Sinan Soc

" Soc Sinan "

Cambodian Survivor - Her Story

April 20, 1948--December 9, 2010

Sinan Soc in the US

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To Translate use Google Below.
If Sinan could tell her own story, she would probably start with her happy memories growing up in a little village on a river bank, North of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. As a baby, she had been sent by her mother to live with her grandfather and grandmother. These loving grandparents made her first four years joyous in the little village named Thlock Chrou. Her grandmother was unable to walk and her grandfather took wonderful care of both little Sinan and his wife. He taught Sinan to swim very early and she loved playing with the other children, jumping into the Mekong river that passed by their house. Then when Sinan was four, her life changed. I will tell that story below.

Sinan's childhood home.

Sinan's childhood home.

Note started: 12/25/2010

I am presenting Sinan's story here for family and friends. Please keep in mind, this is a draft and will be added to in the days ahead.

The details to follow of her life are both wonderful and terrible. I share her successes and tragedies, because her story has lessons for all of us, especially those who care how we treat the children of the world.

The Sinan most of us knew was shy and modest, unless she was fighting for someone else's rights or defending herself. She didn't like being videotaped, so we only have a few, difficult to watch segments from her last days. However, she did enjoy being photographed in nature and with friends and I will use many of those to give you a sense of the happy Sinan. There are only a few photos of her or family and friends from before the devastation of the Khmer Rouge* period 1975-1980. Fortunately, after she came to the US, she started recording her story and a few excerpts from 1983 and from a much more experienced Sinan in 2010 will be added once I can edited them.

Her story here, is drawn from pieces shared with trusted friends. We start with her public life and conclude with questions only partially answered in the last days of her life. The answers Sinan finally gained, helped make sense of the dramas she had lived.

After Sinan died on December 9th, many friends and family attended a memorial service in a lovely home in Potomac on December 19, 2010. People spoke about their love and admiration for Sinan. Some audio has been added below. Later I will add transcriptions.

On January 31st, 2011, along the Mekong River in front of Sinan's childhood home, long time friends and some of her playmates now grown, conducted a ceremony and spread her ashes upon the Mekong river where she swam over 55 years earlier as a little girl. On March 20, 2011 there was a large "100 day" gathering at the Cambodian Temple in Silver Spring and on April 3, 2011, the last of her ashes were spread among the Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C. that Sinan loved so.

As her partner for almost 30 years, writing these pages has been very difficult and if I get too maudlin or personal, please let me know. But I think her story deserves to be told, not just for the sake of her memory, but for the valuable lessons we can learn, and perhaps for the help those lessons may offer others.

Walter Teague

Meanwhile, if you have corrections or additions that will improve this account, please send them to me at wteague(AT)

This was Sinan right before the Pol Pot genocide took over Cambodia. She had learned French and English and established a self-reliant independent life in Phnom Penh. Later I will add photos from her early life.

First, here is a young Sinan, about 20 or so,before the 5 years of horror under the Khmer Rouge:*

Sonan Soc at 22

Her birth name was written Sonan Soc, but later changed in the US to Sinan when she became a citizen.

This portrait os Sinan was painted in Phnom Penh in 1974 and somehow Sinan saved it and brought it to the US. Click here to see full size.

Portrait of Sinan Soc painted in Phnom Penh in 1974

Photo used for Sian Soc's 1974 portrait.

. Click here to see the photo it was made from. Of course I liked the photo better than the painting.

In 1979, after surviving the Pol Pot madness, Sinan contacted a journalist and friend, Jim Laurie, and asked for help to get to the US. I'll fill in the details later, but with assistance from Laurie, Minister Hun Sen and others and with documents she had hidden successfully from the Khmer Rouge,* she got to the US in 1980.

Here is a photo of Sinan, with Jim Laurie and the Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen. It may have helped that Sinan and Hun Sen had gone to the same High School.
Sonan Soc with Jim Laurie and Hun Sen 1980

Sinan received probably the first exit visa from the new Cambodia government for travel to the US.

[Note, clicking on these photos should bring up a larger version.]

Here's Sinan on the plane leaving Cambodia:

Reaching the US, she found that a US military officer who had promised to marry her, thought she had perished during the Pol Pot years and had married another. On her own now, Sinan worked and went to school in Washington, DC.
Sinan Soc on plane
Settling in Washington, DC, Sinan decided to improve her language and employment skills and enrolled in Strayer College. Already fluent in Khmer (Cambodian), and French, she worked part time and her papers and grades at Strayer showed the diligence she would put into all her work in the years to come and she received an AA degree.
Sinan Soc boating past Washington DC
Sinan Soc Reads Washington Post every morning
Sinan Soc resting
A happy night on the Potomac!
Sinan read the paper front to back every day!
This looks posed, but it wasn't. One of my favorites.

A lovely and smart young woman, Sinan met and socialized with many in DC. One project that seemed very promising was the possibility of publishing her life story. She began doing interviews with Jacqui Chagnon and completed more than 20 taped hours. But at some point she couldn't continue... At the time, Sinan couldn't explain why. Recent revelations about her childhood suggest that the hours talking about the details of her life, may have became too emotionally triggering for her and this explained why she stopped. (I will explore this more later.)

