[i] Hello.

[r] Hello.

[i] Can you tell me where you were born?

[r] I was born in Phnom Penh. On Main Street.

[i] In what year?

[r] In what year? In Phnom Penh, I’ve been there since I was a little girl…

[i] What year were you born?

[r] What year? In 1950. May 1st.

[i] And your family was…

[r] My family, there was my father, my grandfather, my mother and my brothers and sisters, we lived together. We were trading.

[i] Which of your family first came to live in Cambodia?

[r] In Cambodia, we have always lived in Cambodia.

[i] Your parents before were there too…

[r] They were all in Phnom Penh.

[i] They were born in Cambodia?

[r] They were born in Cambodia. It was my grandfather who fled China. He went to Phnom Penh, married my grandmother and lived in Phnom Penh. I grew up in Phnom Penh. Until…. in July…. In July, in 1970…. 1975. On April 15, Pol Pot took power. We were sent away to work in the fields.

[i] And your… How many brothers and sisters do you have?

[r] Me? All in all, there were seven of us. Three boys, four boys, three girls.

[i] You were… ?

[r] I was the greatest. I was the eldest. My father and mother, they were trading in Phnom Penh, we went to school. I was studying Chinese at the Catholic Church. The school was called St. Joseph.

[i] Are you Catholic?

I am Catholic, my little sister is like my mother, she is Buddhist. My father had no beliefs. He had no beliefs. He was in charge of business. He was going back and forth to Vietnam. He came and went. And in 1975, on April 15, we were evicted to the countryside. From Kilometer 6[Phnom Penh district], we walked until late at night. There was no light at all, it was dark. And in the evening, to make rice, we had nothing on us, we left empty-handed. When we left… there were some… When the “black shirts” came in, everyone cheered them on, then they fired everyone. We hadn’t brought anything with us until Kilometer 6. We stayed there at night, there was no light, it was all dark. People were hungry. Some of them had nothing, they starved to death there. On the ground, there were only dead people, we didn’t know, we slept there. I was sleeping on dead people. In the morning, when I woke up, everyone was dead. I jumped out. Then they opened the warehouses where he had sugar. They opened them so we could use them inside. My little brother may have taken shoes, salt, sugar, all that. My father had taken money. We took a couple of packs. He bought some pig, we had three pigs slaughtered, then we cooked it, so we could eat it on the road. With my grandfather and grandmother…. My grandfather couldn’t walk, he was pushed in a chair to my great-grandmother’s hometown. To Kompong Cham. [Village name] To go live there. After not even two months, we were forced to work in the fields. Working in the fields… we couldn’t eat. At first, they gave us a very small portion, they gave us a few pots of rice, for a family of ten people. A few pots of rice. My grandfather, in 1975, after the arrival of the Khmer Rouge, after a few months, he died there. My great-grandmother had extended family they lived near this place, they came where we were, to have a ceremony for my grandfather. I asked a Buddhist monk…. He made a prayer. Then, the next day, we were forced to work in the fields, and there were no monks left. We were just refugees now. We always went to work, we didn’t have any food. They were distributing small quantities. Everything was in small quantities. We didn’t have enough to eat. And if we said we were still hungry, they would shoot us. No one dared to say anything. We worked at night until we were exhausted. Until we were exhausted, then we’d go home and sleep. We were eating a little bit. At that place, we worked for a few months, then they expelled us to another place to work, for a few months, and then we left again. We were just leaving. Until another place, we couldn’t eat. We really couldn’t eat anymore. My little brother died of starvation. My father starved to death. There were still a few of us left. There was still my mother, my little sister got married… The second one got married to someone. He was forced to marry.

[i] To whom she was married?

[r] She married a Chinese man. He had been forced to marry someone else, but this young man had just proposed, so she married him. So they were given…. They were given a house to live in. And my little sister and I… My brother also passed away in October. In 1977. In 1978, he died. In 1977, refugees… Those who were very pretty were married to disabled soldiers. Those who were able to leave were married to other people. In 1977, Vietnamese soldiers, Vietnamese, were shot. The Vietnamese, they were shooting them. I was there, they said I was Vietnamese, they tied me up. Then they tried to bring me in to shoot me. Until midway, the village chief…. My mother kept begging him, she told him, “My daughter is Chinese”, she doesn’t speak Khmer well, she speaks Chinese better. He left me there and didn’t want me to enter this village. That we called the Chinese village. They didn’t want me to enter this village, they took me to a mountain. On this mountain, we were planting… We planted corn, cotton, we worked on the mountains. Once finished, one day…. The others said, “People have arrived, we have to go and help”. I said, “You mustn’t go, otherwise you’ll die”. They didn’t listen. There, they’re all dead, they’ve all been shot. That night, they shot 20-30 people. There was still me, with a couple of other people, we didn’t go, and we didn’t die. I’m not dead. I’m not dead. They didn’t let me work there, they sent us to another place to work in the fields. Working in the fields, once you had finished a place, you would work in another place. In one place, where there was the most water, the rice shoots were very long, half a metre high. They forced us to plant them underwater. Even to sleep, it was underwater, everything was underwater. We, the three sisters, were always underwater, with other people, 20-30 people, we always slept in the water. That’s how we slept. And everyone said, “Oh!” “In two days, there will be more deaths”. That’s right, there have been more deaths. As there were too many deaths, they said, “It’s no longer possible”. They have to…. We have to get them in. When I got back, after my sister got married, there were more than two of us, we went to youth camp. In youth camp, they separated us. I was put in one place, my sister in another. We were separated in different places. I went to…. They sent me to the railroads. Working on the railways. Carrying dirt. Wear sand. I kept going up and down. At that moment, I almost died again. I had nothing to eat. At night, I would get up at 3:00 in the morning to work. It was only at noon that we were given a bowl of water. It was like water, when the water was removed, there were three or six grains of rice. We were so hungry! Then we went to another place, to plant corn. I was pretentious. [Laughs] I was pretentious, and I went to plant corn. Then I saw a snake at my feet, I didn’t dare to move. A Cambodian told me, “Don’t move, I’ll get his tail”. Then he killed the snake. It was horrible to see that. The snake had made a lot of little ones. He took them to cook them, to make a curry out of them, I didn’t dare eat them. Then I got on a plough, it tipped over, the plough tipped over, I grabbed it on my foot, it swelled. I couldn’t walk anymore. I couldn’t walk anymore, I wasn’t doing anything, then, the chief said, “No way, you have to go to the hospital.” They took me to the hospital, that’s how I survived. Because we could eat at the hospital. After eating, I helped the sick, to heal them, here and there. I learned to give shots, etc….. I was helping them there, there was food. I was distributing rice for the sick, there was still some left for me. There was still rice left, I was taking it… I asked them, “There’s still rice left, throwing it away would be a waste.” They told me, “Take it.” They said in Cambodian, “Take it.” “Take whatever you want.” I brought some for the very sick, for those who couldn’t walk, I gave them some. I gave them medicine, food, helped them wash. I took care of it as if it were my hospital, it was very clean. And the nurse was very happy, she said, “You work well, you save people, come help us”. Every day, I helped them wash, give them shots, do everything. One of them made an abscess after a sting. It wasn’t me who made it, it was someone else. In his abscess, inside, there were worms. I was removing his worms, but I couldn’t cure him. He passed away. I managed to save three people. The very sick, the ones I saved, are the elderly people of the village. But this place, I don’t know, there were too many of them. There were too many places, I didn’t know. I brought them in, they survived… Three survived. After they survived, you know, these three people thanked me. The people in the village had money, they gave me food. My mother was also sick at that time, she also went to that hospital. I was taking care of my mother. My mother had diarrhea with blood. I went to get medicinal plants, I asked people how to make them. I was told to look for medicinal plants that look like water bindweeds, which are very long. Wow, these medicinal plants were very effective. I boiled them. With three bowls, I made it a drink for her. After drinking it, the bleeding stopped. And she was getting better. Then she was healed. So my mother left the hospital, she went to work in the fields. She was assigned to picking cotton. I was in the hospital and not yet healed, I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t get out. And my mother had stepped on a huge nail in her foot that swelled. Her foot was swollen in the village, no one was taking care of her. I heard that, I thought, I’ll chop some wood. From the hospital to the village, I had to wait until the middle of the night to go there. To go to the village from the hospital, I come to cut wood for my mother, so that she can boil water to treat her foot. At night, when I went there…. When I arrived there that night, I was really unlucky, I was wrong. I arrived in the middle of a meeting. They were in the middle of a meeting, I didn’t know. They tied me up and took me away! Oh! It stank to death! It was horrible, I slept there, it smelled like urine, I was trapped there. Ugh! Ugh! I wanted to throw up, to die! No choice! And after 30 minutes, I started praying. I said, “Dad, I’m going to die this time. After that, someone came to save me. Someone who came by motorcycle, he said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a kind person, I’ll take you to the village to see your mother, so you can heal her foot.” He set me free. And I’m not dead. For the second time. The second time, that I survived death. In 1977, I was brought in, the time they said I was Vietnamese. The second time…. It happened twice. The third time I ran away, they wanted to force me to get married. I refused, at night, I dragged my mother away so we could leave. We went to the place where my mother worked, where there were cotton fields, we went there. When we got there, people said…. My mother was so scared that she had no strength left in her legs, I carried her, and I said, “Don’t be scared.” Because I was reckless. In the middle of the night, we couldn’t see anything, in the jungle, we couldn’t see anyone, it was very quiet, we walked… When we were spotted, children would come in, I don’t know which children, “black shirts”… They all had black shirts with guns. We were lucky. We didn’t meet anyone. I brought my mother up the mountain. At the top of the mountain, she said, “Since you ran away, you don’t have a salary. There’s nothing to eat for you.” My mother sacrificed herself. On three ladles of water, it wasn’t congee. We used to say it was congee, but it wasn’t. Out of three ladles, she gave me one. She kept two of them to herself. I forced myself to eat it. It allowed me to survive. There, my mother was afraid, at night, she didn’t dare to go out. I wasn’t afraid to go out. I would go get bananas and hide them in the ground. At night, when people were sleeping, I would take them and cook them to eat them. [Laughs] After eating it, I was in better shape, I was a little fuller, I wasn’t allowed milk, my mother was. I shared a bowl with my mother, a very small bowl. And I… Some people kept proposing to me. I didn’t want to get married. I said I’d rather die. They said to me, “If you don’t get married, you’re going to die. I had no choice. I said I didn’t want to go. If I have to die, I will die. I said to my mother, “If I die, bring me… don’t bury me, throw me in the river.” That’s what I told my mother, and she told me, “You’re talking nonsense! You’re not even dead, and you say that kind of thing.” I said, “You don’t believe me, you’ll see!” And it’s true, they came to get me, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to, and my mother said…. She went to beg the village chief and said, “Now we have to wait to finish working in the fields, to finish the work before we can go down. Then she’ll get married.” He said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes”. She said that, she agreed to it. She agreed to it, but I didn’t want to get married, I preferred to die, I didn’t want to live. I said, “I’m going to die, I don’t want to be involved in this”. Then I came down, but there was no problem anymore. There was no longer any problem, this case was no longer relevant. Later, I went back to the hospital because I still couldn’t walk. They forced me to go to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital. I was treated, until…. Until it’s almost over. It was almost 1979, it was almost the end, at that moment, people arrived. They said, “It’s not possible, you’re still in the hospital, you’re just eating, you’re fat, all clean.” They said, “No way, you have to go back to the village.” I went back to the village there, I tied the straw… to make… the roofs… the thatched roofs. I was doing that. There is a young man there who had power. He wouldn’t stop from… he wanted to be with me, I didn’t take care of it, he came to bother me. I said to my mother, “He keeps bothering me, I can’t work, let’s go!” So we went to another place. Oh! Oh!

