27 Sept. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Dith Pran

A week ago today an article about my PriUPS project appeared in the New York Times.  In the print edition there also appeared a photograph of the hardware, and, to give it "human interest," I was in the photo.  The photo was somewhat shocking to me as the room appeared twice as deep as it, a typical  suburban utility room, actually was.  I, the "human," lamentably appeared much as I am, although I kept the ax out of the photo.  A friend who saw it told me that The Times was sufficiently prestigious that I should have worn shoes.  Oh well.

I enjoyed my little part in creating the article.  The process is somewhat novel to me, and, as its accomplished author Peter Applebome quoted me, "I'm easily entertained."  Peter and I chatted for an hour or so, and the essence of the chat was distilled into the Times article.  Although it didn't come up in our discussion, and although we are disparate in many ways, we do have something in common:  Neither one of us spent years of our life in Cambodia, trying to avoid death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Most remarkably, the third participant in the article did!  Due to a fortuitous change in schedule, when Dith Pran, the photographer, arrived, we had a little time to chat.  In discussing how he came to be here, I found that on his way (and many years earlier) he lived in Cambodia and was working for The Times during the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, the communist revolutionaries of the day.  Pol Pot was not a synonym for "genocidal maniac" at that time, and nobody knew he had the charm of Stalin and the manners of Hitler.  He is 100% life-free now, and the world is better for that.  Pran told me that he was the subject of the movie "The Killing Fields."  Of course I became more curious about all this and did some research on the web.  ("Research" may be overstating it; I typed "Dith Pran" into Google.)  This is not an ambiguous search term, and I found the info immediately.  In particular, this page with its reference to Sydney H. Schanberg's book popped up near the top.  I got a copy of the book and read it this past weekend.  I won't do a book report.  In short, it's much better to read the book than to be in it.  Pran went through hell.

Pran is a survivor.  All I know about his previous adventures are what I read in the Schanberg book, and they are dire indeed.  I can offer a small bit of verification from my own personal knowledge:  He called me on his way here to say he was stuck in traffic and thought he would be late.  Furthermore, my house is not all that easy to find, since one must negotiate a number of poorly signed and twisting roads to get here.  Notwithstanding these problems and hardships, he arrived eight minutes early!  Not quite the same as crossing the border to Thailand on foot and in a state of extreme deprivation, but then my house is a lot smaller than Thailand, and although the traffic in Bangkok is notoriously bad, New Jersey is no picnic either.
Dith Pran September 2006

Dith Pran, photographed with my little camera in September of 2006.  If you've seen the Times photo that he took, you'll realize two things immediately:

1:  He's a much better (and better equippedlook at those lenses!) photographer than I.

2:  He's also a much better subject to be photographed than I.

And guess what!  The book says that today, 27 September, is his birthday! 

Happy birthday, Pran


Follow-up 30 March 2008

I just read that Pran died today, of pancreatic cancer.  The photos with these obituaries (Star Tribune, CNN) are, I'm sure, more professional than mine.  Nonetheless, I think you'll prefer to remember him as depicted above.


2006, 8
Richard Factor

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