Documentary details Milford business owner's experience during Cambodian genocide

MILFORD — James Taing knew his father's life journey was one of suffering, survival and resilience, but every time he would ask his father to share his story with him, the elder Taing would brush him off.

But one day, he didn't.

"After years of asking him to tell me his story of how he arrived here in the United States, he finally did, and I knew that his story needed to be told," said Taing.

Taing's father, Mae Bunseng Taing, is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, where the Khmer Rouge regime killed millions in sites that became known as the Killing Fields.

However, Mae Bunseng Taing's suffering didn't end after he survived the Killing Fields. He then survived another mass killing, this time in a dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over land near the Preah Vihear temple.

"My father was about 21 years old when he arrived in Bridgeport," said the younger Taing. "Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants helped him to start a new life in Connecticut, and shortly after, he opened his painting business in Milford."

Taing's father still operates the full-time home painting business called Everstone Painting, LLC, from Milford and has been in business for more than 30 years.

After hearing his father's story, James Taing decided to turn it into a documentary not just to honor his father but to honor the lives of all of the people who died in the Killing Fields and on Preah Vihear.

"At first, my dad was hesitant in doing the documentary, but I told him to do it in the memory of all those who died during the genocide in Cambodia," he said.

The documentary, titled "Ghost Mountain: The Second Killing Fields of Cambodia," starts with a peaceful shot of the grass fields in Cambodia but quickly turns into a tale filled with powerful images and interviews with other survivors and with the heads of different agencies who tried to help in Cambodia during that time.

Mae Bunseng Taing is the youngest of eight children, and in the documentary, he stated when he was in Cambodia, he had a war-strapped life as he was forced from his home when he was a teenager.

The documentary shows Cambodian people starving while forced to do backbreaking work. Nevertheless, Taing escaped the Killing Fields and headed to the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where he lived in one of the many refugee camps forming along the border. After some time, the Thailand military forced the refugees back into Cambodia and took them to Preah Vihear, an ancient temple mountain.

The documentary notes that 43,000 people were taken to the mountain, which was filled with land mines, and in three months, 13,000 people died.

Resettlement Program for the International Rescue Committee workers saved Taing in 1979, and a year later, he made it to the United States as a refugee.

In the documentary, Mae Bunseng Taing travels across the U.S. to realize his lifelong dream of finding and thanking in person the heroes who were his rescuers.

James Taing finished the documentary in 2019, and in 2020, he submitted it to the Sedona Film Festival under the short documentary category and placed third.

"It took a long time for me to tell my story, but I'm proud of my son," said Mae Bunseng Taing.

"Ghost Mountain: The Second Killing Fields of Cambodia" can be streamed on PBS Connecticut, and Mae Bunseng Taing will soon be releasing a memoir, written by his son James, called "Under the Naga Tail."