Fortunately, 14 of the 16 interview tapes still exist. Sinan also started writing her story and some pages have been found. These give us the parts of her story that she was willing to discuss back in 1983.

In the following years, patterns in her life emerged. A number of early relationships with men in the US did not workout. In the 80's, she chose security and accepted a free room in a group house I shared with five others on Upton Street, in Washington, DC. Over the next seven years, we became a couple.

(I will leave some of the personal details for later.)

Then in 1987 Sinan offered to help buy a house with me. Of course I happily agreed. In late 2010 after her illness had devastated her, I asked her why she offered everything she had to enable us to buy a house together and in her usual minimizing but honest manner, she said "Well I thought a guy your age should have a house."

She learned to drive and with the help of friends, we moved into a rambler in the suburbs of Maryland. It wasn't close to city life, but we could afford it and I could set up my psychotherapy practice there. Sinan made it our home. She had a place where she felt safe and supported and gradually she found many Cambodian and other friends in the area.

The photo at the right was in 1998..

Sinan Soc surprised 1998

During the years from Sinan's arrival in the US in 1980

Until her death in 2010, Sinan found her greatest satisfaction in helping others, particularly poor Cambodians. She worked hard to help them find a bit of justice in their adjustment to living in the US. Her files show that she was a prodigious student and researcher. She became the expert that many Cambodians went to for help with Social Services, INS, family issues and interpretation in court, school and business matters. While sometimes paid, money was not her motivation. She had a fierce sense of justice especially when it came to children and the vulnerable. After her death we discovered that she often did not cash checks and spent little of the money she received on herself. As a survivor, she was unexcelled at saving money, recycling everything that came her way, and passing on the lessons she'd learned to others in need. (I'm a social worker, but as a friend said, "Sinan was a leader in her community.")

In collecting her things after her death, it became clear that she carefully chose her personal principles and worked daily to achieve them. Reading some of her notes to herself, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela's explanation to Oprah on how he survived 27 years in prison, "I realized I had to work to become a better person!" Sinan definitely did all she could to be a better person. But as you will see, like many who have experienced the madnesses of war, colonialism and abuse, the multiple traumas Sinan suffered left her unable to fully confront these ghosts of her past. Today, we call this condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It means there are emotional and psychological wounds that a person can not handle, and the individual survives mostly by hiding or protecting themselves from the psychological pain as much as they can. So while Sinan did an amazing amount to improve her ability to help others, she got less personal relief from the burden of these traumas until just days before she died.[I will try to explain these sad and unusual events in The Answer to Why below]

Sinan talks about childhood (Video recorded Sept. 25, 2010)

Sinan's first hospitalization was an unexpected shock on August 17, 2010. By the time of the video at the right on Sept. 25th, 2010, Sinan had survived three of her five hospitalizations, struggling with the liver cancer that would take her life on December 9th. When you watch this video, you will see that even though she is painfully thin and could rightly have allowed herself whatever she needed, Sinan continued her personal quest not to waste by tearing off one (1!) sheet of toilet paper to wipe her nose. More importantly, in this video she showed not only her primary concern in life, but also hints at the revelation that she had sought secretly all her life and only received in the last few days.

She begins by talking about how her elder sister took her to many places. What she doesn't yet explain is how and why her sister had to help her escape her father's household. Beginning the day she first went to the hospital, the pain and shock forced Sinan to ask, "Why me?" and also a surprising question about her father, "Why did my father hate me even before I was born?"

She had never told me or anyone about her father's mistreatment of her or the shame it caused her. I believe keeping this shameful secret all her life, contributed to her not knowing until before she almost died, that she had Hepatitis C and liver problems for many years. She avoided physical exams in the same way she avoided telling anyone about her father. Once faced with death, she asked over and over, how could he hate me before I was born? When I was in my mother's womb? Only a child shamed feels they are guilty for the abuse they suffer. Keeping it hidden all those years, prevented Sinan from getting the help she needed. [Audio tapes of Sinan discussing her father will be added later.]

After three months of treatment and only three days before she died, and with the wonderful help of friends here and abroad, Sinan finally got and could accept the answers she had yearned for all her life. (Described in The Answer to Why below)

Sinan on her Childhood

Sinan Soc on her Childhood!

For a lower quality Flash image, double click here and wait for download.

Here is Sinan in 2000, 2005 and then 2010 after the disease set in. Other photos from her travels and work are posted on a Flickr site .
Sinan Soc with a little boy she loves Sinan Soc in 2005 Sinan reflects on life on 11-23-2014
2000> Little Cameron stayed with us for a while 2005> 2010 > She was so brave and seldom complained.

The Memorial Service for Sinan Soc, December 19th, Potomac, MD

We shared a very emotional service for Sinan. It was both a terribly sad and a deeply warm and inspiring event. I thank all who made it possible and who came to share our grief and love for Sinan and her many contributions to us all.

Audio Presentations at the Service: Click for audio Mikki Van Wyk opens the ceremony (2.3 min) - Click for audio Walter and others speak about Sinan. (26 minutes)

Walter speakinganother viewStatements at the service


Why am I doing this? (Do read this section for background. I placed it at the end to not interrupt Sinan's story.)

