Survival in the Killing Fields, Ngor | But What For Notes


Survival in the Killing Fields
Haing Ngor, with Roger Warner
Blog Post: TBD
Purchase: View on Amazon

1. Early Rebellions

  • Haing Ngor grew up in the 1950s in Cambodia, his father was of Chinese descendant whereas his mother was Cambodian, in the village of Samrong Yong
    • His father was somewhat wealthy due to his business interest
    • There was already guerilla fighting happening before the Khmer Rouge came to power, and these guerillas toyed with his father through multiple kidnappings and ransoms – but his father always came out fine, albeit with reduces funds 
  • He had two older brothers, and a few younger siblings; he was a rowdy kid and liked sports, and because of this he got in trouble often
    • After his father had run out of money due to the kidnappings, Haing was removed from schools, while an older brother stayed in school, and instead Haing would help his mother barter for food
  • There as an incident that he remembered from childhood because it made him feel like his father did not trust him
    • He was blamed and punished for stealing playing cards, which he did not do, and then ran away and worked for one of his distant family members that offered shuttle services
  • During this time, Cambodia won independence from France, thanks to King Sihanouk, and one of the first things they did was improve the public schools, meaning that Haing was able to go back to school
    • He excelled in school, and caught up in grades level, and entered high school
  • The concept of kum is also important for the story, which is a Cambodian word for revenge that is beyond the normal mean of revenge 
    • “If I hit you with my fist and you wait five years and shoot me in the back one dark night, that is kum.” – Page 10
  • Quotes
    • I believe what the old monk taught me. And everything he said came true, only in reverse. My family was unhappy, my village was unhappy, and so was the country. And now I look back on it all and think about the connections, and wonder whether I myself was partly to blame.
      • Page 22

2.  Education

  • Haing went to school, which his father thought was a waste because it delay making money, and his father’s business was doing well, so they started to make back the money they had previously lost
    • They bought a logging business, which was lucrative but required often bribing soldiers and guards when driving along the roads; this was common in Cambodia and was called by the euphemism bonjour (see below)
    • Haing would help with the business between classes because he could read French and Khmer, whereas his father and brother could not or at least struggled
    • He found that his brother was stealing from his father and putting certain assets in his own name, but Haing said nothing to save face internally within the family
  • The concept of honneur, bonheur and bonjour are important concepts to understand Cambodian life / culture at the time
    • Honneur – french for honor; Haing’s brother was not being honorable, but this was not as bad as it could be because he was doing it quietly.
    • Bonheur – family happiness or “saving face” for the family through the appearance of happiness; this is why Haing did not report his brother to his father
    • Bonjour – which while meaning hello, means graft or giving bribes in Cambodia; “I said bonjour to him” was a colloquial euphemism 
  • Haing hated the concept of paying bribes, so he convinced the business truckers to try not to pay bribes once when coming down the mountain – this got them all thrown in jail before a larger bribe then secured their released 
  • He was going to school in Phnom Penh, and he passed his medical exams and was tutoring on the side, with the two Kam sisters and a Chang My Huoy
    • My Huoy was studious and he was attracted to her
  • The Vietnam War was ongoing right next door to Cambodia, and King Sihanouk kept speaking about how lucky Cambodia was as a superior race that was politically neutral and able to avoid such conflicts

3. Romance and Coup

  • A year later when Haing was walking by the river, he ran into My Huoy as she was carrying books, and then they started to form a relationship
    • Haing would spend time at their house, where My Huoy’s mother would make them food; she was a shy widow who also gave Huoy and Haing time to speak alone at dinner
    • They started to get more serious, and Haing was jealous at times as he noticed that other boys watched My Huoy, and a couple times he called her out on fake accusations to see her reaction
  • In March 1970, Sihanouk was out of the country and there was riot that ended up attacking the North Vietnamese embassy, and this was as much about racial tensions as politics, leading to the deaths of ethnic Vietnamese Cambodians
    • Sihanouk called in from Paris to try to put a stop to it, but political rivals Prince Sisowath and General Lon Nol, who hated the Vietnamese, held a vote and passed a vote of no-confidence in Sihanouk
    • Haing participated in the protests against the Vietnamese, as did most people he knew – they were just swept up in the emotions
  • After the vote, the people started to realize what had happened – they like Sihanouk – and anti-Lon Nol protests began.
    • But he controlled the military, was also friendly with the US and was able to put down any rebellion or protests
  • Haing decided he wanted to marry My Huoy, but his family was opposed to it given here poor background 
    • They planned to go against Haing’s parent’s wishes and get married, at the right time, in the future
  • Quotes
    • Surely, peaceful, sleepy Cambodia was being overwhelmed by the forces of kum. But in a few weeks a kind of peace returned. Most Cambodians didn’t dislike the new regime enough to fight it. And practically speaking, there was little to be done.
      • Page 46

