur Ly from time to time drove back to Lowell to visit friends. Invariably she would show up at our house unannounced (without her husband), with her little boy in one hand and a box from Dunkin Donuts in the other. She used to talk to us about divorcing her husband, but she never did it. We haven't seen them in years now, but I think they've made their peace.