We were just running away. One place at a time. My mother said, “You want to run away like that, I’m too tired, I can’t go with you.” So my mother and I split up. My mother stayed in the village, I left for another place. I did this and that, I worked in the fields, on the roads, etc…. I was just leaving. Until….. 1977. In 1977, 1978. My father said, in my dream, he said to me, “You have to last another year, then you can get out of the country.” And I said, “I’m already dead, how can I get out?” I thought that. When I woke up, they tried to take me by force to bury me. They said I was dead. Then I woke up, there was a woman named… her name was Cambodian, she predicted the future, she could predict the future, she said, “Wow, your fate is long, you won’t die. Did you ask your father when you were going to go abroad?” I said, “Yes! I asked. Later, I could leave the country.” She said, “How many years from now?” “My father said, we have to hold out until 1979.” I didn’t know when it was, at that time, I was confused. She said, “1979? 1979 is almost, it’s next year!” She told me I could go out next year. I said I didn’t know, I just dreamt about it. Then she said, “Don’t you want to ask your father to live with him? I said, “My father is dead, how do I live with him, he doesn’t want me to live with him, he pushed me down.” And I woke up with a start. She said, “Wow, you really have a long destiny. Later on, your life would be fine.” So I left. In 1979, I left, I went to work, I went alone on the road, I looked for a road to walk, I followed people on the road, in a place called Kompong Thom. From Kompong Thom, I walked to Kilometre 6. I followed people on the road, I was a single woman, I was just following the crowd. We walked through the jungle. They said that if we didn’t take the road through this jungle, there would be tigers, snakes coming out… That night, I walked hard to that jungle. In the jungle, there was a family, a mother, a son, there were many of them there, cooking. I had nothing, I was empty-handed. So I helped them wash the rice, so that an elderly person could eat. The elderly person told me, “You look pretty good, young lady. You’re a caregiver.” She said, “Come eat with us”. They had a meal to eat. After eating, I went to see the river. It was horrible! It was horrible! Some had eaten too much. They were tired, they drank water and swelled, they swelled and died there. I jumped to death, I said to myself, “My God, here I still meet dead people.” On the road, I was just seeing dead people, it was horrible! Then I arrived at Kilometer 6. At Kilometer 6, I found, I found my mother and my sister, Over there, I was planting soybeans to sell them. I was planting soybeans…. I was living with someone downstairs in a little corner. And that person said, “You don’t know how to do anything, what are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know how to do it. Can you teach me?” She told me, “It’s not possible, I’m in business, I’m not teaching you.” So I secretly watched how she grows soybeans. Then I managed to get a few shoots. I went to Phnom Penh, I wanted to go to my house to get things. It was the Vietnamese military who were watching at the time. I went home, I saw that in my house, it was full of shoes! They didn’t want me to come in, I just looked. I looked, wow, it was full of shoes. How could I get my jewelry in there? I couldn’t do it. So I left. I went to people’s houses…. You know, at night, there was no light, no nothing. I hid in people’s houses. The house where I hid was full of… The house was very beautiful, but it was full of urine and feces. It was horrible! It was horrible! It stank to death! I hadn’t found anything, I had a friend who had run away with me, she had found her jewellery. She took them to do business. I was empty-handed. Then I saw that in a house, there was a drawer, with a box. There was tobacco, with leaves to roll, thin leaves, there were two boxes. I thought, don’t go out empty-handed, get those two boxes back. I managed to sell these two boxes. I was able to sell both boxes, and start my business. I took the money and exchanged it for mung beans. I used to use mung beans to grow soybeans. I was selling a cup, a little bag, I made a fortune! I made so much money, I couldn’t eat it all by myself! My mother had heard that from the countryside, with my brother-in-law, they also… they used to ride bicycles to do business. As he learned that I was making good money, he brought my mother and they took the Vietnamese army bus… Per person, it cost two cents. And I… They had no money, they came to take mine, I only had that money to trade, and they took everything! I didn’t have much left to buy rice to feed them again. So we were together and my mother helped me sell soya. So I went looking to sell this and that. My sister and brother-in-law helped us well too. They made tofu to sell it.

[i] At that time, what period was it?

[r] That was in 1979.

[i] The Khmer Rouge was over?

[r] Yes, it was over.

[i] Where was it?

[r] Now?

[i] What you’re talking about.

[r] At Kilometre 6. At Kilometer 6.

[i] Where is it?

[r] “Kilometre 6”, how is it said in French?

[i] Is it in Cambodia?