Walter Teague - wteague @

Sinan's Life

Sinan's Early Life

Sinan loved to tell happy stories of growing up with her grandparents in the little village North of Phnom Penh. She loved them and the village, especially the river bank in front of their house where the little children swam and played. Sinan lived there happily until at seven her father finally managed to force her grandfather to bring her to the capitol city of Phnom Penh. For most of her life, Sinan avoided describing what happened then in her father's home. Later she admitted It was even more painful than talking about life under the Khmer Rouge* famous for the "Killing Fields" of Pol Pot..

But gradually as her illness worsened in late 2010, she revealed clues. Back in 1983 in her autobiographical interviews, she had explained being sent to live with her grandparents as a convenience for her mother. Now she revealed that her father did not know she was with her grandparents. That he only found out when she was four years old and her mother died during an eleventh childbirth. Furious, he started sending his agents to the village to take her away from her grandparents and bring her to him in Phnom Penh. Not knowing why and not wanting to leave her grandparents, little four year old Sinan was terrified. She didn't know her father and had only a vague memory of seeing her mother once before she died. So when they came for her, Sinan would run and hide high in the trees over the river. She would wait hours until she knew the boat taking the agent away had left the village docks. Then she would jump from the tree into the river and with great pride swim home. Even with the help of the villagers Sinan couldn't be found and she successfully avoided capture this way for three years..

Gradually during her illness, Sinan revealed that her father had told her young mother to get rid of her before she was born. To save Sinan, her mother sent her secretly to her parents in the little village Thlock Chrou North of Phnom Penh. As Sinan's history slowly emerged, she was still afraid to tell anyone who her father was or or how he treated her. She begged me at first not to tell anyone, because she explained "Cambodians would criticize her for bad-mouthing her father, no matter what he did." She was embarrassed also, that her father was "a General in Sihanouk's army." Actually not a General, but a high ranking officer at one point in charge of several provinces. His power allowed him various wives and concubines. He had simply gone to Sinan's grandparents village and chosen the prettiest girl there, a 17 year old who he brought to Phnom Penh to bear Sinan and 9 other children (Sinan was number 4.) Now in 2010 facing a life-threatening illness, Sinan could finally admit to me and then several close friends that for reasons she didn't understand, her father had rejected her before she was born. As she repeatedly asked me "Why did my father hate me, and he hadn't even seen my face?"

So; starting when Sinan was only four, her father's agents started trying to catch her and take her to her father in Phnom Penh. Sinan was instinctively scared. She wasn't sure what Phnom Penh would mean, but she did not want to leave her loving grandparents.

So, each time someone came for her, this little girl from four to seven years old would go hide in the tall trees by the river bank. The whole village couldn't find her. After it was clear the agent's boat had left, Sinan would leap out of the tall tree into the river and swim home, as she described it victorious and happy!

Sinan Soc loved the trees

This went on until 1955 when her father threatened her grandfather and forced him to bring the sleeping Sinan to Phnom Penh. Once in her father's home, she said he repeatedly told her how much he hated her since before she was born. During her illness in the fall of 2010, this grown woman would cry that her father never called her an affectionate name and instead referred to her with animal terms. Among his 20 or so children, she said he took out all his anger on her, blaming Sinan for all his troubles. She tole me he beat her repeatedly with a belt, even taking her out on the veranda so the neighbors could see. Describing these "bloody" beatings, Sinan would still ask me "Why did he hate me so, I was only a child in my mother's womb? He had never even seen my face and he hated me, why?" From her childhood to the onset of her final illness, Sinan had not been able to reveal to anyone, the shame and torment of this unanswered question. Now this became the focus of the last three months of her life..

Independence 1968 to 1975

Once in her father's house, she was terrified of her father and avoided him as much as possible. She became "street wise" she told me. Only when her father threatened to make her be a maid for a nearby family, was Sinan able to plan an escape with the help of her older sister. Once on her own, Sinan got a good job working for the French agricultural company Sonatrac and her own apartment in Phnom Penh. In the early 1970's, even during the war years, she enjoyed a wide social life, including the French and English speaking communities. This was a good period for Sinan, even as the war was drawing closer she made life long friendships. Curious about where her war torn country was going, she attended various functions, including a military briefing where she met U.S. journalist Jim Laurie.

The Khmer Rouge* 1975 to 1980

How Sinan came under Khmer Rouge (KR) control is another example of the survival lessons Sinan learned as a child. In 1975 as the Khmer Rough threatened to take over Phnom Penh, Laurie urged her to leave before the city fell. However, stubborn when anyone seemed to be telling her what to do, Sinan decided to spend the Cambodian New Year with her women friends, and then it was too late. As the Khmer Rouge factions emptied the city, Sinan used her childhood skill to hide for two weeks until KR soldiers found her and burst into her apartment with guns pointed. Somehow, she rose to the challenge and showed them her not yet healed wound from her recent operation. She said she convinced them to help her carry four suitcases down the street to the hospital a few blocks away. There she joined other abandoned patients who were all later put on trucks to the countryside. When the truck broke down, Sinan lost two of her valises, but the remaining two held her best jewelry, tickets and visa to the US and other items that would help her survive later. A farm family, favored by the KR because they were established farmers or peasants, protected Sinan and kept her suitcases all through the next terrible five years.

