Siny discusses his experiences living under the Khmer Rouge regime, the grudge he bore towards his oppressors, and how he found the ability to forgive them later through Buddhist teachings.
Born in 1955 in Tor Tea Village, Cambodia, Siny began working in the musical troupe in the armed forces before the Khmer Rouge took power. His unit performed music at battalion parties; and as such, he never gained any combat experience in spite of being a soldier. When Khmer Rouge forces entered his village one night in 1975, his family evacuated, while he remained behind to watch over his house. He eventually followed his parents after being encouraged to evacuate by his fiancee. They had bought pigs in anticipation of his upcoming wedding reception, but Siny decided to slaughter and consume the pork, as he foresaw that the regime would confiscate civilian resources and outlaw currency.
After the Khmer Rouge took power, Siny and his family were repeatedly relocated to various places, some as far as 14km from their original home. They were separated and assigned to different localities. He was held in a monastery. Khmer Rouge authorities checked the educational and professional backgrounds of all residents, who were advised to downplay their qualification to avoid the risk of being sent for re-education, which was effectively a death sentence. Siny did not hide that he worked for the previous regime’s military, but was not killed as he was merely a singer. Instead, he was assigned to perform music, as he had done previously, in the authorities’ parties. He recognized many of the individuals at these parties as former commanders of the government forces, who were put to death after the parties. He understood that they were false celebrations meant to emphasize the Khmer Rouge’s triumph over the now-defeated government army.
Siny and his family were later helped by a peasant leader who helped him stay together with his family, and allowed them to live on the ground floor of his two storey house. They lived in a collective and were assigned to different work teams. He was tasked to help build dams in the dry season, and plant rice in the rainy season. Another key assignment he received was to climb palm trees to extract their juice to be processed into palm sugar. He was very proficient at this, which earned the envy of his team leader. After work, laborers were served lunch and dinner at the communal kitchen, but a meager serving of 20 milk tins of rice had to be shared between 100 people, leaving each individual underfed. Siny had to supplement his nourishment using edible leaves, and once suffered gastrointestinal symptoms when he failed to boil them before consumption. He was treated with herbal medicine at the nearby healthcare center.
However, he also observed the Khmer Rouge authorities’ brutality at worksites, when a colleague was shot dead for gathering leaves to make cigarettes. While he did not witness any torture, he did find corpses in pits at an area near his monastery, where he was gardening. Though he himself avoided suffering such harsh punishment; and even befriended a guard who helped him get extra food and avoid re-education, he felt wronged by the regime as he was not informed of his mother’s passing while at work. He only found out when a colleague who returned to his hometown informed him upon his return. Further, they were not allowed to hold religious ceremonies for her death under the regime. He also lost his brother, who was killed by the authorities when he was sent for re-education.
When the Khmer Rouge was toppled in 1979, Siny walked back to his village with his brother-in-law, searching for his family. They took chickens from the former communal kitchen and spent the night at a dam to avoid fleeing Khmer Rouge soldiers. He eventually reunited with his siblings. In light of all the suffering he had been put through by the regime, Siny felt very angry and hateful towards the Khmer Rouge. He even considered killing the soldiers they met along the way. However, he restrained himself, recalling Buddhist teachings of not reciprocating injustices with further hatred. This eventually helped him find peace with his past, and he recalls an occasion when a kitchen chief who had falsely accused him of theft knelt before him in repentance, whom he forgave.
He still attends commemorations on May 20th, the Day of Anger in Cambodia, and hopes that younger generations will continue to learn about their nation’s dark history; telling his children that they live better lives than he did under the regime. He still feels, however, that the Khmer Rouge was not adequately trialed as most leaders were old and close to their deaths, but does not know how reparations could have been better arranged.
Mr. Siny, Svay Rieng Province
Q: How old are you?
A: I’m now 65.
Q: What’s the name of this village? A: Tor tea village.
Q: Oh I see. The area in front of a nearby monastery is also part of Tor tea village.
A: Yes, Tor Tea village covers a road near a monastery you mentioned actually. To the west, it is Chambak village, while to the east it is Tor Tea village.
Q: How long have you been living in this village? A: More than 10 years. Before, I lived just along a road at the eastern part of this village. I had more family members with time, but my residential compound was too small. Therefore, I decided to give it to my children, and moved to this current place. My previous house was convenient for my children to run a household business; they are young.
