Subjects: helping out in his family-owned restaurant, soldiers stealing meals from his family's restaurant
Hyperlink: Phnom Penh
Keywords: "Education is the only way to survive."
Subjects: Desire to be a teacher, school outlawed under Communist Regime, Angkar, strict discipline, uniforms, learning French, passion for language, math and reading
Subjects: parents opening another restaurant, fighting between Khmer Rouge and Cambodian Freedom Fighters
Hyperlink: Khmer Rouge
Subjects: Older brothers being recruited by the Khmer Rouge, corruption in the government, Lon Nol government, secret support for the Khmer Rouge
Hyperlink: Lon Nol government
Subjects: bomb shelters, bombings, father's illness, family in Poipet that owns a restaurant
Subjects: Desire to be a monk, teaching young monks Sanskrit, Khmer Rouge overtaking Phnom Penh, head monk leaving to find his family, Khmer Rouge attacking monks and taking money, leaving to join his family, first encounter with the Khmer Rouge, parade of the Khmer Rouge with weapons, competition with the Thai army
Hyperlink: Khmer Rouge overtaking Phnom Penh
Subjects: Khmer Rouge states that Americans are going to bomb Poipet, evacuation of Poipet
Hyperlink: American bombing in Cambodia during this time
Subjects: breakup of the family by Khmer Rouge official, working in the labor camp supporting a rice plantation, new rice farming techniques, building dams, meetings in the evenings, people with an association with the former government were taken immediately to the killing fields, notion of year zero, teaching the village to read and write for only a few months, inability to trust anyone, suffering from migraines while laboring, beatings
Hyperlink: Beginning at "Year Zero"
Subjects: Living with other prisoners, bowls of watery rice for meals, angkar, uncle speaking out and his child is immediately taken away, working seven days a week 12-14 hours, attending "reeducation" meetings, angkar, rebuilding the country
Hyperlink: Life in the Cambodian labor camps
Keywords: "What is the meaning of life and I was thinking where is God? Why are we being treated this way I just never could understand it."
Subjects: police, soldiers, and government officials were the first to be eliminated, Thai's family was next on the list to be killed, Vietnamese invasion in 1979, public hangings at the labor camp
Hyperlink: Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979
Subjects: weakening of the Khmer Rouge power, Cambodian Freedom Fighters, confusion when the Khmer Rouge leaves
Hyperlink: Cambodian-Vietnamese War
Subjects: Encountering Vietnamese soldiers, learning about the mass graves in the country, eating a complete meal for the first time, watching people die when eating food for the first time, trying to get food and being shot at by the Khmer Rouge
Hyperlink: Mass graves in Cambodia or the "Killing Fields"
Subjects: Red Cross, Nong Chan
Hyperlink: Nong Chan
Subjects: loading onto buses for the journey, Thai people supplying them with food, Thai soldiers, Dângrêk Mountain
Hyperlink: Dângrêk Mountain
Keywords: "She said I'm going to go die with y'all"
Subjects: Father's desire to come to America against the reluctance of the rest of the family, Khmer Rouge, Cambodian Freedom Fighters, and Thai army in combat, bombings of the camps, rape of the wife of a Cambodian Freedom Fighter by Thai official, Western reporters taking photos
Subjects: First time seeing Westerners, returning to his family, Khmer Rouge attacks, Thai soldiers beating people, Red Cross relief workers, watching a Chinese movie once a week, learning English
Hyperlink: Khao-I-Dang Camp
Subjects: experiencing crime for the first time, lack of air conditioning, older brother coming to the U.S. before the rest of the family and worked to buy the family a television, watching I Dream of Genie and Bewitched, having their television stolen, disbelief about crime in America, fear confronting the police in America
Subjects: The Killing Fields movie, nightmares, telling his story for others
Hyperlink: The Killing Fields
SLOAN: This is Stephen Sloan. The date is March 24 , 2016. I'm withLieutenant Paul Thai, at his home in Rockwall, Texas. This is the interview for the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission's Survivors of Genocide Oral History Project. Thank you, Lieutenant Thai, for sitting down with us today.
THAI: You're welcome.
SLOAN: I know you were a fairly young man when the time of the events that we'regoing to focus on today, but one thing it would be very useful for us to understand is for you to talk a little bit about your early life, that time when you were living in the capital. We've talked to other Cambodians who had this experience. Most of them lived in rural areas early on in their life, but you had the experience at a young age of getting to experience the city before all these changes come in in the 1970s. 1:00
SLOAN: And so if you could talk a little bit about your early life there inPhnom Penh.
THAI: Life back then in Phnom Penh--I was a child and I don't remembereverything, of course, but it was beautiful. It was nice, you know, with my family. My father and my mom, they owned a restaurant. I get to help them out in the restaurant, go to school, and all that. It was nice. The one thing I didn't quite like was, even as a child back then, the soldiers would come in the restaurant and eat. Helping my mom after school, I get to observe a lot of things that happen there. The bad things that happened was the soldiers would 2:00come in. A few soldiers okay. My father and my mom, they're pretty much generous. They're good people. They would allow or let the soldier eat for free, but then more and more soldiers would come. I remember, one time my father took a bill to one of the soldiers and say, "Sir, this will be your bill." There was so many of them. The soldier pulled out his hand grenade and said, "You want this?" My father was shaking was like, "No, no, it's okay. It's free." You know, it's that bad. The officials there are just so corrupt. The soldier is just not disciplined, and because of that, my father and my mom decided to move out of Phnom Penh to another city. I don't have much of memory in Phnom Penh, actually, besides going to school and working in the restaurant with my parents. I had a 3:00lot of friends, but then we had to move, so I had to make new friends. But it was a beautiful city. It still is now. But my memory back then wasn't too pleasant.
SLOAN: This is a very strange question, but I'm going to ask it anyway, becauseI know your career is going to be made as a civil servant in a city where you are a public official, and you are someone that people look to to keep the peace, to have justice and fairness. I'm just thinking about, as you talk about your experience with these soldiers, your family's experience with these soldiers, and then what you've ended up doing for your occupation.
THAI: Right. Actually, it helped me with my career. Now, that would be somethingI would not do, I mean, being corrupt like that. I always remember that 4:00occasion, and I remind myself here, "Hey, treat people the way you want to be treated, and be nice to people." It's free. It doesn't cost you anything. Just smile and be nice and be helpful. That is why right now, not just right now, it's been all these years, my heart is in the community, and I have volunteered a lot of my time just working in the community.
SLOAN: I just made that connection right there, because this insecurity thatyour family felt, this danger that your family felt, and the way you work now to try to create the opposite of that for communities.
THAI: Right, exactly. I'll tell you this, though. I never, ever thought that Iwould want to be an officer, a police officer or anyone wearing a uniform, because the uniform in Cambodia represented just bad authority, just corrupt and 5:00bad. We were so afraid of police officers. We were so afraid of soldiers or anyone in uniform, because we were so used to people in uniform coming to our house, knock on doors, then take family members away, and we don't get to see them again. Or they would come in, they'd beat a few of us up, and they would leave, and no questions asked. Forget about search warrant or warrant anything--not in Cambodia. It's that bad. So I never wanted to be a police officer, to be honest with you. I ended up, now I'm a police officer. I always wanted to be a teacher. It was my goal and my dream when I was a child.
SLOAN: So you enjoyed school as a child?
THAI: Yes, yes I did. I miss that very much, because during Communist regime,school was outlawed. We could not go to school. We had to work, and work, and 6:00work to serve the government, the Angkar.
SLOAN: Do you have memories of school when you were there in the capital?
THAI: Yes sir.
SLOAN: What do you remember from school there? What was it like?
THAI: We had to wear uniform, khaki pants, white shirt and very disciplined.Every morning we would go to salute the flag. We'll take turns, but everybody, the whole school, would come out and salute the flag. We were very respectful to our teachers. I'm not saying it's bad here. I've never been to high school here, but I was told by friends who went to high school here, and middle school, and all that. What happened here, it shocked me. I said, "You kidding, right?" Because, in Cambodia, school teachers can beat you up any day, any time they 7:00like. If you tell your parents, parents going to say, "Good, I like that." You know? It's that way. Anyway, in Cambodia, school was good. We get to learn a lot and discipline, self-discipline. We get to respect people. We're not allowed to be loud. It's very strict. I enjoy that very much. I don't know why, but I love school. I love education. That's why, again, my dream, when I was a child, I always wanted to be a teacher. Teacher represents education. Teacher is like next from God, the way they're looked at in Cambodia. If you have any family 8:00members, or yourself, that's a teacher then you're really well respected. It made me love education. I always tell my kids that education is the only way, the only thing. It's how you survive.
SLOAN: Were there particular subjects you enjoyed when you were younger?
THAI: We learned French. I love language, so I enjoyed learning French, backthen. I had never heard of English before, only French. But I love French, and math a lot, and writing and reading. I enjoy reading. I love reading books.
SLOAN: Well, you mentioned this transition that your family's going to have tomake out of the city. I know you were very young. This was around 1970, I think.
THAI: Yes, exactly.9:00
SLOAN: Can you tell me what you remember from that? There's going to be a lot of moves--
SLOAN: --coming up for you and your family. Can you [describe] what you rememberabout that move?
THAI: As far as remember, we moved to a village called Kirirom. It's up on ahill in Cambodia, closer to Vietnam. My father had some friends there who had business there also. Moving there--I remember we moved there, then my father and my mom, they opened up another restaurant. It's very beautiful city. It's not that far from Phnom Penh, actually. You have to realize Cambodia's not that big. (laughs) So we moved--
SLOAN: And I know the roads aren't very good.
THAI: Not very good. Oh, my gosh, bumpy. Anyway, so we were there, enjoying the10:00city, beautiful city, lots of trees. I made some new friends, get to go to school, and everything. Memories over there were so bad, because at school, many times, we'd get interrupted. We get sent home like almost every week, because of the fighting, the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Freedom Fighters
SLOAN: That's right, the civil war is going on.
THAI: Civil war, exactly. We'd be in school and we'd hear bombs. We would hearloud noise. We would hear gun fighting, pretty close. Then, we hear on the loud speaker, "Everybody get to go home." Back then, because home's pretty close to school, parents don't have to come pick us up. We would just run home. It wouldn't take us that long, either. Anyway, we get interrupted many, many times 11:00while in school. Same problem, too, is soldiers were bad. My parents, they love the restaurant business. Again, they didn't give up. They opened up another restaurant and had the same problems with soldiers.
SLOAN: Yeah, I know everyone works so what was your contribution to therestaurant? What was your job?
THAI: Actually, I go to school full time, but then, whenever we get dismissedfrom school because of the fighting and all that, I would help my parents just washing dishes, mopping the floors, and such. My mom and my dad, they were owners, and they were cooks, too. My older brothers get to help out to serve, wait on tables.
SLOAN: Did your older brothers get harassed by either the government or the12:00Khmer Rouge, at that point, recruited? Did it touch your family as far as the fighting goes? Did you have relatives that were involved in the fighting?
THAI: Not really involved in the fighting but were recruited, myy olderbrothers, two of them actually. In Cambodia, it's very common for people to run. You may have family living in the city, but then the older kids would move somewhere else to hide from the government, because they don't want to be recruited for the military. We knew it's very dangerous. That's how I lost one of my oldest brothers. He moved away to a village that is known to be very malaria-infested, but he went anyway just to get away from the town. It's common 13:00for the soldiers to go to school, go to a theater, or any public place just to--actually, when I use the word recruit, I'm being nice. They don't just recruit. They force you to join, actually. You would see some grown-up run, and then these soldiers are after them, grab them, put them in the car, take them, and they become soldiers. That's how they recruit, so it's not like by willing or anything. No, they would just grab you, and now you are a soldier, because they needed bodies to go fight in the front line against the Khmer Rouge and against the Viet Cong.
SLOAN: I know this is going to be a period where there's fighting for years, '70to '75.
SLOAN: Your family is suffering some from this exposure to some of thecorruption in the government. Did your family have much exposure to the Khmer Rouge during that period?
THAI: No, no, the Khmer Rouge to us was unknown. We just heard that they weretrying to take over Cambodia. There was mixed feelings about it. Some say, "Oh, I wish they would come sooner. I want them here, because they're going to liberate us from this corrupt government. They're going to make everyone equal. We're all going to be good. It's democratic and all that. Everything's going to be good. There won't be poor people. There won't be rich people." My family, we're kind of in the middle class, so we weren't sure which way to sway. We didn't know much about the Khmer Rouge. We just know, people telling us they've 15:00seen them from time to time, but mostly they were nice. They were supposed to be the lifesavers. They're supposed to come save us.
SLOAN: I know there are problems with the Lon Nol government. There were a lotof bad opinions.
THAI: Exactly, exactly, yes.
SLOAN: So there's the thing that you know, and the thing that you don't know.Some people are hoping for better with what they don't know.
THAI: Exactly. Even though it's the unknown, a lot of people were hoping for thechange, a lot of people, unbeknownst to me, actually. Although I was a kid, I recognize, and I know a lot of adults, a lot of leaders in the community, who were just--they have jobs like teachers, and some was just like regular labor workers, friends of my father and everything. But, then when the Khmer Rouge came in, they were high-ranking officials on the Khmer Rouge side. We didn't 16:00know about it. We were thinking, How in the world? They were just our friends, and now they are the high-ranking official with the Khmer Rouge. So, I guess, what I'm trying to say, is that the Khmer Rouge had a lot of support, not really open in the public. Secretly, a lot of people supported them. I think that's how they had victory over the Lon Nol army.
SLOAN: Is it Kirirom?
THAI: Kirirom, yeah.
SLOAN: Kirirom. So I know the situation turns out to be not much better inKirirom, so your family actually has to relocate--
SLOAN: --again. So how long were you in Kirirom, and when do you move?
THAI: We were there in Kirirom, I would say, a year and a half, maybe two.17:00
SLOAN: So just long enough to make new friends and--
THAI: Exactly, and then lose them, again. It's a beautiful city. A lot of goodmemories there. A lot of tall trees. Weather is real nice and everything. The only thing was the fighting, the fighting. The Khmer Rouge, for some reason, they headquartered around there, so that's where they started the fighting was from Kirirom, and lots of fighting. I mean, it's very common to hear gunshots during class. Sometimes the teacher say, "Okay, it will be okay." In another hour, getting closer and closer, then they say, "Okay, let's go home. That's it." Sometimes, we don't go to school for a week or so. Then, we'd go back. Then, a few hours later, we'd get dismissed again. 18:00
SLOAN: Being a young man--being a young boy, I know you still had to find thingsto use your imagination and to entertain yourself. I've had a young boy. You had a young boy. I've been a young boy. I know you found play and things to maybe distract yourself from all the things that are going on. What are some memories of maybe sports you played or other things that you did to maybe get your mind off of some of the scary things that you're doing?
THAI: Right. There's not much for us to do, actually, because we were afraid.We're not even allowed to go outside, because that's how bad it was in Kirirom. Again, the Khmer Rouge, we heard they're good people. Some said, "No, they're not good. They're going to grab you and make you a soldier." So, my parents, they were very protective, so they told us not to go outside. If we do have to 19:00go outside, then go in group, at least bring your brothers--I only had one sister--and your sister out with you, and stay in group. We didn't really get to go out and play any sports out in the open--just at home, you know, just do what we can. Pretty much, I would just stay home and read books, and same thing with my siblings. We read books, we would discuss about stuff, and sometimes play hide and seek in the house. That's basically it. But, sports or anything--we couldn't go outside, at all, because the fighting was so bad.