[r] In Cambodia, Kilometre 6. We traded there, that’s where we grew soybeans. After that period, one of my little sisters, someone proposed to her, she married him. You had to borrow plates, bowls, I took care of that alone, so she could get married. We had five ceremonies. And…. Oh! Being old was hard! I was carrying so much on my head that it almost broke. Once I brought things back, I still had to bring things to people. I had to give people red envelopes, they didn’t even want to take them, they said, “We ran away together…”, they had a good heart. They said, “We ran away together, no need to take your money. I didn’t have any money to give them either. People helped us, we also helped them a little. There, we made money. I lived with my sister for a while, then I didn’t have any more business to do. I started selling fried doughnuts, white sugar cakes, soy milk, above Kilometre 6, where the freight cars passed. There, I would sell sitting with a small table to sell for a while, then with my aunt…. She was my great-uncle’s daughter, she was an aunt. She survived the Khmer Rouge. In 1979 in October, it was almost New Year’s Eve, she had fled. She met me and said, “Oh,[Interviewee’s first name], selling this, you make a lot of money! Here, it doesn’t work well, let’s go near the “Steel Bridge” and make some money. At the Steel Bridge, business is going great!” “I don’t have a place there, how do I get there?” She said, “It doesn’t matter, we can sleep on the street. She said that. So I left with her. Then I took rice from my sister. My sister didn’t help me. My little sister didn’t help me, so I went empty-handed to Kilometer 6. That night, I fasted. Because I had no rice or anything, how could I eat? So I fasted, and my aunt said to take time off, she said “Come and eat!”, You are six, I am alone, what can I eat? A tiny little bowl, tiny little bowl, I don’t want it. I’ll leave it to you both. I drink water, that’s enough for me. I slept until morning. The village chief asked me “Why don’t you want to find accommodation? There’s plenty of accommodation there, why don’t you go get it? Why are you sleeping on the floor?” I said, “Can we live there?” He said, “Yes, we can!” “If you find a place to live, it’s yours!” He said that. I said, “In that case, all right. Let everyone look for one. Seven people, seven dwellings.” But my aunt and uncle were afraid of ghosts, they didn’t dare. So I was the only one to find a 20 square metre apartment, they came together with me, I told them, “How stupid you are! Everyone takes one, in the future, you can sell them!” They wouldn’t listen to me. They said they were afraid of ghosts, they didn’t dare. To find a place to stay, I had no choice. So there were seven of us living together. We lived on the highest floor. I liked the fact that it was high up. So I kept selling fried doughnuts. By selling ten doughnuts, I only earned two pots[of rice]. She didn’t even give me any. His wife was selfish. So I waited for her husband to come home, he said, When he came home, he saw me, he was very happy, he said, “You’re a girl from a good family, but here we have nothing to give you…”. I said, “The past is behind us. Let’s not talk about it anymore. Now I have no rice or anything. I’m asking you for ten pots of rice grains. When I sell ten… By selling fried doughnuts, I don’t even earn two pots[of rice]. And her husband said, he said to his wife, “Why don’t you give it to her?” His wife said, “We sold everything, tell him to come tomorrow, we’ll give him ten.” I sold all ten in half an hour, and there were none left. When there was no more, I said, I was bold, I said, “If I sell 200, I can make 20 pots.” His wife didn’t want to. She didn’t want to, but I ignored her. So I went to help sell fried doughnuts. I was helping him to do them. Then she saw that I was a worker, that I was helping her clean this and that, she saw that I was a worker. So she said, “Take them, take them…” In less than two hours, I won 20 jars. Then I did something else, I sold cakes made by people, I won two pots, that was 22 pots in all. I made 22 pots a day, that was two gold pieces. At the time, rice grains were more expensive than gold. With the grains of rice, I exchanged it with gold, which I saved. Then I learned that my mother didn’t have any grains of rice, so I brought her some for her to eat. I rested once a week, and I took some to my mother at Kilometer 6. I could easily earn money, in a short time I could save 20 to 30 pots. And I had a place to live. I told my mother to come and live there, my mother didn’t want to. She stayed at Kilometer 6, I lived near the Steel Bridge. I lived there until my cousin who was in the country. It was the end of the Khmer Rouge, she said, she said, she said she didn’t want to live there, she wanted to live with me. I said, “Okay, if you want to live with me, okay.” So I had to feed her. Her aunt had entrusted her to me. Her aunt had gone to Vietnam. She wanted to bring him, but she said it was not possible, she had to find the itinerary first before taking him to Vietnam. Then her aunt found the road to Vietnam, she sent someone to pick up my cousin. My cousin said she didn’t dare go, “All alone, he has to drag me to go, I don’t dare.” So she dragged me along with her, while I was working for someone, I was making sautéed noodles. I was doing the dishes, helping with everything. Every day, I was entitled to two meals, three meals. In the morning, at 1 o’clock, I had to light the fire to make the noodle broth. And then, at noon, at 12 noon, a meal, and in the evening, a meal, so I didn’t have to cook. Rice grains, I had eight pots. Every day, they gave me eight pots of rice grains, I could get rich. I had three meals at their house, so I didn’t have to cook. And my cousin was there, I had to feed her. She was cooking the rice herself, and she took eight pots of rice grains to do business, it didn’t work. As a result, she lost my money. I said, “Don’t sell anymore. “Just eat.” I told him that. Then we came to get her, she stayed just a few months, then we came to get her. She didn’t dare to go. So she forced me to go. She wanted to force me, I said, “I have work to do. If you take me, when I come back, there will be no more work.” She said, “Come live there! There’s plenty of room there.” I listened to her, and we went to Vietnam. When you arrive in Vietnam…. Her aunt fought me. She said, “You came here, but I didn’t tell you to come.” And on the road, we were put in jail. Because she was wearing… red shoes from Cambodia, she was not allowed to wear them, they caught her and not me. They said I was Vietnamese, that she was Chinese, uh Cambodian. They said the red one was Cambodia, so they caught it. So she was scared, and she dragged me with her, so I could go to jail too. In prison, inside, I only knew two sentences in Vietnamese. I said, “Why are you imprisoning me?” They talked to him in Vietnam, these two soldiers were laughing all the time, I didn’t know they wanted money, I didn’t have any more money. The money I had on me, they took everything. There were 20 or 30 cents left. I said, “If you take those 20-30 cents, I won’t be able to eat anymore”. So they gave us back those 20-30 cents, my cousin said she was very hungry, we asked them out to eat. Buy something to eat. I told my cousin, “You’re only crying, why are you crying? You’re crying, but it’s no use! Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Just follow me!” I was bold. Then I took her to lunch, and we came back. Then the one who was supposed to take us to Vietnam arrived, he was negotiating with the chief. He asked for four gold coins for one person. He said it was four gold coins to free us. Two people was eight rooms. I said, “My God, Eight pieces, but I don’t have four pieces. My cousin’s four pieces, her aunt took them out for her, she didn’t take them out for me. How to do this? The one who was supposed to bring us, he took 2 gold pieces from me, and he said that if she gave for her niece, but not for me, in this case, he wouldn’t take us both. The aunt who was in Vietnam had no choice. She called them and told them, now, for both of them, it’s 8 rooms. That aunt wasn’t… really my aunt, she was my cousin’s aunt. She said, “And if you only take my niece, but not…” My name is[name of the interviewee]. She said, “Don’t come with[name of interviewee].” The one who was supposed to bring us, he had already taken my two pieces, he certainly wanted to bring me.” He said, “I took his coins, I have to keep my word, and bring him to Cholon.” She had no choice, she took eight pieces. When you get to…. When I arrived in Vietnam, my aunt yelled at me. She said, “You came here, you came to bother us. Go on vacation,” she told me to come and eat. “Come and eat!” I was very angry, I was very depressed. I had no money, she lent me money at first. She told me, “I don’t want to put you up. Go get your best friend. Your friend named Lak. Go get her. I said, “How am I going to do that? In Vietnam, I don’t know the place, how do I find it?” She said, “Go down, walk, and at the corner, it’s there.” She forced me down, I had no choice. She took me to a perm. As a result, I looked even more like a Vietnamese woman. [Laughs] I looked like a Vietnamese woman. She said, “With the perm, you look like a Vietnamese woman, you look perfect.” The owner of the ground floor brought me, he said, “You really look like a Vietnamese woman, you don’t look like a Khmer. I said, “How do I find my friend, where’s Lak?” He said, “Walk over there and you’ll see her.” There, I didn’t find her, she had gone to work, I didn’t know. It’s evening at 7:00, walking down the street, I thought, “My God, if I get caught by the military, how am I going to do that?” It would be even worse if I were taken to the refugee camp, I don’t know, I don’t even know how to say a word in Vietnamese. I’m told to come to Vietnam, damn it!

