SPELLING BEE KID: Interview with 1993 Chicago-wide Spelling Bee Champion 14 year-old SOPHOAN KHOEUN, immigrant to the U.S. at age 6.
00:00Copy video clip URL B-roll, apartment building. A toddler peaks out a window.
00:08Copy video clip URL B-roll, interior of the apartment and a family. Videographer talks to a little boy who says his name is Danny. He lives upstairs. He says Sophoan is his friend.
00:37Copy video clip URL Sophoan Khoeun introduces himself as this year’s spelling bee champion. He says he immigrated to the United States at age 6. He is 15 now. There was a Civil War going on when the Vietnamese invaded his native Cambodia. He came to America and started school in the first grade. He spoke hardly any English when he arrived. Now he’s a spelling champ. He credits this to perseverance.
02:26Copy video clip URL His cousin says Khoeun is good in all subjects.
02:44Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Khoeun describes how one studies for a spelling bee. For him, there is no secret, just absorbing as many words possible. He modestly comments that he is okay at crossword puzzles and writing. He wrote an autobiography.
04:27Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. He says he plays basketball and likes to draw. He notes that he won the spelling bee with the words “indemnify” and “cuisine.”
05:50Copy video clip URL Khoeun talks about how he prepared for the spelling bee by having a brother coaching him each night on spelling. He has four brothers and two sisters. There are 6 or 7 people living in the same apartment. The advantage is that there’s always someone to talk too, the disadvantage is there’s always someone to talk back to you, and the noise.
07:17Copy video clip URL Khoeun says his little sister is the next best speller in the house. His cousin Serena is a good speller. The videographer suggests an improvised spelling bee contest between Serena and Khoeun. Paul is the moderator.
08:41Copy video clip URL The first word is “sukiyaki.” Khoeun spells it correctly. The second word is “halitosis” which Khoeun also spells correctly. Serena leaves and the videographer becomes a contestant against Khoeun. Khoeun correctly spells “misogynist.” The videographer tries to spell “occidental” and does, though he’s reading it off paper.
11:54Copy video clip URL Khoeun talks about being in a spelling bee. From the outside the contestant can look calm, but on stage, for the participant, it is nerve-racking. You might be given a word you know how to spell, but be so nervous you make a mistake.
12:43Copy video clip URL Khoeun says coming to America at age 6 changed his life for the better, but he’d like to return to Cambodia. He has no future plans right now. He’s 15 and still deciding what career to go into.
13:57Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Khoeun comments that at one competition a spelling bee contestant received a word she thought was funny and started to giggle. The audience giggled. After an interval she tried spelling the word, but was so full of giggles she misspelled the word and was eliminated.
14:43Copy video clip URL Khoeun notes that he was City Champion and went to the National Competition. He lasted four rounds. The word that got him was “barbarism.” In the fourth round about 90 people were eliminated. When the spelling bee began there were 234 contestants. The competition ranged from fourth to eighth graders. The youngest was 9 years-old. Khoeun observes that good spellers are good listeners and good guessers.
16:57Copy video clip URL At the videographer’s request, Khoeun spells Chicago Slices. He says he has not seen the show. He says right now he is reading up on Drivers Ed. He’s learning to drive. The videographer quizzes him on rules of the road.
18:33Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. The quiz on rules of the road continues.
19:28Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. The videographer shares a spelling-themed joke. Spell flop. F-l-o-p. Spell drop. D-r-o-p. What do you do at a green light? Stop. No, go!
20:34Copy video clip URL Videographer asks Khoeun how to say Chicago Slices in Cambodian. He tries, but notes the grammar is different. Nouns are different in Cambodian.
21:49Copy video clip URL Khoeun notes that the most famous Cambodian is Prince Norodom Sihanouk. He says Pol Pot. He was in charge of the regime after the Civil War. Under his administration many people in Cambodia were killed and tortured. Khoeun notes that he was about 1 year-old when he left Cambodia. He and his family went to a refugee camp in Thailand. He doesn’t remember much about it.
23:17Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. In Cambodia he lived on a farm. His family wasn’t really dependent on anyone else. In the refugee camp they found they were dependent on others for food and other needs.
24:09Copy video clip URL Khoeun recites 33 Cambodian consonants.
24:41Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Khoeun recites the Cambodian alphabet.
26:17Copy video clip URL Khoeun says he speaks both Cambodian and English. The benefit for him is that he is exposed to two cultures, making him more understanding. He says he likes Chicago. It is quieter than New York.
27:02Copy video clip URL Khoeun gives a tour of his room. He likes comics, and shares his sketchbook: an invented man, a self-portrait, a speller he met at a competition.
30:47Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Khoeun shows pictures of Asian movie stars hanging on the wall that his brother put up. Khoeun says he plays basketball, football, and he dances. He performs traditional Cambodian folk dance with a group. He says folk dances are derived from older times and that there are two types of dances, one created by the court and one created by the common people. He says when he dances a coconut shell dance (of the common people) he wears decorative pants.
33:53Copy video clip URL The videographer asks about Khoeun’s shirt: Angkor Wat, a famous temple in Cambodia erected in 1131. He notes that he does not watch a lot of TV. The videographer points out that pretty soon it is said there will be 500 channels of TV. What would you like to see of on TV? Khoeun says he’d like to see more documentaries and shows that are not so corny and gimmicky.
35:28Copy video clip URL Videographer asks Khoeun if he has any questions for him. He asks: How much do you get paid? Videographer stops shooting.
35:31Copy video clip URL B-roll of Sophoan apartment, a grocery list written in Cambodian.
36:50Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Khoeun continues reading the shopping list. Videographer aks family members what they would like to ask Khoeun. The cousin doesn’t know, the brother asks him to say “hi.” Paul wants to know if he has it in his spelling ability to become Vice President of the United States and asks him to spell “potato.” Khoeun spells it jokingly with an “e.” Then Paul asks, in honor of Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, spell “integrity.”
38:34Copy video clip URL B-roll of the apartment, various pictures of monuments and palaces.
41:25Copy video clip URL Khoeun’s brother comes in and is asked to spell “Slices,” but gets nervous. His cousin spells it.
42:30Copy video clip URL Khoeun spells his name for camera: Sophoan. His brother Vicheth spells his name. Another brother and cousin spell theirs: Sinatha Khoeun and Sarina Souen. Another brother spells his name: Samnang Khoeun.
45:00Copy video clip URL Khoeun spells “goodbye.”
45:38Copy video clip URL B-roll, exterior Chicago Slices billboard. The sign is seen from the expressway as the videographer drives past.
46:56Copy video clip URL END