Q: Before Khmer Rouge came to power, where did you live? A: Before 1975, I lived in Tor Tea village, but not exactly this place. My house was located just along the road, which is not far from here.
Q: What was your job before the Khmer Rouge period? A: I was a soldier. Despite being a soldier, I had never been sent to a battlefield at all since I worked in a troupe regiment. At the time, there was only one troupe across Svay Rieng province. Whenever there was a party at any battalions, my troupe perform the music. We created a joyful environment for the senior officials, so they assigned us this work. Q: What was your specific role in the troupe then? A: I was a singer actually.
Q: Lucky me! I’m meeting with you, the experienced singer. What kind of songs did you sing?
A: I sang oldie songs. For example, songs sung by Sin Sisamuth. Younger generation songs are not my favorite.
Q: Do you keep singing these days? A: When there was a party, I liked singing sometimes. However, I no longer sing after quitting drinking alcohol or beer. I felt bored with singing actually. Younger generation songs are not my taste at all while I still like the oldies.
Q: If you remember, can you tell me what happened when Khmer Rouge took over your area? A: The night before the Khmer Rouge took over this area, villagers, including my parents had fled to other parts of Tor Tea village for safety. I did not go with them because I was young. I wanted to stay at home, so that I could look after our house. Midnight came. I remember I just got engaged with my fiancée. She told me to leave home and stay with my parents. She said that liberation troops (Khmer Rouge) were coming. I eventually left home and went to the place to which my parents fled. My wedding was just around the corner. Pigs were already bought for the wedding reception. I met my parents and told them about the deteriorating situation because they did not know what was happening. I told my older brother to slaughter the pigs to prepare foods. If we did not cook them, the Khmer Rouge would definitely slaughter and cook them. In the early morning, I was shocked to see many troops in our village.
Q: Do you mean Khmer Rouge troops? A: Yes, I do. We decided to leave our village again. We just walked along the road northward. My fiancé’s parents had bought 3 pigs and kept them tied just in front of their house. They were kept for my coming wedding party. I told them “You may have known of the situation in the evening. Why do you still keep the pigs? Just get them slaughtered”. I slaughtered all of them and my older brother in-law to be wanted to sell pork from those slaughtered pigs. However, I told him not to sell them because the Khmer Rouge would ban currency. So he decided not to sell pork. Then, we were further evacuated from our house to Lngoenmonastery.
Q: Is it far? A: Yes, it is very far. It is in Don Sar. Q: How far is it from here? A: It is around 14km. All people including my families were forced to leave their houses and move to Lngoen monastery on foot. Upon arriving at the monastery, to my surprise, I spotted loads of commanders in chief whom I had known.
Q: Did you know them? A: Yes, of course. In each party I performed music, I knew a lot of commanders in chief. They looked very sad. That night, there was a party for them. Few kinds of food were served. After the party, all of them were taken away. Later on, I realized that they were killed in a cassava plantation close to another monastery named Sondot. I knew all of them who were commanders in chief. They are Samoun, Peng Kong, Im Saeng, Om Reth, Mel Born. Mel Born was a commander in chief of my troupe.
Q: How many of them were killed? A: Around 10 people.
Q: Why was the party celebrated? What was the purpose? A: I think the party was to commemorate the victory of Khmer Rouge. The party was to show their joy and enthusiasm to those commanders in chief. Nevertheless, it was a fake celebration. Khmer Rouge killed all of them. The morning came and Khmer Rouge asked us about our previous jobs. They asked about our ranks and position in the previous regime. They asked me what my job my position, and ranking was. They told us that they will give us jobs which match our previous work experience.
Q: So what did you say? A: They asked me a lot of questions. My mother in-law at the time told me not to tell the truth. I told her that I clearly knew the real situation. They asked me about my past work before the Khmer Rouge regime. I told them that I did nothing except performing music. Then, they let me go while the rest were taken away. I knew a man living in Don Sor who was generally called as base people. He helped me and my whole family, allowing us to live with him while my fianceé and her family were evacuated to Boeng Krek, which was farther than Lngoen monastery.
Q: Were they forced to live in a collective?
A: Yes, they were forced to live in a collective as though they were refugees.
Q: Didn’t you go with them? A: No, I did not. I stayed with the man I had known previously.
