Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Facing past demons

My aunt, Yen Pho, was only nine or ten years old when she was whisked away by the Communists to work on a farm for four years.  Because she was so young, she felt the experience more deeply than my other relatives.  She states that it still pains her to talk about it even after all these years.  With her, I've decided to conduct my interviews in bite-size pieces so she hopefully will not feel too overwhelmed with the memories of the Khmer Rouge regime.  To my surprise, she did not hold back and was open with her answers.

C: As a child, how did you react to the situation of being uprooted and separated from your family and doing grueling work?

Y: Of course I was traumatized.  I didn't know how to do anything so I had to do the scut work and the dirty work.  All the other kids did the same.  One time, I was asleep and a snake crawled on my body!  The lady next to me yelled, "AHH, A SNAKE!"  When I woke up, I saw the snake slither away.  It was poisonous but it didn't bite me.  I also lifted heavy things on my head until my head was almost permanently cocked to the side.  I went back and forth and back and forth with the heavy objects on my head.  When the sun was about to set, I would think about my mom and dad and brother and sisters.  My tears would roll down my cheeks.  I was only nine or ten.

C: How was growing up without a mother or father?

Y: No one took care of me.  If I had a problem, I had to deal with it alone.  I slept alone and cried alone, thinking of them and where they were and when would be the next time I see them.  I would cry by myself.

C: Who did you turn to for support?

Y: Everyone looked out for themselves.  You took care of yourself and you fed yourself.  I sometimes suffered from starvation but I became strong because of it.  If you were sick or if you died, they would throw you out.

C: What were some of the things you've seen at the refugee camp that were cruel or unjustly?

Y: There were mean people there but I distanced myself from them.  It was just me and your mom at the camp.  We went to school to learn Chinese.  Your great aunt would come and give us money.  Most of them were good people.  They went to school and want better lives.  Everyone wanted to get a good education to get out of here.

C: But you and Mom went to separate farms to work.

Y: Yes.  Everyone was together at the refugee camp.  It wasn't that bad.  We ate food and learned to read.

C: Did you see anything on the farm that was cruel and unjust?

Y: Yes, yes.  Once I rested at a tree, and I saw two people drag a man to kill him by hitting him on the head.  The little kids saw.  An older kid who was watching these kids told them, "Don't look!  Don't look!  This is none of your concern!"  We pretended to not see it, but we saw everything.  We saw them kill him and push him away.  Another time, I saw a little boy eat rice off the ground.  The Communists took him outside and killed him too.  They took him far away.  And we never saw him again.  Later on we saw his dead body in a ditch.  He was only picking rice off the ground that someone else spilled.  He just wanted to eat.  And they killed him.

C: What did they kill him with?

Y: A hammer.  Yes, a hammer.


Y: When I was younger, I remember these two kids starved.  They walked until they saw a guava tree. They were drooling at the sight because they could not eat it.  Underneath the tree were a bunch of dead bodies.  They wouldn't go near the tree but they were drooling so much.  They didn't have the nerve.  They walked to the canteen but there was no food left.  By then everyone was washing dishes.  The canteen operators asked where they came from.  The two kids said they came from work.  The canteen operators asked why they came so late.  The kids said they got lost.  There was nothing anyone could do because it was too late and there was no food left.  They didn't eat that night.  The next time they ate was noon the next day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Inside the New York (Troubled) Times

N.B. This blog post is about the documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times starring David Carr, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter, Bill Keller, and Tim Harango.

This past Friday afternoon, all of the first-year CreComm students walked from Red River College to Cinematheque to watch Page One, a movie about the transformation of the news industry from paper to pixels, and the direction that this industry is headed.

The movie was incredibly entertaining yet informative at the same time.  David Carr was no doubt the underdog in the movie, the character who had risen against all odds and came out on top.  Once a drug addict, he is currently a celebrated columnist for the New York Times as well as a single parent of two daughters.  He has come a long way, and we as viewers cheer for him.

In my opinion, I felt that the main message of the movie is that newspapers are becoming obsolete because there are now alternative means of getting the news.  Because a number of people are getting their news from Twitter feeds and online newspaper sites, newspaper companies are not a huge part of many people's lives and therefore are becoming bankrupt.  No money means no newspaper.

I love magazines.  I find there is almost nothing more relaxing than sitting on the couch, flipping through an issue of Chatelaine or Flare.  When I came to the CreComm Open House event last year, I asked one of the instructors about print media to which he responded, "Print media is becoming obsolete."  His reply broke my heart.  Surely he cannot mean that some day in the future paper will be nothing but a memory.  How can one compare the feeling of the pages between your fingers to the feeling of sliding your index finger across a screen?

Watching the New York Times journalists worry about the security of their jobs and the status of the newspaper as a whole was not reassuring to me as a Communications student.  The film showed some administration staff pack up and leave the office.  Several clips of the demise of some news industries, such as the Tribune, were shown.  The future looked bleak to me at that point.