4. Civil War

  • Sihanouk had lost face with the overthrow of the government, so he setup himself in Beijing, and partnered with the Cambodian communists
    • Interestingly, Sihanouk had previously persecuted the communist guerillas, but he partnered with them as a figurehead – the communists didn’t view him as a leader
    • He encouraged his supporters to work with the communists, though their numbers were small for now
  • The North Vietnamese were fighting the Cambodian government under Lon Nol, who was being supplied by the Americans
  • Haing was a volunteer doctor / medical student (given the lack of doctors, medical students could serve as medical staff) and also had a job in the army, as a lieutenant medic
    • Volunteer experiences, in combination with always having had female friends and being closer to the women in his family, made him go into gynecology
    • Haing got injured in a trip to save injured soldiers when they were ambushed
  • Haing cheated on My Huoy every so often it sounds like, and he was caught, not in the act, but about to, by My Huoy, who waited until the evening to lash into him at her mothers
  • Quotes
    • Far more remarkable, he had joined forces with his former enemies, the Cambodian communists. For years he has persecuted them relentlessly, throwing them in jail, having them tortured, driving them into the forests. He had shown them no mercy. He had given them their nickname, the ‘red Khmers’, or in French, les Khmers Rouges.
      • Page 52
    • And when I saw their false pride, I felt I finally understood what war is about. Men fight for glory or ideals, but the result is not glorious or idealistic. The main result, besides the suffering, is that civilization is set back many years.
      • Page 55

5. The City of Bonjour

  • By late 1972, the Khmer Rouge had grown in numbers and had taken land to the south of Samrong Yong
    • Haing’s family was forced to flee the area and leave the house that they had built; Haing was living in Phnom Penh and his family moved there
  • Graft was increasingly common in Cambodia under Lon Nol’s rule, as he did nothing to stop it; in addition, anti-Chinese and anti-Vietnamese tensions also grew, with native Cambodians murdering the other races
  • Haing’s second brother’s wife hurt their father one day during an argument, and this led to a confrontation, with Haing finally calling out the favoritism towards the other brothers, and this ultimately led to his father giving away trucks for his business to the children so they could make their own money
    • This is how Haing and My Huoy, who were still not married, became wealthier 
  • Quotes
    • Under him, incompetence and bonjour flourished. The guilty went free and the powerless suffered. Our society had lost its moral direction. And that’s why we lost the war. 
      • Page 75

6. The Fall

  • Many were living in Phnom Penh as if there was no problems going on around them, like the Khmer Rouge could never take the city and were not so close by
    • Both Haing and his father could have sold their things and left the country given their amount of wealth, but both chose to stay
  • On April 17, 1975, then Khmer Rouge took the city after Lon Nol’s regime gave up
    • Haing was in the clinic at this time, operating on an injuried soldier; as they cut him open to repair his stomach, Khmer Rouge soldiers came into the clinic
    • This is when Haing realized that they would kill doctors, as they were looking for the doctor, held Haing at gunpoint asking if he was a doctor and sparing the others
    • Haing and the others get out, having to leave behind the dying soldier and the Khmer Rouge rush to find doctors
  • Khmer Rouge members were forcing people out and telling them to walk to the forests, under the idea of needing to get away for a few hours, or days, depending on who was talking, to secure the city
    • This was slow moving and took days to get everyone out of the city, and during this time Haing and the hospital team keep going back and forth for supplies
    • Haing cannot find My Huoy or his family
  • Quotes
    • If I didn’t worry about the Khmer Rouge, it was because I didn’t believe they could be any worse than the Lon Nol regime. 
      • Page 77
    • It surprises me now, but most of us pretended that life was almost normal. We made ourselves believe that Phnom Penh was a little island of peace and it was going to stay that way.
      • Page 79

7. The Wheel of History

  • During the night, Haing went to his clinic and helps a few patients / women in labor, and was with his nurses
    • Haing still could not find his family or My Huoy

8. Exodus from Phnom Penh

  • Terrible propaganda music blasted as they march
    • Everyone was focused on finding and carrying supplies if they could, and they had to protect them, as stealing became common
    • A rich family committed suicide by driving into a river and drowning
  • Sam Kwil, a friend of Haing’s who was a journalist, and Haing went to collect bananas for food, but Sam took pictures of a convoy of Khmer Rouge truck that was driving by, leaned out from the bushes too much, and was caught
    • He was beaten and taken away

