The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh
January 7th is the anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Yes, the day also marks the start of Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. So, it's a day of commemoration, rather than a celebration. A day to mark the crimes committed by Pol Pot's regime. Here is an excerpt from my book about that time in history:
Nearly four years into the Khmer Rouge nightmare, in what I guessed to be early 1979, I found hope. It started as a small seed, and it grew. I heard the old familiar sounds of war from far away. I would be turning sixteen that year, but an explosion or buzzing airplane always flashed me back to my life as a child, cowering under the tamarind tree. I was still small; my starving body had not developed at all. But inside I had grown up. I became aware that the dark times of my life might not last forever. I noticed subtle indications that Angka could indeed weaken. The ugly overseer did not care so much what we did anymore, her mind wandered elsewhere. She argued with the other leaders who came around. They still kept the fear of Angka in the front of my mind. But they did not watch us as intently. Or was I just imagining that? The ugly overseer confirmed my suspicions.
“We have enemies!” she barked at us one morning at the work site. “You will prepare to battle for Angka!”
Our numbers had diminished. Those of us who remained stood shaking and emaciated, far too weak to fight anyone.
“If they attack us, we will kill them,” said the ugly overseer, grabbing the hoe I was digging with out of my hands and raising it in the air. “Kill them with this!”
Everyone stared at the ugly overseer in disbelief. I wondered what foe could be worse than Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
The ugly overseer brought the hoe down forcefully. “The Yeuns have crossed our border! They will die!”
“The Yeuns!” I thought. The Vietnamese were coming!
“Listen only to Angka!” cried the ugly overseer. “Long live Angka!”
We echoed the call three times.
The ugly overseer put the hoe back in my hands. I hacked at the ground, mimicking her actions, crushing an invisible enemy. I was not sure if I should be afraid of the Vietnamese or not. We had always been not-so-friendly neighbors. It was a development I had never considered.