SLOAN: That's part of the things that will motivate this move to Poipet?
THAI: Exactly. The reason, the real reason, the one incident, that caused myparents to move again was, one time my father was sick. I think it is safe for 20:00me to say, almost every house in Cambodia had bomb shelter underneath the house. We had one underneath our house in Cambodia. My father became sick one day and we had to close the restaurant business for many days, because no one would come out to eat. Everyone is so afraid. The fighting was getting closer and closer. Then, one day--it was at nighttime, we were all sleeping and a bomb fell right in the backyard. My father fell from his bed. It shook the whole house--shook the whole house, and my mom was crying. We all were terrified, and all ran down to the bomb shelter, and stayed there for many days. It seems like years to us, 21:00but I would say probably about a week, while we kept hearing the gunfight, we wouldn't go up. We just stayed down in the bomb shelter, eat there, and do what we could there--just stay there. My father said, "No, I can't do this anymore." When the gun fighting slowed down a little bit, he said, "We're going to have to move." This time we moved to Poipet.
SLOAN: And why Poipet?
THAI: My father's brother, my uncle, lived there, in Poipet. Actually, I saidbrother, two brothers--his older brother and his younger brother. My uncle, my father's older brother, owned a restaurant, also, in Poipet. My parents said, "Okay, let's move there to help them with their restaurant." They decided to do 22:00that, we moved there, and they worked in the restaurant with my uncle.
SLOAN: Give me an idea of how Poipet was different than Kirirom, your life there.
THAI: The life there--Poipet was--there's a lot more people. It's along theborder of Cambodia and Thailand, so for some reason, there's a lot of Chinese ethnic individuals there, some Vietnamese, some Thai, so a mixture of different nationalities there, in Poipet. School there, there's more students, but the fighting wasn't too bad, because it's closer to Thailand, in the west now. We didn't get to hear the gunfights all the time anymore, so it's a lot better 23:00there. We went to school there in Poipet, all my siblings, same thing. We wore uniforms and everything, and get to enjoy life a lot better. My father worked in the restaurant to help my uncle. My mom, she spoke Thai, and she spoke Vietnamese. Her work back then is, she would go into Thailand, to Bangkok, to Aranyaprathet, and would buy stuff to bring back to Cambodia. I was able to go with my mom a few times into Thailand to conduct business, actually, to watch my mom do stuff, when I'm off. It's a lot better than Kirirom. It's much 24:00better--make a lot of good friends there, too.
SLOAN: That was exciting for you to get to leave the country to go to Thailand.
THAI: Yes, it was exciting to see people in a different country. It's just likenight and day actually, yeah. It's more enjoyable, life in Thailand, than in Cambodia. I was thinking, "Mom, how come we don't move to Thailand?" She said, "It's not that easy."
SLOAN: Now, is it in Poipet where you began your study at the Buddhist--
THAI: At the Buddhist temple? Yes, sir. I got sick pretty often, and in Cambodiawhen you're sick a lot, your family members or your parents would usually send you to the temple. They said at the temple, you can go there, you can meditate, you can study Buddha, and you get to calm yourself down. They are good in 25:00helping you out with your spiritual needs. For some reason, yeah, when I went to the temple, my health improved somehow. I didn't get sick too often, anymore.
SLOAN: Tell me about that. When you go to study at the temple, you're away fromyour family? You stay there at the temple?
THAI: Yes, I stayed there the whole time. I stayed there. I live with the monks,actually. Although, home is not that far from the temple, less than a mile, actually.
SLOAN: What was that life like, there at the temple?
THAI: It was very peaceful, very pleasant. I get to live among the monks, theelders, and the nuns, and get to see all the rituals, the ceremonies, and all that. In Cambodia, when there's, say, New Year's celebrations, almost any type 26:00of celebrations, are conducted at the temples, at the Buddhist temples. Back then, it's safe to say, maybe 90 to 95 percent of the Cambodians back then were Buddhist. Everything, any activities, is at the Buddhist temple.
SLOAN: I think of all the trouble that you had been through where you'd livedbefore, and now you're in this very peaceful place. It must have been nice to be, for a little while here, in a place where there's a lot of peace.
THAI: Oh yeah, it's a big difference. I get to concentrate in school. At thetemple, too, I get to concentrate and learn the Buddhist scriptures and such. I get to enjoy life a whole lot more. I get to go see my family anytime I wanted 27:00to, although we were still struggling financially, because my parents lost the business (doorbell rings) from Phnom Penh, and then in Kirirom.
pause in recording
SLOAN: Lieutenant Thai, we were talking about time at the Buddhist temple there,as you were being trained. You talked about the rhythm of life there at the temple, the things that you were spending your time doing. One of the things I know that happens, because I read it in the book, is you had a dream.
SLOAN: Can you tell me that story about the dream that you had?
THAI: Well, I had many dreams.
SLOAN: Well, all right, well then, tell me more than one. (both laugh)
THAI: The one particular dream that I had was--you know, I lived with the monks28:00in a small house, actually, with the monks. Behind the house there's a lot of mango trees. Mango trees are very popular in Cambodia, and banana trees, of course. As I remember, one night I was dreaming that I was sitting behind the house, under the mango tree. I think, it's because I'm so used to--at the temple, you get to see traditional dancers a lot. My wife, she's a traditional dancer, also. I get to see that a lot. In my dream, I saw traditional dancers were dancing, except they were coming down from heaven. They were coming down and then they touched the ground and started dancing. I said, "Wow, beautiful." 29:00I was watching them, and when they finished, the head angel--these are like the angels, the head angel, a lady--came to me. I was sitting on a rock, watching. She came to me and sat on a rock next to me, and the rock started to fly. It was like I was in heaven.
In Cambodia, the monks are the spiritual leaders, but not just that. They'releaders of everything. Monks, they're becoming so popular, that people would go to them for anything. In this particular case, people would go to the monks and ask for lottery numbers. They want to be rich. They want to hit the lottery, so 30:00they'll go to the monks and say, "Oh, would you give us the lottery number? What number should we buy?" The monks would open up their bible, and they say, "Okay, when were you born?" Asking all the questions, and then they look at the numbers. [Then the monks would say,] "Okay, you should buy these numbers." My master, the head monk, he's been giving numbers and he's been wrong. Honestly, I don't remember any stuff like that, from experience, and I've seen that. He's been giving numbers, and it's always wrong. Once in a blue moon, he would give a correct number. He became so popular, that people would line up in front of the house to get to him, and it's not free. To get numbers from him, they give him some offering, and give him some money. It's like a business to him. There was a 31:00dry spell. He just couldn't hit any numbers, so he wasn't popular anymore.
I had this dream and people, Cambodians especially, believe in dreams. I do, toa certain degree, but in this case, because of the dream I had, I was thinking there was two of us. That's the number two, the lady and I. We were flying. So flying in Cambodian, we say hawh, meaning [to] fly. From that we translate that to fifty, because the word fifty is hâ. Hawh, hâ --same thing, so it's the number five. With two people flying, the number two. So, I bought lottery. I put 32:00fifty-two. It's only two numbers, fifty-two, and I got it. I made the money, and my master wasn't too happy with me. He said, "How come you didn't tell me? I could have given these people this number. I could become popular again, would make more money, and buy more food for you." I said, "Oh, my gosh." So after that, every morning, the monk would ask me, "Did you dream again?" I said, "Yeah, but I don't remember." So he put a lot of pressure on me as a little boy. I was only eleven, twelve years old. I was into lottery, too, because my master was so popular with people. He gave wrong numbers all the time. I think out of a hundred or something times, he only got it right one time, and he became so popular. 33:00
SLOAN: I know you're being trained to be an elder.
SLOAN: Did that involve anything different? Did you have to be selected forthat? Did you have to go through an examination?
THAI: No, not at all. Just the fact that my parents took me there, because I wassick. They thought that I would be better health-wise if I go to the temple and stay with the monks, so that's how it started. Then, my sister got sick, too. My parents took my sister to the temple, to the same monk, and he renamed her. That's all he did. "Oh, that name is bad," because he looked at his bible, and said, "Oh, her date of birth with that name, that's bad. That's why she's been sick." So, he renamed her, and for some reason, she got better, too.
Back to your question, no, nothing special. I stayed with the head monk, so he34:00trained me to be an elder. It was kind of hard to find elders too. Elders, they're busy, and they don't make enough money. The elders would go with the monks, when the monks would go out to anyone's house to bless the house, or to help out with anyone who is sick or ill. He would go over there and do whatever is necessary to help out and to perform ceremonies or rituals. Usually, elders would go with the monks, and elders would know what to say to begin the ceremony.
My master, the head monk, I refer to him as Master, he trained me to be anelder, so I made money, actually. Every time I went with him, people 35:00would--because I have to prepare, you know, to tell them, "Okay, this is what you need to do. Bring, chicken, apples"--no, not apples. I'm so used to apples, now. I love apples. Back then, we didn't have apples. [I would tell them to bring] oranges, bananas, and all of that for the offering. I would tell them you have to have so many chickens, or how many bowl of rice, and so many incense, and candles, and stuff and, of course, the fruits and everything else. I would tell them what to do, and then when they had everything ready, the monk would be waiting. I would start the chanting first to get the congregation to repeat after me for about five minutes, or so. Then the monk can start the chanting. That was my duty, and it was good business, too.
SLOAN: Yeah, I was going to say. You said your family was struggling, so you'reable to bring in--
SLOAN: --a little bit of money to help your family.
THAI: Exactly, so I helped out the family. It made my parents even happier.36:00Guess what they did, after they found out I was making money? They sent my younger brother to the temple to live with us. It was myself and my younger brother who stayed at the temple.
SLOAN: Did you have the ability at that point to keep some of the money foryourself? Were you able to have some spending money, for the first time, then?
THAI: I did spend some, but most of the time, I would give to my parents,because I know they were struggling. I was tempted to keep some because food--always hungry. There's not enough food. Although, I stay at a temple, there is still not enough food. So, I would keep some, and wouldn't let my parents know. I'm going to keep this for school. Once you go to school, buy some food, and then take it to school and eat, or after school. 37:00
SLOAN: You're confessing it now.
THAI: I am confessing right now. (laughs)
SLOAN: I would imagine for you, if you could buy a book, here or there, it wouldbe nice, or are you just studying the scriptures at that point?
THAI: Actually, books were not really--as far as I remember, I think--it's apublic school. I'm not sure how my parents arranged with the school. All the books were provided, but very, very rare. You don't get to get a textbook or even a pad for writing. It's just a sheet of paper, and you use that for the whole semester. You have to use it scarcely. You cannot waste it. I didn't even have a backpack or anything, just a few sheets of paper that you carry with you, 38:00all the time.
SLOAN: Now, is it the Khmer Rouge that ends this situation, when they come intothe village? Is that what ends this pattern of life that you're on when you're studying at the temple?
SLOAN: Everything changes.
THAI: Everything changed.
SLOAN: Walk me up to that, when you, the village, or your parents, became awarethat they were threatened, or that the Khmer Rouge were winning in their fight with the government.
THAI: Right, right. After I was an elder for many years, my master suggestedthat I become a monk. He's got my stuff ready to become a monk, but we kept hearing that the Khmer Rouge are gaining territories. They're getting closer and closer to Phnom Penh. So everybody is kind of worried, but some were okay, 39:00because they want to welcome the unknowns. We, again, kept hearing that, "Oh, they are good people. They come to rescue us," and all of that. So, we're not sure. My goal was to become a monk, actually, back then. I wanted to be a monk, because of the respect and everything, and because I know my parents, they love the religion, the monk. That was all I was concentrating on. I learned some Sanskrit words, so I was teaching some young monks how to read and write.
Then, one day, we were told that the Khmer Rouge are now taking over Phnom Penh.So we said, "Oh, this is getting serious." My master, the head monk, said he's 40:00leaving. He couldn't stay there anymore. He's going to go find his family and join his family, because in all of the places where the Khmer Rouge took over, they got rid of all the monks. They did away with monks. They did away with money. They did away with a lot of things. We knew that they're in Phnom Penh, now, so they're not so far from us. They're going to take over the whole country, and the monks are going to be jobless--going to be kicked out, so my master left. I had nobody to help me out--no more leaders, so I left, too, to join my family.
A few days later, that's my very first encounter with the Khmer Rouge. Iremember, we were at home. We were told, "Oh, the Khmer Rouge are here. They're 41:00coming now." We all got up and ran to the street. Lo and behold, we saw a parade of the Khmer Rouge with guns and a bunch of young ones. I looked and I said, "I know him, I know him, and I know him." Some were teachers, some were students just like me, and they're now in the truck with the Khmer Rouge, holding guns just like that, shooting--keep shooting, to celebrate, to let us know they're taking over. I remember some old people handing us the white cloth or white paper to wave so they wouldn't shoot at us. [We] waved to let them know we welcome them, we surrender, come take over, and all that. I was thinking, Wait a minute, why was it necessary to shoot? I mean, to me, a gun, when you shoot, it's going to come back down. These are young ones, and some were as young as me 42:00back then, eleven or twelve years old. They were shooting guns, so my impression wasn't that good. They were not--although they had victory, they were not really--to me, it wasn't friendly to us. I guess they had to put on the mean face to show, "Hey, we're taking over now, so don't mess with us." The whole parade, they all stop at the border of Thailand and Cambodia. We followed them there. They set up all their cannons, artilleries, and guns, and all aiming towards Thailand. Then the Thai army were all there, too, getting ready. We say, "Oh, so we're going to fight the Thai army now?" But, [the arms] were just to try to show force back and forth.
Then, within four or five hours later, a few of them are holding loudspeakers.43:00We call them microphones--in Cambodia, a loudspeaker. They kept saying, "Americans are going to drop bombs, so we all now have to leave. Everybody will have to leave Poipet, because Americans going to drop bombs." We have to leave within twenty-four hours. That's when we all scatter around and start running different directions to our houses.
SLOAN: I would think, because America had bombed Cambodia--
SLOAN: --years before, people believed--
SLOAN--people believed them.
THAI: It's taught in school, also, that Americans dropped bombs and, Americansdidn't like us. The propaganda from the Khmer Rouge made it even worse. When we heard Americans are going to drop bombs again, we're all like, "Oh, my gosh. We have to leave now." Everybody was starting to leave--hospitals and all the 44:00people who are sick in the hospital, they had to leave, too. It had to be empty. Also, the temples, the school, everybody going to have to leave, so we started to pack. Just pots and pans, and some food--
SLOAN: You lived here several years, so--
THAI: We lived there about four years.
SLOAN: You're very established. You can't take everything.
THAI: Right. They told us not to take anything, anyway. It was so chaoticbecause cars--I mean, traffic was so bad. Most people had bicycles, some motorcycles, cars, too, but not that many cars. Still, traffic was so bad, people were walking. My family, we had a bicycle, so we packed stuff up on the 45:00bike and started walking the bike. A bunch of us carried stuff--pots and pans, some rice, chickens, some ducks with us, got some veggies from our garden, and just packed. That was it--and some clothing. We didn't have any furniture anyway, just a chair, a table, here and there. Actually, we didn't even have a table, because my uncle's family, they're better than us, so they had a table and some chairs, but we didn't. We didn't mind, because we enjoyed eating on the floor. We were sleeping on the floor, anyway, so we were okay with that. We didn't have much to pack.
SLOAN: Did you go back to the temple? Did you have anything at the temple thatyou wanted to keep?
THAI: No, I didn't go back, because by then it's so chaotic, I was just holding46:00onto my mom's hand the whole time.
