Tragically, when I was nine years old, communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. The whole country became a series of mass graves, commonly known as "The Killing Fields." I was taken away from my parents by force to live in concentration camps with other children my age. We were forced to work in rice paddies days and night with barely enough food to survive, and very little clothing. When I was sick, my parents were not allowed to visit me and I was not allowed to visit them.
When war broke out in Cambodia and communist soldiers escaped the country, all the children left the concentration camps and returned to the villages to find their parents. Some got lucky and found them alive and well. Others were not so lucky; their parents had been killed either by communist Khmer Rouge, or by disease and starvation.
I found my father. He was still living in our village. Unfortunately my mother had already passed away.
Not long after the war, my family decided to escape Cambodia to find new life in America. We went through a series of refugee camps and finally qualified to come to America thanks to my wonderful US sponsor, Ms. Charlotte Harris (sponsorship is required for immigrants to the United States).
So we came to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Life in America was difficult for us at first. We didn't have any money and we didn't speak English. I had a hard time learning the school curriculum and American culture. But I had determination, and strove for a higher education. I knew it would be hard for me to go to college without money and without speaking the language, so every day I studied hard to learn English. Every evening after school I carried out small jobs, mostly yard work, so I could save up money for college.
During my summer break I went to work for a company called Cumberland Landscape Company, located on Signal Mountain in Tennessee. I worked hard there, saved money, and eventually paid my way through college. With all this yard work and landscaping, it's not surprising that my passion for plants and flowers naturally came back to me again! The communist regime that took over Cambodia and destroyed everything couldn't quash my love of nature.
I finally graduated from Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee, with a degree in Business Administration. And I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in Human Resource Management.
After graduation I went to work for Lines Orchids Incorporated, spending my time growing orchids. I love the beauty of the many different species of orchids. I feel like I work in a paradise! I like to meet people, and see how customers come into the greenhouse with excited expressions on their faces, with admiration for the beauty of these exotic orchids. It makes me feel good that I grow beautiful flowers and make people happy.
Because I worked with plants and flowers on a daily basis, it wasn't long before I got started in floral arrangement – particularly orchid arrangements. I have attended several floral seminars to hone my skills. Customers really seem to like my work, and I've been called on to do various floral arrangements for churches, parties, and weddings. I enjoy it very much. Creating something beautiful makes people happy, and then I feel like I have done something for society!
With my previous work experience in landscaping, I also continue to design gardens and lawns wherever possible. Landscaping and floral arrangement are equally works of art. And because I love art and nature, I also create my own art painting and drawings, and turn them into greeting cards, stationery, and framed art.
If that isn't enough I also hand-make seashell containers using real seashells. I want to live my life being creative and productive to society by doing what I enjoy doing.
I've been working in the floral industry since coming to America 23 years ago. Working in the floral industry doesn't make a lot of money – but it's what I love to do, my calling in life. And making people smile makes me smile too.
I hope my creative work makes you smile as it does me!