Q: Did you stay with him along with your parents? A: Yes, I did. Q: Did you live in a house or what? A: We stayed in a two-storey house. The house owner called base people stayed on the second floor while my parents and I stayed on the first floor. The house owner and I are like brothers.
Q: Under Khmer Rouge’s reign of 3 years 8 months and 20 days, were you forced to do any farming?
A: After being evacuated from home for around half month, I was allowed to go back to my village near Chek monastery. However, I was not allowed to stay in my previous house. I stayed in a house just beside the monastery. After few days, my neighbor Mr. Roun and I were told to get education. I and Mr. Roun were brought to get educated. Upon reaching the juncture of Chengmeng, we were separated. I was sent to Svay Prohout while Mr. Roun was sent to Rokar monastery. I was assigned to repair dams in Spean Tram which is to the west of Svay Chrum. Now, it is a military fortress. I built a dam over there.
Q: So early morning, you set off to work?
A: Yes. It is around 5km from Svay Prohout monastery.
Q: Were there many people? A: Yes, there were many people. We walked in 2 queues overseen by 4 security officers.
A: If we had walked off the line, we would have been shot dead. They were equipped with rifles. After the project was finished, I was assigned to renovate the road at Svay Chrum. Once, all of us finished our work in the late afternoon and were allowed to go back to the monastery. Seeing a good Cherng Chab leaf, one of our comrades picked it. Immediately, he was shot dead, as cruelly as dying chickens. We witnessed the killing but I could not do anything at that moment. If we had dared to help, we would have been killed.
Q: So you pretended that nothing had happened, right? A: If we had dared to help, we would have been killed.
Q: But you actually wanted to help him. Did you?
A: Actually, I really wanted to help him. We were close colleagues, working together, sharing our accommodation. I knew that he picked Cherng Chab leaves because he wanted to use it and other plant leaves as a mixture to make cigarettes. For me, I was single and I did not smoke.
Q: At the time, was smoking allowed? A: No, smoking was not allowed. When working, it was not possible to smoke. However, we can secretly smoke, using particular plant leaves as a cigarette when allowed to urinate. We must walk in line, from home to work place and vice versa. We would have been killed if we had walked off the line.
Q: What time did you start working usually? A: I left the monastery at around 6AM and arrived at the workplace at over 7AM. It was very far and we had to walk in line. We could not walk fast.
Q: What time did you stop working in the evening? A: Around 5PM, I stopped working and returned to my sleeping place at the monastery. I arrived there around 6:30PM. That was the usual time we had dinner.
Q: Did you get sufficient food? A: Not at all. I got only a mini bowl of cooked rice per meal. 20 milk tins of rice were cooked for up to around 100 people. It was like nothing.
Q: Were stew or soup served?
A: It was cassava leaf stew. I picked cassava leaves from the upper part of the tree and then I was blamed by Khmer Rouge. He asked me why I picked the cassava leaf from the upper branch of the cassava tree. He said I should have picked them from the lower part of it as those at the lower part had turned reddish because they are already old. I stewed them with salt and little palm sugar. Our foods were not nutritious at all.
Q: Did you have a collective meal normally? A: We had meal in a group of 10. Each of us was given a small bowl of cooked rice along with a shared small pot of stew. That was it. We could not ask for more food although we were still hungry.
Q: How was your accommodation?
A: We slept in a monastery. Up to 200 people slept in a packed room inside the monastery. Diseases spread amongst us, especially louse which made our skin itchy.
Q: What did medical treatment look like when people got sick? A: There were medical staff providing healthcare services. In the mornings, we can see them around. We just told the security forces that we got sick and then they reported to the medical staff. Afterward, the medical staff gave us medicine. Q: Had you ever been sick at the time? A: Throughout a ten-month training I attended, I did not get sick at all. However, after the training, I was very hungry for meliaceae leaves. I did not manage to dip them into hot water in order to remove their bitter taste. I ate them raw with salty water. After eating, I was fine both at night and in the morning. I built a dam near Sondot monastery. At around 9AM, I had diarrhea three times in a short while. Soon after that I experienced hearing loss because I was too exhausted. I tried to balance myself, using dongrek(wooden stick used to carry heavy things) to prevent myself from collapsing. I stood near Saroth, a good-hearted security guard. He liked to chit chat with me sometimes. He asked me “Comrade Ny, what’s wrong with you?” I told him “Comrade, I have had diarrhea more than ten times now. I am very dizzy now”. Then, he asked someone to come over to help me. Finally, with the assistance I arrived at Sondot monastery on foot. I just laid down there. Immediately, another security guard named Saen asked me “What happened?” I told him “I had acute diarrhea”. Then, he told someone to find skin of sala tree and soil of termite hill for my treatment. One of the men went to get it and boiled it. I drank the boiled herbal medicine from a vessel made of coconut and then I had no more diarrhea. Soon after I recovered, I got to work again.