Then on January 7th, 1979, a glimmer of justice came to Sinan when she and the other Cambodians in the KR camps heard the approaching sounds of the Vietnamese helicopters. While we in the US were being told that Vietnam was the bad guy for "invading" Cambodia, for Sinan and other prisoners of the KR, these approaching Vietnamese troops meant they were being liberated. In fact, after the Pol Pot cadre fled, Sinan and others found documents in the abandoned KR commune office listing their names and dates of upcoming executions. There was Sinan's name and "crimes" for which she was to be executed in just 3 days! - (Sinan saved those pages shown below to never forget.)

Page 1 Death notice page1 Page 2 Death notice page 2

While Sinan was seeking help to come to the US, few Americans knew that U.S. government was conspiring to keep the Khmer Rouge as one of the representatives of Cambodia at the UN. (Elsewhere, I'll summarize the period that followed, including the disastrous effect of UN elections on the efforts of Cambodia to struggle back to life and the long-term disease (Aids/HIV) and corruption that the outside money and intervention brought.)

What Sinan and the children of her grandfather's village couldn't have known, was that Sinan's learning to hide to survive, first in the trees by the river and then in her father's household and later reinforced under the Khmer Rouge, had a dark side. This hiding was not only physical, but primarily emotionally. The shame Sinan felt at seven when she could not protect herself from her father's hatred and brutal behavior was later added to by the horror and brutality in the countryside under the Khmer Rouge. Her hiding to survive worked, but the early shame also limited her ability to open up to others, including getting the medical help that could have saved her life. [See explanation of the toxic hold of childhood shame (CPTS)]

U.S.A. 1980 on...

Sinan wrote Jim Laurie and with his and other's help and much struggle, she did reach the US in 1980 and she tried to set up her life in Washington, D.C. A US officer who had earlier married her by proxy, was now married to another and Sinan even had trouble retrieving property she had left with him.

She didn't know US culture that well and expected life here would be healthier than what she actually found. Shortly after I met her in 1980, I discovered she was rooming in an apartment of addicts on a dangerous street, so I offered her a free room in my group house. She accepted and after several years she was able to complete her AA degree at Strayer College and began to make friends and gradually felt better about herself and her prospects. But to do this, she had to keep most of her past buried. It did not help, that like so many Cambodians, she had lost most of her family and friends and was alone in a new country and culture.

For example in 1983 she did start taping interviews for a book on her life. Listening to these tapes now reveals how Sinan hid her greatest pain and shame about her father. When asked by the interviewer why she was living with her grandparents, Sinan made the excuse that her mother was busy with a new born. Asked how often her parents visited, Sinan mumbles something. The interviewer did not realize the cover-up. Instead Sinan detailed the horrors of the Khmer Rouge experience. (Most of those tapes and some transcriptions exist and I will add them here later.) Eventually, Sinan was unable to finish the interviews and it is my guess that she was getting too close to the trauma memories and feelings and had to stop before too much was revealed. The same thing seems to have happened in all her serious relationships. It became too difficult for her to be emotionally connected as ghosts from her past triggered her fear and anger. In the 80's she drafted several long letters apologizing for not being able to better manage closeness in her relationships, but did not deliver them.


"...I am very sensitive to criticism. I still live in the nightmare, half of the time; I do not have the desire to become anyone, I just live from day to day only. I lost all my hopes, my youth, the joy of life since I arrived here a few months later. I don't know when I am going to realize the truth." She continued about her depression and feeling alone with the "piercing voice from the past." She knew she needed security and safety if she was to function. She ended with asking to be forgiven for "being unpleasant and outraged."

After 1987 - a house in the suburbs!

In 1987 after seven years together in our group house, Sinan suggested "a guy your age, should have a house of your own" and offered to help with money she had saved over the years. We found a house in the suburbs with lots of space and nice enough for me to have a private psychotherapy office. Sinan and friends helped us move and set up. At first Sinan wasn't happy with the area, too far from transportation and friends, but soon she got used to driving and found many Cambodian and other friends nearby.

Sinan Soc at the Genzers 2004

Thanksgiving Dinner (2004) at our neighbors the Genzer's, became a regular and very welcome tradition.

From 1980 when Sinan first came to the US, she took every opportunity to travel with friends to all parts of the US and nearby countries. I am trying to find her close friends from those years to fill in gaps in her story.

Mary Tan and Tida for example:

Looking for Mary Tan

Even as her social life and work improved, she was never able to deal with her earlier traumas and didn't want to discuss them. Instead she now found real joy and satisfaction in helping new immigrants and poor Cambodians with practical and life problems. She worked as an interpreter in the courts, schools and hospitals. She helped individuals and families with legal and social problems. A patient and sensitive listener, she effectively helped other women who had been abused. As Jim Laurie observed : She counseled them.  Befriended them. Encouraged them. Soc Sinan provided to others what she had lost in 1975 – the support of lost family and friends." Ironically she helped interpret for older Cambodians in the same wards of Georgetown University Hospital where she was later a patient herself.

Sinan never bragged about how much she was doing for others. Only after she died, did her papers reveal how extensively she studied, researched and analyzed how she could be better at this work.

