Before making any more decisions about leaving, Hue decided to wait to hear from Phuong and Long to make certain that they had been able to emigrate. The weeks following the return to Go Dau felt longer and longer as they waited for word that Phuong and Long had made their way beyond the refugee camps in Thailand. Food and money were scarce, and hope itself became harder to find. Finally a letter from the United States arrived, and they celebrated the news that Phuong and Long were safe and secure there.
Hue decided to find Aunt Phan again to see what kind of plan of escape still made sense. Aunt Phan had a son, Trai, and his wife, Lien, and their two little boys named Anh and Ling. Trai and Lien were restless and eager to leave. They all began to search for a way out. They knew that smaller numbers would have a better chance. Girls would have a harder time making the journey, especially the journey on foot through the jungle, if that was the only way to escape.
News of families trying to escape by sea alarmed everyone, and the government published horror stories of families lost at sea, turned away at foreign ports and forced to return to Vietnam, and starving and dying of thirst. They wanted to discourage people from trying to leave. The dangers of the jungle and war in the west were frightful enough. The family had no experience with the sea, so only the land escape route made any sense. But what chance did they have to make it out of Cambodia? Civil war was raging on the western frontier. The Vietnamese Army was in charge of most of the route, and fewer people would be able to make their way through the checkpoints since they were firmly in control. Could any of them really go on that journey with Trai and Lien, people they barely knew?
Who would try to make the journey? When they weighed and considered everything, only Au had a good prospect of making it out successfully. Could they send him by himself? Hue finally decided to send Au with Aunt Phai’s son and his family. Au would soon be thirteen. He would have to cross Cambodia almost on his own, just in company with his older cousins, supposedly helping them with their little children.
Grandma Tien and Hue had a hard time saying goodbye to Au. They felt certain that this was the last time that they would see him while either of them lived. He and Muoi were born just two months apart, and he was both son and grandson to Tien. With the situation in Vietnam growing more desperate week by week, and all the troubles they had seen, how could they keep him with them? He needed a chance to live a better life than he would face in Vietnam.
At the end of the calendar year, after farmers were harvesting the long season rice, Hue took Au to Svay Rieng, where Au climbed on board a truck used for smuggling. She paid the smuggler the money he required, told Au that she was proud of him and knew he would succeed, and gave him a parting hug and kiss. The smuggler had his workers load large bags of rice, each weighing about one hundred kilos, onto the bed of the truck. A large piece of plywood in the center of the truck bed allowed a small open space for people to sit underneath, so sacks of rice could be stacked on top as well as on the sides of the space. Au and Trai’s family of four crammed themselves into the smuggling space. Au did not know his cousins; he did not remember meeting them before, but he soon became familiar with their smells and sounds and the feel of their bodies around him. The truck had no shock absorbers, so they became sore from riding with little room even to wiggle, although the two little children did a lot of wiggling. Confined in such a small, dark, hot space, jostled this way and that, they all felt like chunks of meat thrown into a lidded wok with frying rice.