Saturday, March 18, 2017


My sister had just finished high school in a nearby city and returned home. We got along well even though I was six years her junior. We would work together in the fields, staying late to admire the sunset while guarding the ripening rice crop against the bad bad birds that would swoop down now and then to peck at the precious grains.

One day my mother came home with tears in her eyes and a piece of paper in her hand. The piece of paper was an order from the authorities for my sister to join the Young Volunteers Corps. This meant she would be sent to wild jungles and clear the land and turn it into plantations owned by the state.

There was no other way but to accept the inevitable. The number of days my sister could stay with us kept getting shorter; and on the day of parting, accompanied by my mother, she carried her small luggage to a big empty yard in front of the public meeting house. A fleet of buses was waiting there, and a somber crowd was gathering that comprised mostly young draftees and their anxious families.

Despite the pep talk delivered by a couple of communist party officials, a huge sound of collective wailing broke out when the buses began rolling.

And that's how the Young Volunteers got started in our village. It would be years before I saw my sister again.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Middle school was a whole new game. New classmates, new subjects with a different teacher for each, quite exciting for a newbie like myself. Our classroom was at the far end of the single-storey school building, with a bush of light purple flowers blooming outside a window all year round. Yet what I remember the most was something that did not even happen in my class or to my friends.

It happened to a chemistry teacher who was also new to the school. She was young, good-looking and said to be fresh out of wherever teachers were trained. She did not teach my class because in those days kids started chemistry in eighth grade, which was two years ahead of us. I did not pay much attention to her until she was not seen around anymore.

She had been arrested.

A newcomer to the village, she had been given temporary lodging in a back room at the school office. Rumor, later confirmed, had it that one day the principal rummaged through her stuff and found at the bottom of her suitcase a sheet of music. It was one of those love songs from the non-communist years and as such condemned and forbidden. The principal then called the police on her.

A couple of months later during break suddenly it felt as if there had been a big gush of wind sweeping through the whole schoolyard. All the kids started to run towards an empty field right next to the school while yelling "Miss Hue! Miss Hue!" I joined them and behold, there was a line of prisoners walking under police guard to wherever they were supposed to do forced labor for the day. Miss Hue was among them, using her hat to shield her face. After they were gone we got back to the school premises and I saw the principal standing outside, scowling really hard at us.

Then one day Miss Hue was released. She stopped by to see my neighbor and told her story. She left for her home faraway and I never saw her again. The principal stayed for much longer and did his darnedest to ingratiate himself to his new bosses, but life would have its own twists to astound everyone.