Q: How about your family? A: You mean my family? We were not allowed to meet with our family at all.
Q: For 10 months you were not allowed to meet them? A: Not at all. My mother had passed away, but I did not know of that. She passed away under the Khmer Rouge regime while my father was sent for education. My older brother was sent for education as well a few days after liberation (Khmer Rouge). However, he never returned.
Q: So, you did not even know about your mother’s condition? A: I was sent to work near Boeng Rai monastery when my mother passed away. It was to the north of Krol Kor.
Q: And then how did you learn of your mother’s passing? A: While I was working near Boeng Rai, I happened to meet a man who just visited his family in Thlork commune with his mother. He saw me and told me “Siny, your mother passed away.” That was what I got. He dared to tell me because the security guard was far away from us. Q: How did you feel? A: Extremely sad. I couldn’t do anything but consoled myself. If I had gone against the Khmer Rouge, I would have been killed. At night, I thought of my mother and I felt so sad. I shed tears.
Q: Didn’t you dare to ask them to organize a funeral ceremony at your mother’s house? A: My mother body was not buried properly. Her body was not treated well, as though she was a dog. My father and my siblings were all sent for education.
Q: When was it? A: It was in 1976, when my mother passed away. Q: Have you ever witnessed a torture or killing by Khmer Rouge? A: I have never witnessed a torture nor a killing. However, I have seen corpses in the pits. They smelled very bad. I worked at Sondot monastery in a group of only two. I planted vegetables. Q: What kind of vegetables? A: Many kinds of vegetables including spinach. All harvested vegetables were cooked for us. In the morning around 10AM, I went to pick peppers and saw many corpses in many different pits near a lake. When I came back, the security guards told me not go to there again. He liked me because I worked diligently. I did whatever task assigned. I even climbed palm trees or coconut trees. I was not lazy. Q: Had you known him before the Khmer Rouge regime?
A: No, we had never known each other before. He liked me. He had asked me to climb palm trees to pick palm fruits. He wanted to cook palm fruit cake. He asked me to climb coconut trees at the village. He told me to ask permission from the villagers first and then pick the coconust. I never ran away. I told myself that I will “run to nowhere”.
Q: So he told you not to go back to where you saw corpses, right?
A: Yes, that was right. Q: In 1979, do you remember any outstanding events before the liberation?
A: The situation was chaotic. Mr. Ith who was a deputy village chief of Chek commune sent me for education for a week. At the time, I was in charge of the palm tree sector. He told me to be cautious. I asked him what happened. He told me that “In fact, sending you to get education is just an excuse. Khmer Rouge wanted you to dig pits.” I asked him “where is it?” At Bak Nam near Boeng Rai monastery, he told me. I asked him, what for? He said, the pits will be used to bury you -the 17th April people. He also told this to other people that he knew closely. Then, people decided to move to Vietnam to escape the planned killing about which they were told.
Q: Was it in early 1979?
A: Yes, that is right. It was before the liberation. Actually, many villagers had passed Khmer Rouge frontline forces but there were kids crying out loud. Then, Khmer Rouge forces noticed that the villagers were fleeing the villages. Some of them were stopped.
Q: Was it at night? A: Yes, it was at night. Mr. Phalla successfully fled to Vietnam and became a soldier there. Liberation front was formed there and he then came to liberate us. However, those who fled Svay Rieng to Vietnam were not sent to liberate us in Svay Rieng but in Kratie province. If they had been sent to Svay Rieng, they would have killed those who had hurt them before. Therefore, they were sent to Kratie province.
