August 26, 2009

Chhon Kong and The Turtle Of Fate

0093 Back in ‘87, I was studying at the King’s College (Christian Liberal Arts) in Brair Cliff Manor, N.Y.  Attending King’s was helping me to  recover  from an acute case of  Legalistic Fundamentalism.  I am thankful that God helped me to find a cure.  At King’s, I met the Rev. Chhon Phan Kong, a Cambodian man who was pastoring a church in Bridgeport, not far from my home town in Connecticut.  Chhon and his family had escaped from Cambodia to Thailand during the reign of terror ushered in the Pol Pot/Ieng Sary Regime.  At King’s, Chhon and I were both older students so we often found ourselves ignored by the younger generation.  This reason and the fact that we were in some of the same classes enabled us to begin a friendship.  Chhon would often come too me for help in understanding idioms and nuances of the English language.  One day I surprised to hear him cursing passionately in the college library.   Actually, he was practicing pronunciation of some English words and they just werenÕt coming out quite right.  I had to rush over to stop him before they kicked him out of school.

            Chhon studied harder than probably any other student at King’s.  He had to.  Everything was new to him.  He no foundation of our language nor  western history.  He had little knowledge  of geography, science, math, nor had he been exposed to the deeper aspects of Christian doctrine and Church History.  While at King’s he learned English, Greek and Hebrew.  He also learned to how to play the guitar.

            He had the habit of sitting in the same place in the library everyday.  I always knew where I could find him.  One day he had a Hebrew and Greek test back to back on the same day.   As I entered the library, I could just see the top of his chrome dome over the top of the little cubicle, wedged between the wall and a shelf of books.  He was in his usual seat.  He was studying intensely.  His brows were furrowed and beads of sweat were breaking on his forehead.   Down the middle isle of the library was an old red worn rug.  By scuffing my shoes on the rug I could pick up a significant amount of static electricity.   That day the rug was especially generous so I was loaded.  Being the product of the fall that I am, I quietly (this is a library now) made my way behind Chhon.  He was studying so intently that he wouldn’t have noticed me if I tripped over his chair.  Still loaded to capacity, I reached out and ever so gently touched the little fuzz that grew on the back of his right ear.

            SNAP!  The crack of the electricity itself caused the heads of several students to pop up.  The jolt Chhon received was enough to send him literally flying two feet off the ground out of seat.  He was airborne!  I hadnÕt laughed so hard since Jimmy Carter introduced Hubert Humphrey on Prime Time National TV as Hubert Horatio Hornblower.  Chhon played along with the joke and even laughs about it today, however if I had know some of his background I probably would have treaded a little more lightly.  After that incident Chhon always sat with his chair slightly turned toward the only avenue of approach.

            By and by, Chhon would share some stories about his experiences in Cambodia with me and also some of the unique experiences that his people were confronted with as they first entered the United States.  The Turtle of Fate was among the most entertaining stories of  Khmer people in the U.S. that I had heard.

            One day Chhon had to travel to Hartford, Connecticut from his home in Bridgeport.  It was about an hour and a half to Hartford.  That time of day the highway wasn’t so busy so had the highway pretty much to himself.  Driving along, Chhon noticed from afar a large object in the middle of the two lane highway.  As he got closer, he noticed it was a rather large snapping turtle.  Being away from his native Cambodia, he missed being able to have a delicious bowl of turtle soup every now and then.  So he slowed down and pulled his car off the highway onto the grass.  He opened the hatch back of his Nissan and went to snatch the turtle.  The snapping turtle was no light weight.  It easily weighed close to 90 lbs.  Chhon lifted it up and carried it over and placed it in the back of his car where there was space enough for the turtle to be comfortable.

            Chhon arrived in Hartford and it took a few hours for him to conclude his business.  It was hot summer day but Chhon had to lock the doors and roll up the windows.  Hartford is not a friendly city.

            On his way home, Chhon had things on his mind.  He had forgotten about the turtle until he happened to hear some rustling under his seat.  He looked down and lo, and behold, the turtleÕs head was sticking out between his two legs.  The turtle had sought some shade during the two hours Chhon had allowed it to bake in the car while he took care of business and now the turtle was wedged under the driverÕs seat of his car.  He immediately pulled over and tried to yank the turtle out from under his seat.  It wouldnÕt budge.  It was stuck and then some.  The Chhon went and got some tools from his tool box and tried to wedge various tools in the mouth of the turtle so he could work the clutch, brake, and gas without becoming turtle food.  The tide was turned.   The hunter became the hunted.   Chhon tried to come up some safe way to drive home but to no avail.  The tool scam failed and couldnÕt quite figure out how to take the seat out of the car in order to release the turtle.

            The only thing Chhon could work out was to sit Indian style in his seat with his right leg  stretched far away from the mouth of the turtle working the gas.   This seemed to work but his head was flat against the ceiling of the car and he could barely see the road ahead.  He received some awful strange looks from the passers by.  It was a wonder no one reported him.

            As God was gracious, Chhon soon came upon a service station and quickly pulled in.  Americans are not too patient when comes to serving foreigners so the mechanic, clenching a short stub of cigar between his teeth muttered; Òwhaddya want bubÓ?   Chhon replied:  ÒSir, I have a problem I would like you to help me with.  I have a large turtle stuck under the driver’s seat of my car. What the *#@X&#!!/?  Lemme have a look at dis.  The incredulous mechanic  thought he had seen everything but this seemed to top it all.

            Chhon suggested that the  mechanic remove the seat but the and the man said;  “Sure, just gimme two minutes to call channel 8 news.”  Chhon implored the man not call up the TV station but the mechanicÕs heart was set on it.  God once again came to Chhon’s rescue.  The TV crew was tied up elsewhere at the moment.  The amused mechanic amicably removed the car seat and a local good oldboy  with  a pick up truck offered to take the Grand daddy of snapping turtles to the nearest pond.

            The end to a happy story;  Chhon had the turtle removed, the mechanic had an exciting  story to tell his wife at the dinner table and the turtle was given a new lease on an old life.

            Time and time again this story serves as a perfect illustration.  You’ve heard the old cliche;  A Blessing In Disguise?   Well there are many times we perceive that something we want or something that is placed in our path is a blessing from God but in reality it is a Pandoras  Box.  It is a curse disguised as a blessing.  If you pray for something  long enough that wisdom tells you, I don’t need this or will be a hinderance to your walk with God, you just may get it and buyer beware.  Be prepared to suffer the consequences and don’t blame God.

            Many of us get stuck with a turtle from time to time, don’t we?  Do you remember the story of King Midas?  He was granted one wish from the god Baccus and he requested that everything he touched would turn to gold.  He soon found out that he was stuck very much indeed until the gods had mercy on him.  Be careful what you pray for, wish for and lust after.  Our adversary the devil knows our hearts and knows how give us what we want, especially those things which will distract us from our very purpose;  becoming like Jesus Christ.

Written by: Cambodianchristian.Com

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  • Hom

    December 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    There is a cliche in Cambodia goes something like this: If a turtle
    ever get a hold on you, don’t expect it to release until a lightning
    strikes it. I had experienced with snapping turtles. I can attest
    there is some truth to how lock-jaw they can be. Sin will not let
    you go until it is strike with power from on high, that is; with the
    forgiveness of Jesus blood shed upon calvary for all to receive
    cleansing from all wages of sins.

  • Cambodianchristian.Com

    December 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Thanks for your comments.