Life & Times of Chris Ha

A brief history of my life in Cambodia and Vietnam

Born in 1969 in Cambodia, I was raised by my grandparents and my aunt in a small town. I was too young to remember the details of the bloodily devastating war created by the US. In 1975, right after the withdrawal of American troops from Asia, all Cambodia citizens entered another killing field and were forced to leave the cities and seek refuge in the jungles.  The government banned the use of currencies. That means that money, gold, silver, diamond we had were completely useless and worthless. Of course, there were neither electricity and nor food, but our lives were filled with genocide, starvation, illnesses. Anyone who could read or write would be executed. The entire country plunged into darkness. There was no communication between Cambodia and the rest of the world.

In 1976, along with many refugees, we escaped to Vietnam. Near the end of that year,  for the very first time, I met my parents who had also survived the wars.  Unfortunately, one of my two brothers did not make it.

In 1977 I lived with parents for the first time. We built a small hut at the foot of the mountain, farmed and hunted for two years. However, for the sake of our education, my parents decided to leave and move to the big city. We moved from place to place, from one city to another. Due to the post-war, all cities in Vietnam were miserable to live in, and my future education was shattered.

Under the communist regime, all Cambodian refugees were once again forced into the woods and jungles where a one-kilometer square refugee concentration camp had been built. We lived in that cubicle for seven years along with 50 000 other refugees.

The turning point...

December 17, 1987, was the date my mother and I put our feet down on Canadian soil, and later we made Edmonton our hometown. Not only did we suffer from weather shock but also from culture shock. We knew no one and no one knew us in this strange, fast moving world. Due to our financial situation and my age (18yrs) at that time, getting a job was my top priority. However, getting a good education was equally treasured. Therefore, my schooling and work began on February 1988.

The Alberta Vocation College (AVC), now called Norquest College, became my first official school where I learned English as a second language.  My mother and I became Canadian citizens in 1991, and I got my high school diploma in 1993 through AVC, a BA University Transfer Diploma in 1996 through Grant MacEwan College, a combined BA Psychology and Sociology degree in 1999, an after-degree in Physical Education, specializing in Health and Fitness in 2002. In 2004, I became a member and Exercise Physiologist of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and an Alberta registered Kinesiologist.

During my years in the university, I stayed very active and played soccer every chance I had. In addition, I was always fascinated by gymnastics movements and inspired by yogic practices. After having taken those academic specialized courses and playing many of my favorite sports, I tried to find ways to learn and develop a combined system to instruct others.

Current issues...

While attending post-secondary education, I felt the need for further education and learning alternate practices in order for me to be successful in the work force. For this reason, I went out and explored the fitness's field. To my surprise, most people could not tell the differences between the fitness industry and fitness professional, and apparently, the fitness industry was engulfing the fitness professional. The entire fitness world was quickly built on sales rather quality and ethics. It is human nature that people tend to go for a quick and easy fix, but neglect or ignore the long term negative effects.

For the above reasons, on the date I became a fitness trainer, I swore to myself and to father's grave that I would never become a victim of materials, and more importantly, that I would never ever victimize my students and participants. Not only will I train them so that their body can function at optimal efficiency, I will also educate them, care for them, and stand by their sides just in case that they need a helping hand.


By the time we got to Canada  on Dec.17, 1987,  more than thirty five of family members and relatives had already been either killed, died of starvation and of diseases. Some I knew, but others I hadn't met. The war and political chaos taught me a great deal in life. That is, those who hold power in their hands always have the rights, reasons, and excuses to attack and exploit others, either directly or indirectly.  The "powerless" are always considered to be the victims who can only suffer. Like it or not, if they try to defend themselves by retaliating, they could be labeled as terrorists. Life can be unfair. War is always unjustified.

In my childhood and teenager years, I used to hear the jungles weep, and the mountains cry. I used to see the river bleed and the soil die.  Ironically, in many other parts of the world, while people were scared of bugs and worried about their beauty. I, on the other hand, tried to cover my ears to avoid the screams of babies being dissected. I tried not to inhale the poisonous odor of the dead bodies in the wells, and  the lakes and rivers; I learned to ignore corpses that laid beside me as I tried to sleep. Somehow, I woke up in the morning having survived another night. My life was torn by American bombings, and my soul was disintegrated by the Khmer Rouge in the killing field in Cambodia. I lost my innocent years. In the extremity of despair, I saw nothing but the death and the dying.

For better or for worse, those years of horror still remain with me today. What a journey!  Sometimes, I am too afraid to trace my own shadow. The only thing I can do is to teach myself to forgive those who once destroyed my life, soul and spirit. However, forgiving is not about forgetting or giving in. In fact, I will try to remember those who ruined my life as long as I live, and I will pass on my message to the next generation and to many other people, and I will remind myself not to be victimized once again. To me, forgiving simply means that I will no longer emotionally attach to those who once hurt me.