Q: You mean those fled Svay Rieng province to Vietnam territory and then became soldiers there were not sent to fight against Khmer Rouge in Svay Rieng province but in Kratie province, right? A: Yes, you are right. After this movement, Angkar postponed its plans of sending people for education. Around 5-6 days later, Svay Rieng was liberated. In the afternoon, a day before the liberation, villagers were asked to move westwards. I was taking palm juice on a palm tree when a head of collective yelled to me “Comrade, leave your wok now! Vietnamese troops have made it to Tahor.” I told him that I would just finish it soon otherwise it would be a waste. “Vietnamese troops would not take over our place soon”. Actually, I really wished for the arrival of Vietnamese troops in my place as soon as possible. That was what I really thought of. At night, my brother in-law came to me and asked me to accompany him to meet his wife. He missed his wife badly. I told him to wait while I took chickens from collective dining hall. We left the village, carrying chickens. We could not meet my family but met a man who got lost. He asked me where he should go. I told him to go where ever possible to escape Khmer Rouge. I saw him carrying a plastic bag and I asked him what he is carrying. He said he was carrying a bag of buffalo meat. It was cooked buffalo meat. We kept walking until we arrived at a dam to the south of Svay Prohout monastery. We did not settle right there. We stayed in the rice field somewhere near the dam, so that we were not easily spotted. Three of us slept there. In the early morning around 4, Khmer Rouge forces were severely attacked, dispersed and scarpered. They almost ran over us sleeping. Then, we woke up. They told us to move forward. Vietnamese forces had arrived at the banyan tree at the juncture. I told them to go ahead because I was looking for my family. Then, I and my sibling went off along the dam westward. On the way, we met a Khmer Rouge soldier riding an ox cart fully loaded with firearms. He was going to Krol Kor. I talked to my siblings, thinking of taking a firearm and shooting him dead, but my brother told me not to do so. We let him go. He looked very frightened. We kept moving westward. In the early morning when we could recognize people clearly, Vietnamese forces fired at us and other civilians from south of Krol Kor market, preventing us from further moving westwards. Afterwards, I decided to stop by at a collective near Por Satharam a new monastery near Boeng Rai road. We took prohok and cooked rice in the kitchen there for our next meal. At around 8 in the morning, I climbed a palm tree to get its juice and then I saw many Vietnamese forces at the east. I got down from the palm tree. I just did nothing but stood and starred at them coming. One of them waved me forward. My mother-in-law told me not go to close to him because she was afraid that I would be hurt. I told my mother that “If they want to hurt us, why have they come to liberate us?” Then, I approached him. He gave me a brochure of the liberation front which featured Mr. Pen Sovann. He asked me, do you understand?” “Yes, I do”, I replied. He said if you do, just take some rice and go back home. My sibling looked scared. I walked to them and told them that “He told us to back home and get some rice”. So we decided to return home while Vietnamese forces went off westwards.
Q: You have been through very hard times in your life. It is very saddening. Apart from losing your mother, did you lose other family member or relative? A: I lost my mother and my older brother while many other who are my relatives were killed at the time.
Q: Do you hate Khmer Rouge?
A: Yes, I do of course, but I can’t do anything. I am really angry with them, especially when I met them after the liberation day. I met them and I thought of killing them out of revenge. However, my mother-in-law told me that “Son, if the bloodsucker bites you, never bite it back in revenge.” I followed what she said.
Q: So after the liberation in 1979, you saw some former Khmer Rouge officials, right? A: Yes, I met a lot of them. For example, the father of Mr. Vong who is a layman. He hurt me during Khmer Rouge time. I met him after the liberation, and he knelt down before me to ask for forgiveness. He was a former head of the kitchen. Q: What did he say while kneeling down before you? A: He said nothing except shedding tears. I did want to kill him, but I felt pity for him when he knelt before me and shed tears. I followed my mother-in-law’s advice. I had a gun. There were firearms almost everywhere. In this monastery, there were many firearms and bullets left behind by armed forces. Actually, I took a bag of bullets.
Q: So you applied the Buddhist teaching “hatred cannot be ceased by hatred”, didn’t you? A: Yes, I did. My mother is a devout Buddhist. During the Khmer Rouge regime, the Khmer Rouge hurt her, but she just shed tears. Like me, I was assigned to safeguard the kitchen and I arrived at the kitchen a bit late. Then, I heard a sound in the kitchen.
Q: What was the sound like? A: It’s like someone was searching for something inside. I entered the kitchen to check what was there. Then, Khmer Rouge accused me of looting. I got punished. I had to carry soil near the kitchen for a week. I was forced to sleep there.
