I have met many great people in the world of real estate, but I must say that one couple sticks out in particular. Last year, an Oahu family, who happened to be a part of the first group of Cambodian citizens who migrated to Hawaii, referred me to mainland real estate investors Vandy and Viriya. I showed my two new friends properties on Oahu, and as I hosted their circle island tour, I learned that they were survivors of the border conflicts between Cambodia and Vietnam. Both garnered physical and emotional strength to face a brighter future, as they courageously serpentined through rivers of floating bodies. They were eventually rescued and escaped their beloved country.
Vandy’s unpleasant experiences in three refugee camps led to detailed stories of how he endured mental torture and suffering before he escaped Cambodia by foot. He walked delicately, step by step, to avoid land mines as he moved toward freedom. It’s no wonder Princess Diana made tireless efforts to eliminate land mines years after the conflict was over.
Each foot forward meant a new lease on life for my friend Vandy, as he faced death in the eye, one step at a time. He eventually crossed the border to Thailand and ended up being sponsored by a cousin through the Baptist Church, who rescued him. He finally made it to the promised land of America. Sounds like a movie? In fact, Vandy knew one of the doctors portrayed in the Kauai-filmed movie, The Killing Fields, set during the rule of the Khmer Rouge who was responsible for what is commonly known today as the Cambodian Holocaust or Cambodian Genocide.
In the real killing fields, refugee Vandy served as a translator for the Australian Red Cross and World for World Vision at Khao-I-Dang in Thailand. Now, here’s a man who came to America with nothing in his pocket, just the ragged clothes on his back. Today, he is a savvy, well-dressed investor who owns a lake house, a mini mansion, and a successful business on the mainland, not to mention a gorgeous Cambodian bride with whom he enjoys the fruits of his labor. Viriya never knew her father because he was killed in the Cambodian conflict.
Vandy and Viriya plan on purchasing property in Hawaii for a charitable cause to assist their fellow Cambodians on the island. “This is a way he can honor his parents,” explained Viriya.
I can safely say that whatever Vandy touches turns into gold. This is a hint of his occupation. Here’s the interesting part, most people will hang memorials of their parents to mark their legacies. Some will start scholarship funds on behalf of their departed loved ones. Others write books to honor their heroic relatives. (Reminds me of an article I once wrote in 2003 about my late mother.)
Vandy is in the jewelry business and he has created something no one that I know of has done before. He keeps a part of his parents’ memories close to his heart, literally! It impressed me that his jewelry around his neck is made of teeth, one from each parent, creatively designed and mixed with gold. This talented jeweler certainly has a heart of gold!
I was amazed when he explained that his necklace, which he created himself, reminds him of his parents’ love and devotion every day. The neck memorial is exquisite and probably one of the most heartwarming pieces I have seen in a long time. The message behind the design goes beyond this world.
Having lost both parents, I sometimes wonder if I should be doing more to perpetuate the legacy of my mama and papa? If your parents are still around, enjoy every minute with them during their golden years because you too will miss them when they’re gone.
This story is proof positive that love extends beyond the grave. Vandy’s priceless jewelry, combined with his gratitude for the couple who gave him life, should remind us that death rarely fails to dim our parents’ boundless love for us. I can’t help but think if Vandy’s parents are smiling from ear to ear as they look over their precious jewel—their son!