Sinan Soc at a wedding

Sinan's successes in helping others grew and she found particular satisfaction in helping others find some justice in their lives. She made sure the people she helped got to the doctor, hospital, vaccinations, etc. By focusing on others, Sinan could maintain protective walls against the shame and the effects of the traumas which sadly limited her ability to help herself. If you asked about her health, Sinan would say she was never sick and as a result, she only occasionally got cursory medical examinations. When I pressed her, she would say with a smile "Don't worry. We are angels. We will never die."

Sinan MC's at Kanitha's Wedding 1995

Video also on Youtube

Video as Flash.swf
Video in Quicktime.qt
Video as vp8.webm

So for all these years, not being able to even try to discover the reason for her father's abuse and torment, not only prevented Sinan from overcoming her shame, but also may have prevented her from discovering she had contracted Hepatitis C years ago, probably in the 1975 operation in Phnom Penh, until it was too late for treatment. This tragic lesson suggests a warning to others from South East Asia where Hepatitis C is prevalent and who like Sinan may be at risk and not know it: Please help those who resist medical help, whether out of denial or shame, to be tested early and regularly. It may save their life. See lessons:

Sinan is the MC at Kanitha's Wedding in 1995 - Video

August 2010


In early August Sinan lost weight and became tired and grouchy. I and others urged her to use her health insurance and go to the doctor. She kept putting it off until the night of August 17th, when she could barely walk and finally asked to be taken to the hospital. There they discovered her stomach blocked by blood clots, requiring immediate surgery and treatments to save her life. However, it was too late to repair the damage caused by hepatitis C. In the following four months, Sinan was hospitalized four times and grew weaker as her liver failed and the cancer spread. She was very brave and did all she could to survive as long as possible. She grudgingly let go of most of her chores, finally letting others help her. Gradually, she even let some of the emotional and physical walls come down. Before the illness, she never allowed most of her Cambodian friends know where she lived or visit her at home. Now these wonderful friends rallied to her aid, bringing food every day and visiting as much as she could tolerate.

Realizing the seriousness of her illness, Sinan had to put aside the work she loved and face the questions that had tormented her for so long. She began to ask me repeatedly, "why me?" And "why did he hate me so?" I could only answer that something was very wrong with her father and that she was not to blame, that this "General in Prince Sihanouk's army" was in so many ways a terrible person. Sinan began to describe him as a "monster," but still she asked me not to tell anyone what she was saying about him. She feared the Cambodian community would condemn her for criticizing her father, because you never criticize your parents in Cambodian culture. She mentioned that one friend even told her she was ill because she had not prayed to her father for forgiveness! Sinan rejected this as absurd and insulting, but still the unanswered questions and shame tormented her. I and her closest friends urged her to talk to her old friends from Cambodia, people who might have known her back then. Maybe they could giver her the support she needed.

Sinan Soc rests

[This is being rewritten as of 1/15/2013.]

Trauma and Shame: These terms and conditions are often not well understood or responded to in most societies. Writing here about Sinan, I will be using a particular set of these terms and theories about their cause and effect, especially those related to "Childhood Post Traumatic Shame," or CPTS.

Trauma: I am using this term to mean any set of conditions that overwhelm an individual's healthy functioning, sufficient to produce severe and lasting damage psychologically and behaviorally. The trauma may be some combination of physical, social, psychological and emotional in both cause and effect. Further, I am focusing here on the very different trauma experience of a young child up to 6 or 7 years old compared with more mature persons. Because of the strong instinct of shame, a younger child is at great risk of thinking they are somehow responsible if the trauma is not relieved or they don't receive support and absolution from their caregivers.

Shame vs. CPTS: There are many different definitions and types of shame. As adults, we usually think of shame being in proportion to our guilt and which may be used to motivate us to do better in the future. Children's shame is more volatile and less well managed and healthy caregivers understand children need relief from shame through forgiveness and approval.

We understand all young children experience some level of traumatic experiences and challenges. We expect that with the help of their caregivers, they resolve them without feeling they hopelessly failed or are permanently to blame. Such good outcomes require a family and support system that helps children understand they are still loved and not blamed for whatever misfortunes occurred. Such "unconditional love" helps the child feel they did their best and any remaining trauma events were not their fault. This fortunate loved child survives traumas in a healthy state. They have avoided being stuck with shame and instead started learning the confidence and patience needed to feel worthy of receiving and giving love in turn They are on their way to becoming capable adults.

But it is much more difficult to understand or imagine the unloved child's sense of shame. A young child severely traumatized and without support is on their own. Feeling they are responsible for the unresolved traumas and with no other explanations, the very young child is likely to conclude it is their failure. Worse, they think they deserve the blame. The instinctual shame which drives children to avoid rejection, not turns against them. As adults we know it is not their fault and it is not easy to understand the irrational self-loathing they begin to feel. We need to remember the young children lack objectivity and are still dependent on love and reassurance from elders.

Remember the terrified infant who instinctually cries when they feel abandoned, as if their life depends on getting the caregiver to return. What if no one comes to their rescue or offers reassurance to this unfortunate child? At some point they will conclude they have failed. You or an older child would look for another explanation, but the overwhelmed child suffers defeat in silence. Having learned a shameful sense of failure and futility, they must hide these emotions and beliefs, which will then unrelieved, undermine the rest of their lives.