SLOAN: So you begin to evacuate. You talked about this fear that you had. Evenwhen you saw the parade, you began to worry. Who are these people, and what are their plans? I know there's going to be this process where you realize that these are not the saviors of Cambodia.
THAI: I wasn't sure yet, but I was not impressed by the guns shooting. To me,why waste bullets? Although, I was a little kid, but for some reason I was thinking, Why you waste bullets? Save that for the enemies. You know when it goes up, it's going to come down, because we're all standing there. Why was it necessary? People didn't mind, though. People were just waving, screaming, yelling, and just laughing. Everybody was happy, I guess, except me. I was 47:00concerned. I don't understand that, and again, I was only eleven. Then, after they made the announcement, you see more soldiers just keep shooting, "Go now! Go now!" telling us to leave. I was thinking, Well, I know they want us to leave within twenty-four hours, because Americans going to drop bomb, but why shoot some more? They were shooting. They were even pointing at people, saying, "Go now! I mean, now!" We have to leave, and I didn't quite understand that, so my impression kind of changed. The unknowns, to me now--I think, I know who they are now. I don't think they are our friends--just in the back of my mind. Then, when we were walking, we saw some dead people who wouldn't want to leave. They just shot them. We had to jump over dead bodies and see people hurting along the 48:00way. We walked, and walked, and walked, so many days. They kept hurrying us, "Go, go, go!" They were not friendly.
SLOAN: And you didn't know where you were going to?
THAI: No, we didn't know. They just told us to leave. They told us within a fewdays we'll come back, but a few days later, we were still walking. They kept pressuring us to leave, to keep moving. We couldn't stay. There was a family who got tired. They said, "We can't go anymore. Our mom is sick, our father's sick, and we have to rest." Unh-uh, they kept forcing them to move. That was the first time when I saw a Khmer Rouge soldier beating up people, start hitting and say, "Go!" The family got up and tried to get the family moving again. That's when, to me, they were not friends. To me, I know they're not friends. 49:00
SLOAN: So it became real clear in this process of evacuating, or the way theywere acting towards the people, that they were not friends.
THAI: Right, it's not like one person doing it. It's all of them doing the samething, shooting and yelling at us, keep telling us to move on and all. They were not nice. It's not like, "Hey, you have to go, because Americans will drop bombs, and you will be dead if you don't move." No, it's not that. They're yelling, "Go now! Go now! Go now!"
SLOAN: So this evacuation goes on for days?
THAI: Oh, weeks, I would say.
THAI: Yeah, because we walked and walked. At least, it's over a week. We walkedwithout destination. We had no idea where we were going. We kept asking. When we see a soldier, we would ask, "When will we go back?" [They said,] "No, you're not going back. Go! Keep going! Keep going!" That was it. 50:00
SLOAN: But, you know you're walking back into Cambodia. You're walking away fromthe border back into the heart of Cambodia.
THAI: Right. Yes.
SLOAN: Were you all able to stay together at this point?
THAI: Yes, we were staying together, the whole family. Although, my father againbecame sick, so we had to carry him. Sickness is very common in Cambodia, and especially during that time. My father, he was not well. It was usual, normal to our family that he gets sick very often. We couldn't stay. We can try to rest a little bit, and when we see a soldier coming, then we keep moving. 51:00
SLOAN: Would you stop at night and walk during the day?
THAI: No, we had to keep moving.
SLOAN: Keep moving all the time.
THAI: Keep moving, yeah. You could try to rest here and there without seeing asoldier, but when you see one coming, then you need to start moving. They show us some examples already. They killed someone in front of us and beat someone in front of us to get us motivated.
SLOAN: Did you begin to understand who they were targeting, or who they viewedas the enemy at this point?
THAI: No, no. Not yet. I didn't quite understand. I didn't know what was going on.
SLOAN: Yeah, you're so young.
THAI: I didn't understand until we got to the village. We got to a village wherewe didn't know anyone, but there were people there. My parents decided to just resettle there, to stay with people. Back then in Cambodia, a lot of people had 52:00storage facilities in each of their house. There was a family that was nice to us. They allow us to stay in their storage building. We stayed there for a few days, ran out of food and all of that. Later on, we resettled there, because one of the officials, I don't remember his title, he came, and talked to my parents and took our names down. He told my parents that we could stay there with them. We resettled there, and that's when, to me, I found out the reality of the Khmer Rouge. That's when I joined all the kids my age. My older brothers, they joined 53:00other kids their age. My father was sent to a garden, to take care of gardens. Only my mom stayed in that village with my youngest brother, who was only about two or three. My sister, he was about five years old, even her, she was assigned to a work group--five years old. That's when they announced no more school. School was outlawed, money and everything, nothing. You're not supposed to own anything. Only the government owns stuff, and you belong to the government. They used the word Angkor. When we hear the word Angkor, it's like, Wow. No one could say anything. That's when it opened up my eyes. They are not friends. We didn't 54:00own anything anymore, nothing. We had to earn our food daily. If you're sick, you're not fed that day. You have to depend on your relatives or somebody to share their ration.
SLOAN: So the official came into where your family was staying--
SLOAN: --broke the family up into different--sent you to different places. Youwent with the thirteen-year-olds, right?
THAI: My group is probably from eleven to fourteen, I think, or fifteen.
SLOAN: Okay. So they sent you with that group to live somewhere else?
THAI: It's a labor camp.
SLOAN: A labor camp and work at the labor camp.
THAI: Right. Where we have to dig ditches and we had to build dams. And we hadto do rice plantations, every day. 55:00
SLOAN: This is all supporting rice production?
THAI: Exactly. In Cambodia, I didn't quite understand back then, but now this iswhat I was told. Usually, you do rice planting only once a year, but the Khmer Rouge came up with this idea. If you built dams, real high dams, to hold water, then you can plant rice two, three times a year. That way, you get more rice to sell. We had to build dams. I mean, they're so high--at least fifteen, twenty feet high. Yeah, they hold water at certain place. We worked every day, and we had to earn our food daily. At nighttime, a lot of meetings, we had to go to meetings. After that, we take turns to stay up and watch the dam, because the 56:00water may go over the dam, or may break the dam, and then we'll have to call everybody to come and fix it to make sure we're not losing water.
SLOAN: They were political meetings at night, right?
THAI: Oh yeah. It's one of those. I remember it just like, Oh my gosh. It's allabout Angkor. It's all about the government. They ask us questions all the time. "What did your parents do before?" At first, I didn't quite understand, you know, I said, "Oh, my parents owned restaurants." Then some kids, some of my friends, they told [the Khmer Rouge] their parents used to be government officials, used to be teachers, doctors, and all that. What I noticed was, a day later, a friend of mine who said that his father was a high ranking 57:00official--said, "Oh yeah, good. We need him to serve the country. We need him, good, so anybody else?" A few others would tell, "Oh yeah, my father was a soldier and all that." The next day, they've all gone. They were all gone. They were taken to join the family, and everybody were taken to the killing fields. We didn't quite understand that yet. We just knew they were gone. Then, some more nights, they asked the same question, "Anybody else? We need to know. We're restarting our country. This is year zero. We're restarting everything over, everything new. We need people to help us out. We need people who's got the experience. We need doctors, we need teachers, we need even students. We need them, so tell us. What did your father do?" I said, "Well, I told you, my father owned restaurants." They didn't believe. They kept asking. Then, more and more 58:00kids my age, my friends, start to miss. We didn't quite understand at first. Later on, someone told us, "No, they were all killed." Someone saw them doing that. After that, everybody's like, "Okay, no talking. Don't talk anymore." It's popular in Cambodia during that time, they say you grow a dumb tree--I don't know if that makes sense to you. Everybody grows a dumb tree--meaning you don't talk--just like you are dumb. You don't talk at all. Now, when we're mad at our kids, we say, "You need to grow a tree," (laughs) meaning, keep your mouth shut. 59:00
SLOAN: I know your family would have been in danger, because one, you live thecity, middle class, an owner, not a worker. You had education. You could read. All those things could put you at more risk.
THAI: I was teaching the whole village how to read clock or watch. Nobody knewhow to--never seen watches before. It's in a very rural area, so I was teaching the whole village how to read and write, for the first few months. After that, no, no more. They said, "Unh-uh, no more school."
SLOAN: You grew a dumb tree to survive.
THAI: Exactly, you don't talk. When people ask you, you say, "Oh, I don't know."[They ask,] "What did your father do?" [You say,] "I don't remember." You have to be like that. Right then, you couldn't trust anyone anyway. That's why the 60:00phrase "grow a dumb tree," is that you don't trust anyone--even your friends. You can't say, "Hey, I trust you. You're my close friend. Yeah, my father used to be so and so." No--unh-uh, because that person may use that against you, so that he can get an extra portion of rice. That happened, so you couldn't trust anyone. During that time, you're not allowed to congregate anyway. A group of more than three cannot be together and talk. I mean, there's no time to talk anyway. We have those soldiers with the gun all the time making sure we are working. I remember, although I got better during the time I stayed at the temple, my health was not that great. I had migraine headaches. I'm much better now, but back then, I still had migraine headaches. I remember, I passed out many times because it was so cold. I mean, it's raining for hours and hours, and 61:00we're still out there digging and it was so cold. I was about maybe twelve by then. Passed out.
SLOAN: You're not used to this sort of work.
THAI: Exactly, so passed out, and then we get beaten. Then, when we get back tothe village, no food for us. Luckily, I had my younger brother who stayed at the temple with me. His age is close to me, so he and I get to stay in the labor camp together. He shared his ration with me, but he wasn't too happy that I was sick and kept getting his food. I survived because of that. I thank him for that.
SLOAN: What did you stay in at the labor camp?
THAI: It's a building. It's an open building. All it had was floor and roof.That was it. No walls or anything, so all of us would sleep together there. Food 62:00served--there's a chef who would cook food for us, but the food, it was nothing. It's just watery rice. I don't know if you've seen that before, but we eat rice a lot. Cambodians eat rice for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for supper, but there's not enough rice. They had the chef there cooking rice, but the rice is just watery. You could just see water. You get a bowl. The whole bowl, you look at it, maybe just a few pieces of rice. That's it. That's for lunch there. Then dinner, same thing. My uncle is not like my father. My father grew a dumb tree. He wouldn't talk. He wouldn't do anything. My uncle, he was mad. He made a comment about the food. He said he doesn't mind working for the Angkor. He said 63:00he'll do anything, but please feed him. He said, "We need strength. We need to have food in order to work." That's all he said. The same day, my cousin who was in the camp with me, was taken away. Then, we don't get to see them again. The whole family was gone. They said they couldn't afford to have someone like that against them. He was not against them. He just said, "Hey, uh, we need more food." That was it. He spoke up in a meeting.
SLOAN: No privacy, no--
THAI: No, no. No privacy.
SLOAN: No ability to speak out against your situation--
THAI: Not at all.
SLOAN: No relief, work seven days a week--
THAI: Seven days a week, no holidays, no weekends, not anything, and our workday64:00is at least twelve to fourteen hours a day--at least. At nighttime, again, we have to go to meetings. They call it, "reeducation meeting," but to me that's just a brainwash meeting. That's all it was. Everything was about Angkor. Everything's about Angkor, about starting year zero, about rebuilding the country, about wanting to get more people to help, meaning they want to know what your family members used to do, so they can get rid of them. That was it. Luckily, for some reason--and I just found this out, too--that at the first or second year, they were targeting the army, the police officers, and all of that first. My father and my mom, restaurant owners, were next. Our name was on the list already when the Vietnamese took over in 1978. They were on the list, so 65:00luckily we were not the first to go like the soldiers or the government officials.
SLOAN: I'm sure some in the camp tried to escape.
THAI: Oh yes, definitely. Many times, friends of mine who, I guess--I missed myparents, too. Every day working--I don't mind the work. I was young, I was working, and I was thinking, What is the meaning of life? I was thinking, Where is God? Why are we being treated this way? I just never could understand it. The thing is, we were not allowed to talk. What happened was, a few friends of mine--what I found out was that some of them just could not take it any longer. They just could not take it, so they escaped from the labor camp. Somehow, I don't know how they did it, went back to the village to join their parents. They 66:00didn't know this, but when they left the camp, these guys already knew. The Khmer Rouge [is] already waiting at the village. They would be gone forever, never come back. After it happened so many times, what the Khmer Rouge did was, whenever someone escaped from the labor camp again, they would get them. This time, they don't take them directly to the killing field, they bring them back to the camp, and they would hang them. They had meetings--every night meetings. Here's the example. If you betray Angkor, if you abandon Angkor, this is what's going to happen to you. Our friends being hung there, and there's nothing we could do.
SLOAN: You know, even as you say Angkor now, just that idea of how hateful that67:00was to continue to drill in, "What are you doing for Angkor? Why won't you do enough for Angkor?" You said you enjoyed the work, but the brainwashing had to be worse at times.
THAI: Actually, I didn't enjoy the work but I didn't mind it. It's okay.
SLOAN: I didn't mean "enjoy."
THAI: But I had no choice.
SLOAN: You had no choice.
THAI: No choice, but it's okay as long as you feed us. But with just a bowl ofwatery rice, how are we going to have any strength to do it? Another confession, we had to steal. We had no choice but to steal to survive. Then, if you get caught stealing, you're gone. A lady, who was close to my family, she was so 68:00hungry, and she wanted to feed her family All she stole was tomato and pepper. Who's going to enjoy eating pepper? You know, it's hot, but it's still food to her, so she stole it, tried to take it home to feed her family. And she was killed because of that, just taking a tomato and pepper. It was inhumane to me, very.
SLOAN: Then you didn't know it, but now we know they are exporting all thisrice. One of the reasons they're not giving you much rice, is they're selling it to China and other places.
THAI: I found out later. They always said, "That's not enough rice." We need toplant more rice. We need to build dams, and we need the hold water a certain place. We have to do this, we have to do that. We all said, "Feed us. We need to eat." I'll kid you not, so we ate anything. At nighttime, we would go into the 69:00forest and look for anything that we could get to eat, anything. Banana trees--we eat the tree. It didn't taste good but we ate a lot of leaves. Bamboo shoot, at least it tastes good. We'd go into the forest, look for bamboo shoots. Get bamboo shoot and that helped us out a lot. One vegetable that is right now so popular to the Cambodian community and will always bring a smile on my face when I talk about it, is watercress. In Cambodia, it grew--still now, I think--grows wild, so that saved a lot of lives. We would go to the rice fields, pick them, and start eating them. The thing is, because the whole country--at 70:00least my village, my town there--we had nothing to eat but that. In just a few months, they're all gone. They grow wild, but they couldn't survive, because everybody's eating. There's nothing else to eat. Banana trees helped us out, too. Leaves, mushrooms, but a lot of people were sick, and there's no hospitals. I remember, I was sick. I could not work, but there's no hospitals. They had a guy who claimed to be one of the elders. He made some type of medicine from herbs, from leaves, from whatever he collected from the jungle. He made those 71:00medicine for us. But no, it didn't help at all.
SLOAN: How did you get relief for your migraines when you would get migraines?
THAI: I'd pass out. Hours later, I would wake up. I'm there by myself.Everybody's gone. That was it. I would start walking back to the village or to town. There's nothing to relieve that, just have to tough it out. Any kind of sickness, there's no doctors.
SLOAN: You go into the camp in 1975, and you're there for four years?
THAI: A little over four years.