9. Wat Kiev Svay Karl

  • Towards the end of April, Haing was reunited with his family, and My Houy during the marching
    • My Huoy tried to kneel when they met father, and they essentially became married at that point without an official ceremony
  • The Khmer Rouge started recruiting Lon Nol military members, asking them to sign-up
    • Many of the men liked the sound of this – remembering that being in the military meant the potential to benefit from bonjour and having status
    • Haing was smart and tried not to stand out, even when friends shouted at him to apply – this proved prescient as the soldiers were rounded up, driven off and shot
  • Quotes
    • They hadn’t liked leaving the city without their possessions, not knowing where they were going. Now they had a purpose, a direction. Once more they would be serving their country and making a living.
      • Page 110

10. Medicine for Angka

  • Haing and his family found a spot in an abandoned house and it seems like everyone was camping in the same place, and what was apparent was that money had no value
    • Haing determined that they would need things to barter with and medicine, for when they got sick and as an item for bartering
  • Haing convinced a young Khmer Rouge kid, who was joined by an officer, to take him to go back to Phnom Penh and get medicine, which they could give to the Khmer Rouge
    • While doing this, Haing collected medicine and gold stored around his clinic
  • Quotes
    • We had not been in favor of the revolution. We had not been against it. We didn’t even care about politics much. But now that the revolution had come, we had been bulldozed by it, reduced to the same level as the other exiles around us. And there was no new society building. Just the rubble of the old one.
      • Page 119

11. Return to the Village

  • Haing, with My Huoy and her mother and some other hospital team members, decided to go towards My Huoy’s home city, because it was close to Thailand and they could try to escape that way, while Haing’s family goes towards their home city – so they parted ways
  • Haing and team get stopped at a village when the Khmer Rouge will not let them pass through
    • Previously, Haing was able to always say they were heading to the next village and the next village and so on every new village and get through checkpoints that way
    • They were put to work breaking down rocks, and after a few days escaped under nightfall, and came back to their Father’s home city – and found the rest of the family there
  • The concept of Angka, a term that meant essentially the Khmer tribunal and guerilla government, is an important one – it was a faceless term never properly defined that the Khmer Rouge used as the source of all directives
  • Quotes
    • Now we are in a new phase of struggle. We warn you that it will not be easy. We must maintain the mentality of struggling against all obstacles. If Angka says to break rocks, break rocks. If Angka says to dig canals, you must dig canals. In Angka says to farm, you must farm. Struggle against the elements! When there are obstacles, smash them. Only in this way can we liberate the country and the people!
      • Page 144

12. The Crocodile Loses Its Lake

  • They were constantly told the virtues of the new Khmer Rouge  system and the issues with the the old ways back in Phnom Penh, which were labeled as capitalist and western 
    • “New” people were those that gave up to the Khmer Rouge before they had taken down Phnom Penh
    • “Old” people were those that used to live in the country, were not Khmer Rouge but gave up early and quickly to their rule
  • Haing’s father’s sister was able to play up to a local “new” tribe leader, and get favors that way
    • There was a fight within the family when Haing was accused of stealing wood, from an uncle who apparently was less efficient than Haing, for small houses each couple were building, and they started to have a falling out with Haing’s father’s sister threatening to expose Haing as a doctor
  • There was a sick baby, and the father tried to get Haing to help, but the Khmer Rouge had their own doctors, who were not actually doctors, and they injected the baby with a thiamine solution, which killed it
    • This was hard on Haing, as he saw himself, like when he walked out on the wounded soldier in Phnom Penh, sacrifice another human life to save his own life
  • Quotes
    • To avoid our own deaths people like me were doing things we knew were wrong. And as we scrambled to protect ourselves, or sought to gain favor with the new powers, the old relationships were torn apart.
      • Page 161

13. New Directions

  • They were told by the Khmer Rouge that they were going to have to leave the area, and when they were getting ready to leave, My Huoy’s mother drowned herself as opposed to going through with what she knew was coming

14. The Plough

  • On the road to the new location, he met two other doctors, they talked about how the Cambodian communists were supported in some ways and not supported in others by China
    • They called the Khmer Rouge the “revenge people” (concept of kum, revenge that has festered and grown multiples over time) as this was them getting back at the city people who had looked down on them
  • They get to the new area, build a new house and are told that they will have to work hard to learn from farming because Angka is poor and needs to develop the country
    • The food they are provided poor – watery soup with rice in it – and they are forced to looked for insects and other things at night, without getting caught
  • They are developing a rice field without the aid of animals, meaning that humans are pulling plows as they are building the rice fields
    • During this time, the doctors that he met are taken away, hands tied behind their backs and led away from camp, presumably because they were discovered to be doctors
  • Haing got sick with dysentery
  • In the book, Haing uses the word kama for karma
  • Quotes
    • To me, whether we had good kama or bad kama, it was important to fight the Khmer Rouge. If we couldn’t fight them openly and physically then we would fight them on the inside, on the battlefields of our minds.
      • Page 169
    • I didn’t know what to say. To myself I thought, Ma was smart to commit suicide.
      • Page 182