Q: Usually, which work brigade did you belong to? A: In rainy season, I grew rice, and climbed palm trees to get their juice in dry season. For instance, October is very busy and I had taken some palm juice.
Q: Was there a work target? A: Yes, there was a work target. Each of us had to climb at least 15 palm trees to get juice. Palm juice was cooked until it turned into sugar. I climbed only 8 palm trees.
Q: Why only 8 palm trees?
A: My group leader got envious of me and reported my case. I was called for a meeting at night. I told him that “You just wait and check my palm juice tomorrow morning.” The morning came. I went to see his palm juice that was taken from 15 palm trees. He could not get a cauldron of palm juice while I climbed only 8 palm trees and got more than a cauldron of palm juice. Then, a head of the kitchen told the man that “if you can’t do your task well, don’t envy the others”. I was good at extracting juice from palm trees. I can easily tell which palm tree has more juice when I climbed it. He was not able to do such thing. Actually, if he asked for my help, I would help him. However, he was arrogant and tried to show that he was good at palm tree work. There were 8 men who were in charge of the palm tree sector. Amongst 8, 2 were base people. Base people were good at climbing palm trees, but they were not good at extracting palm tree juice.
Q: After 1979, have you ever been reminded of this past? A: I still remember it.
Q: How do you feel when you recalled it? A: When recalling about Khmer Rouge, my thoughts go to my mother and my older brother who passed away. If they were alive, we could have lived together with happiness. We would have enjoyed making merit together. Actually, nowadays I organize rituals or religious ceremonies. However, they are not with us.
On Pchum Ben and New Year days, do you usually go to the monastery? A: I actually always come to the monastery. Q: Are you a layman? A: No, I am not. I was just an ordinary man. I help the monastery, performing whatever work is assigned. I cooked food for the monastery.
Q: How long have you been helping the monastery? A: For a long time since my father was a Buddhist monk. He was Svay Chrum district’s head of monks.
Q: So you remember them and dedicate your good deeds and merit to them religiously, right? A: Yes, you are right. I write down their names on the note, including those whom I had known.
Q: When applying Buddhist teachings to deal with it do you feel better? A: Yes, using Buddhist teaching (Dhmma) makes me fresh minded. No complications.
Q: Do you think Khmer Rouge happened because of karma? A: Yes, it had happened already. We have to accept the fact. We cannot avoid it. Karma determined it. People who were killed maybe they did bad deeds while those who survive maybe did good deeds.
Q: Do you want justice to be done? A: I want justice to be done, but I don’t know how to get it done. Q: Can you tell me more how you want justice to be done? What should be done? What do you think about Khmer Rouge tribunal? A: Personally, I think the tribunal’s judgment is very simple. Q: What do you mean by that? A: They tried only those who are very old and would die soon. They did not try many other Khmer Rouge membwea. For instance, Khmiev Samphon and Noun Chea would not live longer any more. They are too weak and old to walk themselves. They would die soon. There is no point in trying them.
Q: Do you feel scared when remembering the past? A: In the past, I was not scared. What I have been through makes me understand the situation. We were under their control. Our deaths could occur any time. I was not scared. I would not have been shocked if I had been taken away at night. If I got sick, I would have been worried about when I will get better. But I was not sick, so we were not scared.
Q: Now, we talk about the present. You recall the bitter past. Do you think it was a cruel act?
A: Their act was extremely brutal. They killed children, hitting them against the trees. For instance, at the place I slept at, Borng Rai, the wall was stained with blood and I believe Khmer Rouge hit children against the wall.
Q: Was it the wall of a school room? A: No. It was a wall in the monastery.
Q: Oh… so you saw many bloodstains on the wall, right? A: Yes, many bloodstains on the wall. I was sent there for education.
Q: So far, have you ever joined any Khmer Rouge related event? A: Nothing. However, I used to join the Anger Day of 20 May. Many years ago, it was often commemorated. Most of the time, I recited the poem in the ceremony. People burst out crying because they remember their hard times in the past. Q: Where was it held? A: At Chek monastery.
Q: Was there any authority’s involvement in this commemoration?
A: Yes, they helped organize this commemoration. Before there were skulls and bones at the monastery but after that they were relocated to Wat Lor village.
Q: Where is it? A: It is near Chumpou Preksa pagoda. The name is Wat Lor monastery or Monisela monastery.