I was scared. I thought, it’s horrible, this time it’s even worse than Pol Pot. I’ve been thinking about that. She knew, she was eating ice cream, she came out and jumped on me, I jumped, I was shaking, I said, “Who are you?” I screamed very loudly, she said, “Don’t scream.” I’m Lak. I was so happy. I was reassured. And she said, she said, “Go ahead, eat.” I said, “I don’t have the heart to eat at all, because I’m told not to eat, when I hear that, I’m not hungry anymore, how can I still want to eat?” She said, “Come, come, come, come, I’ll take you to eat, to a lady’s house.” Someone who didn’t know me and who welcomed me, she took me in, she fed me. I said, “Look, an aunt I know doesn’t even care about me. Now, someone I don’t know accepts me into her home.” She said, “Bring your friend to eat. She can even stay with you.” So I said to my friend Lak, I said, “Lak, do you have any money?” She said, “Why?” “I borrowed 4 gold coins from someone, she wants them tomorrow, I don’t have any money. I don’t even have a dime on me.” She said, “It’s okay, I’ll give you five gold pieces, go give them back to her.” Early in the morning, I went to give it back to him. You know what my aunt said? “Wow, does your friend have any money?” I said, “Yes, she has money and she has heart.” I told him that. I was angry. I was angry. I said, “She has money and she has more heart than you. Knowing you is useless to me.” I didn’t want to say any more, I took the 5 gold coins, she gave me the change, she gave me Vietnamese change. I didn’t know how much it was worth, what she gave me back, I gave it to my friend. I said, “Lak, that’s what she gave me back, I don’t have enough to give you the money back.” She said, “Oh! Your aunt even ripped you off!” I said, “Let her rip me off, now I don’t owe her anything. I no longer care if there’s enough money. Now this money, for the moment, I’m borrowing it from you, I’m borrowing 5 gold coins. I’ll give them back to you when I get to France.” “What? In France?” She jumped out. I said, “So how do we do it? On me, I have no more money.” She said, “In that case, come with me to help me sell cigarettes.” So I went with her on a bike to sell cigarettes. And a Vietnamese lady who bought her cigarettes said, “Can you ride a bike, can you ride a bike?” I said, “I can do everything. I have a lot of courage, I can do everything.” “Perfect! I’m looking for someone to come and watch my house. Every day, I give you a dong.” In Vietnamese currency. “Per month, you’ll earn 30.” Nourished, housed, etc….. I said, “Wow, that’s good too.” I didn’t have a house to sleep in, I didn’t want to stay with people for too long. So I went to her house to work for a month, two months. After two months, I wrote a letter to my cousin, my cousin, asking him to request that I come to France. Before I was in Phnom Penh, I was in Phnom Penh, but I went to Vietnam, it didn’t work. He wrote to me saying, “It’s not possible, you have to ask again.” I said, “When will it be done?” Don’t bother, if it’s possible, I’ll come, if not, too bad.” I thought that. I went shopping, at the market, I met a cousin. She told me, “I met you in Phnom Penh, here I meet you too, your destiny is long! You came all the way out here alone, you’re really bold!” I said, “Yes, I’m bold, but today I don’t have a dime on me.” “Where do you live now?” I said, “I live with people.” She said, “Good thing there’s a lady looking for someone, as a nanny and to help her cook. Do you want to do it?” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” So I went to Saigon, to Cholon to work for this lady. She sold incense sticks in bulk. His house was huge. When I got there, I started washing clothes, cooking rice, etc….. And in the evening, late, when I was finished, when I had time, I went to the movies. I liked going to the movies. Every night I would buy a ticket for a dong to see a movie, then at 9am I would go home to sleep. And I was bold, I didn’t turn on the lights, I slept on the third floor. The others were sleeping downstairs, I was sleeping on the third floor. I didn’t know there were ghosts on the second floor. [Laughs] I didn’t know, so I went up to the third floor. At night, to go to the toilet, you had to go down to the bottom. And I was bold, I didn’t turn on the light, I came down from the third floor, my aunt was so scared she fainted! [Laughs] She said, “Next time, you can’t not turn on the light, you have to turn on the light!” I said, “Why?” Under Pol Pot, I was used to being in the dark. When I came here, there was too much light, I wasn’t used to it. So I told him, “You didn’t live under Pol Pot.” She said, “Why?” I said, “You’re not bold, you know, I’m very bold. I’m not afraid.” She said, “You know, on the second floor, someone hung himself. Have you seen any ghosts?” “No, I haven’t seen any!” [Laughs] And she said, “You’re right.” I worked four months for her, I’ve been in Vietnam for six months. Six months. Then I was forced to go to the Sông Bé refugee camp. That night, it was very funny, the soldiers arrived. The military arrived, then….. Where did we go to hide? We hid in the doghouse. Up there, in the doghouse. We went inside to hide with my aunt’s daughter. We were afraid the military would catch us, they couldn’t find us. They hadn’t looked in the doghouse. The niche was big, we both hid in it. When the soldiers left, my aunt was so scared, she said, “It’s not possible, tomorrow you have to go back to Cambodia, you can’t live in Vietnam. And in Song Be, you have no one, you will die if you go to Song Be. I said, “In this case, how do we do it?” She said, “It doesn’t matter.” She had a friend who was bringing people to Cambodia. She gave him two gold coins to take me to Cambodia. In Cambodia.

[i] You went back to Cambodia?

