Reuniting with a forgotten best friend, celebrating family, and chicken feet: these are some of the many highlights from HFA’s Client Service Associate Kosal Gelser’s recent two-week trip to his birth country, Cambodia.
Initially planned for 2020 and then canceled because of the pandemic, Kosal made the 18-hour journey with his mother and husband this past November to check a trip to Cambodia off his bucket list. Kosal’s father had planned to take the original trip, but after his passing last year, the group turned it into a memorial and celebration of his dad with their family in Cambodia.
“When we first landed in Cambodia, we hadn’t slept at all, but we were so hyped to be with family that we didn’t feel tired,” said Kosal.
Upon landing, the group’s first stop was to see the house Kosal grew up in before moving to the U.S. at age nine.
The current owner allowed the group inside and Kosal’s mom showed him his old bedroom. He didn’t remember it, but emotions were high while visiting his childhood home. This continued when he went outside and ran into his best friend growing up, who still lived down the street. The friend remembered Kosal and shared with him how devastated he was when Kosal moved away.
Throughout the rest of the trip Kosal reunited with his father’s five sisters, who all remembered Kosal as a boy. They held a party to celebrate his dad, including a visit from monks who led the family in prayer. They also had a plaque made with the names of Kosal’s grandmother and father to be put on display in their hometown, as is the tradition.
His mom also reconnected with her sister and cousins, who hosted them for part of the trip.
With temperatures climbing to over 100 °F some days, Kosal appreciated spending time relaxing on the beach and picnicking on a river in the jungle.
“There is an ease to life in Cambodia that we don’t have in the U.S.,” commented Kosal. “No one cared if you were rich or poor; everyone helped each other. It made me realize how materialistic we can be in the U.S. and everything we think we need to live. In Cambodia, it was much simpler. Need dinner? Go fishing.”
Trying the local cuisine was also a highlight, and despite not loving grasshopper, the chicken feet (which tasted like pretzels) became a go-to snack and the fried rice a favorite.
While much of the trip was filled with happy tears, Kosal also visited the Killing Fields, the site of the Cambodian genocide, where nearly two million people were killed – including members of Kosal’s family – from 1975 to 1979.
“This was the most memorable part of the trip,” said Kosal. “It brought tears to my eyes, standing on the ground where some of my family passed away, including my grandfather.”
While it may have taken decades for Kosal to travel back to his home country, the family and friends he reunited with won’t have to wait nearly as long to see him again. He already has a return trip scheduled for later this year, where they plan to look for a place for his mother to retire, and Kosal’s childhood friend will soon be moving to Boston, making it much easier for them to reconnect.