SLOAN: Four years. You talked a little bit earlier about how they went afterthose that had connection to the army or had connection to the government, first. Then it began to change later on. Can you tell me a little bit more? I 72:00know a lot of it is the same every day, but are there also some changes that take place in the camp, as far as what the work looked like, or what the schedule looked like, or less freedoms, more freedoms? Does it change at all during your time there?
THAI: Not at all, actually, to me in my village. People from other villages mayhave a different experience, and I've been told that before. Other villages had more food. They still had to work hard, but they were fed better than us. In my village, it's gotten worse and worse. It didn't get better, at all. Actually, from the beginning, it wasn't too bad. We were able to eat rice at first, solid rice. Months later, we're eating rice soup, but there's still a lot of grains of 73:00rice. At least, it's still thick. It's not watery. A year later, it's like water. You could hardly see pieces of rice. That was it, nothing else. So, no, it didn't get better. The situation just got worse, because people becoming sick because of that. The lack of everything, vitamin, protein, whatever. People were getting sick. To me, it didn't get better, at all. It got worse and worse, and the food got worse, too. Once a year they would feed us good. The thing was, everybody--maybe I'm not sure if it's safe for me to say--but to me, almost everybody became thieves. I remember one day, they said, "Okay, tomorrow, y'all 74:00are going to eat rice, solid rice. Your going to have some chicken, some beef." We were looking forward to that. We were just so happy.
SLOAN: You never had protein, right?
THAI: Exactly. I couldn't sleep, just so excited, [saying to myself], "Oh, mygosh. We're going to be fed tomorrow. Good, good, good." Tomorrow came, the foods were gone. Someone stole the food. The chef cooked. He said he made a big pot. The pot was about this big to feed about a hundred people. He made a big pot of rice, along with some chicken that he cooked. By the morning, it was all gone. It's among us. We don't know who stole the food, but you can't blame them. I mean, we got mad. We went back to the watery rice again. Same thing happened the next year, although they had their soldiers guarding the food. Still, 75:00somehow, people are able to steal.
SLOAN: What was the occasion they gave you a nice meal? Was it New Year's?
THAI: It's a New Year's celebration during the harvest time. They said we'd beenworking hard and they need to feed us well. It was in April during our New Year celebration.
SLOAN: There's a lot of difference between an eleven-year-old and afifteen-year-old. You're growing up in this camp. A lot of changes going on with you in this camp, and especially the amount of work and the ability to do work that a fifteen-year-old has versus eleven. There's a big difference. There's, a lot of changes going on with you.
THAI: Oh, a lot of changes, but the work is the same. I kid you not, many times,when we're in line to go to work, sometimes we had to stand in wait for the next group. That's how we sleep. Sleep while you're standing, with a shovel. Just 76:00lean on it, and take a nap there. That's how we sleep. That's it. Hungry, always hungry.
SLOAN: During this period, do you have any news of anything outside of the camp,either family or anything else?
THAI: No, there's nothing. There's no TV, there's no radio, there's nothing, nophones, no communication whatsoever. No, I remember--it's embarrassing to say--but I cried every day. Missed my parents, missed my siblings, remembered the old times when we were together before the Communists, not during that time. That's why I always thought like, Why? Why were we born? Why? What's the meaning of life? If this is what life is about, I just could not understand it. I just 77:00kept asking for God, although I didn't understand who God was or whatever, just so [much] injustice.
SLOAN: I would imagine, in that condition, some would lose all hope and take thenext step of ending their life in the camp.
THAI: I don't know about ending their own lives, but people were dying everyday, in their sleep. You would go try to wake them up and say, "Hey, let's go to work." Nope, wouldn't wake up. I'm not sure if they took their own life. I don't think so, though. I think, most of the time, it's just the illness, the diseases, and all that, the lack of all the vitamins and such.
SLOAN: Is there a point in which, as you've thought back on it--I know you'vethought back on it, because you've written on it and told other people about this time in particular--is there really a point that was the lowest, that was 78:00the worst? It was all bad, but this was the worst part of that experience. Is there a moment, or something like that that comes to you when I ask you that question, or that you think of?
THAI: Um, not sure. When I found out about my uncle, I was devastated. Later on,I found out about my father, that he was tortured at a camp. They sent him to a garden, and they said they were going to reeducate him. It came out to be a concentration camp where they tortured him every night, every day, trying to get more information from him about people. I can't say I understand everything that he went through, but from what he told us, it was very bad. But, no, I can't 79:00think of any occasion when it's the worst. It's just so bad every day.
SLOAN: Sure, every day.
THAI: When I found out my friend, who was sleeping next to me was dead, I wasshocked. I didn't even quite understand what death was. I kept trying to wake him up, you know. I didn't understand that. I mean, probably just denial. Although I didn't understand death 100 percent, it was like I just knew he's no longer with us. But why? I couldn't understand that.
SLOAN: I would imagine, of course, I can't understand it, but I would imagineyou're just trying to make it through each day, trying to make it through the next day.
THAI: Yeah, basically. But I don't even know what to hope for. All I wanted wasto see my parents and my siblings--wonder if I'm going to have anything to eat 80:00the next day. That was my goal, basically, nothing more than that.
THAI: Survive, yeah.
SLOAN: Well, I know what's going to end this is the Vietnamese coming in, whenthey come in to Cambodia. War breaks out between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, and ultimately the Vietnamese are going to take over. When did you get a sense, whether it be from the guards or from the situation, that the status of the Khmer Rouge, or the control of the Khmer Rouge, was weakening in Cambodia?
THAI: There were a few occasions that I didn't understand, but later on I foundout. When we were working at the labor camps, we saw the Khmer Rouge running 81:00around back and forth. Then, we hear the gunfight from a distance, so far away we couldn't quite understand what was going on. We knew it was gunshots. We know it's fighting, but we didn't understand who's fighting who, never heard about the Vietnamese. Didn't even think about the Vietnamese coming in, not at all. We thought maybe the freedom fighters, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, but didn't have any hope, though. I never thought that anyone would take over from the Khmer Rouge. At least me, I didn't have that hope. I thought life was that. That was it. That was the meaning of life. It's working every day away from your parents, and get to see dead bodies every day, and get to see people being hung and all of that, so not much of a hope.
SLOAN: The fighting is taking place. How long does that happen before youactually have contact or before the labor camp falls apart? 82:00
THAI: The fighting was as we were working outside, building dams and diggingditches. We kept hearing the fight getting closer, and closer, and closer. You could tell the Khmer Rouge didn't feel the same anymore, like, they are nervous. They were always in a group talking, so we knew something was not right. Again, the gunshots getting closer and closer. One day we heard within less than four hundred feet away from us. It became serious, and then we saw all the Khmer Rouge soldiers. They all were running away, and we kind of looked at each other. 83:00What's going on? Now, who's going to watch over us? It's just like, we need them. We didn't understand.
SLOAN: That's because you've been trained.
THAI: Yeah, it's like we need them. Why are they abandoning us? We didn't likethe regime, but for some reason [we were like], Why are they leaving us? Didn't understand it, so we were just there. Then some kids said, "We get to go to our village." I was like, Oh, really? I was like--I was stunned. I didn't know what to do. To be honest with you, I was just so used to the Khmer Rouge, although I didn't like them. But for some reason--I can't say I missed them, but [I was like], Where are they? When some kids suggested we go back to our villages, I said, "Oh, really? Yay! Now, we're talking." We're all so happy, we start running. I just followed some kids I knew back to the village, within a half day. 84:00
SLOAN: Did you know how to get back to your village?
THAI: No, I didn't. I didn't know. Some kids they are--they're from the town.They were born and raised there, so they knew the way.
SLOAN: I see.
THAI: I was new there, so I didn't know how to get back. We had to run throughthe forest a half day to get back.
SLOAN: As you're running that half day, I know you're getting excited, becauseyou're going to get to see your family again. What was the village like when you got back?
THAI: First of all, on the way back, we saw a lot of dead bodies on the wayback, some Khmer Rouge, too, some Vietnamese soldiers, and some farmers just like us. Then we would see a lot of--I'm talking about--these aren't bodies just 85:00there, but there are some buried about halfway. You'll see the arms sticking out or leg. To me, for some reason, it terrified me and made me run even faster. So we ran and ran, and ran, until we get to the village. Got to the village, it was quiet. It was quiet, because a lot of families already left. It's only a few families still there. We were late. We didn't know what was going on. The Khmer Rouge, at the labor camp--they somehow, I guess, they were late in abandoning us, because the Khmer Rouge at the village already left, way before them. A lot of people in the village left, already. Only a few families left, still there waiting for their children. 86:00
SLOAN: And so your family was there?
THAI: Yeah, yeah. My mom was there.
SLOAN: Tell me what it was like when you saw your mom.
THAI: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I can't even describe the feeling, because forfour years I didn't see her. She looked different, but I was just so happy. Ran to her, and hugged her, and held on to her. I didn't want to let go. She did the same thing. We just cried, and cried, and cried. Saw my sister, did the same thing, just hugged her--and my youngest brother. We were all just hugging and crying--hug and cry. My mom said, "We need to go get your father." I said, "Where is he?" [She said,] "Still at the garden." The concentration camp. I said, "Okay, we need to go get him." Where? We had no clue. There's no one to ask, either. A lot of people left. Luckily, there's a family or two still there, 87:00so my mom, somehow, got info from one of the neighbors who was still there. My older brother, who got there too, he said he knows where it is. He thinks he knows, so we went after my father, to get him.
SLOAN: So your older brother got back from his camp that he was in.
THAI: From his camp also. Back then, there's--I had seven brothers. My olderbrothers--they were there first. We went to get my father--could not believe it. He was--I mean, we couldn't recognize him, because he was tortured. There's nothing but bone and skin on him. We got him, brought him back, and then we couldn't leave. We knew we had to leave, but we couldn't leave because my other 88:00older brother was not there yet. We're still missing one. Although, most of everybody left the village, we had no choice but to stay waiting for him.
SLOAN: Were you the one sent to get your father?
THAI: Yeah, with my older brothers.
SLOAN: Okay, so tell me that moment when you got to see your father. You saidyou didn't recognize him.
THAI: No, I did not recognize him. So he was like--
SLOAN: Very weak.
THAI: Yeah. I hadn't seen him for four years, but looked like he grew twentyyears older. Could not recognize him. We were speechless. All we did was cry, hug each other, and cry. That was it.
SLOAN: You were able to get him, and then bring him back to the village?
THAI: To the village.
SLOAN: But, there's still fighting going on, the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge,right? Others had talked about the end, and there's not peace yet. There's still 89:00fighting going on between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, right?
THAI: And the freedom fighters. Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
SLOAN: You have the three groups.
THAI: Still fighting. Yeah, but at that time, in the village, we knew they'renot there. The Khmer Rouge are not there, but the Vietnamese Army is not there either. They're still afraid to go to small villages. They stay in groups in bigger cities. There's no Vietnamese, but the Khmer Rouge already abandoned the whole village, because they're afraid of the Vietnamese. We knew that they would come back at nighttime to get their stuff. They did come back that night. We couldn't leave, because we had to wait for my older brother. It was--I don't know, it's just the feeling knowing--again, I was so young. Still, the memory is 90:00still vivid--I just could not imagine being the only--we thought we're the only family at first, but there's another family who's still there, too. They're stuck. They were still waiting one of their kids, too. At first, we thought we were the only family, and the feeling was terrible, terrible. My brother was still young, and he's sick and crying a lot. We're there waiting for my brother, and we kept hearing footstep of the soldiers running back and forth talking. We could hear them talking about getting stuff. We heard [them say] to shoot anyone still here. My father covered my little brother's mouth, so he wouldn't make any noise. We're all just shivering, shaking, hoping that we would not be caught or be shot.
SLOAN: Didn't sleep that night.91:00
THAI: No, we didn't sleep at all that night, because while waiting that night,we heard gunshots. We don't know who is shooting who. For sure, we knew the Khmer Rouge were there, but we didn't know if the Cambodian Freedom Fighters were there or not. We kept hearing the guns shooting, so my father said, "It's not safe to stay." He and the neighbor, who stayed there too, got together and said, "We have to go." We left quietly, and stayed in a river--all just jumped in the river and stayed there all night long. I remember trying to stay up, because the water was almost to my mouth, actually, and just tried to stay afloat or above the water, all night long.
SLOAN: Then did you come back to the village the next day to wait for your brother?92:00
THAI: Yeah, at dawn we came back.
SLOAN: Your brother, did he show up that day?
THAI: No, he showed up the next day.
THAI: Yeah, for some reason, the labor camp where he was, the Khmer Rouge werestill there, didn't want to leave. I don't quite remember how or why it took him so long either. He, just like us, we didn't know our way around, because we were new to the area.
THAI: Yeah, because we stayed in the village, and then we got sent to the laborcamp. That was it. We didn't know how to get back. Other kids, they're born there. They've travelled that way before, so we had to depend on other kids to guide us.
SLOAN: Well, I know once your brother gets back, you want to get out.
THAI: Oh yes, definitely.93:00
SLOAN: What steps does the family take to try to get out?
THAI: As soon as my brother got there, we left right way. I was going to say wewere packing--there's nothing to pack, so we started to leave the village quietly, so that the Khmer Rouge wouldn't see us. After we walked many miles, we saw a group of people. When we saw people, we thought we were a lot safer, so we started to run towards people. Come to a small area, like a small village. We didn't know the area, but we ran towards the people. That's when we first saw Vietnamese soldiers there.
SLOAN: What was that interaction like?
THAI: They were very friendly. The Vietnamese, it was like they understood whatwe went through, so they were friendly. My mom spoke Vietnamese, so that helped 94:00out a lot.
SLOAN: Oh yeah.
THAI: My mom went and talked to one of the soldiers. They said they're there.They're everywhere now. They're taking over the whole country, and that was good news to us. They said, "You don't have to go through what y'all gone through again." That's when they told us about the death. We didn't know. I thought it was just my village only, didn't know the whole country had to go through all of that. That's when they told us about all the mass graves--just to confirm what we went through, basically--and the killings, and told us the number of people who were killed. That's why they were there, to help us out. They gave us some food, too. Oh my, gosh. We were without food for so long and never had a full meal. We looked at the Vietnamese soldiers like gods to us.
SLOAN: So what did you get to eat at that meal? Do you remember?
THAI: Rice--rice and chicken. Rice and chicken--fried chicken and rice--solid95:00rice--not like watery rice anymore--solid rice. I remember after, I ate so much, I got sick, too. There was a guy who ate and then died. It's hard to believe, but, yeah.
SLOAN: His body was just used to living on no calories.
THAI: I guess, yeah. Yeah, he just fell down and died. Actually, I said a guy--afew people. But it's just the guy--I watched him when he just--I couldn't understand it. I mean, we were just enjoying food, kept eating, and then he just fell backwards and died. And then they said a few other people, the same thing happened to them. I got sick, but, you know, stomach problems because I think I was eating too fast. I tried to use both hands.
SLOAN: The Vietnamese help you out some, but they're really not set up to give96:00you much relief.
THAI: No, no, and especially at nighttime, they would go. They would leave, soyou're on your own. We stayed in that village still afraid and still no food. The food the Vietnamese gave us was just for one time, and that was it. After that, we're on our own again. Then people told us, "Oh, there's a small village somewhere nearby. There's some coconut trees. There's some mango trees, and people left their rice there." So my parents sent us, myself and my brothers, with them, hoping to get some food the next day. We went with them and we were shot at by the Khmer Rouge. We were running around like crazy, running back and forth, back and forth, came back to the village. The next day, no choice but to go back again, do the same thing. Then when we heard the gunshot, come back empty handed. It took us a few times, but the third, fourth time, they were not 97:00there, so we were able to pick some mango fruits, brought to my family. I remembered my mom was so happy to see us back with the fruits. We went to the rice field and tried to see if there's any rice for us to pick, but wasn't much, actually.