15. Sickness

  • Most people were sick due to malnutrition or overwork, and Haing’s dysentery almost killed him because he had already used all the antibiotics he had brought with him by this time
    • After over a month, he was sure he was going to die
    • He got lucky when a sweet potato was handed out to each family, and they burned it to charcoal, which has antibacterial properties and helped turn the tide on Haing’s battle with dysentery 
  • He started to get better, first struggling to crawl and the walk
  • Quotes
    • Family ties meant nothing to them now. Everybody was looking out for himself. 
      • Page 188
    • [After an “old” lady gave them an ear of corn after Haing was walking around after recovery] It reassured us that in spite of the Khmer Rouge, compassion still existed and Cambodian high culture still lived. We watched her walking down the tracks and disappearing in the distance. I said, ‘Sweet, I’m going to live’
      • Page 193

16. The Parade of Selfish and the Dying

  • As he got better, he went back to work
    • They had cultivated the rice field and the plants were starting to grow with the harvest getting close
    • They had been told that once the rice started to grow they would be able to eat more
  • However, they were forced to leave and move to a new location at this time, and they were all marched out of the commune they had been staying
    • This is when Haing realized how many sick and dead there were
    • During the march, those marching just left the dead and dying where they were – and Haing also realized how animalistic they had become, with their culture having been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and its brutality
  • At night during the march, Haing ran off and lucked into finding an “old” person who was head of a house, and he was able to get him to take in Haing, My Huoy and Haing’s parents (not the rest of the family, somewhat purposefully after their ties had broken down and there had been threats about exposing Haing as a doctor)
    • However, at the last minute, the parents left with the rest of the family because of the grandchild of one of Haing’s brother being their Father’s favorite
  • Quotes
    • What made it worse, what made it more appalling was that somehow it was ordinary. You put one foot in front of the other and you kept on walking. You heard the cries of the weak but you didn’t pay much attention, because you were concentrating on yourself and your own survival. We had all seen death before. In the exodus from Phnom Penh, the atrocious had become normal.
      • Page 199
    • How fast man changes! How fast he sheds his outer humanity and becomes the animal inside! … Children left their parents to die, wives abandoned their husbands and the stronger kept on moving. The Khmer Rouge had taken away everything that held our culture together, and the result was this: a parade of the selfish and the dying, Society was falling apart.
      • Page 200

17. Reorganization

  • Youen was the name of the man that let them stay with his family, and they were servants
    • For this they got food and shelter, which was a godsend after everything they had been throught
    • During this time, Haing learned that even the “old” people disliked the Khmer Rouge and what they had done to the country, even though they were being treated better
  • Eventually, the Khmer Rouge force those in that small camp who don’t have children to all leave, and Haing and My Huoy were exposed by Youen and his family, for the safety of their own family
  • They were back to working hard, and during his time working in the new location, Haing got a better understanding of what the Khmer Rouge were doing
    • The concept of “independence-sovereignty” was often thrown around in propaganda meetings, and it meant that the people needed to make the country self-sustaining
    • This meant that they always needed to “struggle” against anything and everything that Angka point them towards – “struggle to cultivate rice” and “struggle to dig canals with great courage”
    • The ideas of private property were abolished, as was religion, and family, and government, and that was all replaced by Angka
    • They were constantly told how lucky they were to have this new Cambodia that free from capitalism and western influence
  • Quotes
    • They had succeeded in remaking the country to their bold plan. They had erased the individual, except as a unit in a group. They had given us a new religion to devote ourselves to, and that religion was Angka. But when I looked more closely, the illusion fell apart…. That’s all it took, a moment’s glance, to know that the country had turned in the wrong direction. The Khmer Rouge pushed their own beliefs to extremes, and in doing so turned them into lies.
      • Page 215
    • They knew that a small lie can be caught and that a big lie is easier to get away with.
      • Page 216

