Excerpt from “Buffalo Girl: My Journey to Freedom” by Hoang Taing

Badminton Along the Mekong River

In the peaceful times — before the Khmer Rouge took over and destroyed my family and my country — Dad would take me, my mother, and the rest of the young children to a pretty park. It was near the Mekong River, close to our house.

Father would play badminton with his friends, and Mother would play the sport with the wives. The kids (older sister Nai, older brother Cheng, little brother Kheam, and myself) would roam around the park. Between the plants, the river, the animals, and our still-innocent imaginations, we found plenty to do.

Kheam and I loved to play with a special kind of grass. Upon touch, the plants would shut tight. We found it so amusing and ran all over the fields, touching all of the “Shy Leaves” in sight. My parents’ friends nicknamed me “Shy Leaf” because at that age, I was extremely shy; so shy that I would cry when people looked at me.

Shy Leaves and Pleasant Breezes

Family outings at this time were so precious because those were the last times we enjoyed Cambodia together before the war. After the badminton games, we joined our parents on their morning outings through the park.

Kheam, Nai, Cheng and I loved to pick up pebbles and throw them into the Mekong River, tricking the abundant fish into thinking we had food for them to eat. The fish would jump up wherever the pebbles splashed, which made Kheam and me giggle.

As kids, we were easily entertained; we spent hours watching the schools of fish, playing with the “Shy Leaves,” and enjoying the morning breeze as we strolled through the lovely park with our parents. Oh, how I long for those unforgettable times again with my family!