SLOAN: Once you're able to get some food, and you're able to regain somestrength, I would imagine your father's feeling better now, because he's got some food, and he's getting his strength back.
THAI: It took a few months for him to get better.
SLOAN: You're there for how long in that village there?
THAI: We're not there very long, actually, only there maybe two, three months.Then, we moved again to a few more locations, just kept moving. We kept hearing 98:00about other places that we may have better opportunity for food. We moved, but it's about the same. Anywhere we went, we had to sneak at nighttime, sneak out to some other villages far away, crossing the rice field, and run all the time, just hoping we can pick up some food from villages that were vacant or abandoned.
SLOAN: So the security at night is not getting any better? It's still just asdangerous at night during this time period?
THAI: Right, right. Daytime we felt okay, because we get to see the Vietnamesesoldiers. Daytime we were okay. Same thing as in the camps, when we got to Thailand, same thing. At daytime we're good. At nighttime the Khmer Rouge would come in. In Cambodia, that's the way it was. The Vietnamese soldiers, although 99:00they were helpful, they were nice, they fed us and all that--but fed us that one time and that was it. After that, they're still protecting us. Just their presence alone, the Khmer Rouge wouldn't come near. The thing is, at night, they'd all disappear.
SLOAN: Now, was it during this time period where you started making your tripsinto Thailand?
THAI: We moved to some other cities closer to Phnom Penh. That's when, rightthen, there's some good food, but you have to earn it. You have to trade with something. I remember my mom, for some reason, we didn't know she had a piece of earring. I traded her earring. When it's all gone, we had no choice but to eat 100:00or go to other villages and try to find if we get more food, or we have to cross into Thailand to get stuff or buy stuff and bring back to Cambodia. After many, many trips to other villages, and get shot at by the Khmer Rouge, my father said "Let's try this new way." He's got some friends who's been going into Thailand to, actually, smuggle, so my father said to go. My mom didn't want me to go, because I was still young. I was only about fifteen, now. My mom said no. I was a real thin boy, skinny compared to my brothers. My father said, "It's okay," so I went with them. That was another experience. It was bad. We ran all the-- 101:00
SLOAN: Tell me about it, yeah.
THAI: It was terrible. It was terrible, because I was the young one. Everybodyelse, they big and strong. I was a small kid. I followed my brothers, and we ran all the time through the jungle into Thailand. We knew there's a lot of booby traps. We knew there's a lot of land mines, but the guy who was leading us, he was supposed to be an expert. He said he knew everything, everywhere, so we did. We had to cross rivers, a few times, before we made it to Thailand. When we'd get to the water, my brother would hold me up, because I was short. He would hold me up, and we crossed the river, a few times. Many times we had to stop. We just couldn't move, because in the jungle, this is between Cambodia and Thailand, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters--there's two parties, two different 102:00factions of Cambodian Freedom Fighters, and they don't get along. Then we have the Khmer Rouge who is still there too, so there's three. The Thai army, that's four, and then the Thai robbers. There is five different factions there, and they shoot at anything that moves in the jungle. Even the guy who was our leader, he couldn't move. He said, "No, it's too dangerous, we have to stay," so we stayed. I remember, we had plastics, like tarps but plastic, to carry with us, so under a tree many times we'd just sleep in the jungle, because we couldn't move anymore. I remember many times waking up, water was up to my neck. Sleep in water, and I couldn't believe I slept through the whole thing. (laughs) Waking up, I was cold and the water was right there, because the tarp of 103:00plastic, when you sleep on it, it creates like a bowl.
SLOAN: Yeah, filled up with water.
THAI: When it rains? Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, it filled up with water many times. Iremember seeing some guys--although, our guide is so good, but still, there was one person who fell into the booby trap, a hole. We were told to not look, but just to keep running. Yeah. The guy was screaming for help, but they said, "No, you cannot stay, you cannot," because when he's screaming he's drawing attention from the different parties, different groups. We could hear the gunshots again, so we all just kept running.
SLOAN: Was it--what was it like crossing the border into Thailand?104:00
THAI: We get to see a lot of Thai robbers, too. Luckily, didn't get to see theKhmer Rouge, because we know the Khmer Rouge would just shoot. Many times, we would hide. We would stay low, then we'd hear a group of soldiers walking by. They were talking, so we could hear them but we had to be very quiet. Many times we have to hide, but the jungle itself is not that big. To me, if we keep running, we could make it within a few hours probably, but we had to make many stops, because we're not sure what's going on. When we hear gunshots, then we'd just stop and wait. The guy, who was leading us, he would go first. Then he would come back and say, "It's okay to move now." Or he'll say, "No, we're going to have to spend some more time here." Then, we would just stay.
SLOAN: What sort of things are you bringing back in--are you smuggling back in?105:00
THAI: Oh yeah, (laughs) when we go there, sugar was very popular. Sugar.
SLOAN: No one had had sugar in years.
THAI: Exactly, but sugar was so heavy. Sugar, scarves--for some reason rice isnot popular. There's some rice already in Cambodia, but it's too heavy to carry rice across the border. Sugar, for sure, and cigarettes. Let's see, what else? Some flour, and I don't know why, but mainly me and my brothers, we really dealt with sugar, because it was popular. I remember my mom, any jewelry she had was all gone, because she traded it in for sugar, for rice. It's very popular. Uh-huh. 106:00
SLOAN: Sid you pack it? How did you carry it? Did you--on a pack on your back?
THAI: Yeah, different types. My brothers would pack--he had a stick to carry onhis shoulders, with two bags like this. [He would] carry it and run at the same time. Me, I had one bag to put on my shoulder, just keep it on my shoulder and keep running. My other brother did the same thing. They're bigger, so they can carry a little bit more stuff. They use a stick and carry two bags--myself, just one bag. I could hardly support myself, (laughs) so one bag. I don't remember how many pounds, but it was heavy. It was heavy.
SLOAN: I would imagine keeping it dry--I mean, there's a lot of challenges.
THAI: Oh yeah. It's wet, too, because it's the rainy season. We get rained on107:00all the time.
SLOAN: I know there's one story about someone smuggling a diamond? Did youwitness someone smuggling a diamond? Is that right?
THAI: Myself, my two brothers, and a bunch of Cambodians, we were all there whenthat happened. We in Thailand now. In Thailand there's a black market, but the soldiers were there. It's okay with them, as long as no one going to rob anyone. We there, just going from one booth to another trying to purchase stuff. A lot of Cambodians, they may have gold earrings, or even necklaces, or a diamond. They would go and say, "How much you give me? How much?" They would look at it and say, "I'll give you a hundred dollars," or whatever. It's called baht, it's the Thai money. I remember this guy, we didn't know him, just saw him there. He 108:00was carrying two bags with a stick. He was showing a diamond to one of the vendors and asking "How much you give me? How much?" They were going back and forth negotiating, and this Thai soldier came and he grabbed it, looked at it and said, "Good." He said--he looked at it. He said, "Good." Then he points his pistol, and shot this guy right in the head, in the forehead. We all are there like, Oh, my gosh. We were shocked. We didn't run away, we were just shocked--didn't know what to do. All I remember with this guy, I think he has that mentality just like us. Although he got shot in the head--dropped down--I thought he was dead. Then, he got back up, and he was looking for his bag and his stick. He was trying to grab his bag and his stick, and then he fell down again and then died. I was thinking to myself, Oh, my gosh, that could have been 109:00me. I think I would have done the exact same thing. I would probably get up and look for my bag, because I'm thinking about my mom, my dad back at the city. I think, he was thinking the same way. He probably had some family somewhere that he's trying to feed, you know? And they don't get to see him again, and that's a routine life to us. You get to see that all the time. But, that's just one of the examples.
SLOAN: I know that's the only thing that can keep you going through the jungle110:00and through getting shot at, is you know you're helping your family, doing what you can do for your mother and father.
THAI: Exactly. I mean, I was maybe fifteen years old, I could've just thinkabout myself, but the mentality back then is I need to support my family. I have a lot of younger brothers and one sister, my father who was sick all the time, and my mom, who's got the migraine headaches--I inherited [them] from her, actually. But, it could have happened to me, could have happened to my brothers, or anyone. I don't know what was the worst part, seeing him being shot, or seeing him trying to grab his bags. It's just--it's stuck in my mind, all the 111:00time. I used to have a lot of nightmares before--much better now. Yeah, now I'm much better, but the first few years in the US, it was common for me to wake up, and start screaming, and start running. My mom, so many times, she would stay near me and grab me when I'd scream with my nightmare. I would scream and scream. She would grab me, shake me, and she would say--she called me Po--"Po, you in America." She spoke in Cambodian, and just that word alone, when she said, "You are in America." Like, relieved--I was sweating and everything, but then I felt good when she said, "You are in America." That's a key word she knew 112:00to say, whenever I have my nightmare.
SLOAN: That's a good transition. I know the family realizes at some time thatthe only way to improve the situation is to get out.
SLOAN: Can you tell me a little bit about when that decision was made, whatsteps the family took, and that sort of thing?
ROBERTS: Let's take a small break and--
SLOAN: Okay. Okay sure.
ROBERTS: --and change cards here.
THAI: I'm sorry.
SLOAN: That's all right. No, no--
pause in recording
THAI: I hope I won't get too emotional.
SLOAN: We don't mind emotion.
THAI: Oh, okay.
SLOAN: All right, Paul, we were beginning to talk about escape attempts and thedecision to get out of the country. If you could, tell me a little bit more kind 113:00of about how that decision was made, and why it was made, and the timing of it.
THAI: 1979, I don't remember what month, but we were still living in a citycalled Sre Chipeou, not so far from Thailand. We'd been living there, and food was so limited still, we had to find food daily. We ran out of all of the belongings that my mom used to have, so we had nothing else to exchange for rice. The trips to Thailand were becoming too dangerous. My father said we cannot go on anymore. We can't go to the villages to get food, and we can't go to Thailand, because it was too dangerous. The trip was too long, anyway. It 114:00takes four or five days, or a week, or sometimes two or three weeks for us to get back. My father and my mom didn't want to go through that again, just waiting, hoping that we would return. My father said we need to go to Thailand. He said he's got friends--he heard from people that America is taking refugees. That was almost the first time I heard anything good about America, (laughs) because all I heard was bombing and bombing. This time, he said they're taking refugees. I said, "Oh really? They're not our enemies anymore? They're going from bombing us, now taking us in?" We were thinking, Wow, okay good. Well, how do we get there? We talked about it, and my father said he knows someone who could lead us through the jungle. We have to go into Thailand, stay in Thailand 115:00for a little bit, and then we can ask to come to America. We said, Wow that sounds pretty good, sounds real good.
The village where we're staying, for some reason, they said it's not safeanymore, anyway. They told us to move east. They said you have to move east, because right now we cannot guarantee your safety. We had to move east, and we didn't understand why east, not west. My father and my oldest brother went east on foot, because we didn't have a car or anything. They went east just like they told us. Again, they used a loud speaker to make the announcement that we had to move. We have to move anyway, so my father and my brother went east, and they came back. They were shaking. They said everybody there, nothing but skin and 116:00bones. They're all very skinny. They are hungry, They're worse than us, so there's no way that we're going to go east. He said, "I'm going to go against their will. They want us to go east, I'm going to go west." (coughs) Excuse me. He said we need to get to Thailand, and his goal was to come to America. He heard about the education, freedom, and all that--not to count life, the have life we have when we come here. He planned all that out with my older brothers. A few days later, we just followed the crowd. (coughs) Excuse me. Let me get some water real quick.
THAI: My oldest brother and my father, pretty much those two, they talked aboutit and said, "Let's go." A few days later, we follow a few families, move west, going through the jungle on the same path that we took to do the smuggling, but this time it's worse. It's bad because we had family. We can't just run all the time.
SLOAN: Yeah, you're not going to run again.
THAI: Yeah, yeah. Before, when we'd do the smuggling, I was the youngest, sothey're taking care of me. Now, I'm taking care of my three younger brothers, my sister, and my mom. Now, we walk, we run, we walk, we run, and then during the daytime, we would all stay, hoping my brother wouldn't cry. We had to go through the lines again, all those different factions: the Khmer Rouge, two different 118:00factions of freedom fighters, the Thai robbers, and the Thai army. Again, they would shoot anything in the jungle. The guide who led us--my parents, I don't know how much they paid them, whatever we had left--paid them. Unbeknownst to me, my mom still had some jewelry. I don't know how she got some, but she still had some, so she gave to the guide who led us through. You had to give him a certain amount of gold before they let the family follow or join the group to run, so we did that. Many times, we would try to just rest and stay quiet, and at nighttime we'd start running. There was a time, during the daytime, that we could not stay still, because we were told that we had to move now, even during the daytime, because they were shooting at us. We heard gunshots from here and 119:00there. They were everywhere. We said, "Which way do we go?" We'd just follow the guide. He said, "This way," and we're running towards the gun's sound. We could hear gunshots from there, but he said that's the only way, so we followed him.
Then we got stopped. Here came the Thai robbers, and there's maybe forty, fiftyof us--ladies, families, and everybody. Thai robbers came to my mom. They spoke Thai to my mom, with their guns and knives and such. My mom pulled out an earring to give to them. Others who refused to do it. They used a knife to cut their shirts open, even ladies--cut everything open, their pants and everything. I'm talking about cut them all naked, completely, because they knew that people 120:00are hiding their belongings everywhere. That's the first time I saw the Thai robbers. They didn't wear masks or anything. They raped ladies right in front of us--would pull ladies to the side there. Ladies would be crying, screaming, and nothing that we could do. We were all just there, just stayed quiet. Even their family members wouldn't do anything, because they had their guns on us the whole time. Everybody was completely naked, because they were looking for gold. After that, we go on to the next one, the next one, more and more and more robbers--many different lines of Thai robbers. Gunshots, we hear that all the time. We don't know who's shooting at who. To make the long story short, it took 121:00us two nights and one day in the jungle, just to cross to the side of Thailand, going through the rivers and all that, again. Except this time, when we went through, it's not really so bad, as far as the rain, until later.
So, we made it to Thailand. A lot of people were still naked, of course--adultsand females. Some would just have something wrapped around themselves, and such. We got there, no food, nothing. We stay in one location and no food. We, again, in the forest, get anything we could. Some people was good at it, so they were able to find some mushroom, some bamboo shoots. That's how we lived for many 122:00days. Then we heard about a camp called Nong Chan in Thailand, which is not far from where we were staying. They said we need to go there and join them, so we moved closer. That's when we first experienced American Red Cross.
SLOAN: There was a Red Cross presence at Nong Chan?
THAI: In Nong Chan, yeah. We saw the truck with the sign. They were passing outfood, so we ran towards them. We were able to get some food, and they gave us a piece of plastic to use as a roof, shelter from the rain. We were grateful to them. By then, there's a lot of refugees there already, hundreds and hundreds of refugees in Nong Chan camp, which we didn't know about, at first. 123:00
SLOAN: Now is this on the Cambodian side or is it on the Thailand side?
THAI: It's in Thailand's side, now. First we was still in the Cambodia side, butthen when we heard about Nong Chan, we went. Now we're in Thailand.
SLOAN: I know you stay at Nong Chan for a while, right? How long were you atNong Chan?
