We have begun in earnest to ready the club for our Community Social Hour on Thursday, Oct. 5. Look for more details in the coming weeks and make sure to RSVP to the guest list. It is going to be a lovely affair with food, music, beer and wine, on our beautiful new floors and other spiffy improvements.
In the meantime, we wanted to shed a bright light on our very own community champion, Steve Yeng.
Ocean Beach resident, owner of The Noodle House, 1502 and The Holding Company, Yeng has a legacy of charity. His story and generosity echo back to before he was born, when, through multiple acts of kindness, he and his family escaped atrocity and war to come to the United States as refugees.
We caught up with Yeng to thank him in person. He and his family embody the best of Ocean Beach and San Diego (and humanity in general for that matter) and we wanted to take the time to share his incredible journey. As it turns out, this is just Part 1. The “rest of the story” will be published in the next issue of the Peninsula Beacon.
Wars, bandits and apples
The story begins in China. Yeng’s parents and grandparents were part of a massive migration of people who fled China to escape poverty and communist rule. They came to Cambodia, which is where his parents met. Cambodia was good to them. They owned rice plantations, there was enough to eat and the future looked promising.
Then in 1975, the Khmer Rouge communist party and Marxist leader Pol Pot overthrew the government and took control of Cambodia. This brutal regime claimed the lives of up to two million people. Yeng’s family was rounded up and forced to work in communal farms.
Whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork. Yeng’s parents told him they worked 23 hours a day, were given 10 grains of rice to eat and lived in constant fear of execution. Terribly, Yeng’s grandparents, aunts and uncles all died in the “killing fields,” but unbelievably fortuitous, his parents managed to hold on until freed.
Yeng’s parents, Mr. T. and Siv Lien (owners of OB Donut) found a way to start over as butchers, using wild game as the meat source. Yeng’s father became famous for his sausages, which were valuable given the fact that there was no refrigeration. He and his wife shared food with others, already starting the philanthropy and charity they are still known for today – and clearly handed down to Yeng.
The first two boys were born, with Yeng’s brother in 1982 and Steve in 1985. Then, when he was just 1 year old, he woke up and was unable to move from his neck down. At that time in Cambodia, illnesses were often thought to be caused by evil spirits and he was taken to spiritual healers. Medical clinics did not exist, but if they had, they would have learned that Yeng had polio, as there was not a polio vaccination in Cambodia.
Without any medical hope in Cambodia, Yeng’s parents decided to give up everything to help their young child and hired a guide to leave Cambodia and go to Thailand. The guide was required not only to help them navigate, but also to avoid land mines and groups of bandits who preyed upon people traveling, as goods and services were paid for with gold. As a result, bandits knew anyone on the road was vulnerable.
The butcher business had been successful, so Yeng’s family had a good deal of gold with them when they started the journey. But because Yeng’s father was well known, there were already bandits targeting his family.
What happens next will be the subject of Part II.