Dream or Reality







Sidney L. Liang


Sometime a glimpse of a shadow comes over me in the form of a grandmother, but I do not know who she is. Waking up in the middle of the night, feeling the presence of others all around, who then vanish into the night. Walking through life toward the future, but shaken by the eerie feelings of unknown attachments from the past.


Currently I reside in Massachusetts. My birth name is Leap; my father’s name was Liang and my mother’s Pak. I was born into a family of farmers in Phoum Tatok, Srok Mong Russey, Battambang province in 1970. Unfortunately, I have no clear recollection of the years before 1975. Everything is mixed with sadness, like lightening flashes during a hurricane and swept by twisters up and down, which can only be compared to a roller coaster ride.


Having been forced to be an adult at the age of nine was extremely difficult. Basically, I tried to find food for my family as best I could. I was good at frog-fishing and catching frogs in the dry season. I remember there was a time when I caught a big frog in a private pond and the owner of the pond started chasing me, as did the other villagers. On my way home, a neighbor approached me and said, “my husband is starving, needs food, can I have one of your frogs?” I said yes, and gave her the smaller frog that I had caught that day. She refused and wanted the bigger frog; I felt saddened by her situation and finally gave her that frog. She and her husband survived the regime and are currently living in Virginia.


I am glad I still have some of these good memories. There were times when, with my eyes closed, I could hear footsteps next to my house dragging victims with their mouths covered, unable to make any sounds other than those of struggling for life. Over the thick darkness of the rice fields I could hear the sounds pos pos then oye, then quiet. Was this the sound of beating people to death? I did not know, but people seemed to disappear from my village of Ro Luos. I was scared. In addition, every night there were sounds of wolves crying all over the village. The sounds stopped as daylight covered the earth. There was not much comfort. I only saw my parents once in a while, because they had to work.


They placed me with a group of kids of about the same age (six or seven years old) and only allowed us to see our parents once a month. We could not show any emotion at all. No one could cry, laugh, or become excited about seeing or leaving their parents. Every day a leader would bring us to work to collect cow manure and water plants at the farm. Our regular workday started around 6:30 a.m., and we returned at 7 p.m., but were not allowed to sleep until we attended the regular scheduled meeting, which lasted until around 9 p.m. Some people called this “the brain washing session.”


Walking by, holding hands, parents are talking to their kids and teaching them ways of life, as life should be. I am so sad because I do not remember my dad’s face, what he was about, or who he was. On top of not knowing and unable to remember, the only memory I have of him is the sight of a white sheet covering his body. It is unfortunate, but it is the only memory I have.

The morning was unusually cold in November 1976. I can see smoke from the fire and the fog of the morning mist. My five-month-old sister was crying. My mom was very busy, and the marks of tears scarred her face. She looked very tired. I did not understand and was lost in the commotion. My dad was dead; his body was laid in front of the house for people to pay respect and was lying there the entire day. People came and went, unable to stay long for fear of violating the curfew forced on them by the Khmer Rogue.


Things were quiet toward the end of the day, people were returning to their homes. As the sun set, so did another chapter for my family and my life. Dust from the sun set onto our village, as my older brother gasped for air. Why? As night fell, it consumed my brother’s breath. The muscles in his body knotted and hardened. He died that some evening. I did not understand why he died, but I knew that by the end of that cold November day, I saw two bodies covered in white sheets and then never saw them again. My father died in the morning and my brother died in the evening. I was alone taking care of my mom and younger sister. Life is sometimes cruel and unfair.


After that day, I was not scared of death. I remember there was a time my mom asked me to wake up my grandmother for dinner. When I got to her, I noticed a smell that I had known. I was unable to wake my grandmother because she died in her sleep. She had been dead for almost one day. I had no feeling, but sat next to her for a moment.


Even though we were farmers, some of my uncles were educated in Cambodian temples, France, and other foreign countries. One of my uncles, Pu Tok, was well educated in Khmer and French. One day people in black clothes came to his house and told him to be ready to be picked up to study abroad. As they were leaving, one comrade uttered to my aunt, “You can look at him now...this is the last time you are seeing him.” He never returned home to his daughter and wife. About a month later, a villager told my aunt that he saw Pu Tok hung from a tree. Months later his wife was taken too. To this day I don’t know what happen to their daughter; she was alone.


I remember these incidents clearly; I cannot shake them from my mind. Sometime it was so painful that out of frustration, I hid myself alone and cried. Sometimes, I see places, events, and times, but am unsure of what they were. Were they just dreams or realities? I cannot talk to my mom; I’m afraid it might make her pain and suffering return. Last year (2000) during an interview, I found out my mom lost 17 relatives during the Khmer Rouge era. She has been keeping this suffering and heartbreak to herself for over twenty years. Sounds of firecrackers, tire explosions, or people banging scare her and bring back many memories. My mom and I are American citizens, but won’t be able to celebrate the 4th of July [Independence Day] like everyone else.


My mom is the strongest woman I have known. She took care of both of us through the worst and cruelest of times. Relying on faith, we struggled, walking at night and sleeping during the day on our way across Cambodia to Thailand. We saw people killed by land mines, starvation, and exhaustion along the way. Through her strong will and determination, we went to Khao I Dang camp, where our new lives began. I am sad and angry. I was deprived of my youth and childhood experiences, and was basically put on a journey of uncertainty. I am not the only one who has had these life changing events. The leaders of these times should be held accountable to all my relatives, my countrymen, and my home.

No one’s life is more precious than another’s!








Documentation Center of Cambodia

Ten Years of Independently Searching for the Truth: 1997-2007


DC-Cam ® 66 Preah Sihanouk Blvd. ® P.O. Box 1110 ® Phnom Penh ® Cambodia

Tel: (855-23) 211-875 ® Fax: (855-23) 210-358 ® Email: dccam@online.com.kh ® www.dccam.org