[r] Yes again. In Cambodia, I went to get my boss. I looked for my boss, my boss had moved elsewhere to be a coffee shop owner. He told me to roast the coffee, do the service, I did everything. I did everything. I worked there for two months. I was housed and fed, so his wife was jealous. She said that… I loved her husband. I didn’t want to be in these stories. So I worked for two months, then I went back to Battambang. In Battambang, I sold ice cubes. For a year. On New Year’s Eve, I met a young man on a bicycle, whose life I had saved. At Kilometer 6, he had nothing to eat, I had asked the boss to feed him. He saw me, he recognized me, I didn’t remember him. He came for an ice drink, he said, “You could leave, why don’t you leave?” I said, “Go where?” “Go to France! Going abroad! Anyone with papers can leave. If there are requests from relatives abroad, you can leave. Why don’t you leave?” He asked me, “After Chinese New Year, do you want to leave? I said, “Yes! Can you help me leave?” He said, “Yes. Can you ride a bike?” I said, “Yes.” “In that case, go by bike to the border to Thailand.” So I went to camp 007. Then I sold the bike. So I had money. Then I met a friend, whose mother told me, “I’m miserable.” I said, “Why, don’t you have anything to eat?” She said, “I have nothing to eat.” I said, “I said, it’s okay, wait for me, I have money, I’ll buy you something to eat.” Then I stayed at her place one night. The next morning, I cycled to 007, the UN refugee camp. There were doctors from all over who came to treat people. I was sleeping there. I was helping the doctor’s wife with… childbirth. I made food, I did the laundry. Then this doctor told me, “Do you want to leave? I’m going to introduce you to two soldiers so you can leave. I said, “Okay. But I don’t have any money, I’ll tell you right away.” He said, “If you have family abroad, that’s enough.” When I was abroad, I had cousins. I said, “I don’t know if my cousin will want to apply.” He said, “Try, if you don’t get your papers, go to Khao-I-Dang, Thailand, you’ll see if it works.” Actually, he wanted to rip me off. I didn’t even have any money and he wanted to rip me off. I went to do my laundry, my destiny was lucky. I met a psychic. She was washing herself. She said, “Later on, you’ll have to come and see me.” I said, “Why?” “Come on, I’ll tell you your fate, I’ll save you.” I said, “Okay.” In Thailand, when I arrived at camp 007, I met a faithful Catholic, who heard that I was also Catholic. She wanted to take me to Thailand but it was not possible. To go to Khao-I-Dang, it was not possible. She told me she would send me money. So she asked a priest to take money to help the refugees, and he gave me 200 baht. I said I was borrowing this money from him. She told me, “It doesn’t matter, we give it to you, it’s the Catholic faithful who have contributed to give to the poor.” She gave 200 baht for me. The 200 baht, I kept them on me, then I met this psychic. She told me to come and see her, so I went there. She said, “You know, I’ll save you.” I said, “Why?” She says, “Your destiny is not here. Your destiny is abroad.” I said, “Where abroad? I don’t know him.” I don’t know where the planes are, I’ve never left. She said, “Follow me and it’s okay.” I said, “What route should I take?” She said, “You have to shave your hair, to pay tribute to your parents in this place. Then you can cross the border.” She gave me these recommendations. So I let her shave my head, I gave her 10 baht. And she pulled the cards for me, that was very close! She told me, “You know, you can’t follow this doctor, this doctor is going… the smuggler… wants to take your person, take your destiny.” I said, “But I don’t even have any money. She said, “Even if you don’t have any money, he’ll take you. He’s going to kill you.” I heard that, I said, “How do I do it?” She said, “Now go home. Take this money, you have a hundred baht left, take them to go. Come with me, I’ll show you the way, come with me. Then you’re going to meet a young man in his twenties, he’s going to come and get you.” She told me that, I hadn’t met her yet. I thought, I’ll listen to him. I followed him. I walked, then it was exactly that! I was eating, a young man in his twenties told me “Big sister”, in Cambodian, he told me, “Big sister, do you want to follow me?” I said, “To where?” “To Khao-I-Dang.” I said, “I don’t have any money.” He wanted 2,000 baht. 2,500 baht. The Thai currency. I said, “I don’t have any money on me, you tell me to come with you, I don’t have any money to give you.” He said, “It doesn’t matter. Abroad, you have relatives who have sent money.” He said, “Follow me.” I said yes. I was bold, I said yes. After dinner, I followed him, in the middle of the night, we walked, my legs were bleeding. There were sharp barbed wire… The lights were turning, when the lights were oriented to the other side, you had to hurry to leave. I was in so much pain, I was bleeding, I couldn’t climb anymore. The earth was too high, we were down, as soon as there was light, we would lower ourselves, and when the light was there, we would hurry to pass. I opened my legs, it hurt, he dragged me, he dragged me to move forward. When he got there, he prayed to the Buddha. The Buddha was very sharp. He saw that my legs were bleeding, he told his wife to put some ointment on me quickly, the next day they took me to look for people, to look for Chinese people. There was the Chinese community organizing activities. Like the Teochew Friendship, which helped people. I went to register. After a few people, I met the one who had taken me to Thailand, he was also in there, he told me, “You have no place to sleep, this night sleeps with this lady, don’t stay with this young man, this man has leprosy. If you stay with him and he hurts you, you’re going to be in trouble. I said, “No, no, he’s very sweet.” He said, “No, no, no, follow me to leave.” So I went with him to that aunt’s house. After I slept, the next morning, I went to get some things, so that someone would ask for me. And I was lucky. A Red Cross person arrived. She said, “Those who have not yet registered, let them come and register, so I will register myself. So I lived alone. Those who lived next door were a couple, without children, they lived next to me, Chinese. They said…. I can’t remember their names, it’s been too long. They lived there, they said, “Big sister, now that we’ve spread the bamboo stubble, if you can do something, do it. I borrowed a saw from someone, I made a bed, a piece of furniture, a door, there were people coming to catch you, at night, the Thai soldiers were mean, they committed rapes. I was afraid. I made everything. I had a lock, I asked someone in Thailand to buy me a lock. Once it was done, there was a lady, who came from Vietnam, who came to stay with me. She knew Vietnamese, and a little French. Now she’s in the United States. I don’t know what her name is anymore, I don’t remember. We lived together. Until she went abroad, and so did I. The Red Cross took me away. I flew to France. When I arrived in France, I didn’t have any clothes, I would die of cold. They gave me a coat. [Laughs]

[i] What year did you arrive in France?

[r] In 1982. I arrived in France on March 27.

[i] How many years did you stay in Thailand?

[r] In Thailand, only a few months. About three months. It was fast for me, because I was all alone. I had been waiting a long time, a month before, people kept telling me, I was angry, I said, I’m going to register to go to China. The day I signed up, that day, my legs hurt, I was called to leave, it didn’t work. They didn’t want me to leave, my legs hurt, they didn’t want me to leave. People said I was lying, in fact I couldn’t walk. I said, “Carry me and I’ll leave.” They didn’t want me to go to China, they allowed me to go to France. There you go. I flew to France, arrived at the refugee camp in Herblay. In Herblay, I lived less than a week or two, then my husband came to pick me up.

[i] Who?

[r] My husband. He came to get me. He… He was looking for a woman, he wasn’t married yet, he was looking for a woman. He came to meet me. It was his little sister who introduced us. His sister sent me shrimp paste. Five kilos she brought from Chonburi. She wanted me to be her sister-in-law. That I’m his sister-in-law. I hadn’t met him yet, I couldn’t accept him yet. I said, “I’m waiting to see him in France before I get married.” She was afraid I wouldn’t keep in touch, so she used the shrimp paste to keep in touch. She wrote a letter to her older brother. She was going to Australia. My sister-in-law went to Australia. She wrote a letter to her older brother, to go to the refugee camp to look for me. He came to pick me up but he couldn’t find me, because as soon as I arrived, I was taken for a walk to the Arc de Triomphe. She was my friend Lak, when she arrived, she was taking me for a walk, on the fly boats, visiting all of Paris… I was lucky, when I arrived, I visited Paris, the Eiffel Tower, in one week, I visited everything. I visited all of Paris. I have a friend who said to me, “You know, you’re very lucky, you found me, I’ll show you around, take you to the Throne Fair, etc…… For a week, two weeks, I walked all day, my husband came from the countryside to pick me up, he couldn’t find me. I was always outside, I didn’t stay at home, I ate outside, I didn’t eat at home. She told me, “You’re very lucky, when you get here, you’re very bold, you don’t stop following people, you’re not afraid.” I said, “Me… I escaped death, now I want to walk! “I thought so. I was just walking, until one day my husband couldn’t find me, he came… on a Friday afternoon, he had just finished work, he quickly took the train to pick me up in Herblay. He found me, and the next day they assigned me to the Cadet refugee home.

[i] Where? Where?

[r] Cadet, in the 9th. Cadet. To live there for four months. I learned a little French, I learned to read the metro map. For the administrative procedures, they helped me to do them. When I arrived, I declared my true age, 33 years old. They told me, “Don’t do it! If you are 33 years old, you will not find a job. Now you have to declare that you are younger.” I said, “How many years younger?” They told me, “You are 33 years old, declare that you are 27 years old. That way you’ll find a job.” When I left the refugee home, I had no housing, everyone knew who to live with, I was the only one who didn’t know where to live. I didn’t have a place to live. So I phoned this young man who wanted to court me, I told him,”[husband’s name], now how I do it, I no longer have a place to live, they told me to leave, how I do it? They don’t care if I have knowledge or not, they tell me to look for people.” He said, in this case, that he had an uncle who lived in Tower 84, on the 14th floor. “Go live with him for a week, then we’ll look for a place to stay. I said, “That’s good too.” I asked him to live there for a week. After one or two days there, I signed up to work as an interim. To work at Renault, or I don’t know which factory. I didn’t know it, they took me there, I went there. I was bold, I followed the others. When I got there, they told me to register, then they hired me. I worked there for two weeks, they saw that I was working well, they hired me on permanent contracts. I worked there… until about… Then my husband came to live with me. He was afraid I would be kidnapped… At the time, I lived in Aubervilliers, I lived in a room, 600 francs. I lived alone. Across the street, there was a French couple. They had a good heart, they saw that I was living alone, they told me, “Aren’t you afraid?” And on weekends, I have friends who had a garment workshop, they said, “Come learn to use the sewing machine, on weekends, sew a little. On Saturdays, you don’t go anywhere, you stay home, and you’re all alone, take clothes to sew them.” I went to buy a sewing machine for 4,000 francs. 4,000 francs. I learned how to sew. At first out of ten, I only managed one. I couldn’t do it. I always pricked my fingers. A week later, I was able to do it. In a day or two, I make 300 or 400. One day, I was sewing 20 or 30 clothes. Before it was only one franc the garment. On weekends, I was sewing. I started making money. My husband was scared, he quickly came from Paris to move, to live there, it was very narrow. In addition, he brought two nephews to live with us. There were four of us living there. In a very small room, we were so tight. I said, “That’s not possible. We have to find another place to live.”

