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182 We ­ were now no dif­fer­ ent from blindfolded prisoners who are led away to their fates. We could still see one another’s ­ faces, but we could no longer observe anything outside the trucks. Armed police ­ were in ­ every truck, and we ­ were jammed together. A bucket was in the back of the truck for us to urinate in, and we would pass it around to whoever needed it. We ­ were shackled together, so when one person urinated, the person with whom he shared handcuffs would also have to stand up and witness his bodily functions. Most ­people had nodded off. The truck bounced as it traveled along the bumpy road. Sometimes when the truck veered hard, the urine spilled out of the bucket and onto the floor of the truck. We started to smell the stench of life ­ under communism . The air was stifling. The convoy kept moving ­ until late after­ noon. When it stopped, the VC took off our handcuffs. They ordered us to step out of the truck. The VC guards stood alongside the road, carry­ ing AK-47s, looking serious, their eyes filled with murderous intent. We ­ were in a mountainous, forested area. Before transferring us into this camp, the communist cadre introduced it by saying: “­ Here is the school, the reeducation­ labor school for you.” It was so ironic that it was almost funny. It was a prison camp, but they called it a school. ­ Going to prison was called ­ going to school. Perhaps only the communists knew how to manipulate this very special kind of wordplay. When the VC first occupied the South, they had talked about school, not prison camps, therefore ­after the surrender the naïve ­people in the South ­didn’t realize that they ­were being sent to prison. Now, we ­ were in the Xuân Phước reeducation camp, or concentration camp, in Tuy Hòa Province. During the war, it had been a secret VC base. The camp was isolated from the local population, which was several kilo­ meters away. It was only us and the security personnel guarding the prison. This camp was new, or, to be more precise, it was not finished yet, and so the roofs and walls ­ were made of leaves, the bunks had makeshift doors without any locks. A barbed wire fence surrounded the camp, as did four guard towers, one in each corner. C HA P T E R F I F T E E N Moving from Camp to Camp Camp to Camp   183 We ­ were newcomers. We ­ didn’t know what would happen next. They ­ didn’t have to lock the cells or build strong doors, ­ because the VC knew that none of us had any intention of escaping. We ­ were herded into the makeshift huts. Bamboo beds lined both sides of the room, with room for thirty ­ people in each row. Each person was provided with a straw mat to sleep on, lined up one next to another. At the head of the beds ­ were bamboo shelves for personal belongings. We strung up mosquito nets along the barbed wire that hung from one end of the room to the other. The bamboo creaked and rocked, so when one person turned even slightly, every­ one was affected, but none of us complained. We ­ were all alike. Every­ thing was the same. The communists called it a new cultural lifestyle. It was essential for us to forget every­ thing in order to cope with real­ ity. ­ Human beings have to adjust in order to survive. Nothing would make me afraid or worried again. The next morning, the cadre in charge of the camp lectured us about the reeducation program. He ­ didn’t mention how long we would be ­ there; instead, it was just like what had tran­ spired at the prison camp in Nha Trang. Each camp had exactly three lessons. The key difference was that ­ here we ­ were required to engage in ­ labor, called reeducation ­ labor. He declared, “We have a responsibility to educate you in the reeducation program. ­ Today we ­ will begin with the regulations . ­ Today’s lesson has thirty-six regulations and twenty decrees about your new cultural lifestyle. If you learn well and ­ labor well, you ­ will soon be re­ united with your families. It is that ­ simple. I ­ will also emphasize that you must have total faith in the Revolution. Together, we ­ will fulfill the duties assigned to us by the Party. Our camp is...


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