Even in children who survive physically, the damage of CPTS will interfere with their functioning and relationships. They seldom dare risk disclosing their shame or asking for help. They often spend their lives dreading that their shame will show. So even while symptoms of this inner torment often show in their behavior and relationships, they usually don't seek help for the hidden shame. It often takes some greater fear or motivation to push them to finally ask for help or seek counseling. In therapy, a common explanation might be "I must have been bad for God to allow that to happen to me!"

To begin to repair the harm done to them in childhood, the content of their shame must be uncovered. To do this, it is vital to understand that the damage and limits caused by CPTS, and even worsened in some later adulthood traumas, are nether their choice nor can they simply be reasoned away. Only by receiving persistent love and compassion that understands and doesn't blame or re-shame the victim and unconditional love if you will, can they gradually challenge their fears and irrational shame. Once the secret lies and beliefs are somehow safely exposed and with whatever support they need, they can gradually realize they are loved and worthy in spite of their years of self-hate.

Epidemic CPTS: What is the size and extent of undiagnosed and untreated CPTS world-wide? We know millions of children are traumatized by wars, depravation, and other catastrophes and many if not most receive insufficient care in dysfunctional families and societies. Often, the survivors are told to be strong, "to move on" and be grateful they are alive. But if there are millions of sufferers of CPTS, unrecognized and untreated, then whole societies are at risk when these damaged children grow up to be adults damaged and limited by their hidden traumatic shame, and who if untreated, will pass on their distress to their families and communities.

If we could identify the children at risk, prevention of CPTS would be much easier and more humane than trying to repair the damage after it is done. But currently finding and caring for the individual children who suffer CPTS in secret like Sinan is seldom accomplished. Because of shame and social stigmas, and the nature of CPTS, millions of unknown children are likely to be secretly suffering the consequences of this mostly unrecognized disorder.

The first step is to find out if there is a hidden, epidemic of shame-related disorders among the millions of childhood trauma survivors.

And if so, what is the larger social impact and what can we do to address this loss to us all?

I believe the only hopeful approach is to scientifically identify and uncover the causes and nature of these particular traumas that have devastating, but hidden affect on young children. Faced with ongoing wars and catastrophic climate changes, prevention using a worldwide, socially coordinated approach is vital for us all.

During the four months of her illness, Sinan began to confront her past. Psychological barriers that had both protected and trapped Sinan began to melt. She seemed to understand that her chances of getting relief from her life of shame were clearly improving. I was happy to witness one amazing breakthrough during her second hospitalization. For the first time in her life, she had been hearing her trauma history being compassionately discussed by me and the medical staff. Even though the why of her father's abuse was still unknown, Sinan gradually became more comfortable not hiding the details of what she knew. One night she listened intently as a skillful nurse asked her questions from a computer survey on mental status and suicidal thoughts. Sinan seemed to think this nurse was responsible for the questions and her new found ability to listen to them. She told me this nurse was excellent and that she trusted her. Sinan insisted I bring a particular card and give it to the nurse with $100 and a box of good chocolates. (A common cultural practice among Cambodians.) This new found "trust," told me that Sinan now felt she could safely consider the facts and emotions of her past.

The Answers to Why?

As her illness deepened and her new found ability to trust increased, Sinan finally accepted calls from people she knew before 1975. In November, she told me that her mother came to her in a dream. Sinan asked to join her mother and her mother replied Sinan could, but not yet. Her mother said she had something to do first and then would come for Sinan. In November and December, Sinan started accepting calls from old friends and others from Cambodia. This finally brought her the answer to her question “Why did my father hate me before I was born?” Just 3 days before she died, she spoke to a woman who had been one of the little girls in her village and remembered the "General's daughter" sitting on the steps of grandpa's little house. She told Sinan that all the children knew she was the General's daughter who had been banished there and that they all knew the answer to Sinan's question of why her father hated her so. Contrary to Sinan's shame and fear, they knew she was innocent and blamed her father. They also all knew, but never told her, the story that explained why he hated her so!

Hearing that the children didn't blame her was itself a great relief for Sinan. Then the woman told Sinan the answer to her question. Her father, an ambitious and insecure officer in Sihanouk's army, wanted his next child to be a son. So he had gone to a "Chinese Fortune Teller" and asked would the child be a boy? The fortune teller told him "No, it will be a girl and worse, she will ruin your career!" Believing the fortune teller, the furious officer went home and told his young wife to get rid of the unborn baby. Instead Sinan's mother sent Sinan secretly to her parents in the little river-side village to protect her. After all these years, Sinan finally learned what "all the children in her village knew." That they blamed her monster of a father and not her. That her father's selfishness and belief in the fortune teller had turned him against his unborn daughter. Now, Sinan's shame began to lose it's hold. Daring finally to talk about her hidden feelings, she of course found that her friends had always loved her and respected her for her many wonderful qualities. That they too, like the children of her village, would never blame her for her for the hatred of her father..

Ironically, her father "the General" had ruined his own career, getting caught for corruption, demoted and put under house arrest. Later, in spite of his notorious background, the Khmer Rouge* allowed him to return to his family village along with his wives and children. Once there, his brutal character came out again. One night resentful and angry at having to work as a peasant he lost his temper and standing atop a dike, he denounced the Khmer Rouge. The next day, he and all his remaining family were killed, leaving Sinan with no known family.

