At the end of April, Loung and her siblings pack their things and leave the displacement camp. Two women who have been staying with Meng and Khouy for safety join them. Looking back at Pursat, Loung notes how normal the mountains look despite all the horror that has happened there. For days they march toward Bat Deng. Loung thinks of that first march from Phnom Penh four years earlier, and how her sheltered life in the city had not prepared her for it. Though her body can better handle the journey now, she reflects that her heart will never get over losing Ma, Pa, Keav, and Geak.
The fact that women stay with Meng and Khouy for safety even after being liberated from the Khmer Rouge again echoes the book’s theme about specific issues women face during times of war. Loung has been made stronger by her fight to survive under the Khmer Rouge, but the loss of family will scar her forever—a testament to the power of their bond.
The group comes across an abandoned hut where they will stay for the night. A husband, wife, and their sick-looking baby are already there. Loung thinks the wife looks exactly like Ma. Before leaving the next morning, Loung discretely wraps some of her siblings’ cooked rice in a banana leaf and leaves it with the family.
Loung gives the family rice as a means of penance for stealing from her own family earlier in the novel. It is a step towards healing and forgiving herself for what she had to do in order to survive.
After eighteen days of walking they near Bat Deng. Meng and Khouy ask people they meet on the road to give word to their uncles, and soon they see Uncle Leang driving toward them on his bicycle. He gives Chou and Kim sweet rice cakes. He does not recognize Loung at first.
Uncle Leang’s approach mirrors his arrival when the Ungs first left Phnom Penh. The fact that he does not recognize Loung at first, however, reveals how much things have changed in the intervening years.
Back at Uncle Leang’s hunt, Aunt Leang gives them new clothes. Khouy and Meng tell their aunt and uncle, who were considered base people in their village, what happened. Loung says nothing about her own experiences, reflecting that while her memories used to make her angry and strong, holding onto them now is “unendurable.”
The bond between family means that the Ungs’ relatives immediately take them in and help care for them. With her family back, Loung no longer needs to be quite so angry to survive, and begins the process of putting her past behind her.
Loung learns that Bat Deng was liberated weeks before Pursat, and that the Khmer Rouge were more humane in the eastern provinces: people had more food, worked shorter hours, and killings were less indiscriminate. Loung walks to the market that has sprung up in town, where rice is bartered for a wide variety of foods and even books. When she comes to a stall selling pork dumplings, Ma’s favorite food, she grows angry at the fact that if only Ma had held on for two more months she would have made it.
The market signifies life as it was before the takeover slowly returning to the village. This is also the first indication that certain areas of the country fared differently under Khmer Rouge control. Ma’s death is made all the more painful by the fact that she almost made it through to the Khmer Rouge’s defeat.
An uncle arranges for Meng to marry Eang, a Chinese girl in her twenties who was away at school during the purge of Phnom Penh and has no idea if her family is alive. The men work in the family’s garden while the girls make sweets to sell in the market. Without a stall or table, they walk around barefoot with wicker baskets on their hips. At one point, Loung approaches a woman with ruby earrings, but the woman shoos her away.
This is the first introduction to Eang, who will ultimately help raise Loung in the United States. Loung’s job selling sweets echoes that of the children she used to see selling things or begging for money on the streets of Phnom Penh before the takeover. She has become one of the poor children she used to pity.
After three months in Bat Deng, Eang’s sister arrives at the village and says that most of her family escaped to Vietnam and are alive and well. Eang and Meng go to Vietnam, where the economy is stronger. Meng returns four days later and talks excitedly about moving to America. He also says that, fearing the return of the Khmer Rouge, many Cambodians are leaving for Thailand to start a new life. Meng says the safest route to do so is through Vietnam, which bypasses Khmer Rouge-controlled zones in the north as well as the fields of landmines they have planted. Crossing through Vietnam involves a dangerous and costly human smuggling operation, however, and they only have enough money for two to go.
Meng’s visit to Vietnam is the first step towards his—and ultimately Loung’s—new life. Despite the Khmer Rouge’s defeat, there is still far more opportunity and stability outside of Cambodia. Meng is no longer focused solely on survival, but on making a better life for himself and his family.
Meng says he will take Loung, as she is still young enough to learn English and get an education when they eventually move to America. In five years, Meng says he will have saved enough money to send for the rest of the family. At the end of the week, he and Loung leave the village on a bicycle. Chou sobs as she says goodbye, but Loung won’t let herself cry. She reflects that people expect the more sensitive Chou to cry, but she has the burden of always being strong.
Meng’s decision will change Loung’s life forever. This is the last time Loung and Chou will see each other for nearly two decades, and Chou’s tears reaffirm her gentle nature and bond with her sister. It is notable that Loung lingers on this goodbye with Chou, as Chou will be the one to welcome her back to Cambodia many years later.