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The Dean of Union Square

Farras Abdelnour | New York, United States

Saravuth Inn, chess player; Union Square, New York, September 2015.

Near the southwest corner of Union Square, New York, sits Saravuth Inn with his chess set, strategically located near the the subway entrance. Brilliant player, he is of Cambodian heritage.

In 1975 he was moved from Cambodia to the US, part of Operation Babylift. An American family adopted him, but after physical and verbal abuses the state of New Jersey took custody of him.

With a scholarship at Rutgers University, he studied English literature. He settled in Canada, but eighteen years and three children later Saravuth was divorced and he moved back to the United States in 2008. In his words, “Trying to get everything that I’ve lost, instead I lost everything I had.”

Saravuth makes a living as a chess player at Union Square all seasons. After two years sleeping in the subway system, a college classmate secured him an apartment in Brooklyn. His future remaining uncertain, his wish is to move to Cambodia. Classified as displaced, his legal status in the US is in a state of limbo.


I met Saravuth Inn one spring afternoon of 2015 in downtown Manhattan. I was on my way to catching the subway when a middle aged man called my attention, and asked that I look up his story on the web. Thus started my friendship with a man of a particularly compelling story. It is a story of the human condition, and how one adapts to the unexpected cards he is dealt with in life. Human condition is the main thrust and the common thread in my documentary work. This is an ongoing project.


Farras Abdelnour


25 Pilling Street, Brookyn, NY 11207

646 286 1696

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