Hearing the freeing news from the women of her village, Sinan was clearly relived of much of her shame. She became more peaceful and affectionate.

Then on the last afternoon on December 8th, she made a point of telling me she'd dusted my room and later I found her picking lint off the sheets she had somehow taken off the bed and washed. I told her she shouldn't be standing and I'd do it. She explained she had dropped an old cloth in the wash and insisted "No I have to do it. I have to pay for my mistakes!"

Since the illness struck, she had stopped reading the paper or watching TV, but that last evening having made sure my room and sheets were clean, she joined me and asked pleasantly "When does Keith Olbermann come on?" I was a bit surprised, but said 8 p.m. When I turned on the show, she commented that Olbermann must have a good hairdresser cause his hair is so neat and then asked "Is he as clear as usual tonight?" He was making a strong and clear statement on the taxes for the rich, but I understood her attentiveness as a kind of gift. Some time that night or in the a.m. she turned to me and said "Darling; I love you so much, and I will love you always" and asked for hugs.

I think she knew what was to come the next morning... [Details may be placed in the Personal Pages.]

Sinan Soc at beach


I will add more about her last days, but later. Too painful just now.

Walter Teague

wteague @


On January 31st, 2011 some of Sinan's ashes were spread upon the river, along the shore where she swam over 55 years ago as a little girl.

On April 3rd, 2011, Sinan's remaining ashes were left by friends among the trees and Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C. and Maryland that she loved to visit as an adult. It was a very sad and moving day. At the end when the photographer asked us to smile, it wasn't too hard. Photo at right.

Shortly, a number of photos will be added to help reach those who knew Sinan and may be able to add to her story.

You can read about the ceremony in Cambodia in Jim Laurie's A Final Journey to Thlock Chrou: reflections on a recent week in Cambodia. Two friends from the 1970's were there and one, Soarun posted a comment in the Guest Book below.

Sinan Soc's ashes spread on the Mekong River Jan. 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye on April 3rd, 2011 to Sinan at the Cherry Blossoms

Feb. 13, 2011: The Phnom Penh Post had a front page story on Sinan, Farewell: A Love Story. - Search for "Soc Sinan" for other listings.


Soon: Sinan's interview tapes from 1983 and many of her photos will be added once ready. Help to identify and choose the photos is welcomed.

Feb. 22, 2011: The Children's Surgical Centre in Phnom Penh received a donation of $2,000.00 USD in memory of Sinan Soc. Thanks goes out to her friends who contributed at the December. 19th Ceremony in Maryland.

Phnom Penh Magazine covere

Click on the above for the full article.

  Letter of Appreciation

Letters of appreciation from Children's Surgical Centre

Phnom Penh Cambodia

Thanks from Children's Surgical Centre  

Lessons suggested by Sinan's life:

  • I will be adding to these more evident and valuable lessons that I have drawn from Sinan's life and death. I welcome suggestions that can add to or improve this section. wteague @

Guest Book Comments Being repaired!

Add a comment to the Guest Book Being repaired!

Personal Pages

  • These pages will be reserved for friends and those who have made requests for more detailed information. I will also include photographs here that include friends who may not want to be so public without their permission. Also, I will be posting audio and transcripts of about 20 hours of interviews Sinan recorded in 1983. These were autobiographical covering her life, including details of life and survival under the Pol Pot or Khmer Rouge* regime from 1975 to 1979. If you are interested in seeing this section or adding to it, please e-mail me for the ID and password. wteague @
  • New I have posted an audio tape and transcript of Sinan discussing on December 6, 2010 just three days before she died what the woman of her village told her and how it finally answered the question of why her father hated her and helped her fully realize she was never to blame for his abusive behavior. It was a great relief to her and even though she was very weak, it clearly freed her spirit.
  • 4/20/2011 Would have been Sinan's 63rd birthday. I just added 9 photos of friends to identify. Please check them out.
  • 6/17/2012 Just found a brief video of Angelina Jolie and her adopted son at the Cambodian Embassy in Washington in 2010. An interviewer is too pushy and frightens her son, who tries to push him away to defend his mother Angelina. Sinan was there to help out and is shown briefly with Angelina's assistant and escorting them out at the end. (4:14...and 5:04...) Angelina Jolie's child attacked a Cambodian reporter on Youtube or "Angelina Jolie's kid attacked a Cambodian reporter" on this site - and in Quicktime..
  • Sinan at the DC Embassy during Angelina Jolie's visit
    Angelina's son defends his mother from an insensitive reporter.
    Sinan, 2nd from right, often helped staff at the Embassy.   The reporter didn't see that he had scared the child".
  • .
    Looking for Mary Tan thumb

    "Looking for Mary Tan" ad placed in Khmer papers in US and Cambodia in 2013.

    Unfortunately we did not find her.

    For those who knew Sinan, I request you review the photos I will be posting on a Flickr site. To leave comments, you need to sign up, but it is easy and free.
    Sinan and Arun San

If you want to access this personal section, please e-mail me. Walter Teague

Why am I doing this?