[i] And where did you live there? In 1984… In 1983, I lived in Tower 84. I was living in Tower 84 when I got married. Then I had children, I had 3 when I lived in Tower 84, until one of my children was 6 years old. When I had children, I asked for social housing, which I had at Chateau des Rentiers. Until today. My children are all grown up, they are all married, my husband has died. Now I live alone. [Laughs] My life up to now, that’s all. That’s my story. [Laughs]

[i] When you arrived in Paris, you learned to sew, you were always a seamstress?

[r] I wasn’t a seamstress, I worked for the French. At first, I worked… in the factory, then I had three children, then I stopped, I was unemployed. After unemployment, I worked part-time to get back to work… I was ironing laundry. I was ironing tablecloths. For French people, for three months. At the end of the 3-month contract, I was renewed, after 6 months, I stopped. Then I was unemployed. During the unemployment, I went to do… do what…? I was babysitting my children at home, I babysat other children at the same time. Then my husband was also unemployed, we were both unemployed, we didn’t work. We were receiving state aid. It was in 19… In 19… I don’t know what year, I found work at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I worked there until I retired.

[i] What were you doing?

[r] I was cleaning up. I worked there for 8 years. I always alternated between work and unemployment. I worked until my children all got married. Today, I am retired. [Laughs] That’s my story, that’s all.

[i] You have three children, right?

[r] Yes, two girls, one boy.

[i] How old are they?

[r] My eldest daughter is 33 years old. The second one is 32 years old. The third… is 30 years old. 31. Now she is 31 years old. Now, the eldest… this year she will be 34 years old. The second, the boy will be 33 years old. The third one is 31 years old. They all have children. I have four grandchildren. My eldest daughter has a son and a daughter. My son has a son. The last one has a daughter. That’s all. That’s all. Now I live alone.

[i] Where do they live?

[r] One in Lognes, one in Vitry, one in Dijon. I don’t know their addresses, so don’t ask me.

[i] What do they do for work?

[r] A computer worker. Computers. The second one has just been unemployed. The boy is unemployed. The little girl works in a bank. I don’t know what they’re doing exactly, don’t ask me. I really don’t know.

[i] Are you telling them your story?

[r] When I tell them, they don’t have time to listen.

[i] They don’t know your story?

[r] No, they didn’t ask me.

[i] What you just told me, they don’t know?

[r] They don’t know anything.

[i] They didn’t ask either?

[r] Why would they ask? They were taking care of their studies, their friends, etc….. Their mother’s stories, they didn’t care. I have already talked about it, I have already told them, but they couldn’t listen. “We don’t know what you’re talking about.” They did not experience this period. What I experienced, I told them, but they said…. They said, “Don’t talk about it.” It’s too sad, they don’t want to listen. They said that the sad stories, they didn’t want to listen. They said, “Mom, it’s too sad, don’t talk about it, it makes us cry.” They said that and wouldn’t listen. So I didn’t tell anyone else. If you publish a book, I’ll show them. They’ll know about it. [Laughs] That’s the way it is. My story is over, there’s nothing left, now I live alone.

[i] And before, in Cambodia, you thought one day you would be able to come…

[r] No, I didn’t think of that! You know, in Cambodia, it was no use thinking, I went out, I took money to buy food, buy this and that, I didn’t think about anything at all. I had business to do. I opened a drawer, I took what I wanted, I bought what I wanted, my father didn’t stop me. To buy things, it was easy. And I was bold. I was riding a motorcycle, I was riding a bike, I didn’t care about anything. Every day, I used to ride a bike for a walk, and a motorcycle. I didn’t care about the others. My father used to say, “You don’t think, you go where you want.” I didn’t have to ask, I went where I wanted. I didn’t care about anyone. I didn’t need to be given permission. I’ve had my audacity since I was a little girl. I was very bold. To do business, my father often asked me to go shopping. To fill the stocks, to get the money back, on Saturdays, I was the one who got the money back. My brothers and sisters didn’t know how to do that. My father knew I was bold, I wasn’t afraid of anything. On Saturdays, the money my father didn’t get back was mine. I stayed until I got it back, I was a child, my father couldn’t do that. They said, “Today, there were no customers, don’t come and get the money.” My father was scared, he told me to go. So I was the one who went there, until I got the money back, then I went home to give the money to my father. Since I was a little girl, since I was 8-9 years old, I have been able to sew buttons, I know how to do everything. Because my mother was a working woman. She made clothes at home, she sewed clothes, I added buttons. Since I was a little girl, I learned what others were doing. I didn’t care if there were servants etc., I was working. When I wanted to work, I worked. When I didn’t feel like it, I would go for a walk. I was like a boy. I was playing boy games. I was like a boy. Everyone said I could be a boy, not a girl. I was playing with rubber bands, poc poc poc. I was playing with rubber bands. I played every night until morning. I was good at walking. I was good at watching movies. I was good at everything. If there was anything to enjoy, I’d go.

[i] When you lived…

[r] In Paris?

[i]… during the Khmer Rouge, you have…

[r] What is it?

[i] Did you think you could… … that one day it would end?

[r] No, I didn’t think about it. I was just waiting to die. I was just thinking about that. I thought, if that’s the way it is, I’m just waiting to die. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I thought to myself that one day, if I was shot, I would die, I was thinking of nothing else. I swear to you. There was nothing to eat, I had no strength, you were given a bowl of water, there was nothing to eat. As soon as I lay down, I would fall asleep. I was looking at the sky, the stars, the clouds. When it rained, I would put a cloth on to shelter, I didn’t think of anything else. I thought that one day I would die like the others. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I didn’t think I’d come to France. I didn’t think I’d run away. I didn’t think I would experience what I’m going through today. If it wasn’t for the Vietnamese military, I’d be dead. On the last day, there were 50 of us in a ditch. We had dug a hole 100 meters deep. 100 meters wide, we had all dug. Then they told us to celebrate. At that time, the Vietnamese military arrived. There were 50 of us in the middle. The Vietnamese were on that side. The Vietnamese were there, the Cambodians on the other side. We 50 of us, all girls, were there. In the middle. The Vietnamese said, “Come this way!” The others said, “Come this way!” I heard that, I didn’t know where to go, I was in the middle. The others asked me, “Where do we go from here?” I said, “I don’t know, now where do we go from here?” In my heart, I thought, it’s better to follow the Vietnamese. Because on this side, we have already endured suffering, misfortune. “Come, follow me this way.” 30-40 people followed me on this side. There were still about ten of them who didn’t want to listen, they were shot there. When they arrived, they were shot. On our side, we were lucky. They quickly took us there, told us to bend down on the ground. It fired from one side, then from the other, they shot each other. We were in the middle, on the ground. When they finished, they lost and left. The Vietnamese soldiers helped us to get back up, if we wanted rice, they would give it to us, they would give us anything we wanted. I couldn’t take it, a packet of rice grains was 20-30 kilos, I couldn’t take it, I didn’t have the strength to take it. I took a few jars, to eat some on the road. I just ran away. I ran away until today. I wasn’t thinking about anything. All I cared about was walking. I was going where I had to go, and I was bold, when I had to work, I was going to work, I didn’t think it would come to this today. I wasn’t thinking about it. Today, whatever the subject, I don’t think about it. I know that one day I will be dead. I almost died twice and I didn’t die. I was forced to fetch water for the elderly, I almost fell into the water, I almost died. Once, a snake was at my feet, I almost died. In the cornfields, I almost died, there was a snake at my feet. It’s my destiny, five times I survived. That’s the way it is. That’s what I’ve been through, that’s how it is. You ask me if I was thinking about anything, I wasn’t thinking about it. I just thought I was going to die one day. I was just waiting to die. I didn’t think I was alive. That’s the way it is. I wasn’t thinking about anything. Even when I ran away, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I didn’t think I’d arrive in France. I swear to you. All this time, I was always alone running away, I couldn’t have thought I’d come to France. I didn’t think of that.

[i] And your brothers and sisters?

[r] They’re dead, I only have two girlfriends left. Now they are in Cambodia.

[i] Where are they?

[r] In Cambodia, with my mother. My mother this year is over 90 years old.

[i] Is she still there?

[r] I made a request for her to come and visit, she doesn’t want to live here. She’s gone again.

[i] Do you see them again?

[r] Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t bring their pictures.

[i] But you see them again?