However, there was a bit of a turning point near the end.  While the movie created an outlook that was grim in the beginning, the movie finished with a positive note.  "Journalism is alive and well and feisty, especially at the New York Times," said Bill Keller from the stairs of the New York Times' huge lobby.  This statement wielded uproarious applause and cheers from the staff.  They will be okay.  They will not go down without a fight.  They have been around for 160 years, and with their go-getting attitudes and unrelenting hard work, they may be around for 160 more.

Bill Keller's words gave me hope.  Maybe once I'm out in the field, journalism will not be the way it was back in the day.  Perhaps we will receive most of our news through a digital device and newspapers will be a thing of the past.  I wince at the very notion.

However, as long as the gathering, presenting, and telling of the news is "old school" - for lack of a better term - I think I would be okay with the transition.  True journalism, in my eyes, is about telling the truth, sharing a story, and informing the people.  Of course we should try our best to keep the newspaper alive, but we should never forget that fairness and balance prevail, whether on a piece of paper or on our computer screen.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Starvation, siblings, & a secret

My mother, Hue Pho, is typically a shy woman who is not used to talking about herself.  However, once I told her about this project, she was only too excited to share her experiences.  She insists on providing some of the background information about the Khmer Rouge regime before answering some of my questions, even though my father has already done so.  Regardless, this system works out because I ended up asking her questions based on what she has told me.  She also reveals some very interesting family history near the end.

N.B.: If you have questions about the Khmer Rouge regime or anything related to the subject matter that you would like to ask my family, please submit your question through the comment feature.  My family will answer your questions on the next blog entry.

H: On the morning of April 18, the Communists came into the capital city.  They said, "everyone go outside!"  My family didn't take much.  Only took a few things, a few clothes and pots.  Everyone was walking.  The Communists kept telling people to go outside.  We walked until the evening.  We slept on the ground.  We looked for water and wood and cooked rice.  After we made rice, we slept on the ground.  The next morning, we had to keep walking.  The Communists wouldn't let us stay in one spot.  We walked for ten days.  We saw dead people on the ground.  Know why?  They have no rice to eat.  They were sick and then they died.  We asked why people were dead.  The Communists said to ignore them.  They treated the dead people like dogs.  We walked until we saw a farm.  We were forced to work on the farms.  In my family there were six people.  I have two sisters and one brother.  The Communists sent me and my brother and sisters to go far away to different farms.  Your dad and I could not see each other.  We worked for four years.  We worked on the farm, waking up at early mornings.  At lunch we only ate corn and salt.  After that we worked until 4 or 5 and then they sent us back to the refugee camp where we would eat together.  We had corn and salt again.  No meat.  After four years, we were free.  We could go back to the capital city where I was reunited with your dad and my younger sister.  My mom, older sister, and brother were dead.

C: What kind of work did you do on the farm?

H: I planted rice and corn.  I chopped down trees.  I carried corn in pots on my head.

She demonstrated by grabbing a nearby box and putting it on her head.

C: You carried out the same job for four years?

H: Yes.

C: If you got tired and took a break, would the Communists punish you?

H: Yes!  You never got a break.  Even if you were sick, you still had to work.  There was no medicine.  When the Communists gave out food, the portions were small.  Everybody was so skinny.  You know why?  There was no rice to eat.  There was no medicine.  And we always had to work.

C: Why did you not see your siblings for four years?

H: I was sent to one farm while they were sent to other farms.  We didn't see each other for four years.

C:  They didn't allow you to see each other?

M:  It was forbidden.

C: Who told you that your parents, sister, and brother died?

H: I heard it from my friends, but I still don't know if it was true.  I never saw their deaths.

C: So they could still be alive somewhere in Cambodia?  Or do you know for sure that they are dead?

H: I don't know.  I never had the courage to look for them.

C: You don't want to look for them?

H: [chuckles] I want to look for them, but I don't know how to start.

I had always assumed that my maternal grandparents, aunt, and uncle were dead.  After speaking with my mother, I am definitely curious to find out if they are still alive.  Like my mother, I wouldn't know where to start with my search either.  What do you guys think I should do?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Twitter time!

DISCLAIMER: This entry is independent of my main blogging purpose.  This is a blog for my Public Relations class.

Like many others, I was hesitant about joining the Twitterverse.  I thought people who tweeted were self-absorbed narcissists who assumed that every mundane detail of their lives was important and therefore must be shared with the world.  I made fun of individuals who believed that what they had for lunch was of any interest to anyone.

Well, I am eating my own words now.

I do not consider myself an avid tweeter, having only released a little over 200 tweets since I've been a member. However, I have found my own ways of enjoying the website, including news consumption.