18. Bells

  • Bells woke them up at 4am every morning and then they went into the fields
    • All throughout the day blaring propaganda music would play
    • There were no days of rest – meaning they worked every day
  • In the afternoons, soldiers would lead away select individuals working in the fields, with their hands tied behind their backs, and there was never an explanation given
  • Angka Leu was a term used for an undefined tribunal that people were sent to when they were caught or led away
  • Haing and My Huoy collected wild food often, which was illegal and essentially a death sentence if you were caught
    • Unfortunately, one day a basket of roots they had hidden in their belongings disappeared while they were working
    • Haing was led away, to the head of the commune
  • Quotes
    • There were no laws under the Khmer Rouge except the law of silence. There were no courts except Angka Leu. Maybe the prisoners hadn’t worked hard enough. Or they stole food. Or a chhlop, a spy, overheard them making remarks about Angka. People disappeared. That is all we knew. And I knew that someday I would be one of them. 
      • Page 227

19. Angka Leu

  • Haing was called out for storing the roots (“Doesn’t Angka give you enough?”) and calling his wife “sweet” when he was supposed to call everyone “comrade” 
    • He was sent to Angka Leu which, while it was beleive to be a form of higher authorities, was generally just a name for any one of torture / interegation facilities
  • Haing had started using the name Samnang and pretending to have been a taxi driver back in Phnom Penh because it was important to have a story that was not that of having been a doctor
  • In the facility, he was tied to a tree that was covered with red ants, which was purposeful because they would bite you
    • On the way to the tree, he passed a nearly naked, bloodied women tied to a bench 
  • In the afternoon, a curly-haired man comes carrying a hatchet
    • On the way to Haing, he rips off a finger of the woman tied to the bench, accusing her of having been married to a Lon Nol soldier
  • He interrogates Haing about his past; Haing sticks to the taxi story; the guy cuts off his small finger and smashed his foot, but does not sever it
    • He is left tied to the tree overnight, and he can hear packs of Cambodian wolves roaming through the camp that night
  • In the morning he is untied and given food, before being re-tied in the afternoon
    • That afternoon, they tied a pregnant woman to a tree, accused of having the child of a Lon Nol soldier, and then cut out the baby, left her to die, and hung the fetus with a number of others hanging from ropes back at a shed
  • The next day, Haing was interrogated again, stuck to his story, and was led away by two soldiers with his arms tied behind his back
    • They release him in the forest after he responds to the questions saying that his fate is at Angka and the soldier’s discretion
    • They say “If he lives, there is no gain. He is dies, there is no loss” – a common saying of the Khmer Rouge
  • He makes it back to camp

20. The Wat

  • Haing did not have to work for a short period of time while he healed, and that gave him time to reflect
    • He couldn’t justify why he lived instead of died, why he was taken to Angka Leu instead of just carried off and killed with pick axes like others (soldiers killed the prisoners without using bullets because the bullets were needed for fighting against the North Vietnamese)
    • For the Khmer Rouge, killing was just routine, because if anything got in the way of Angka, you had to sacrifice everything for Angka
  • After he was healed, Haing and a few others were sent to collect wood by tearing down a Buddhist temple
    • This was emotional for the men, it essentially being a physical representation of destroying their own culture
    • They started building canals the next day and never were order back to the temple
  • Haing was promoted to group leader, which meant he served the food
    • A guy name Pen Tip was also promoted, and he knew about Haings past life as a doctor but fortunately did not know his real name
    • Pen Tip was friendly with the Khmer Rouge and he used this to get things from the other leaders who were afraid of his pull with the Khmer Rouge leaders, but Haing would not give in to him (remember the attempts to not pay bribes at his father’s business)
  • Pen Tip started to get vocal about Haing having been a doctor
    • About a week later, they came and took Haing away again
  • Quotes
    • Demoralized, split apart, like atoms removed from their chemical compounds, we let the Khmer Rouge do what they wanted with us. We didn’t fight back.
      • Page 247
    • But even though we were defeated, and even though we could feel ourselves slipping further down into slavery, we didn’t lose hope. Or a lot of us didn’t, anyway.
      • Page 248

21. The King of Death

  • Haing was back in Angka Leu, and this time there was a more formal interrogation with someone that was brought in from higher up for a number of unfortunate captives, and he would write down what people said and try to force confessions
    • Again he was asked about his past, this time being asked about being a doctor – this is how he was certain that Pen Tip was behind his misfortune
    • Again he stuck to the taxi story
  • He was led away, after being beaten, and along with a number of others he was tied to wooden fixtures hung over individual fires, essentially being cooked alive in such a way that his feet burned but he wouldn’t die
    • The next morning, they were taken down and a number of them, including Haing, had plastic bags put over their heads, and many of them died this way, but Haing got lucky again as he was not dead when they took his off
    • The Khmer Rouge mutilated a woman that had died next to Haing, and implied that they would cannibalize her
  • Haing was then released within the camp, and worked there for 2 months
    • Then he was sent back to the same commune he was at previously with My Huoy