Q: So bones and skulls here were relocated, right? A: I am not sure but at Wat Lor, there were many bones and skulls which were collected from other places. Q: Oh, I think I used to go there once.
A: I also often join the commemoration there, but I did not recite the poem at all. However, I always do so at the commemoration of 20 May at our commune.
Q: Now, is there still such a commemoration? A: No more commemoration at Chek commune.
Q: Have you been interviewed about the Khmer Rouge before? A: Never. It is my first time to be interviewed.
Q: Have you ever had nightmares about your life under the Khmer Rouge? A: Never. In my view, it depends on our health condition. If we do not feel well, we will have nightmares. If we are fine, we will have deep sleep. Q: So for the last 20 years, you never had a nightmare, right? A: No. But I used to dream about my mother and older brother.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more? What did you see in your dream? A: I dreamed that when my mother passed away, I did not stay besides her. She called upon husband and children to help her, but no one there with her. She really loved me. Q: Where do you keep her ashes?
A: I stored it at collective stupa in the monastery. We celebrate Bangskol there with our nuclear family.
Q: Do you think Buddhist teaching “Hatred couldn’t be ceased by hatred” helps Cambodians a lot in forgiving the Khmer Rouge?
A: I think this teaching is very good.
A: Keeping hatred is endless. I watched a movie. People keep killing one another. And one man say stop killing one another otherwise it goes on endlessly. It’s better to detach ourselves from it. Personally, I always walk away when people talk ill or use bad words. I do not want to hear ill words. We find happiness when we can control ourselves. I don’t care about people who speak ill. I don’t like that. Q: Coming to what you just mentioned ,that after liberation day a former Khmer Rouge member knelt before you, asking for forgiveness. What did you say at the time? A: He knelt down just right before and put his hands on his head, asking for forgiveness. I almost teared because of excitement. All my anger and hatred vanished, and I remember my mother-in-law’s words, “If the bloodsucker bites you, don’t bite it back”. Instead, I felt pity on him. I know that he is acknowledging his fault, that is why he knelt before me and shed tears. Shedding tears, the old man knelt before the young man. I felt pity on him.
Q: What was his job during Khmer Rouge’s regime? A: He was a former head of the kitchen. You know, head of the kitchen was very powerful. He decided who could eat enough food and who could not.
Q: Was he under the management of his senior? A: No. He is the big boss in the kitchen. If he gave a commandment to cook 10 milk tin of rice in a cauldron, the cook had to follow it. He inspected everything we did.
Q: After 1979, do you know what his job was?
A: After the liberation, Buddhism had been rebuilt. We gradually had monasteries and Buddhist monks.
Q: Did he become a Buddhist monk? A: No, he did not. He and his wife became devoted pancasila followers. They practiced pancasila until they died. He has a son who is now a layman.
Q: While he was alive, was he discriminated? A: No, he was not. Actually, the locals are good hearted. They don’t keep hatred and anger. Seeing his good deeds, they felt fine with him. They did not want revenge.
Q: After 1979, was there any case that people tool revenge against former Khmer Rouge, killing them?
A: No, there was not. It happened at other place like Svay Yea. People used cleaver to kill him. Q: Is it Svay Yea or Svay Tayean? A: Svay Yea. Svay Tayean is different. Svay Yea is located in Kampong Ro district. It shares a border with Prey Veng province.
Q: Did people get angry with him and kill him? A: Yes, people used cleavers to kill him. It was when we were just liberated and returned home. People were anxious to get revenge, sharpening their cleavers.
A: Oh, I see. And in your area, there was no such case.
Q: You have mentioned about Remembrance Day on 20 May. How is it celebrated? A: There is a poem reciting, and reading about the Khmer Rouge’s brutal acts. We made a scarecrow and burned it.
Q: Was the scarecrow a Khmer Rouge figure? A: Yes, it was.
Q: Is it a half-day celebration?
A: Yes. It is usually finishes at around 10 AM.
Q: Do you personally think the celebration is important? A: Yes, I personally think it is important. We still remember those innocent people who were killed during Khmer Rouge times. We give them our respects. It is critically important. Q: Do you think the government should take more action to further promote Khmer Rouge history education? A: I think the government should focus on research. Your interviewing me and other people about Khmer Rouge history is exemplary. Knowledge is spread. If we don’t care about this, it will be forgotten. I think your presence in the community to listen to our Khmer Rouge life experience is very good.