Like many who knew Sinan, I miss her terribly and it hurts to witness this wonderful person's life being cut so short. But even as I struggle with grief and the loss of a partner that made my life so much richer, I know there are lessons here that have special value and I will try telling them in a way that would honor Sinan's wishes. It will not be easy, since these lessons involve how we treat the most vulnerable children of the world and our record, worldwide is not good. A particular lesson which became painfully clear to Sinan as her illness worsened, was the need for better preventative health care, not insurance or shiny equipment, but health services available to all. Available where they live and in a manner that educates from childhood on how to be safe, how to grow up healthy and to maximize the good in our lives. Talking not so much for herself, but for others who may face what she had to endure, Sinan declared "America should be ashamed to have no health care for all -- like other rich countries. They fight wars everywhere, but don't help their own people." And this righteous anger came from a woman who had learned how to work the system to get people some of the help they needed.

A particular asset I will miss terribly is Sinan's amazing memory. Ask her about something that happened years ago and she could tell you the date and day of week, who was there and what they wore. For example, I'd totally forgotten, but she recently told me of the time she had driven a friend and her father who was having a heart attack to the Washington Adventist Hospital (the same hospital where she died). The hospital refused to admit him without insurance and told Sinan and his daughter to take him to the county hospital about 30 miles away. Sinan and her friend didn't know where it was and were scared to drive him away from the ER. So Sinan says she called me and somehow, I really don't remember, I got on the phone and convinced Maryland Medicaid to give him an insurance number immediately and on the phone! -- and with that he was admitted and survived. So I am certain, I will lose much of the last 30 years that Sinan would have remembered. But gathering the information from the parts of her story that I do have and asking her many friends to help me fill in what they can contribute, I hope will help make the story of her life more complete and helpful to others.

As I expand her story here, I believe you will come to better understand Sinan and how her earlier traumatic experiences formed who she was. You may better understand how her traumas and efforts to survive them led her to focusing away from the painful memories and feelings and instead helping her find purpose, satisfaction and even love through years of bringing what justice she could to others. Only after this terminal illness confronted her, could she reveal the personal torment she had suffered since childhood and ask me and eventually others for help with the why of it.

Now, I was fortunate in many ways to have shared the last half of Sinan's life and I continue to learn from her example. I want these pages to show some of her gifts, and in particular to help explain why young children, once traumatized, are stuck feeling it must have been their fault somehow, that they failed and are somehow unworthy. Unrecognized and untreated, this burden of shame will last their lifetime. When children experience trauma, if there is not enough love to protect them from feeling it is their fault, the undeserved and irrational shame they then feel, becomes an inner torment they can not escape. Like Sinan, many survive by blocking off and burying the unbearable feelings and often try to compensate, to find some way they can manage to be a good person, to feel worthy of being loved. Like many children Sinan had no choice but to hide her shameful feelings and thoughts from others. Even as an adult in the U.S., Sinan feared if she told anyone about her childhood traumas, they would blame her, as if she had caused the abuse she suffered. Unfortunately, this is the common outcome for young children who are severely abused, traumatized and left not feeling worth being loved. As Dr. Gabor Maté describes, it is not a genetic fault or disease, but rather traumatic conditions in the environment that too often prevent children from developing healthy normal abilities to feel and give love. The survivors may compensate and develop well in other ways, but at their core, they are left feeling they were not worth being loved and that it was their failure. Adult reason and logical argument alone can not erase this shame and so it stays hidden and undiminished.

Fortunately for Sinan, she began life with four loving years followed by three years learning confidently to protect herself. In spite of the multiple traumas that followed, these first four loving years gave her a great, strong side that she developed on her own. This strength became her dedication to seek justice where it could be found and feel worthwhile by helping others. This helped make her the person we loved, but as you will see the shame she suffered when she couldn't ultimately protect herself or feel loved as a child, all left her with a burden that defined and limited her life and struggles.

So I will tell the story as she told it and hopefully improve it with your help in the days to come..

Walter Teague

wteague @

Return to Sinan's Life.

Additions: 2/9/2021

Do see Jim Laurie's Tribute to a Cambodian Survivor - Search for "Soc Sinan" for other listings.

Also Jim Laurie completed and published his memoir of his times in Cambodia and Vietnam, meeting and telling Sinan's story.


The Last Helicopter: Two Lives in Indochina

Last Helicopter.
  By Jim Laurie
  Laurie writes of his journalist's experiences in the tumultious years at the end of the American wars on Vietnam and Cambodia, and he puts Sinan's life in context.

If you wish to make a contribution in memory of Sinan, you might send something to any of the organizations below or to one that you support..

  1. Healthcare-Now Organizing for a National Single-Payer Healthcare System

  2. Physicians for a National Health Program

  3. Universal Health Care Action Network

  4. A new opportunity to directly and systemically address problems and needs in Cambodia is to help the new Social Work Department of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Check out the program at the University of Washington's site. Also, an introduction to the UW Professor Tracy Harachi, who is doing her best to help the program and raise funds. And finally, here is the page to Make a Contribution:

* Khmer Rouge. This is one name for a communist insurgency that took control of Cambodia from 1975 until ousted by a mixed force of Cambodians and Vietnamese in 1979. One of the more infamous leaders was Pol Pot and the events were described in the fictionalized film "The Killing Fields."

This page last edited on: 02/09/2021


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