Needless to say, I hate wars! There is no such thing called a "winning war". It is always a lose-lose situation. Even if you can win a war, can you win peace? I do not want to know how the war I've lived through ended. I just want to know how it started at the first place. Furthermore, it is too painful to try to remember what it was like to live in the war zone. Over the years, many people have asked how my family members, relatives, and friends were innocently killed. I'd rather remember how they lived.

Ironically, the horror of my childhood also strengthens, and makes me a better person today. It creates a more solid shield, foreshadows and protects me from dangers. It helps me to prepare for crisis situations. More importantly, it demonstrates to me that although life itself is short, and fragile, it can have a tremendous endurance under any extreme conditions if a person has a will to live, something to live for, and something that is worth fighting for. After all, life is too precious and too short for one to live angrily with hatred. The rest is all about attitude. Some take criticism as an insult, and crisis as bad luck, but others as an opportunity. 

Life is a walking shadow ...

I always try to live a simple life, but to the fullest potentials. Unfortunately, the simplicity of my life has a price to pay - its complexity. Quite often, the weirdest and most bizarre incidents happen to me, and somehow, I always make it through. I don't regret having those experiences, for when I look back, I find them very amusing. It seems that bad things try to find a host to stay, and hold onto. That host is me. I don't like the idea, but I cannot escape or reject it. Instead, I embrace it and consider it as a long life lesson for me to learn, grow and to cherish it.

Future Outlook...& Perspectives

As for the future, there is no intention for me to make any changes. I am who I am. I do what I am good at. Training people gives me pleasure and satisfaction. Seeing the improvement of people's health and fitness conditions provides me a sense of comfort, and accomplishment. However, what really matters to me is not the results, but the effort. It is the process and the continuum that counts! In addition, the mental aspect of training most certainly means a lot more to me than the physical aspect, for the physical strength is measurable and has its limit. On the contrary, the mental strength begins at the point where the physical strength ends. Those who have a good attitude and are willing to train can bring their fitness level to optimal efficiency. One day, their mental toughness will emerge and the result will appear.

As a fitness trainer, I don't feel I can "train" anyone to his or her optimal level. Instead, I help them build their confidence within themselves by visually, physically and mentally guiding them to an open road which can eventually lead them to their final destination. As a trainer, I also realize that I learn more from my participants than they learn from me. Each person is an unique individual, with different goal, personality and attitude. Some like learning the truth about themselves, but others reject it furiously. Some come to the classes and set themselves to succeed, others to fail. Based on my experience, I have narrowed the training experience to two important philosophical points of view: Winners don't Whine, and Whiners don't Win.

As an outdoor adventurer, and rehab outreach practitioner, I always try my very best to use mother nature to bring peace to mankind, and to help create healing effects for people with illnesses, physical limitations or those who can't help themselves. With my wilderness experiences, the mountains have also taught me a great deal. Where there is darkness, there is light, and hikers should never expect nice weather but should learn to weather the conditions to appreciate life in order to love one another and live together in harmony as if I should not worry about my breathes as I hike up, but I should appreciate the mountains offering the stunning moments which take my breathes away.

As a photographer, I often laugh at myself for being foolish. I draw patterns and shapes of the non-existence in my mind. I Love making wonders out of the ordinary. I get Excited for making people larger than their life. I run Wild and Free in a snow drift, chasing a grain of snowball. I Hurdle over or through fences, and jump over canyons, even going after just a spoiled falling leaf. I would Sit for Hours under the open sky of the iron cold of winter dawn, awaiting a glimpse of a sun ray cralwing up behind a mountain peak . I would Kiss a Bee that is willing to take me to the hive to meet the queen. I would Crawl under the bed to play with a giggling baby. My heart will stop and accelerate when I see a lady wake up under the morning sun!
With all the above, I try to live life to its fullest potential, for it's just an entity, it's brief, fragile, and so precious, and for that reason, what I really treasure is not the breaths that I take every day, but the moments that take my breaths away

As a person, I am not trying to live my life with honesty, but let honesty guide my way. I try not to let bad moments to overcome me, but my passion overtake me. Many people see life and love as the most complicated matters. I see it as a green forest with rich resources that supports life. What we choose to do with the most precious resources depends on the level of our love of life.  While many seek happiness by creating more fortune, I am creating the balance of life by helping the less fortunate to enrich their life. Many people ask why I never enrich my life with the celebrations of my birthday, Christmas, New Year or any important occasions. I celebrate my life with its fullest potentials everyday so that big occasions can no longer fit.

Written by Chris Ha - BA., BPE., ACSM CEP., R.Kin., NCCP.
July 17 2004.
Last updated Dec. 10, 2011.

BA: Bachelor of Psychology and Sociology
BPE: Bachelor of Physical Education and Recreation
ACSM ECP: American College of  Sports Medicine - Exercise Physiologist
R.Kin: Registered Kinesiologist
FCE: Functional Capacity Evaluator
NCCP: National Coaching Certification Program

Back To Health Podium