By Ross Corsair
In the often undistinguished, sometimes bleak, ramshackle architecture along Route 9 lies a surprising, wondrous oasis with plants and flowers probably found nowhere else in New York state or the entire Northeast, much less Philipstown, and a koi pond with lily pads populated by frogs and fish.
On weekends Sokhara Kim closes down her Nice & Neat dry cleaning shop and opens a Cambodian food stand. The expansive garden, filled with small creekside tables, supplies many of the vegetables used in her dishes. Her husband, Chakra Oeur, an artist and poet, is the garden’s designer and caretaker, with many of his own stone or wood sculptures complementing the space.
One of his stone sculptures (long and narrow, with impact holes) represents the damage that bombing did to his native country during the Vietnam War. He and Sokhara came to the U.S. after fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime.
When families stop by, children delight in the setting, scampering around the narrow paths to check out the pond or to swing in a low hammock.
Where else in the Northeast can you see a banana tree? To keep this and other flowers and plants alive outside a tropical rain forest takes diligence.
Chakra Oeur is just coming back from a brush with death. While he was undergoing routine surgery this spring at a New York City hospital, he says a crucial instrument was forgotten. His lungs filled with blood and he lapsed into a coma for several days and spent three months in the hospital.
Besides maintaining Nice & Neat, Sokhara spent long hours commuting to visit her bedridden husband.
After he returned home, he set out to bring the garden back from three months of neglect.
For those unsure what Cambodian food might be like, it has similarities to Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Among the items on the menu are spring rolls, dumplings, rice noodles with curry, and marinated grilled chicken or beef on a skewer or in a sandwich. The stand is open weekends at 3154 Route 9 until the weather becomes too cold, which, alas, is around the corner.
Photos by Ross Corsair