Months ago, I realized that as a future CreComm student, I would need to be incredibly up to date with the news.  I needed something that would provide the news from many sources on a single medium.  Then it hit me.  Twitter!

Twitter allows me to follow many news organizations at a time, so I can read the news from all sorts of sources on one medium.  Currently I am following @ctvwinnipeg, @globeandmail, @CBCNews, and more.

I believe Twitter is a useful tool for communicators because Twitter is evidently a form of communication.  In general, social networking sites are successful and well-established means of communication.  In the past, people communicated through speech, through the telephone, through radio, and through television.  Through the Internet, messages can be sent to and read by a wider audience.  On Twitter, people are able to say whatever they want (within 140 characters) and it will be read by an audience.  The Internet is likely the only place where a message can reach over millions of people.  It is powerful in that sense, but it is also dangerous.  Once you click "send", it belongs to the Internet.  It is a form of communication that must be used carefully and wisely.  Tweet responsibly.  This last part mostly goes out to my fellow CreCommers, because we know that our instructors are watching our every virtual move. . . .

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The first day

My father, Buu Chan, sits with me at our kitchen table.  He appears calm, cool, and collected, despite the gory nature of the story to be told.

N.B. #1: My father speaks relatively good English, but I have edited some parts of the interview for easy readability.  I want to retain the charm and authenticity of my father's words.
N.B. #2: I will be editing following stories in the same manner.

C: Tell me about your personal experience.  What is the earliest thing you remember?

B: After the Vietnam war going on from 1970 to 1975 . . . the gun and the bombs came to an end on April 17, 1975.  The city became quiet.  Everybody believed that peace finally came to the country.  In the evening, the nightmare began.

C: What happened?

B: The Khmer Rouge don't have any idea about running the country.  They just believed in turning everybody - about 7 million people in Cambodia - into farmers.  I don't know where they got that dumb idea from.  No one was allowed to live in the city.  Everyone had to leave their house in the city.  They chased everyone out of the city and made them walk.  Can you imagine Phnom Penh's population of about 1 million or 2 million people walking?  They walked in all directions.  Some families had old and sick people, some families had babies.  From my experience, me and my brother had to carry my grandfather who was seriously ill and couldn't walk.  We had to carry him and walk.  We didn't know where we were going.  We just followed the people.  We didn't know what will happen.  We didn't know where we will end up.  We just walked.

C: How old were you?

B: About 20.  No, no, no.  25 years old.

C: How about your parents?

B: Grandpa was 55.  Grandma was about 49.

C:  You are one of the eldest of your brothers in your family.  How did the younger brothers react?

B: When the soldiers came to our house, we had to leave the house immediately.  We didn't have a chance to bring food or clothes.  So we just left.  It happened so unexpectedly.  We didn't have time to think.  Some people hesitated or they wasted too much time.  So many people didn't want to leave the house and they were shot to death.  We left the house without bringing enough things, without bringing anything.  We just ran for life and left everything behind.

C: So that was the first day of the regime?

B: Mm-hmm.

C: How long did you walk for?

B: The city seemed like a dead city.  No traffic, nothing.  Just people walking on the road.  Some were yelling, some were crying, some were looking for family members that were lost in the big crowd.  We just walked without knowing where we were going.

C: When did you rest?

B: We walked slowly for a day.  At night, we just simply used anything possible to make shelter.  We used some blankets, some towels, anything.  And then some people slept on the road without any shelter.  The heat on the road, because the road was still hot, we had to sleep on it.  And it felt like we were living in hell.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Humble beginnings

Hello!  Welcome to my blog.  I have created this weblog to share my family's stories of the horrific and tragic Cambodian genocide, also known as the Khmer Rouge regime, from 1975 to 1979.  My family is originally of Chinese descent, but many of them were born and raised in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Surprisingly not a lot of people know about the Khmer Rouge regime, including myself.  The purpose of this blog is to inform and educate you and me about the genocide from several survivors' perspectives.

I have chosen to dedicate my blog to telling stories about the Khmer Rouge regime because I love learning about other people.  I have an innate curiosity about the origins of people.  I also want to use this blog to celebrate what my family has been through.  The fact that they have survived four years of violence, cruelty, and injustice makes me realize how utterly awesome they are.  I am so proud of them, and I hope you will be too.

I intend to conduct interviews with the members of my family, asking them about certain things that have happened during the genocide.

However, I think it would be best for both you and me to read about the Khmer Rouge regime to fully understand the stories.  For a condensed overview of the history of the genocide, click here.

Now that you know a little bit more about the Khmer Rouge regime, my family will be telling you about their personal experiences of the genocide from this point forward.  The stories may be graphic, emotional, and hard to read about.  There will be stories of sadness and perhaps even stories of joy.  Most importantly, each story will be an inspirational tale of perseverance, determination, and looking to a better future.