[r] Yes, I have pictures. My little sister just left. She came. She came three months and left, she doesn’t want to live here. I told her to come live here, she doesn’t want to. Never mind. It’s better if I live alone, it’s not a problem for me. My personality is not very compatible with my sister’s. My second sister is fine. My second sister is in Phnom Penh. His children and grandchildren are very numerous, they have all bought a big house. They took pictures, they’re richer than me. I do my accounts every day, they all have their homes, their families, their businesses, it works very well. They always tell me to go, but I can’t go. On my papers, I’m a refugee. I can’t go in there. I’m not allowed to go there. I went to make a travel document, it says “except Cambodia”. How do I get there? You have to wait until you have French nationality to be able to go there. Now it’s like that. I can’t go anywhere.

[i] Have you ever applied for French nationality?

[r] Yes. I asked, then my husband got sick, then I left that until today, I didn’t ask anymore. I didn’t want to apply for French nationality, my French is not very good. [Laughs] I know some expressions, I don’t really know how to speak them. Now… I live from day to day, I don’t think too much. I have food, I eat, I can have fun, I go out and have fun, I don’t think about anything at all. Under Pol Pot, I thought I was going to die, I didn’t think I’d be alive. I tried to kill myself once. I’m not dead. I’m not dead. [Laughs] I was sick, it was very hard, they didn’t feed me, I wanted to kill myself. I took medication to die, I didn’t die. [Laughs] I couldn’t manage to die, I had no choice. Fate didn’t want it. I thought I was going to die. There was no one near me. My mother didn’t want to live with me either. I don’t take care of it anymore. When I ran away, I didn’t think I’d get married here. I was married in 1983.

[i] And your husband is also from Cambodia?

Yes, he comes from Cambodia, he came earlier, he arrived in France in 1978. He lived under the Khmer Rouge for only one year. He ran away, he left via Thailand. For him too, it was… hard for a year, no more. In 1977… 1976-1977, in 1977 he fled to Thailand. In 1978, he arrived in France. I arrived in 1982. People didn’t know, they thought he brought me in, in fact he didn’t bring me in. I left alone, thanks to the Red Cross. Then the Red Cross asked me for the money, I gave it back. I paid back 1,200 francs. The plane ticket. I paid him back.

[i] When you arrived in Paris, you… how did you find Paris?

[r] Oh, when I arrived in Paris, I didn’t think of anything, when they took me to visit, I went there, I didn’t think of anything. I got to know the place, what it was called. I was taken on flyboats to do a tour of Paris. It’s my friend Lak, she’s now in Canada. She took me on fly boats, to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Coeur, she took me everywhere. She took me to eat, she took me to visit. I didn’t know anything about it. I followed people. When I arrived in Paris, after a day, I put my suitcase in the fireplace, bought a kilo of apples, sat down to eat them.

[i] And do you like living here?

[r] Why wouldn’t I like it, I’m used to living here. If you tell me to go live in Cambodia, I couldn’t do it, it’s too hot!

[r] Even if I had the right to go, I wouldn’t go. That’s true.

[i] What do you like about this place?

[r] What do I like? I like everything. If I want to walk, I walk, if I want to walk, I walk. I don’t think about anything now. My children and grandchildren are fine, that’s the main thing. You don’t have to think about anything. Now I can… I can spend my days laughing, that’s something. Whether I have more or less, I live my retirement like that, don’t think too much. I live in social housing, it’s good and cheap, I don’t have a problem. Now I don’t think about anything. I think about my family being fine, my grandchildren are good, that’s all. I don’t think about anything anymore. People ask me how old age is, I say that’s the way it is, don’t think too much. If there’s food, I eat, if there’s fun, I have fun. I’ve been in France for about thirty years. Hong Kong I don’t know, I haven’t been anywhere. I didn’t take the plane. Since I was brought here, I have never flown abroad.

[i] You didn’t go abroad?

[r] Never. I’ve never been abroad before.

[i] So you stayed in France?

[r] In France, yes.

[i] Have you visited France?

Yes, in Nice, Cannes, my daughter took me there. I went there on a tour package. Nice, Cannes… Germany. Italy…. Spain, I haven’t been there yet. Switzerland, I didn’t go there. There are a few places…. Metz, Jarny, etc… I went there. There is also Lille, I went there, Dijon, I went there. My daughter lives there, I went there. But I have not yet taken a plane to go abroad. I’ve never been on a plane before, people don’t believe me! They say I am… Actually, I didn’t go there.

[i] And you want to go?

[r] I would like to, but I don’t have any money. How to get there? Retirement only allows me to eat, where can I go? I only walk around inside Paris. I participate in activities for seniors.

[i] Where do you like to go for a walk in Paris?

[r] I go everywhere, there’s no need to ask! [Laughs]

[i] What is your favorite place?

[r] What is my favorite? In Paris, I walk everywhere, here and there, I go everywhere. I don’t care about that. As long as I can walk around. You ask me which place I like best, I like them all. [Laughs]

[i] Isn’t there a place you love most?

[r] No, I don’t think about it. I don’t think there’s a place I like better. As long as I can walk, I walk. I don’t care if I like it or not. If I can go, I’ll go. I don’t care about that. That’s the way it is. There’s nothing else.

[i] You thought the French were welcoming when you arrived… ?

[i] The French, when I arrived, were good people, they gave me money, they gave me housing, etc….. They took me to do my administrative procedures, they were all French. The people who gave me the residence permit were French. To go to Cité[la Préfecture], they also took me with them. The food, the accommodation, they gave it to me. At the shelter, they gave me some. And when I left the home, they gave me about 1,000 francs. I had nothing to think about. Before, I didn’t have a penny. Now they give me that much, I’m already lucky. What more should we think about? I don’t think about anything anymore, that’s true. They help us a lot, the French government helps us a lot. I congratulate them. When you’re sick, there’s no need for money. Everything is free of charge. Having a child, there’s no need for money either. You know, I did a cesarean section for my three children, I didn’t spend a penny. Can you believe it? You don’t have to spend a penny. When you don’t have any money, they help you a lot. Even for housing, they help us. I congratulate them. What I’m saying is true, it’s true. My heart… is attached to them. To catch a plane, I didn’t spend anything, they took me to France. You know. They fed me, housed me, allowed me to take some classes. Is that the way it is in Cambodia? You always have to pay. I came all the way here, it’s because my destiny is good. I congratulate them. There’s nothing to talk about. When I arrived, they really welcomed me. To eat, in the foyer, there was everything. You could eat your fill. I was eating so much, I couldn’t eat anymore. It was too much! If you only knew! Where can you find it so well in another country? If you only knew! I congratulate France. Coming here was a really good choice! [Laughs] That’s right! I’m telling the truth. Now I walk around here and there, I go to friends’ houses, I go for a walk, I tell jokes, that’s the best thing. I don’t want to worry about anything anymore. My brain doesn’t think so.

[i] Your friends, you met them all here?