22. Candles

  • While Haing was in the prison, his father, brother and brother’s wife happened to be transferred to the same collective
    • One of the things his father told him was to focus on survival and not on revenge on Pen Tip
  • Haing got malaria, got a few days off, had to try to find medicine through three different levels of medical compounds
    • There wasn’t enough, and he supplemented with a local leaf to make a tea used to fight malaria
  • His father was caught for stealing food, and then sent off to Angka Leu
    • Two weeks later, his brother and brother’s wife were sent off as well, and he didn’t know the reason
  • Quotes
    • I had not learned about pain without wanting to inflict it. I had not endured torture without wanting revenge. My thoughts were so dark and gruesome that I never would have mentioned them to anybody, but my father guessed them. And he was right again. It was more important to avoid future suffering than to take revenge for the past.
      • Page 272

23. The Rains

  • A Khmer Rouge named Uncle Seng was in charge of a work detail that Haing was a part of, and Haing said he was the only Khmer Rouge that seemed human
  • In the rains, a truck got stuck, and his work detail ran over to help
    • One of the members of the truck was the Khmer Rouge responsible for the region, was one of Haing’s old medical teachers
    • They meet and talk very briefly – Haing remembers how this professor had disappeared after having been a communist sympathizer
  • They help get the truck out because Haing has an idea that works, and when the teacher leaves he tells Uncle Seng to take care of Haing, offering the only help he could without risking himself ro Haing
  • It confuses Haing that the teacher, who he respected, was able to let the killings and overwork go on
    • He decides that the teacher must also be afraid and thus not be able to do anything about it

24. Rice Farming

  • They farmed and got little of what was produced as it was mostly taken away and put into bags by the soldiers, who shipped it elsewhere

25. The Dam

  • The newest project was building a dam that was going to fail for sure due to scale
    • The same teacher acme back to a propaganda rally and gave a speech to the entire collective, praising Angka and how important it was to struggle against the dam for the sake of Cambodia’s future
  • Haing and My Huoy were put into different work details and Haing would sneak out to spend the nights with her before running back in the morning to his work area

26.  The Cracks Begin to Show

  • Haing, and others, was constantly hungry with a constant terror more gnawing than the hunger, but they didn’t talk about that much
  • Things started to break down slowly – there were rumors that the teacher had escaped across the Thai border
  • The Khmer Rouge were starting to make forced marriages in order to prevent population decline
  • Haing got malaria again, but this time he recovered at his brothers house, who was in a different nicer collective, and he and My Huoy starlet working there
    • However, as fate would have it, Pen Tip was transfered there as well

27. Drops of Water

  • Haing contemplated killing Pen Tip – but the combination of logistics (how to not get caught) and morals (how could he become just as bad as the Khmer Rouge) kept him from doing so
    • This was a bad idea, and Pen Tip was the same old dog with the same old tricks 
    • Haing was taken away again
  • Again he was interrogated for being a doctor, and this time he was thrown in a festering makeshift jail tied together with others, subject to two days of Chinese water torture and then the Khmer Rouge literally blew up the jail that he was in, killing most of the prisoners
  • Somehow Haing didn’t die during his third time in Angka Leu and was sent back to camp

28. Happiness

  • Haing had a newfound happiness, and his new job as a sewer cleaner meant that, due to the smell, people left him alone and he didn’t have to work as hard
  • There was an incident where My Huoy accidentally let a chhlop see that they had food, and Haing got called to the head of the collective
    • This time he got off after intense questioning, and he thinks it is because he had seen this head also stealing food in the middle of the night as well
  • They were spending more time together and they were getting slightly more food, and My Huoy was pregnant

29. Crossing the Sea

  • The dry season was tough and the Khmer Rouge were losing to an enemy whose identity was unknown to Haing and the others. There were rumors that it was a Cambodian resistence group
    • The kitchens slowly stopped serving food, which led to everyone foraging for food in the wilderness, and then that food also became scarce
    • Overall, starvation was more of a risk than ever before, and that meant food for Haing and My Huoy was dangerously low
  • My Huoy was becoming depressed, because of the lack of the food and the stress, in combination with being pregnant; she went into labor at 7 months due to malnutrition 
    • My Huoy died in childbirth, the baby becoming stuck in the birth canal and Haing having no medicine to help her or tools that he could use, which would have been easily available in Phnom Penh
    • This was devastating, made even worse because he was a obstetrician who just lacked the items needed to save his wife

