One morning, Loung wakes to find her family again packing up. With the arrival of new city people who might recognize them, Pa and Ma say it is no longer safe for them in the village and they must leave quickly. An uncle has arranged for a Khmer Rouge truck to take them to Battambang, where Loung’s grandmother lives. There are about thirty other people at the roadside rendezvous point when they arrive. Loung thinks that many look Chinese, with thinner noses and light skin; Khmer have curly black hair and darker skin.
Loung’s observation reflects the fact that the Khmer Rouge targets ethnic minority groups in Cambodia, many of whom have lighter skin than ethnic Khmers. The treatment of the Chinese here contrasts with Loung’s earlier statements about her mother’s beauty and social status coming in part from her pale skin and Chinese heritage. The old way of thinking was prejudiced and unjust, but this new hierarchy is as well.
The ride is bumpy and uncomfortable. When they finally stop that evening, everyone jumps out to stretch. Loung watches Khouy, who has a black belt in karate, do so, and remembers how much she liked to watch him practice in Phnom Penh. He would contort his face to make her laugh, and though he does many of the same movements now, his face remains serious.
Life under the Khmer Rouge has robbed the family of joy, as each member must instead focus his or her energy on survival. Khouy, like Pa, has grown more serious, reflecting the toll that the horror of the Khmer Rouge is taking on its people.
After a short meal, the Ungs climb back in the truck and drive through the night. When they arrive in Pursat province, a soldier instructs them to wait for people to come and bring them back to their village. Pa tells Loung they had to leave Krang Truop because new people from Phnom Penh had arrived and might have recognized him; even if they were friends, they may not have had a choice when it came to telling on Pa.
The fact that former friends would give away the Ungs’ identity reflects the depth of the terror the Khmer Rouge has inflicted upon its citizens. It is using fear of punishment (or starvation) as a form of control and to inflict its agenda, and will continue to do so throughout the story.
The soldiers have not taken them to Battambang as they were supposed to, but Pa says that they cannot argue. Kim tells Loung she must look after herself and not trust anyone anymore. He says it is best if she does not speak at all, and Loung reflects that she is learning “what loneliness feels like” at five years old.
The Ungs’ helplessness under the Khmer Rouge is further established, as is the price of survival: to live, Loung must sacrifice her voice and sense of connection to other human beings.
Curious, Loung slips away from her family’s watchful eyes to look around the “waiting station.” There are hundreds of people, many of whom look like they have been there for a long time. She comes across a listless elderly woman being fed by her granddaughter, who says the woman is “half-dead.” Loung asks if there are any doctors to help, but the girl snaps at her to go away.
The curiosity Loung displayed in Phnom Penh is still alive under the Khmer Rouge. The regime is clearly not tending to its citizens’ needs—its rejection of anyone with an education or allegedly influenced by the West has also resulted in a lack of doctors.
Ma calls Loung back and the family boards another truck. Two middle-aged men in black pants stand next to them, counting heads and writing something on a piece of paper. Once the truck is full they set off. Pa tells Loung that the men in black pants are representatives from rural villages. They were able to leave the waiting station so quickly because Pa bribed someone with Ma’s gold necklaces. Loung reflects on how lucky she is to have Pa, and remembers clinging to his arm during scary movies. He seems “so serious and sad” now, and she worries she won’t see “fun Pa” again.
The fact that these representatives wear the same black clothing as the Khmer Rouge is the first indication that life in the new village will be even more dangerous and repressive than it was in the previous one. Pa again reveals the lengths to which he will go to help his family and to survive. Loung’s appreciation of Pa will only make his later death even more difficult.