[r] No, there are some I already knew in Cambodia. That I found here. Who I played with when I was a kid. Four-five people I grew up with. When I saw them again, I kissed them very hard. I cried very hard. [Laughs] One of them told me, “I didn’t think your destiny would be so long, you came all the way here.” I said, “That’s right. I can’t believe it either.” He told me, your destiny is really long. Have you seen my parents?” I said, “Yes, I saw them, we left together.” But now they’re gone. Now they’re all dead. In my family, there are only four people left. My mother, my two little sisters, and me. The four of us. But I left on my own. My sisters didn’t know that. I left and I looked for them, they didn’t look for me. Because my mother can’t read. I had put an ad in the newspaper, but she didn’t know it. On the road, I would get to this place, when I made a little money, I would send her money, I would publish ads all the time, but she couldn’t read. So I asked people who were going to Phnom Penh to send him letters or pictures. Then after that, I met an aunt in Phnom Penh who was a wholesaler. It was when my cousin brought some merchandise that I saw her, and I asked her if she knew this person. My cousin gave it to my mother. My mother said it was an aunt’s daughter. That’s how I found her. Otherwise I wouldn’t have found it. Where I was going, whether I was dead or alive, she didn’t know. I ran away on my own, from Pol Pot to today, many years ago. I asked her to come twice. I took her to Etretat, I took her to Saint-Michel, where did I take her? I don’t know what other place anymore. I took her out to eat, have fun, she was very happy, I told her to live here, she said, “No, it’s too cold.” She didn’t want to live here. She wanted to go back to Cambodia. So she went home. Now I always send him money. When I have friends who go there, I give them 200 euros to give to him. I send him money at least four times a year. I don’t go abroad. I’m sending him money. And that’s not enough for him. She is often sick. I always send him money. Sometimes it’s more than 2,000. When she came, I spent several thousand. The money I saved, I gave him everything. I created a tontine to get 6,000 euros. To bring her in. To get her to come. When she came, I fed her and gave her a few thousand, and I bought her things. She didn’t manage to bring everything back. And she keeps saying that money is not enough for her. Today, she always says she doesn’t have enough. I always send them. I sent some two months ago. I have a friend who just went there, I gave her 200 to give it to her. I send them four times a year. I send 200 each time. I myself am very economical. [Laughs] She has no idea, she thinks we live so well here, we have a lot of money. When we’re so miserable that we don’t say anything… She keeps telling me, “Don’t you want to come?” She thinks I can leave as I please, it’s complicated with the papers, it’s not that simple! It’s hard to say… I don’t know how to say… If she wants money, I’ll send her some. I take care of her. I’ll send her what she wants. I’m saving up. If I want to eat, I eat. If I want to have fun, I have fun. I’m saving up to send her some so she can spend it. When my friend goes, I’ll give her 200 so she can give them to her. I’m saving a few hundred for her to spend it. There you go. It’s no big deal. She knows I’m taking care of her. If I don’t, she knows I’m taking care of her. If I don’t, she calls me, and tells me she has no more money, that she has to make a vaccine… Let her take it[the money]! As soon as someone goes, I send him money. I send him money. I’m saving, but it’s to make her feel better. She is now 90 years old. It’s not a big deal! What she wants, I give her. Now I’m quiet, I don’t want to think too much. I walk around, I eat, that’s enough for me. I can’t think of anything else. There you go.

[i] What do you do on a daily basis?

[r] On a daily basis? When I wake up, I do a little cleaning, I light incense for Buddha. The most important thing is Buddha. I light incense for Boudda. And I do things here and there, I have breakfast, and with my friends, I talk about the rain and the sunny weather at the café, and it’s lunchtime. Sometimes I eat outside, sometimes at home. It’s just me, if I want to go for a walk, I go, I don’t think about anything else. That’s my story. That’s all. That’s all. You don’t have to think too much. If my children invite me to eat, I will eat at their house. My children call me and say, “Mom, come visit us.” So I’m going to go. There you go. I haven’t even gone abroad yet. That’s true. I haven’t travelled yet. They tell me, “Mom, it’s been a long time since you’ve been abroad.” I say, “I don’t have any money.” They say, “Go ahead, we’ll buy you a ticket.” I say, “Yes, in the future. Today, I don’t have my papers[for travel], When I’ve paid for my papers, Mom will agree to let you buy tickets.” They say, “It’s okay, Mom, go ahead. We’ll buy you the ticket so you can go on a trip.” That’s what they say, but I don’t dare. Their money is not easy to earn.

[i] Your children, did they go there?

[r] No need to talk about it!

[i] They went to Cambodia?

[r] They didn’t go there. Because they don’t know the language. They say they will go when they can speak the language.

[i] Do they speak Teochew? With you?

[r] With me, they speak teochew. There, people speak Cambodian. There you go. When I came here, I learned to speak a little Vietnamese. [Laughs]

[i] Have you taken French classes?

Yes, but after not even a month, I found a job and had to stop. I took classes, then stopped. I don’t know now, I forgot. I wait until I am 65 years old on my papers and I will enroll in French classes. To learn a little bit.

[i] Would you like to learn today?

[r] Huh?

[i] Would you like to learn again today?

[r] Next year, in June, yes. More like September. Because not learning is not possible. Today, I am in charge of my own papers. I manage alone with the expressions I know. My children don’t help me, they’re busy. When I ask them, “Mom, I don’t have time, another day!” “Another day, but I need my papers! Help me fill them out, and I’ll bring them in myself.” I always take care of it myself. Allowances, sickness… I’m the one who takes care of it myself. No one is helping me. The papers for the mayor’s office, I’ll bring them by myself. When I applied for social housing, I took care of it on my own. Every month, I was going to ask four-five times, four-five times, until I got one. I applied for 13 years before I got a place to live. I lived for 13 years at Tower 84, before moving into my current home. I kept asking, I insisted until they got tired of me. “Ma’am, you always come, but we don’t have room for you.” They said I was stubborn. [Laughs] The Frenchman, every time, told me I was stubborn. I insisted. I insisted until it worked. Finally, there was an elderly lady at the town hall, who was kind, she was going to retire, she said, “Madam, that’s not the way to do it”, I said, “Why?” “You know, you don’t have a pay slip, we’re not going to give you housing.” I said, “In this case, how do we do it?” She said, “If you have a pay slip, we’ll give you a place to live.” I went to work for Tang Frères, I looked after his children, his grandchildren, for 3 years. I got a pay slip, and I was immediately given a place to live. I worked for Tang Frères for 3 years. I had pay slips, a contract, then I became unemployed, and I found a job at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport for eight years. Then I had problems with my legs, I couldn’t walk anymore. The doctor said, “If you keep going, you’ll end up in a wheelchair.” I went to take x-rays. The airport is very large. If you walk too much, it hurts your legs. My two bones there, they… I took x-rays, he said, “It’s no longer possible, you’re going to have to be in a wheelchair.” Being in a wheelchair is even worse! Who would take care of me? He said, “Stop working.” That’s when I changed my boss. He gave me an indermnity to get me out of here. He gave me compensation and I was unemployed until I retired. I retired at 63. They said my points were too high. They retired me. I earn about 800 euros, with the “complementary”, I have about 900. Until today. I’ve only been retired 10 months. My husband passed away in December. Last year in December. It was only 10 months ago, and he died. I had been retired for 2 months and he died. I was lucky, I didn’t need to take any action. Going to the cemetery, asking this and that, it’s tiring. That’s where I am today. I’m living my life. Sometimes I go to a friend’s house, sometimes I go to the temple, because I am a Buddhist. That’s just my story, that’s all. Now, that’s how I spend my days. I can’t think of anything else. You ask me what places I like, I like them all, it’s true. I congratulate France. People are generous. They helped us a lot, the refugees. That’s true. The French did not receive so much. But the refugees were helped a lot. And at 65, we give you this and that. I’ll be 65 in a year. It’s not my real age on my papers. I’m four years younger on my papers. I was born in 1950, but on the papers it’s 1954. Four years ago, four months apart. No, 4 years, not 4 months. That’s my story. That’s what I’ve been through. It was sad. [Laughs] I’m going on with my life. I don’t care about anything anymore. Even if you ask me to think about it, I wouldn’t think about it. If my children invite me to eat, I’ll go. If they ask me to babysit their children, I will. I walk, I go for walks… I don’t think so, as soon as I lie down, I fall asleep. I don’t think about anything. I watch movies. Sometimes in the evening, I watch movies until 1 or 2 o’clock, I talk on the phone with friends for 1 or 2 hours, it happens, until the early morning. I have friends who talk a lot, I listen to them. [Laughs] Until the early hours of the morning. I sleep, I do things here and there, I take care of the house. Sometimes I knit scarves to pass the time for my friends. They think I knit well, they asked me to make them some. I knitted a dozen of them for people. One friend wants it, another friend wants it. In two or three days, it’s done. When I have time, I knit. I do a little bit of this, a little bit of that, it makes the days go by. I don’t want to think anymore. Next year, your father will be 70 years old, I will be 70 years old too. [Laughs] It goes by fast. Year after year. My daughter is 34 years old. Next year, 35. It goes fast. When I first came here, it was fast too. I got married and had children. Three children. One a year. It goes by fast. Now they’re all grown up. They all work. I don’t have to worry anymore. Now I don’t think about anything. If I want to go for a walk, I will. What’s the point of thinking? If friends go to visit a place, I go there too. Next year, I will participate with others in the activities of the town hall. [Laughs] I don’t think about anything. I’m going anywhere. I am a very easy person. Wherever it is, I’m going. With what I’ve been through, if I had to die, I’d already be dead. I don’t think about anything anymore.

[i] The interview is over. Do you have anything to add?

[r] No. That’s my story. If you want to ask me any more questions, next time! [Laughs]

[i] Thank you very much!

[r] Please. Goodbye.