30. Grief

  • He buried My Huoy next to a large tree, and did the best he could with rituals over the a small time period, essentially sacrificing his food to keep alive traditions
    • Others at the compound thought he was insane for doing this, and he agrees that he probably was
  • A new boss – named Mao – came to the collective and the previous senior Khmer Rouge leadership was detained – they were being punished for being part of a failing regime
  • Haing had many of his things stolen by Mao’s wife, and he went to their house and demanded that they give him back the only picture he had of her, from her ID, and they did
    • At this point, he had nothing left and was willing to risk his life 
  • Quotes
    • People saw me going out to the grave every evening with food and they said I was crazy. I do not say they are wrong, just that they hadn’t been through what I had.
      • Page 361
    • Men aren’t always able to take revenge, but the gods are. The gods understand justice. 
      • Page 363

31. Retreat

  • Wounded Khmer Rouge started coming into the camp, and then they started taking their anger out by killing more and more of the “new” people
  • Pen Tip and his wife tried to frame Haing for stealing rice, but Haing got wind of it and was able to tell the authorities before they heard from Pen Tip
    • This saved Haing, but the Khmer Rouge didn’t do anything to Pen Tip
  • The Khmer Rouge leaders started to flee the area with stolen goods and whatever they could take on their trucks, and then everyone, “old” people, “new” people and the Khmer Rouge, were fleeing and looking for food
  • Quotes
    • Paranoia was everywhere. In our village, day or night, those who looked too pleased were taken away. One wrong word, one joyful glance, and Mao ordered executions of entire families. The soldiers were in a frenzy. To them it was our fault that the ‘enemy’ was coming.
      • Page 371

32. Liberation

  • Both the Khmer Rouge and the ‘new’ people were now revenge killing each other – the Khmer Rouge looking at the ‘new’ people as the reason for failure and the ‘new’ people for the obvious reasons
  • While fleeing Haing and his group find themselves between a North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge fire fight, in a rice field, and they slowly make it through after a few casualties
    • They are saved by the North Vietnames and a set of Cambodian soldier who were united under a man named Heng Samrin
  • The Vietnamese treat them rough at first, making sure they are not Khmer Rouge
    • This was 4 years to the day, April 17 1979, since Haing had been driven out of Phnom Penh
  • Quotes
    • We stayed on the lookout for opportunities, but there were none. We were patient and careful. As an old Cambodian saying puts it, the last wave sinks the boat. There was no sense in being careless when freedom was so near.
      • Page 378

33. Battambang

  • Haing and some of his surviving extended family members made their way to a city called Battambang, and the city was starting to come to life slowly
    • There were shops and trading and people praying in temples
  • Haing noticed that the North Vietnamese were also communist, like the Khmer Rouge, and decided that he needed to leave Cambodia
  • The governor of the city, after much trying due to Haing’s constant refusals, gets Haing to work in the hospital
    • Haing gets read to leave the city and on May 13/14, he heads out at night after his shift, heading towards the Thai border
    • He also takes a couple family members, and his niece Ngim, even though his brother was going to stay and wait for additional family members
  • Quotes
    • But I was skeptical about that too. It was hard to believe that one man, whoever he was, deserved all the blame for ruining the nation.
      • Page 391
    • Even more than the differences between the Vietnamese and Heng Samrin soldiers, the red flag told us everything we needed to know about the future of the outcry. One glance and my mind was made up. Time to leave, before the communists put me in prison again.
      • Page 395

34. The Danger Zone

  • On the road to the Thai border, Haing runs into a man he know, who invites him for food with his family – this is Cambodian tradition and he feels he has to (and it is a returning to old ways)
  • He then gets to the border town, meets up with his family, and they had to find a guide that would take them across the border
    • It is obvious that a lot of the guide options are people that won’t actually show up to take you across the border or that would just steal from you
    • They meet a guide that knew one of the family members previously, and Haing says he trust him 10%, which is more than the other guides trying to take his money
  • Crossing the border was terrible, armed Thai military would steal from them, rape them, kill them when they resisted 
    • The guides all eventually ran away
    • As they got close to the border, land mines started killing people
  • They finally arrive in Thailand at a border camp, exchange gold for Thai dollars, and then buy Pepsi, for the first time in four years

35. The Locket

  • Haing and his family members got lucky through some connections they had from back in Phnom Penh and were able to land on their feet somewhat, with clothes and money and connections
    • He made a locket to hold the picture he had of My Huoy
  • He was angry with Cambodia – with Sihanouk for having misled them about how great Cambodia is, with Lon Nol for letting corruption run rampant, with Pol Pot for the Khmer Rouge and the desolation of the country
    • The idea that Cambodia was the best and should be proud and independent had resulted in their destruction while Thailand had built roads and cities
  • Quotes
    • And it was true that my hair was in my eyes, my spiky beard was an inch long, and I didn’t want to lose face by meeting sstrangers looking that way. But the real reason was that I wanted to remain in my misery and punish myself for my failures.
      • Page 417