THAI: Nong Chan--I don't remember how long, probably only two to three months.Before that, of course, we were on the Cambodian side. When we were first there, for the first few weeks, it was okay, but after that it was rain, rain, and rain and rain. Mosquitoes were so bad. Besides not having food to eat, we slept in the rain, all the time. Luckily, when we joined Nong Chan, we were given the plastic. It helped out, a lot. 124:00
SLOAN: Were you able to continue to get food there?
THAI: Yes, yes, yes.
SLOAN: So you ate well there.
THAI: Ate well, ate well there, yeah. Rice and tuna fish, every day, which isokay. Not the canned tuna. These are the whole fish, salted. Tastes good to us. We loved it. We stayed there for probably about two to three months.
SLOAN: In that time, I'm sure that more and more refugees are coming.
THAI: Thousands and thousands, now.
SLOAN: Yeah, it grows to be very large.
THAI: Right, right.
SLOAN: There's an incident, as you said, two or three months later, where Thaisoldiers come in to the camp to say you're going to be relocated, or you're 125:00going to be moved out of the camp?
THAI: Um yeah, that's a few months later.
SLOAN: Oh, okay.
THAI: For some reason, yeah, I didn't quite understand what was going on. At onetime, we used to see a lot of the Red Cross people, but then one day we don't see them, not many of them. Then this Thai official, not sure what his title, told my father and everybody else, that now we going to America. We need to start packing and get ready. They have buses waiting for us. We're all going to go to America, so we were excited. My father said, "Finally." He was so proud of himself, because it was his goal to take us to America. He was so proud, and they all congratulated him, said, "Hey father, we're glad we follow you. You are 126:00the best leader ever. So, let's go." We're all happy, and we got on the bus. They said to get in the bus. They give us a few hours, but we didn't need to pack. We got nothing, so we got on the bus. I looked around, we're like the first family on the bus, fifty to sixty buses. People starting to get on the bus, and about an hour or so later, we start traveling. It was a long trip, so I fell asleep many times--a long trip. Along the way, I don't understand, though. We saw a lot of Thai people, standing on the roadway, wave at us, and some had water. The bus would stop. They'd give us water. Some would give us food. We were thinking, Well, we're going to America. Why does it look like they were feeling sorry for us? I didn't understand. We're going to be in America. We're 127:00going to be in a better situation than you. They wave at us. Some look so sad. They give us water and food and all that. We made two or three stops, just like that.
Hours and hours later, I woke up. They said, "Okay, now we all going to get offthe bus. We going to stay here for the night. In the morning, we going to come back in the bus, and we'll travel some more. Then we get on a plane and go to America. Everybody got off the bus, and it was a real high grass area, so we just all slept on the grass. Me, in my dream--I had a dream, or I thought I had a dream. I was so tired, I thought I had a dream, and in my dream I thought I heard people crying. I didn't understand why, so I woke up. It wasn't a dream. 128:00People were crying, and I don't understand why they are crying. I looked around, people were sad in groups. They'd talk about stuff. Some were mad. Some were crying. My mom was crying like crazy and I didn't understand. I said, "Mom, why? Why are you crying?" She couldn't talk. She couldn't talk. She just pointed her finger to a direction that everybody were at, and I didn't understand. She couldn't talk, so I got up. I walked and walked. I looked around. People were worried, and a lot of Thai soldiers there, too. I walked to the group where a lot of people congregated, and I passed them and looked. I found out we were on top of a mountain. In Cambodia, that mountain is so well-known. It's called Dângrêk Mountain, where the Khmer Rouge planted a lot of land mines and booby 129:00traps. The Thai army did the same thing; they planted a lot of land mines and booby traps, because that's where they usually fight. They don't trust each other, so they planted a lot of land mines. It's known as the most dangerous mountain, they said, in the world. We found out we were right there. I was thinking, Wait a minute, so we're not going to America? As a kid, I didn't understand it.
I came back to my mom and she couldn't talk, she was crying. My father wasworried. My father went around, tried to talk to some people. My mom wouldn't stop crying. About probably five, ten minutes later, I looked around and saw a group of people. They were just talking. I saw the Thai soldiers. They're getting ready for something. Sure enough, I saw this group ran towards Thailand. They tried to run away from the mountainside back into Cambodia. They were told 130:00to go, but they ran against the soldiers' wish. Those soldiers lined up and keep shooting at them--fifty, sixty, seventy people, dead. That's when everybody--like, right then, it's like shooting at us, too. We had no idea--heard gunshots, we saw those people die, and everybody looked around and start running. My whole family got separated. Everywhere I went, I see people crying, dead bodies, people missing limbs. I see ladies and men on their knees worshipping their parents and saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I can't take you down. We're all going to die anyway." I saw ladies left their babies on that mountain because they--it's known as the deadliest mountain, ever. None of us 131:00could ever think we would make it. As I was running, I'd see the mines blowing. I'd see parts of bodies just flying here and there. People crying, it was so noisy I couldn't hear anything. I remember people just screaming and crying. That was it.
SLOAN: How do you even choose a path to run?
THAI: No, just run away from the soldiers, because they're shooting at us. Wedidn't know which way to run. As a little kid, I had no clue. I just don't know which way to run; I was just running, but looking for my family. I couldn't see any of my family. Everybody's running. It's so chaotic, so no idea which way you're running. You can't just run, because on top of the mountain, you have to hold on to some vines, some trees to climb down, too. Of course, that was the first time I'd ever seen land mines--the wires and all that. 132:00
SLOAN: In that escape, were you able to find any of the members of your family?
THAI: At the foot of the mountain, hours and hours later, we got together again,That's when we found out my brother was wounded, the one who is still in Cambodia right now. He didn't want to try with us again the second time, because he never thought we would make it, anyway. Since he was injured, he didn't think he could.
SLOAN: Did he step on a land mine?
THAI: No, someone in front of him stepped on a land mine, so he caught a pieceof it.
SLOAN: Shrapnel, yeah.
THAI: Shrapnel, exactly. We found each other at the foot of the mountain, hourslater. Again, you couldn't just run down the mountain, you had to grab and hold onto branches of trees and vines--anything to grab a hold and keep running. You have to ignore all the dead bodies or everybody else that's asking for help. 133:00Babies--I'm sure there's hundreds of babies left on top of the mountain. I'm sure hundreds of elderlies were left there, too, on the mountain.
SLOAN: You're there at the base of the mountain. You're without food. You don'tknow where to go. What does the family decide? I guess your father and your older brothers get together to talk about what to do next?
THAI: It was just so noisy, I couldn't hear anything. I saw my brother and myfather talking, but I couldn't hear anything. There was still buzzing in my ears from all the land mines that went off. All that I saw, I was still shocked, so I was happy to see my family, but still, I wasn't me. It's just like, I'm not even there anymore. I was still shocked. Then I realized everybody started to line 134:00up, because of all the land mines. Everybody gets in one line and start moving slowly. Everybody was starting to kind of follow. We knew we couldn't stay there forever, so we have to move, anyway. A single line, now--we start moving, moving, very slowly. A day, we may make, probably, not even ten yards, because the guy in front wouldn't want to move. It's too dangerous. Someone else may take the lead, and then we move a little bit more. We may make it a hundred yards, and then stop again. We were in the jungle for about thirty days and thirty nights, I would say. It's embarrassing, but, back then, you can't be 135:00embarrassed--you have to go to the restroom. You have to do it right at--you can't walk away because of all the land mines. You have to stay there, so you do it. No one is going to look at you. No one is going to watch or laugh at you. Do what you need to do. Food, anything you can grab on the way. Anything that didn't look poisonous, eat it, trees, limbs, or whatever. If you're lucky, you may see a mushroom along the way, but still you have to be careful when you pick it, because you can see land mines everywhere. We got stuck there for many, many days. A lot of tall trees--I remember I looked up, I'd never see any sunlight, the trees were so tall. Without water--we would--we would grab any branch of a 136:00tree or small trees and try to suck the juice out of it, just to survive.
SLOAN: That takes days before you get out of the minefield, before you get outof the area that has mines.
THAI: Yeah, I would say at least thirty days for my family, until the Vietnamesecame to rescue us, again. Vietnamese soldiers--when we saw the Vietnamese soldiers, we are alive again. That's when we start to move fast, and that was about thirty days later, though. Before then we were without food, without water. It's not the rainy season, anymore. I remember everybody who--people with one leg, one arm, injured with their head, just screaming and begging for water. Begging for water and where are we going to get water for them? None.
I remember an occasion where--see we were so thirsty, that we didn't even think.137:00We couldn't think. Someone in the front yelled out, "Water." They saw a shallow stream of water not far from us. Someone just shouted out, "Water," and they took off. We did the same thing, we didn't think any more about land mines. Now, we just thought about water. That's how thirsty we were. The mines started to go again. My family, we kind of held back. After the land mines went off, we go. We went and when we got to the water, it was like blood, nothing but red color. Guess what? We drank it, anyway. Had no choice, we drank it. The memories there, 138:00seeing people walking with injuries, without legs, without arms, is still stuck in my mind.
SLOAN: Your family didn't give up.
THAI: No, we didn't give up.
SLOAN: At that point, is the hope to make it back to the village?
THAI: Sre Chipeou?
THAI: Our goal is to make it back into Cambodia. We never thought we'd be sohappy to be in Cambodia. We tried to leave Cambodia, but because of this experience, we were so happy to be back. Along the way, we had people--this was when we made it back already--people there calling us traitors, because we left, 139:00we tried to escape. We didn't mind that. They wouldn't help us. Some would have some water for us, after we get close to the village. We would drink water. Some would curse [us] out, you know, "You traitors," this and that. We didn't care. Our goal is to make it back somewhere and, just, to live. Never thought I would be so happy to see Cambodia again, but I was so happy.
SLOAN: You end up back at the same camp or another camp?
THAI: No, a different camp.
SLOAN: Different camp.
THAI: It's a long story before we get to the camp, too.
THAI: Speaking about memory, about nightmares, what I just told you is nothingcompared to what I've seen--a whole lot more than that--a whole lot more than 140:00that. I mentioned about ladies leaving babies on top of the mountain, and people leaving their elderly parents on top of the mountain. There was a lady who, for some reason, had a newborn. Her husband was killed already, and she was holding on to the baby. I don't know much about her, but she was holding on to the baby. She was with us in the line, and she refused to give up the baby. She was holding the baby with her. Somehow, as we were walking, she stepped on a land mine, and I don't know how she knew that. I asked people about it, they said that you hear a click. I don't know if that's true, but she must have heard a 141:00click when she stepped on it. She was crying, and she told everybody that she stepped on a land mine. She told everybody to move away. I was the third person from her. I kept looking, because she was crying. They said that she stepped on a land mine. She was telling a story about herself. All her family members were killed during the Communist--during the Khmer Rouge. She is alone, just got married to her husband, and he was shot by the Thai soldiers. Now, she has nobody but the baby, so she wouldn't let go of the baby. She was begging people to take care of her baby for her. It seemed like days, although, I think it's only a few seconds went by, but it seemed a long time. Until, one man said, "I will take care of your baby for you. Don't move. Stay still." All I could hear, 142:00he kept saying, "Stay still, stay still. I'll get your baby for you." She kept thanking him saying, "Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you." Then, the land mine just went off--just went off. That scene, though, stuck on my mind for years--years and years. But, that's only a few incidents. When people mention Dângrêk Mountain, I don't want to hear. I've seen all that.
SLOAN: Just looking at it, a lot of Cambodians had this experience on that mountain.
THAI: Thousands and thousands of us, yeah. I don't know exactly the exactnumber, but thousands of us. Again, my father was sick. Because we had to carry 143:00him now, we'd make a stick and a piece of cloth. He would lay down on the cloth, and we'd just carry him the whole time. My poor mom, too, carried my youngest brother, because he was sick. All of us were sick, actually.
SLOAN: Yeah. No food. No water.
THAI: Couldn't believe we survived that for days.
SLOAN: When you saw the Vietnamese soldiers, were you able to get some food andsome water?
THAI: No, they'd just tell us, "Keep moving, keep moving," because they wereafraid of the Khmer Rouge. They just rushed us. They kept rushing us, and we were so grateful. We'd just keep running--just follow whoever's in front of us, that was it. By the time that we saw the Vietnamese soldiers, the road was wide 144:00already, big. We're not in single line anymore. When we saw them, people just split and took over the whole road. It's wide.
SLOAN: Highway, right?
THAI: It's not a highway. It's a dirt road, but it's big. When we saw them, it'slike we're alive again--so kept running.
SLOAN: That group traveled from there. Where did it end up?
THAI: People just went different directions, to stay in different provinces,different counties, different cities. A lot of people stayed in the general area there, near the Dângrêk Mountain, in the east, uh-huh. But us, my father kept saying let's go closer to the border.
SLOAN: Your father was determined on America still.145:00
THAI: Yes, yes. He's a very strong leader, very strong about coming to America.He knew we would have no future, no life, in Cambodia. When we made our way back, it took us maybe a few weeks to get close to Sre Chipeou, where we left to go to Thailand. When we got close to there, we thought he was joking. He said, "I still want to go to America." We all looked at him like [he was] crazy. [We said,] "You're kidding right?" He said no. He wasn't smiling. He said, "No, I still want to go to America." We said no, no, no, especially my brother, who's still in Cambodia, right now. He said, "No, no way." We tried to convince him later on, though. For us, we didn't want to come anyway, but my father didn't give up. He kept asking. He kept telling my mom. Mom said, "No, unh-uh." My mom 146:00was just like my other brother, who's still in Cambodia, "No, no, no." For some reason, I was not really included in the decision making. I was too young, I guess. My older brothers believed in my father and said we need to try again. That's all I needed to hear. When he said that, I said "I'm in. I'll go." Again I said, "Well, you know, we going to die here anyway." My mom kept saying, "No, no way." It's funny though, we all told her--I was included now at this time--said, "Mom, if you don't go, we'll leave you." (laughs) She's not about to lose us again. She said, "No, I lost y'all during the Communist time, not again." She said, "I'm going to go die with y'all." That's the term she used. She didn't think we could make it. 147:00
SLOAN: Take me through that second attempt.
THAI: The second attempt was worse than the first one, because we get to stay ina camp where we got bombed, big-time. We went through the jungle again, but the escape itself is not as bad as before. The situation in the camp that we stayed was so bad. The Khmer Rouge; the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, the two different factions; and the Thai army is still fighting, but we didn't see the robbers this time. I guess they knew better. They're afraid of the freedom fighters or something. Now, the Thai robbers are out of the picture. Only these four groups are still fighting, shooting, and all that. This time there's more and more people in the group. Before, it's just like a family of two, and then we'd meet other people. This time, it's like a whole herd of animals. In my group, maybe a 148:00hundred--running, still running, but a lot of people, this time.
The Cambodian Freedom Fighters were there waiting for us. So we went there, wesaw them, we said, Now, we're good. We didn't want to see the Khmer Rouge, because we know the Khmer Rouge wouldn't give us a chance. We saw the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. We were happy, and they were nice to us, so they took us in. We stayed in the camp with them. That was a big mistake. We stayed with them, and they're still fighting with the Khmer Rouge, they're still fighting with the Thai army, and they're still fighting with the other Cambodian Freedom Fighter group, so we get bombed a lot--get shot at and all that. The worst one ever in my whole life--this is almost worse than the mountain, because [on] the 149:00mountain, at least you can see the wires. You can see the land mines. You see people in front of you blowing up, then you wait, and then you go through. This one--what happened--I was told this story. I didn't know. I just knew the bombing, when it started, but I was told the story. A Cambodian lady, she went into Thailand, and somehow was raped by a Thai official, high-ranking official in the army. She just happened to be the wife of one of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. The solider, when he found out his wife was raped, got very angry, so he went into Thailand looking for the guy. He found the guy, and he shot him, 150:00killed him. He killed the Thai soldier, and that night, we were bombed like crazy, hours and hours. You hear the sound from the other side. You know it's going to drop somewhere around you. You don't know where. That was the worst feeling ever. I thought the Dângrêk Mountain experience was so bad--the land mines. But, this time the bombing, hours and hours, thousands of people die in that camp. The one amazing thing that I saw was some reporters, photographers. They're running around taking pictures while we're ducking. We're trying to--
SLOAN: Are these Americans?
