Topic: Pha Nich

Topic type:

Hamilton City Libraries Oral History Programme, Interview with: Pha Nich, Accession no: OH0088, Date: 30 July 1990. Interviewed by Robyn Williams as part of the Taking root in a new land Oral history project 1990.


Pha Nich was born in Battambang in 1945, she was the youngest of 5 children.

Pha talks about the climate and houses of her home town, her father was a builder and she started primary school at 7 and completed High School at 15, her favourite subjects being maths and science. She was good at sports, particularly volleyball and athletics however was discouraged from sports by her mother on account of the short uniforms. Pha then talks about how she worked as an embroider and dressmaker for a shop before her marriage at 16 to a Government Agricultural Agent. She had seven children. Pha then talks about Buddhism in Cambodian society.


 Khmer Rouge

In 1975 Pol Pot's communist regime forced her to leave the city while pregnant and go into the countryside to plant rice, She never heard from her siblings and widowed mother again. Soldiers executed many people and there was no food for people to eat. Their diet consisted of Wild Potatoes, leaves, snails, frogs and crabs. Her Husband decided to return to Battambang to look for food, unfortunately he was captured and murdered by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Pha was moved by soldiers to different parts of the jungle every year before the rice was harvested/ she lived four years in the jungle. Whole families were executed while everyone else was made to watch. People were told they were going to the front line but taken on Ox carts to deeper jungle and shot. Pha was made to pull a plough with her son, she was depressed and very weak the only food from the Khmer Rouge was dusty bran from rice husks.


Cambodia/Thailand border zone.

The Khmer Rouge continued killing and torture Hanging, drowning, suffocation, shooting and jail. There was no food for Pha Nich or her family and two of her children died of starvation. She heard on a secret radio that Vietnamese were fighting the Khmer Rouge so she decided to wait for a chance to escape to Red Cross on the Thailand Border. She and her family walked for three days and nights and managed to reach the Border Camp 007, She received food, clothes and medicine from the Red Cross and saw a letter from a cousin in Wellington looking for relatives. She needed to get into Thailand camp but she was unable to leave Camp 007 because her son was captured by the Khmer Rouge and taken to be a soldier. She waited for his escape from the army, there was fierce fighting between the Vietnamese and Thai soldiers, she ran for a Red Cross Truck going to Thailand.



In Thailand she was taken to Camp Khao-I-Dang, she stayed in Camp 007 from 1979 to 1980 and in Camp Khao-I-Dang 1980-81. They built a hut for the family from bamboo and leaves, schooling was available for people with money. In 1981 she went to Camp Chonburi and had an Interview for acceptance into N.Z. She was Tired and Frustrated with waiting and had a feeling of hopelessness. She had decided to return to Cambodia when she was notified of acceptance to New Zealand, She was very pleased and excited.


New Zealand

Pha Nich and the remains of her family arrived in New Zealand on 13 May 1981. Her first impression was how cold it was. She stayed in the Mangere Reception Centre for Six weeks. She went through Medical checks, shopping, how to use electricity and learning English. She Arrived in Hamilton on 26 of June 1981. It was very hard for her to learn English, making shopping difficult, there was a shortage of translators in Hamilton. The people were very friendly and her children settled in at school. Pha learned English from her children, TV and a home tutor. She lived in Cobham drive moved to Housing Corporation house, Norrie Street before buying a house on Collins Road. She made New Zealand friends, though it was not easy to meet other Cambodian women. She now helps with translating for new arrivals to Hamilton, She continues to improve English skills meeting each week at Clarence Street Centre. Pha Nich became a New Zealand citizen on 17 December 1985. She misses Cambodia and would like to visit there one day but not to return to live. She is happy in Hamilton.


Postscript: Though not mentioned on tape, Pha Nich married a man who was kind to her and her family in 1977. He was murdered by the Khmer Rouge soon after.

Pha Nich - Oral history

 Listen to a 28 minute clip

Complete recording available on Level 3 of the Garden Place Library.

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Pha Nich

First Names:Pha
Last Name:Nich
Place of Birth:Cambodia