36. Saloth Sar

  • Pol Pot’s actual name was Saloth Sar, he was mixed race and from a fairly well-off background
    • He did poorly in school, but he did study in Paris and learn French / come into contact with the communist networks and associated ideas while there
  • Quotes
    • They were all intellectuals and city dwellers. And that is what is oddest about them, that they were bourgeois, well educated, mixed-race and urban. Fifteen years later these same people were the leaders of an anti-city, anti-intellectual, racist revolutionary movement. In those fifteen years they were totally transformed.
      • Page 427
    • They recruited dark-skinned mountain people, who had always been oppressed by lowlanders and who were happy to fight Phnom Penh. Life was hard and unglamorous. The mountain forests were infested with malaria and snakes. They never had enough to eat.
      • Page 428
    • But once the Khmer Rouge had that support, they began to take away the peasant’s rights in the ‘liberated’ zones. They put peasants in cooperatives with mass acreage to farm. They made them listen to long, boring propaganda speeches and made them give their property to Angka. And they took away for execution those who disagreed.
      • Page 429
    • At every level of the regime, cadre learned quickly that real results weren’t as important as praising Angka, appearing zealous and echoing the ‘correct line’.
      • Page 433
    • Pol Pot created enemies, and it is hard to say why. Perhaps he needed someone to blame when reality didn’t match his politics.  Or perhaps he created enemies to destroy, like a man who is truly paranoid. Eventually he created so many enemies that the regime started falling apart.
      • Page 435

37. Okay, Bye-Bye

  • Haing had learned some small English phrases in the jungle (met someone who could speak English), and he kept working at it and was a translator for a person helping with the U.S. efforts to help Cambodians in Thailand
    • His name was John Crowley, and Haing thought it was amazing that the white guy didn’t look down on him and even took an interest in learning Cambodia (he already spoke Thai)
  • They went to a hospital so that John could see what it was like, and Haing was upset because the hospital was full of Khmer Rouge refugees that were also now injuried and in need of medical help
  • Haing tried to get on the list to go to America, but he had trouble with a lady in charge of such processes
  • While going through this, he was working at the hospital, and he would room with a number of the westerners – the only Cambodia he knew of that was doing so
    • This helped with his English and he already spoke fluent French

38. To America

  • John Crowley eventually was able to help Haing, and he got on a plane, and landed in California
    • However, he was schedule to go into Ohio, so he did that despite not wanting to go
    • Once in Ohio, he bought a plane ticket back to Los Angeles with his own money as he had a cousin living in California

39. Starting Over

  • He started making money as a night time security guard, and then transitioned into a caseworker with the government helping others from Cambodia
    • He was able to get an apartment for Ngim and had a car now
  • About this time, the American public was starting to hear about Cambodia and there was a director wanting to do a movie on Cambodia
    • He went, after much urging from his friends and him not wanting to do it, to auditions – four or five rounds – and was told that he would be in the movie
  • They flew to Thailand to shoot the movie
    • He learned that he would be playing the lead Cambodia, Dith Pran

40. The Killing Fields

  • They did filming in Thailand and other places around the world
    • Haing was important to the film because he could tell things how they actually happened and on occasion augmented what was written about Dith Pran
  • He came to like Dith Pran, they were friends and many of the experiences were similar in their general emotions
  • Quotes
    • I saw it more simply. To me, when the little girl was ‘acting’ she became her real self. Whether she had been in the Khmer Rouge or not, hers was a soul I had seen many times before. She had little schooling or religion. Little to train her away from the worst trait of Cambodians. The little girl was kum-monuss (“person full of revenge”).
      • Page 483

41. Celebrity

  • He won an Oscar for the film, which brought him some fame and gave him the platform to start helping more in Cambodia

42. Kama

  • Haing was lucky to be alive, but he was not happy
    • He missed My Huoy, he missed Ngim who had left him, many Cambodians had died and those that were left had physical and psychological scars
  • He was now a spokesman for Cambodia, and he had to make some difficult decisions on who to support, given the factions sprouting in Cambodia following the North Vietnamese annexation of the country
    • The Vietnamese were more or less the same as the Khmer Rouge, killing, torturing, stealing and destroying
    • The Khmer Rouge had reorganized as anti-Vietnamese, and Haing supported them vocally given the need to first drive out Vietnam
  • It ends on a somber note – Haing is full of survivor guilt and a feeling of failure