THAI: I don't know Americans or not.
THAI: Yeah, journalists. Europeans, maybe. I don't know, but they're running151:00around taking pictures while we were just crying, and screaming, and hiding. It was hours and hours. The next morning, we were told more than a thousand people died that night. That camp, along the border close to the Khao-I-Dang camp side, not at the Nong Chan anymore. There's another side.
SLOAN: You knew you had to get out of there.
THAI: Oh yes. Definitely, we knew we had to get out. My father, again, sent usinto Thailand to do some more smuggling, to buy stuff from Thailand and sell at the camp. We knew we need to leave, but we don't know where to go yet, so he sent my older brothers and myself. I don't know how I get included all the time. 152:00I was the real thin boy, small. I'm like the shortest in my family, but I got included again: "Po, you go, too." My mom didn't like the idea. I'm like my mom's favorite son. She didn't want me to go anywhere. I went anyway. I was really excited. I wanted to go. Anything for the family, I would go.
So, we went--four of us, four brothers, went together. We went to try to buystuff. The first few times, we made some money. The last time we went, and the Thai soldiers were waiting for us. They were waiting for us. As soon as we got 153:00almost to the black market, the Thai soldiers came, point guns at us, got all of us down, put our hands like this, all of us. Then they talk among themselves, and here came some buses and army trucks. Some people got on buses. My group got on army trucks. We understood a few Thai words, and my brother kept saying, "They say they're going to shoot us. They're going to get rid of us." Then we saw an American Red Cross car came and talked to them, and we saw the lady got so mad at the Thai soldiers. I don't know what's going on, but maybe she was trying to help us. She got frustrated. She'd yell and they'd yell back at her, back and forth. Then, we saw her taking off. She just took off. We said, "Oh no, this is not a good thing." 154:00
From going into Thailand many times with my mom, I understand a lot of Thai.They said they were going to get rid of us. They said they cannot allow us to do this anymore. We have to be the examples. So, my oldest brother said, "We have to jump." I said, "How we going to jump?" The trucks were going so fast. It's an open bed. You can jump, but I kept saying, "No, we can't. We can't." He said, "Yes, we have to or we're going to die." All of them, there was about maybe twenty of us now in the truck, everybody said, "Jump, jump, jump." The truck was moving fast. My two older brothers jumped, and everybody else jumped. Only me and my other older brother got stuck there, because the Thai soldiers stopped the truck, and they were with the guns, waiting for us to jump, so we just 155:00stayed. Maybe four of us or five of us, I think--myself, my older brother and a few other people. My two older brothers left already. They were okay. They made it back to the camp and told my parents what happened. They understood Thai, so they told my parents that we were going to be dead. My parents didn't have hope. They thought myself and my other older brother were going to die.
But, after we continued, we saw the American Red Cross car again. We were so156:00happy to see them. The truck--the solider, followed the car to a camp known as Khao-I-Dang camp. We didn't know back then. They took us there, and the American Red Cross lady brought us food. They brought more people. That was the first time I ever seen so many Americans at one place, about ten people. I only saw Americans or Europeans in movies, but that was the first time I saw so many--felt so good. I was happy, but my parents, at the camp--everybody thought we were dead, because we couldn't jump. We stayed in Khao-I-Dang camp for about 157:00a day. The next day they took us back. They asked us where we came from, so we told them. They said, "We will take you back so you can join your family." The next day, they took us back. We made it back and were just so happy, crying, hugging. My brother and I told my family that there's a lot of food over there. (laughs) A lot of American Red Cross people there, a lot of nice people. We need to go there, because I saw a few families there already, refugee families. There's nothing yet. There's no structure. There's no camps or anything. It's just open field, but we knew the American Red Cross are there, so we need to go 158:00there. When we came back, my father, somehow, was able to talk to some people and able to bribe some officials, some soldiers, who would allow us to go to Khao-I-Dang camp.
SLOAN: What did he have left to bribe them?
THAI: I have no idea. I don't know what he had.
SLOAN: Oh, okay.
THAI: We were robbed so many times. He was able to give them something, so theylet us, like six, seven families together, and we kept running--run, and run, and run--cross over dead bodies--see dead bodies. At Khao-I-Dang camp, the Thai army wouldn't allow any in. They'd shoot at anyone, but this guy, who was good, he let us in. We crossed into Khao-I-Dang camp. Once you made it there, they can't do anything, so we made it there. We were fed by the American Red Cross. 159:00That's when they start to build huts, just a small structure with the grass and with the palm tree leaves. It was good. It kept us warm--a good place to stay. At nighttime, they're all gone, so the Khmer Rouge would come in. Every morning we'd wake up, and we'd see dead bodies still along the fence. They had a fence up now. Along the fence you'd see dead bodies. Some may have tried to make it in, but they made it in through the fence already but then died, right there. That's a daily thing to us, to see dead bodies. At nighttime we had people--at least I was excluded now, this time--some older young men took turn to stay up, because the Khmer Rouge. Whenever Khmer Rouge would come, they would scream 160:00"Khmer Rouge." Everybody would hid, but a lot of ladies were still assaulted by them, and some still killed by them. We already in the camp, so in morning we'll see the American Red Cross would come. They would just look at bodies, and do something with the dead bodies.
SLOAN: You were there like a year, right?
THAI: Um, my family, we were at Khao-I-Dang for about a year-and-a-half, andthen we transferred to a few other camps. So total years in refugee camps, two years total, but Khao-I-Dang, probably a year-and-a-half.
SLOAN: The next camp is Mai Rut, right?161:00
THAI: Mai Rut, yes.
SLOAN: Mai Rut camp?
THAI: Yes, Mai Rut camp.
SLOAN: Little better conditions?
THAI: Much better.
SLOAN: Is it near the border? Where is it located?
THAI: You know, that's a good question. I have no idea. (laughs)
SLOAN: Was it close to Cambodia, or was it a little more secure?
THAI: I think it's deeper into Thailand. It was right by the ocean.
SLOAN: Okay, okay.
THAI: We were allowed to--
SLOAN: So, not the Khmer Rouge every night. They had greater security.
THAI: No, no, no more Khmer Rouge. In Mai Rut Camp, no more Khmer Rouge. KhmerRouge is gone. Only the Thai soldiers we had to face now. They mean to us. You know, they save our lives, they let us in, but still they are mean. They beat people up left and right, in front of everybody--the Thai soldiers.
SLOAN: There's not an American military presence there. It's just the Red Crossrelief workers.
THAI: Relief workers and NGO [Non-Government Organizations], and the Thai army162:00there. But Mai Rut Camp is a lot better, better food and everything--buildings made of wood instead of just grass or leaves, and electricity, although, they turn them off at a certain time. It'd only come on for a few hours. I think around 10:00 p.m. electricity would be out, which is okay for us. Yeah, so Mai Rut Camp was way better. We get to enjoy that camp, a lot.
SLOAN: Some luxuries or--
THAI: Yeah, they have movies--to show us movies every--every week, once a week,I think--some Chinese movies. We hadn't seen movies in years and years. That was very nice.
SLOAN: I think there were pastors there, as well, in that camp?163:00
THAI: In Mai Rut camp? I don't know if there were any. I'm not sure.
SLOAN: Okay. I didn't know if it was there or other camps.
THAI: Oh, okay. In Transit Center camp, there's pastors--missionaries--SeventhDay Adventists. But, Mai Rut Camp--probably there were, but I didn't have any chance to meet any of them. I was so into studying English.
SLOAN: Crash course in English, huh?
THAI: Yeah, I tried to learn English.
SLOAN: You're going to America, right, so you have to learn English.
THAI: No, we didn't know we're coming to America yet.
SLOAN: But you wanted to?
THAI: Wanted to, yeah--wanted to, but we didn't know yet. I was just sofascinated with the language--with English.
SLOAN: Were you able to pick it up pretty well?
THAI: No--very basic--very slowly. What's your name? Where you live? Something164:00like that--very basic, just a few words here and there, and that was it.
SLOAN: You still don't know, at that point where you're going to be relocated,or if you're going to be able to get out?
THAI: Right, we don't know yet. Although we enjoy the camp, we know we can'tstay there forever, but we knew about people who were leaving Mai Rut camp to go to different countries. That's when my father talked to a few people who got connections. They told us all we have to do is write letters to different countries asking for sponsorship. That's when my father said, "I want to go to America." They told us about France, about Australia and all that, but he said, "No, I want to go to America." To be honest with you, as a kid, I just wanted to go someplace. I don't care where. I just want to leave Cambodia, and I knew we 165:00can't stay in Thailand. They won't let us stay. Seeing the Thai soldiers mistreating us, I didn't want to stay in Thailand, anyway. I didn't know anything about Australia. I didn't know anything about France, not much. I know a few Cambodians living there, but not much. America--didn't know much either, only, I heard it's a great country from my father and saw some Clint Eastwood movies, when I was younger. Saw a few movies, and that was it.
SLOAN: Why was he so excited about America? How did he have knowledge of America?
THAI: He's got friends who came to the US as students, and told him that theylove it here, that it's a land of opportunity, and you can get as much education 166:00as you want--and crime-free. That's what we were told. It's like heaven.
SLOAN: (laughs) No crime.
THAI: No crime. That's what we were told.
SLOAN: Well, you have a job now so that's not true.
THAI: (laughs) That's not true. We learned it the hard way actually.
THAI: Yeah, but they said it's like heaven. It's paradise--no crime.
SLOAN: When did you know that it was a possibility? When did you first know? Iknow your father's talking about this, and you're not in on all those conversations, but when did you know it was a real possibility that you could go to America?
THAI: Actually, when he started to write letters--he didn't write himself, hegot a translator to help him to write letters. From what I heard, he kept 167:00saying, "America, America, America." He said, "The others are okay options, but if America calls me, I will go first." He kept saying that, so I knew his heart and soul is all about America. My brothers though, he pushed for putting as many letters to any country possible. I was with him. I agreed, but my father just wanted to come to America. When a few families close to us, close friends--we just made friends with them--and a few families said, "We leaving tomorrow y'all, sorry. Good to meet you. We going to America, America." Most of them said [they were] going to California, New York, and all that.
SLOAN: When your family heard, do you remember when your father told?
THAI: Oh yes.
SLOAN: Tell me about that.
THAI: Oh, I told my father, because me and my brother would go to the bulletin168:00board. They have ad agency. They posted twice a day, so I sit there all the time, just waiting for them to come out and post, saying, "I'm going? Oh no, no." We watch and watch for months.
SLOAN: Is this at the Mai Rut camp?
THAI: Yeah, Mai Rut camp. We kept watching, looking for our names--nothing formonths. One day, I was right there, and I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw my father's name going to America. I could not believe it. I jumped, I jumped, I screamed, I cried (laughs) with my brother. We went to see the family and told them, and we were all so joyful. Then they said, "Although you're going, you still have to go through all the testing, the interview, and all that stuff." 169:00[We said,] "Oh really?" We thought it's a done deal. No, we have to go through the interviews and all that, and they ask us a lot of questions. They said, "There's a chance that you may not go, if you don't answer the questions correctly."
SLOAN: You went from there to the Transit Center? Is that where they did the tests?
THAI: Oh no. All the tests are at Mai Rut camp. When you made it to Transit Center--
SLOAN: You're on your way.
(speaking at same time)
THAI: You're on your way. Transit Center--you're only supposed to stay less thana month or just a few weeks. That's the next step to come to the US, already. Mai Rut camp is when they test you, and if you don't make the interview, and you don't answer correctly, then you don't come anyway. Although, your name was already on the list to come. After we were so happy, then we got sad again. (laughs)
SLOAN: Yeah, more delay.170:00
THAI: Yeah, but luckily, we passed the test.
SLOAN: Pass the test, you go to the Transit Center, then you go to Lumpini?
THAI: Yeah, Lumpini. Lumpini is even--it's a place where you only stay like aday or two, before you get to go to Bangkok, and then catch an airplane to come to the US--to come to Dallas, Texas. (Sloan laughs) Never--I have never heard of Dallas, Texas, before, never.
SLOAN: Had you ever flown on a plane before?
THAI: No, never. Oh, my gosh. I got so sick. I got so sick. I got airsick. Ieven get carsick, because I had never ridden in cars either in Cambodia--just bicycles, that was it. Got sick on the bus like crazy and even worse in the airplane. I didn't know. I was naïve. I didn't know there was the time system. 171:00Over there is, what, twelve hours ahead of us? Fourteen hours? We got in the airplane. It was dark, like 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. Within an hour or so, it's light again. I said, "What's going on?" I had to ask people about that.
SLOAN: Tell me about your first impressions of America once you got here. Whatdid you notice? What do you remember?
THAI: Oh, wow. First of all, seeing the lights from the airplane. Although, Iwas sick like a dog, I still look--
SLOAN: Yeah, looking out the window.
THAI: "Oh, look at the lights, so beautiful." Of course, in the airplane, neverbeen in an airplane before, I was so impressed with the airplanes. The flight attendant is so friendly. We didn't understand what they were saying, but they were so friendly. They smiled, and they talked. They brought us food. I couldn't 172:00say much except, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." They asked me questions, and I couldn't understand them. "Thank you." That was it, so very happy in the airplane and came to Dallas. Now, although I was so happy--airport, seeing the lights and everything, I was still worried. I was looking for the cowboys, because in refugee camps, we were told about the cowboys. They don't like refugees. We were still looking for the cowboys. That was our only concern. We looked, and we didn't see any cowboys, so we thought we were okay.
The lights, oh yeah, definitely. The lights, the building, the airport and allthat, stuff we were not used to--never seen glass door and glass wall before. We walked into glass door. We thought there's nothing there. Hit in the head and 173:00fell backward, and we just laugh and laugh. My first time on the escalator, oh, my gosh, I was so shaken. At least I was brave enough to try it. There were people who looked at it and said, "Oh no." They would walk back. [They were told,] "No, you have to go through that." They said, "No, I'll take the stairs." Yeah, we were so afraid. We found out that the elevator was even worse. It was fascinating when the sponsor, the case worker, took us to the welcome house to show us the commode and the kitchen. You turn on the lights, you turn the gas on, and all that--turn the electricity--turn the lights on. That was just fascinating. The water--you have hot water and warm water. In Cambodia, if you want warm water, boil it. That's it. You need wood to burn and boil anything. It 174:00was a true definition of heaven, when we got here, not disappointed at all. Only crime is the opposite.
SLOAN: Relate that, because I know there were some hard parts to it as well.
THAI: We were told in the camp that there's no crimes. It's heaven. It'sparadise. It appeared to be that way when we got to the US. Although, we went through some difficulty also with the apartment. First of all, we stayed in the welcome house. They put everybody there first, until they find them a place to stay. We stayed in the welcome house for about two days. Every day we would look up--what's that building, Southern Life downtown?