Q: So far have you ever told your children and/or grandchildren your life story during the Khmer Rouge? A: Usually, I don’t tell them about Khmer Rouge stories, but I told them the difference between their current living conditions and mine under Khmer Rouge. You would have been killed if you had been as lazy as today. I told them they are very fortunate. I got up very early and walked to work faraway in the field without enough breaks. The post-lunch break was too brief, and I had to start working again. After lunch, there is no water for us to take a bath. I got a small dipper of water, soaked my scarf with it and cleansed my body. You are not mentally matured.
Q: So most of the time, you educate them by comparing your situation with theirs, right? A: Exactly yes. Now, our county has become progressive, but they are very lazy.
Q: And then what are their responses? A: Yes, their responses are “I do not know because I wasn’t born in Khmer Rouge times”. Q: I said, if you had been born in Khmer Rouge time, you would have been killed.
Q: When telling me your real-life story of what happened during Khmer Rouge, do you feel better? A: Yes, I feel relaxed. It’s like when someone passes away, we cry out. If we do not cry, we don’t feel well. Like me, when you ask me questions I can release my sadness through my words. I feel relaxed.
Q: Before interviewing you, I had interviewed a grandmother near Chek monastery. A: Oh, she is my relative. Q: Is she your sibling? A: No. She is my relative. She always comes to the monastery.
Q: Do you think the Khmer Rouge made you traumatized? You hated war, killing etc. A: The Khmer Rouge was so brutal. We met with one another but we did not talk to one another. We were afraid of being charged with having communication with one another. If charged with this, we were punished. Now, we must build solidarity. Never have conflicts because of petty issues. Forgiveness should be used when small conflicts happen. Prosperity would occur. People who have never experienced Khmer Rouge’s regime do not know this. They get furious easily and uncontrollably. Therefore, we should embrace Buddha’s teaching. Be patient. If the person does not listen to us and wants to cause trouble, just leave him. Leave him/her alone.
Q: Do you agree that the impact of Khmer Rouge is still prevalent in Cambodian society, where a loss of trust and suspicion still exist today? A: Yes, I strongly agree with you. Surveillance is common even these days. For instance, when the Cambodian National Rescue Party was dissolved, constant surveillance was done. They should have not been used. It is the legacy left by Khmer Rouge. If someone made a mistake, just take legal action against him. When there was a meeting, useless issues were raised. I don’t like this. We have gone through hard times together. Why do they behave like this? I think this is the legacy left by the Khmer Rouge. I was a National Rescue Party activist. However, after its dissolution, I was not an activist anymore. I was called upon to show up at the municipality and then informed to shift my allegiance to the Cambodian People’s Party. I told them that I don’t want to get involved in politics any more. I just wanted to stay home, do farming and cooking food for Buddhist monks. I am very old now. After I told the municipality that, they just understood my reasons and let me return home. The problem is the official at the district where I live. They kept constant surveillance over me every time. I told them not to follow me all the time. If you don’t see me at home, just go to the monastery. I am there. Usually, I go to the monastery to watch kickboxing programs on TV with Buddhist monks. In the day time, I sleep in a hammock at home. I don’t use handphone. I keep it at home. When they stop following me, I will use it.
Q: In your area, are there any former Khmer Rouge officials?
A: No, there aren’t. Mr. Kouy and Mr. Pok had passed away. In Chek village, there is a man named Rin who was a chief of a collective during Khmer Rouge. Q: Is he still alive today? A: Yes, he is alive today. In Tor Tea village, none of the former Khmer Rouge officials are alive. Tor Tea is so close to Svay Rieng town, so a few former Khmer Rouge members were able to flee the village. Chek village is at the suburb, so most of them could flee the village easily.
Interviewer: Soeung Bunly
The term “base people” refers to the base of society - the peasant class.
How does Siny’s testimony illustrate his agency in navigating the Cold War in Cambodia?
Discuss the role of interpersonal relations and social networks in helping Cambodian citizens like Siny get through the oppression of the Khmer Rouge regime.
To what extent was Cambodia’s Cold War part of a larger global conflict, and to what extent was it based on local tensions, given Siny’s testimony?
Assess the role of religion in Cambodian society during and after the Cold War, and how it shapes survivors’ memories of the civil war.