Seng had impeccable work ethic. When you talked to him his eyes were calm, his physiognomy gentle. But as you watched his firm jawline tighten, the veins bulging along his neck, the intensity of his facial expressions when engaged even in the most mundane task, you saw a man of zen and single-minded focus. Watching him work inspired you.
When the day’s done, we used to go fishing for our dinner and he taught me how to cook fish in banana leaves. His wife had a habit of quietly coming into our room in the evening to leave a bowl of traditional Cambodian pudding she had made, no doubt at his request.
He generally stayed put on the farm with his family, where they lived a simple life with few possessions (most of his earnings went back home to Cambodia where he was building a new house), but occasionally Seng and I used to double up on his scooter for a day out to town. I remember how touched I was when we once went shopping for a gift for his wife and he asked me which scarf I think she’d prefer, as I realized he doesn’t often get the chance to treat her like this.
He raised chickens and I watched them grow.
Seng was on board with our Great Cambodian Experiment since day one and he left a fingerprint on several of the Sultan Series oils. Alongside him, we spent over four years separating the kyen from trees he helped inspect and harvest. With his supervision, the distillery ran smoothly. Often he’d see me start my daily round stirring the various batches of wood busy fermenting and he’d wave at me to say: ‘It’s okay, I already did it.’
He loved kids and kids loved him. He was the local uncle they all wanted to hang out with. You’d see young ones over his shoulders or he’d take them by the arms, swinging them around in circles. He made people laugh.
He and his wife normally got up at sunrise, but I guess this day she got up before him to prepare breakfast. When she came to the room again to wake him, she discovered that her husband had already breathed his last breath during the night.
Seng had a hand in many of the oils you enjoy, so next time you take a swipe of Aroha Kyaku say a quick prayer for his family that stayed behind.
May you rest in peace, my friend.