Friday, November 20, 2015

Tomorrow I'm Dead: A true story from Cambodia's Killing Fields

Meet Bun Yom, author of the chilling memoir Tomorrow I’m Dead. The world must never forget the horrors the Khmer Rouge inflicted on the people of Cambodia, which is why his brief, gripping personal account is so important. The communist army drove everyone out of cities and villages and sent them into the countryside. Over a million souls were murdered for showing the smallest sign of education or wealth, often for no reason at all. Colored clothing was considered a sign of wealth, so all workers wore white. No one was allowed to find food on his own:

One boy said, “I am hungry. I ate a snake.”

The Khmer Rouge asked, “Where’d you get the snake?”

The kids told them where it was. The Khmer Rouge took those two kids away from our group.

The next morning, after I had worked for a while, I asked the Khmer Rouge if I could go pee—I wanted to eat some more meat. When I ran down there, I saw the snake was gone, but the two kids’ bodies were there, with their throats cut. I ran back to work and told my crew what I had seen. After that, I kept thinking, How can I get food?

Bun Yom not only survived the four-year catastrophe (1975-1979). After reaching a Thai refugee camp, he repeatedly led “Cambodian Freedom Army” forces of up to 300 men back into Cambodia to rescue people still trapped there as recently as 1983. He was more interested in getting Khmer Rouge to surrender than he was in killing them:

We took their green uniforms, put them in a pile, and burned them in front of their faces. We gave them good food and new clothes.

…You are with the Freedom Army now. You cannot fight. No more bullets and guns. No more green uniforms.

Eventually Bun Yom came with his parents and brother to Ellensburg, Washington, sponsored by the local First United Methodist church. Since then he worked as a Kittitas County groundskeeper for 16 years, started a Thai restaurant with his wife, then borrowed money and went into business as a mechanic. Meanwhile, he had a powerful story to tell.

He first wrote it in Khmer, the Cambodian language, then arranged for it to be translated into English. In a phone interview, he said he sold 1,000 copies—his entire print run—in three hours at his restaurant. Since then he’s had book signings in several locations around the US.

Tomorrow I’m Dead deserves a wide audience, and I encourage you to buy it. You can purchase the book through Note that it's also available in Kindle and Nook versions.

Bun Yom in his own words
I was born in Pailin, Cambodia in 1960.  I attended the local schools and, because I was doing so well, I was allowed to skip several grades.  As a result, I went to college early, at age 13.  I was in the second year of college when the Khmer Rouge took over.
I lived with my mother and father, my sister and three brothers.  My father and mother ran a restaurant and grocery store.  They also found and sold rubies.  I also worked on my uncle's farm.
I was 14 years old when the Khmer Rouge came.  They immediately oredered people out of their homes and into the jungle.  Because I was young and strong, I was taken as a slave laborer.  For 2 1/2 years, I worked at various tasks--building dams, working in rice fields, etc.--with only one cup of rice soup per day.  Of course, I supplemented that meager diet with whatever I and others could find in the jungle--snakes, rats, grasshoppers, fish, shrimp. etc.--of course, uncooked.  My legs became thinner than a normal person"s arms.  But, if anyone faltered and was unable to work, they were immediately killed.  That happened to many of my acquaintances.
Eventually, I was rescued by the Cambodian Freedom Army.  I joined them, was trained and became a leader in rescuing other Cambodians from the clutches of the Khmer Rouge.  I helped lead the Freedom Army for five years, then I learned that my family was alive and in a refugee camp in Thailand. So, I left the Freedom Army and joined my father and mother and a brother in the refugee camp.  We were later transferred to a camp in the Philippines, and from there we came to the United States, sponsored by the United Methodist Church of Ellensburg, Washington.
I worked for a time on a farm near Ellensburg, as well as a food processing plant and a restaurant as a janitor.  Then, I got a job as a groundskeeper at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds.  My wife and I opened a restaurant, which I subsequently sold and invested in a garage to repair cars.  I had taught myself how to repair cars.  Then the Great Recession hit and I was not able to get enough business to pay the mortgage on the garage.  It was then I focused on writing and publishing my book.

I currently live with my wife, Aun To, and my son, Daniel.  We also have two grown daughters, Louy and Nung.  We have two grandchildren, one 4 years old, the other four months.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Once upon a Crime

This is an exercise on the idea of taking a common phrase -- in this case, once upon a time -- and changing no more than three letters. Kudos to the Internet Writing Workshop's Practice group for offering this and other great writing topics.

Once upon a Crime


There it was, a nickel bar of peanuts and caramel whispering my name. Psst! Hey Ricky, take me home. Mom stood ahead of me in the grocery line, and no one noticed as the Payday bar slipped into my pocket.

And so began my career in crime. I saw a girl drop a quarter and I snatched it off the dirt. The loss must have crushed her, but it was a big score for me. The change slots in the pay phones were often good for ready cash. Sometimes I could shake the whole thing and unstick a couple of dimes, or even a quarter. Walking through the left field during a baseball game that older kids were playing, I saw a half-dollar coin laying in the grass, Lady Liberty looking up at me. There was no doubt it had belonged to the left fielder, but finders keepers was as good as law. I told my friends of my find, and we spent it on a plain cheese pizza at a place on Rantoul Street. We’d heard that the pizzeria owner had killed a man, which made my escapade even more exciting.

My friends and I had a legitimate business, too. We collected Coke bottles and redeemed them for two cents apiece, and sometimes we’d collect old newspapers, bundle them up, and sell them to a dealer for a penny a pound. To relax, my gang and I would light up the half-smoked Pall Malls we found in the gutters – not a crime, of course, but our moms would kill us for it.

Maybe my longest-running caper was unscrewing the little caps off the air valves of tires. At one point I must have collected hundreds of them. We’d hear news accounts of grown-up criminals going to prison for stealing hubcaps, and I fervently hoped we’d never be caught. As a good Catholic boy, I confessed all my sins, but told him I’d been stealing hubcaps. Is it a sin to lie in confession?

Then one day, my gang and I got caught stealing nails from a construction site. The cop made us get in the cruiser; we were going down to the station and on to jail. But he drove us around the corner and let us out with a warning. Meanwhile, I’d peed my pants.

That close call ended my criminal career.