THAI: That became--that building became so well-known to the Asian refugees,175:00because the welcome house faced that way. Since we're not used to the days and night, the time system, we slept during the daytime, and at nighttime we up. Sponsors, caseworkers, come to us during the daytime, we're all asleep. At night we up watching the downtown buildings. A few days later, they found us an apartment in East Dallas on Live Oak Street. We moved there, got our own apartment--two bedrooms. There was nine of us. That was heaven to us. That was nice. I loved it. There was one restroom. Of course, you have to take a number to use the restroom every morning. The bad thing was there was no AC, so, although, we enjoyed the freedom, the life, and everything, at night oh my gosh, 176:00it's so hot. We came here in July. We came on July 6, 1981. It was hot, so every night, my mom would bring a bucket of water with a piece of cloth, and she would just soak us up, every night, so we could sleep. Well, the lock didn't work. No one told us about it, and we were told before in the refugee camps that it's heaven. No crime anyway, so we never locked our door. It didn't work anyway.
My brother, my oldest brother, he came to the US before us. His name was calledPharcel(??). He came here a month before us, and what he told us is that every morning he would wake up early. He went out and from one dumpster to another to collect aluminum cans, so he was able to save some money. When we got here, he 177:00bought us a black-and-white TV. It's a five-inch, about like that. Oh, my gosh, never watched TV before. I remember one time, I went to a friend's house, and we had to pay to watch TV. It was not really any movie or anything--some puppets, that was it, when I was a child. Now, first time having a TV in the house, so we all enjoyed it. We didn't understand anything, but we still enjoyed.
SLOAN: You could watch Dallas.
THAI: Yeah. (laughs) Didn't know much about Dallas yet, but we watched I Dreamof Jeannie, Bewitched. My gosh, so, so nice. We enjoyed that very much. I think the next day, as we were enjoying it--and it sounds real dumb--but a guy walked 178:00in, unplugged the TV, and he just walked out with the TV. We didn't know what's going on. We didn't understand, so we didn't say or do anything until a few hours later. I walked to my brother's house. He lived on FitzHugh, which is about a ten minute walk from Live Oak. We walked to him and said, "Hey, we like the TV a lot, but it's not there anymore." He said, "What do you mean it's not there anymore?" I said, "Well, someone came in the house and took it." He said, "What?" I said, "Yeah, yeah." He said, "I didn't send anyone there." I said "Oh, okay. What happened?" He said, "Oh, you got robbed." I said, "We got what? Robbed? In the US? In America?" That's how naïve we were. I said, "Robbed in 179:00America?" He said, "Yeah." He said a few days before that, he went to a crime watch meeting where an officer attended and told the group about crimes. He said, "Yeah, you just got robbed." I said, "What? Really? In America? Unheard of." He went to the manager. The manager called the police for us.
That's another story there, because when the police came, my father was soafraid, he didn't want to go talk to the officer. He's so used to what happened in Cambodia, he didn't want to go out, but the translator said, "No, you have to talk to the officer, or else they cannot make a report for you. That's the only way to get your TV back." My father, my mom, and my older brother talked. Then, 180:00my father decided to go to talk to the officer. He said, "Y'all close the door, and put a sofa or chair or something against the door." He's afraid something is going to happen to him. We didn't know what to do, so we pull a sofa against the door. We peeked through the curtain, watching him. [We] saw him go in there. The officer approached him, and they shook hands. I saw them shaking hands and said, "Oh, well, that's good. That's not bad." They talked for a few minutes, and my father came back, and he was happy. He said, "The officer is so nice. American police are good." We said, "Oh, okay, good." We were happy about that, and he said we may even get our TV back. Well, we never did get our TV back, but we were happy. You know, we were so happy. My perception of officers here changed 181:00there. We should have expected that. This is America, heaven and all that. I think it's just the fear that we carried from Cambodia--what we used to see, I think. That shouldn't be a shock to us, but it's confirmed. We felt so relieved. That officer was nice to shake my father's hand.
SLOAN: And I know you're going to have a lot of stops before you become a policeofficer. You're going to do different things in the eighties, and you're going to go to school.
SLOAN: I'm wondering about that decision. You ultimately have made your careerin law enforcement. Do you know when you made that decision? As you said earlier, "I would never thought I would have ended up here."
SLOAN: At what point did you decide that this would be something that you wouldwant to do, or something you thought was important?
THAI: I came to the US back in 1981. I always wanted to go to school. I always182:00wanted to be a teacher. I talked to my sponsor through an interpreter, I said, "I want to go to school." My sponsor, a very nice lady, she smiled and laughed. She said, "No, you're too old for school." I was eighteen already. She said, "You're too old to go to school. You need to find a job to support your family." I said, "Okay, then." She found me a job at a school, Richardson Junior High. I worked there as a janitor for about six months. I have a friend who told me about a printing job--that they were hiring--through church, a church friend. I said, "Okay, I'll take that job." I started the job at a printing shop, worked there about three years. During the time I was working there, I worked with a 183:00church, a lot. I volunteered for the All Saints Episcopal Church--volunteered there for years and years. I met a pastor from Dallas Baptist Church, from downtown. He worked for them, and he hired me as a translator, to work part time. I worked with him, went to church, and helped out in the community. Every night we would go out and have a Bible study, sing songs, and all that. He's the one who heard about the police department hiring Asian liaisons, not officers, but as liaisons.
Reflecting back, back then, when I worked for the church, I said we had Bible184:00studies and all that. There were a few times that we showed movies, Jesus movies, out in the backyard of the apartment. People get robbed left and right, and they told us about it. We called the police for them. A Vietnamese lady who [had] just been [in] the US [for one] night got sexually assaulted, so we knew there was a lot of problems in the Asian community--in the refugee community--and because of the language problem, it wasn't reported. My pastor heard about this hiring, and he told me to try it. I said no. I said, "No, I'm not a police officer. I want to be a teacher." He said, "No, you need to try." I said, "No, thank you." He kept telling me there was a communication problem, and that it's time, that I need to step up and help out the community. He said, 185:00"After all, you're going to be a liaison anyway, so being a liaison, you're not going to be a police officer. Just help out in the community doing translation, interpretation, and community service." First of all, my English was poor, because I only had some time at the high school, sneaking into the classroom, reading some books, and then I took ESL class. I did take an ESL class for about six months. I took the GED at El Centro College, so he said I was ready. I said, "If you think I'm ready, I'll try."
A few Cambodians from Carrollton tried, and they all failed, for some reason,the civil service [exam]. I tried, and somehow, I have no idea, I passed. I became a liaison. My title was a Public Service Officer, wearing uniform and everything, carrying a baton, handcuffs, and such, but not a sidearm. I could 186:00use a shotgun, but not a sidearm. I did that work in the Asian community, did a lot of translation, did a lot of interpretation, and we were known quite well in the local law-enforcement agencies. Other agencies would call us for help to do translation all the time, and that's how my book came to be. We were on CNN and a writer from Chicago--Evanston, Illinois--saw and she came here to write a book about me, the subject of that. My boss, who's a sworn officer, his name is Ron Cowart and he's a Vietnam Veteran, he kept telling me. He said, "Paul, you're a 187:00public service officer, you're a liaison, and you wear the uniform. You are as big a target as me, so why not become a sworn officer? Same thing." He said just need to go through the academy and all that. Still, I said, "Oh no, I want to be a teacher." (laughs) Still on my mind, I want to be a teacher. He said, "No, you should try to become a sworn officer." Needless to say, to make a long story short, he convinced me and in 1988 I became a sworn officer.
SLOAN: What's it like to--I mean this is a big question but it's a verydifferent job, of course, than you thought you would end up with, but what has been most rewarding about this career for you? You thought about being a teacher and what would be rewarding about that. You had a clearer idea of that, but 188:00going into this, what has been most rewarding for you about being an officer?
THAI: As a teacher, you provide people with education, so I liked that and justthe value of being a teacher. Just the word education alone, it means so much to me. I don't regret it at all, being an officer. It's been thirty-one years now, and I'm enjoying it. When I was a public service officer, I was able to help out in the community, do a lot of interpretation, a lot of translation, and taking people to different places, help and do tutoring. Although I was an officer, I was teaching citizenship class, doing after school tutoring, holding community meetings--pretty much, it's about safety, but social issues, too. If someone is 189:00sick, I'll take them to a clinic or a hospital--not just doing police work, so I enjoy that, a lot. When I became a sworn officer, I was able to be assigned back to the storefront where I was as a public service officer. I enjoyed that a lot, too, doing the same thing, helping out in the community, and being a liaison to the Dallas Police Department, representing the Asian community, doing what I enjoy doing, helping people.
I think, especially, the Cambodian people who went through the Communists, whowent through the Khmer Rouge, who went through that Dângrêk Mountain, who went through the escapes, they have suffered a whole lot, already. I think they deserve an easier life here in the US, and not being preyed on by the bad guys 190:00and live in fear. The example I gave you about using a sofa to block the door, that's very common in the Asian community, and especially the Cambodians in the East Dallas area. My wife told me the same story. Before I met her, same thing, using the sofa, using a chair, anything at all. It even went to an extreme, having a knife to protect themselves--boiling hot water. Waiting for whoever's going to come in through the door--breaking in and splash with hot water, because they didn't have a gun, didn't speak English, and couldn't call for help. They don't want to be violent. I mean it sounds horrible, saying you have a knife and hot water, but it's survival, basically. That's why I enjoy my work. I was able to help them out and educate them about personal safety and able to 191:00lead them and guide them--I'm bragging now, but be a role model to the kids.
SLOAN: It's not heaven but you can make it a little bit more like heaven,through the work that you do.
SLOAN: Well, I didn't mention earlier that Nathan Roberts is also here with me,and Melissa Sloan is also here with me. One thing that I give them an opportunity to do, is if they have a question--I've asked you a bunch of questions, but I want to make sure if they have some questions, to give them an opportunity to ask.
SLOAN: Nathan, I don't know if you had some questions you'd like to ask?
ROBERTS: Thank you for speaking with us.
ROBERTS: Your story is amazing to me. We've gone much longer than mostinterviews, and it's been wonderful to hear you speak.
THAI: Thank you.
ROBERTS: I have a question that's really broad, but I think that it would be192:00good to hear you talk about it. What has and what does family mean to you?
THAI: Family. It means the whole world to me, and I'm sure it is the same witheverybody else, but it means more to me because of what we went through. It makes me appreciate family even more, because we went through hell, actually, together. I was separated from my family for so many years, and through starvation, through all the difficulty, and all that together, it creates a whole lot more memory. So, family, to me, means a whole lot more--means the world to me. Again, I know other families or other people would say the same thing, but I see more meaning in my story, because of what we went through. We 193:00learned to appreciate each other a whole lot more. I have heard about families--not to downplay anything, but here people would say, "Oh I have a cousin or a brother in California, and I haven't seen him or her for years." I was thinking, Really? And they're your family? You haven't seen them for years or haven't heard? I think they appreciate their family too, but probably not as much as me, because of what we went through. Again, because of what we went through, we appreciate each other a lot more. It's just like when I work as a police officer, too. I get to see a lot of violence out there. People become victims of crimes, and when I come home, it just makes me love my family more, or appreciate them more. Other people are not as lucky as me. They lose their 194:00family members due to violence.
ROBERTS: One more question that I've got--students will watch this video, andthey'll hear about Cambodia. They'll hear about you and your family's experiences there, and all of the Cambodian experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime. What do you want them to get out of this? What do you want them to know or take with them--
THAI: The students?
ROBERTS: --as they listen to your story? Yeah. It's your chance to be a teacher.
THAI: (laughs) I like that, I like that. I always want to be a teacher.Education is everything. In Cambodia, education is very, very high, and teachers and students are highly respected. My message to the students, I would have to say, stay in school. Get as much education as you can. Everywhere in the world right now, everybody wants to come to America, but they don't have a chance to 195:00come. A lot of students are born in this country, or at least come to this country. Now in America--America is the land of opportunity, land of freedom, and land of education. Being a student, it's a good thing. Stay in school, get as much education as you can, because your future will be bright. Without education, it's not good. I mean, you can look at it whatever way, but without education, it's nothing. That's why I want to be a teacher.
I remember my father. My father and I, we talk a lot, and he always give meadvice about this and that. He loves to tell me stories--something to teach me. My mom, too, she loves to tell me stories, but like stories [like] fairytales. But, my father, when he tells me stories, he's like a teacher. One thing that 196:00always stuck in my mind is, he gave an example about the frog in the well. He said, "You have to be educated. You have to go to school. You have to learn." He told me a story about a frog in a well. A frog just only sees a small well--looks up and all he could see was the sky, and the wall of the well, and nothing else. He thought that's the whole world. My father told me to be wise, to use your brain, use your mind, use it wisely, and get as much education as you want. As a matter of fact, when I came to the US, he told me, although my sponsor lady said no you have to get a job, my father said, "No, I don't want my son to have a job. I want him to get as much education as he could." He was nice, but I said, "I'll get a job." I got a job, and been working since the 197:00second day of my stay in the US until now, been working ever since. Back to the students--you, here in America, cannot be at a better place for education. Again, millions of people want to come to the US for education, so take advantage of it.
MELISSA SLOAN: I just have one question. Just listening to your story which isso much that you went through, so many different difficulties and trials and hardships. I just wonder, what do you attribute--just to see that your whole family, with the exception of your one brother, made it--made it here, what do you attribute just the ability to survive and come? What do you attribute that 198:00to, in terms of personal qualities or beyond that?
THAI: First of all, I would have to say, even back in Cambodia, I didn't knowwho God was. I thank God for that. Right now, I thank God for that, and I thank my father for being a strong leader to convince us to come. Of course, also, my mom. I can't leave her out. She's a--although she was against it, against coming, but just a little threat to her, to leave her alone, by herself, and she came along with us and she's doing well. She's a good leader, too, once you get her on your side. I thank her for that. I'd like to say I would attribute that to her, too--with my father and God. Of course, the American people, who opened 199:00the door for us. I can never forget the American Red Cross who saved our lives in refugee camps, and whoever else was involved in their work at the refugee camps. Without refugee camps, we would have been still in Cambodia or somewhere in the jungle, wandering around, getting lost, or getting shot at, or getting killed, or sent back to Cambodia. So, [there are] many different people that we owe. I'm very glad to have this opportunity to get the story out--let people be aware of it.
SLOAN: Well, we've taken a lot of your time today. Lieutenant Thai, so Iappreciate you making time for us and your willingness to share your story.
SLOAN: It's been an honor for us to be able to hear it. We want to thank you forthat. We want to thank you for your service to the people of Dallas. 200:00
THAI: Thank you sir. You're welcome, and thank you so much for this opportunity,too. I mean it. When I found out about Hitler, about what happened to the Jews, I couldn't understand it. I said, "What's going on? Why does history repeat itself? Why is it? It happened before?" I thought this is the first time that the world would hear about stuff like this, and it's unbelievable. The movie, Killing Fields, that came out, it's very real, but it's not real enough. I understand a movie, they can't make it so real, so graphic, that people wouldn't want to watch it. But, I cannot understand why people allow something like this to happen again, like what happened during the Hitler regime. By doing this, I thank you, because you are allowing me to tell the story that has not been told 201:00much, or not been told in detail. Again, what I have told you during this interview, it's brief, not in quite detail either. There's many different incidents that stuck in my mind all the time, nightmares still there from time to time, although I'm much better now. Having the opportunity to tell the story and get the story heard by people in the other communities, it makes me feel good. I feel better. I feel relieved, so thank you. Nathan, thank you. Ma'am, thank you so much.
SLOAN: Thank you.
end of interview