In the early 90s, I was the Country Manager for a Malaysian PLC in Indo-China (Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos). I was in-country for about a year when I thought it was safe to bring the family for a vacation. The kids often looked forward to some overseas jaunt as they had not seen their father for umpteen weeks, so was My Excellency. The eldest daughter was then 12 years, second son 11 and they youngest was 9.
They were to be in Cambodia and Vietnam for one month, two weeks in each country. Never mind about their attendance in school, they would learn more while travelling to some God-forsaken places or some big metropolitan cities.
Cambodia was in a state of flux. The political situation was highly unstable. A small spark could lead off to another conflagration, perhaps a civil war where Khmers would kill Khmers again. The UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia) Peace-keeping Corps had left the country. There were already two military coups before, but it was quickly quelled.
It was still a dangerous country for a foreign family travelling with kids. I thought over it long and hard. This was perhaps the best of time and the worst of time for them to visit these two backward countries.
Anyway, I just did it.
On their first night of their arrival, I took them to the 5-star Cambodiana Hotel for a sumptuous meal. Back to the villa where I was staying, it was time to show them kids what their Big Daddy was doing in Phnom Penh.
We were seated on the carpet in my spacious bedroom. From my waist tucked behind my back, I pulled out a leather sachet with a CZ-75 handgun snugged inside. I placed it gingerly on the carpet with a small smirk on my face, an air of dignity and perhaps arrogance written clearly on my sober countenance. My silence seemed to amplify their surprise. They did not know that I was carrying a gun all the time.
While My Excellency was aghast with horror, the three kids seemed to take delight with twinkling eyes as big as saucers.
“You carry a gun with you all the time?” My Excellency said with her mouth agape.
“Hey! Dad, that is cool!” Marilyna said.
Ah! This was the time to brandish more military hardware, I thought. Great time to show-boat.
On the floor underneath my bed, I pulled out three AK-47 automatic rifles. I opened another cupboard drawer. I took out a German Luger handgun. As if it was not enough to make myself awesome, I dragged from underneath a small coffee table an iron ammo box, containing perhaps at least five hundred rounds for the AK-47 auto rifles. I opened the box, showing neat rows of the 7.62mm rounds for the AK-47.
In the early 90s, Cambodia was the Wild Wild East. The country was flooded with guns, ammunitions, RPGs, hand-grenades and all sorts of military hardware and ordnances. UNTAC was supposedly to disarm the country, but it was a daunting task, when the Khmers had been at war for many decades.
One month later on arrival in Phnom Penh, I armed myself to the teeth, so to speak. An AK-47 rifle cost US$75 a piece. I bought 5, of which two were given to two army veterans who served as my body guard. My CZ-75 cost US$250 which I carried around daily. The Luger was quite a rare collection. I bought it at US$500, just for the fun of it. I was a WWII great fan.
All my military hardware was bought from a General, whom I came to know as a banker. I thought it was big deal to know an army General. Later I discovered that in each of the rival fractions, they were more Generals, BGs and Colonels than foot soldiers. This was to give leverage for each rival party at the negotiating table during the signing of the Paris Peace Accord for the disarmament of Cambodia.
Back home, I was a Private in the Territorial Army, so handling guns was no stranger to me.
The kids were excited for a chance to see some real guns. But first, I gave them an admonition. “You don’t play any pranks with a real gun. You never point at gun at anybody unless you are prepared to shoot.”
The night before, I unloaded all the bullets in the magazines of the guns. I checked and re-checked that a round was not nestled inside the chamber when the magazine was empty. Many people had died because of their carelessness when a gun misfired because of a live round in the chamber.
Taking the CZ-75 I cocked it, aimed it skyward and pressed the trigger. Clicked the hammer engaged. Then I gave them a lesson on the mechanism of a gun, the action, frame and the barrel, how to keep the gun well oiled, safety catch and how to clip the bullets onto the magazine.
By now, even My Excellency was interested. It was my show.
With some aplomb, I took the CZ-75 and field-stripped it in less than a minute. I laid all the various components neatly on a table and raised both hands in the air.
The kids watched in wonder as I deftly assembled back the gun. I slammed the empty magazine into the grip and locked the safety catch.
“Field-stripping a gun is easy. I can even do it blind-folded” I said.
Then I took off my traditional Khmer long cotton checker scarf hanging over my neck. I wounded it round my eyes tying a small knot behind my head. I field-stripped the gun almost as fast as I did without the blindfold.
“Wow!” exclaimed Calvin. “Dad is Rambo.”
“Nay! That is no big deal!” I said.
“Practice, practice and practice and you will be good in whatever you do.”
Even My Excellency would approve of my statement.