HomeS.C.A.N.PhilosophyInformationStoriesArticlesPhotographsLinksHelpGuestbookContact Us



Story 1Story 2Poem 1  

Our Great Escape

By Sao Noan Oo

It was a beautiful evening in May.  The moon had just come into view from behind the sky line as my sisters and I had just returned from a long walk. As we sat on the veranda drinking fruit juices we could feel a gentle breeze filled with soft fragrances, blowing over our faces.  It was very pleasant and relaxing!

At 7 pm., we went into the dining room to join our parents and brothers for dinner.  Mother was not there: not feeling very well she had gone to bed. After dinner, while we were playing card games Liyama, a Korean working as a junior partner in the Japanese firm came to visit.  We were surprised that he had come alone, because he and Kamei San, his senior partner had always come together.

"Where is Kamei San?", Noan enquired.  He told us that Kamei San had a lot of work and had stayed at the office to finish it.  There was something about his expression that was not very convincing but, at that time we did not attach too much importance to it.

Having found out that Mother was not well, Liyama asked Father whether he could go in and see her.  "Of course", Father replied, and led him into the bedroom.  This was not unusual: one of the company's personnel had often visited and examined us, when we were ill. These were not trained medical doctors, but they had enough knowledge to diagnose common illnesses and to prescribe appropriate medications.

We children continued playing games until we were bored by them and it was nearly time for bed.  It seemed that hours had gone by and Liyama was still talking to our parents. We became uneasy and sensed that, whatever they were discussing, was very serious and important.”  "What can they be talking about?” Noan wondered, putting into words the thoughts of the rest of us.  The inner lounge adjoined our parents' bedroom.  Sai Kham cheeky as ever, walked to the door to eaves drop.  Kyeo rushed to join him, but announced that she could not hear a thing, and they both soon gave up.

When Liyama finally came out of the bedroom, his expression was so grim that we were not sure whether we should speak to him. However, he did wish us 'sayonara' before he left. Mother and Father remained in the bedroom and we did not see them until the following morning.

The next morning we were still in bed, when Sai Kham bounced into our bedrooms, and pulled off our blankets, 'Get up, you lazy bones. Mother and Father want to see all of us, “Why do they want to see us?” I asked.
“I don't know.  Hurry up;” and he pulled me out of bed.

We hurriedly washed and dressed and assembled in the front lounge where my Parents were waiting.  Mother looked lovely, but worried and tired. Father was quite composed, but he too looked tired.  When we were all seated, Father rubbed his hands, something he usually did, when he was about to introduce a serious topic.  He told us that the previous evening Liyama had come, not on a social visit, but to warn us of imminent developments in our State: the Japanese were losing the war, and the Americans were speedily advancing into several parts of the Shan State.  They had taken Laika, an adjoining state north of ours and, with the help of the Kachins and Karens, had set up an army base camp.  Our state would probably become a major battle ground between the above combined forces and the Japanese soldiers.  Liyama had advised that Mother, we children and other women relatives should leave home immediately and travel north towards Laika.

“What about you, Father? Are you not coming with us?” I interrupted.  Mother tried to reassure us by explaining that he and Uncle would catch up with us, as soon as they could.  For them to leave at that time would be too risky: Father's absence might cause the Japanese soldiers to become suspicious of our plan.

As we were to leave that night Mother had instructed us to go and pack our cases, and to take with us only the essential and our everyday clothing.  Too shocked to ask any more questions, silently and obediently we went to our bedrooms to begin packing.  I remember I sat on my bed and wondered where this escape would take us.  Would we ever see our home again?.

At midnight we softly climbed into the lorry and soon the engine roared and gradually took us away from home.  Our Mother’s plan was that we would stop at our house in a village twenty miles away.  She had hoped that before we had travel further Father and Uncle would be able to join us.

Dawn was breaking, and as we approached the village, we saw thick black smoke rising, as if something had been burning fiercely.  We drove on into the village where some people were waiting for us.  Amongst them was the Village Headman, who greeted us with the bad news that our house had been burnt to the ground.  A group of Japanese soldiers had been in the village the previous night and had set fire to our house.  We had no idea whether the Japanese soldiers knew of our plan, or whether knowing that they were losing the war and in desperation they had set off on a path of random destruction.

The village was no longer a safe place so we continued our journey until we came to a stony cave.  The cave had a wide opening shaped like an arch which looked as if it had been artistically carved.  It was quite light and big enough to let air into the interior, where we found an area, which was quite roomy and high enough for us to make it into a living area.  The men immediately got to work and erected bamboo stages to give us some dry area to sit and lay our mattresses.  Two lines of ropes were fixed to the walls of the cave at the upper and lower ends of the mattresses so that we could put up mosquito nets.

We had not eaten since we left home our stomachs rumbled with hunger, but we had to make do with the cold minced meat and Kao Larm which we brought with us.  For other meals we bought raw food from the nearby villages, while the surrounding woods and forests provided us with ample vegetables and mushrooms.  Water was drawn from a nearby well, and there was no shortage of logs to keep the fire burning all day to cook food or boil water.

After lunch we often sat outside the cave, when one day, to our amazement, we saw a huge monkey scrambling to sit on the hill just above us. He was followed by three or four little ones, jumping from tree to tree.  When they had enough of play they came and sat next to the leader.  Gradually the others followed, until there was a group of fifteen to twenty.  They stared inquisitively at us and we at them until they decided to leave.  This became a daily occurrence.

In the evenings we would sit round a fire, eating roasted potatoes and chestnuts and, watch the sun sink behind the hills, painting the blue sky with wonderful colours of purple and red.  Flocks of birds would be flying home to roost ad we would listen to their songs: the nightingales, the doves, the cuckoos and the pigeons, all singing their own tune: and together producing sweet melodies that echoed through the trees and beyond the cave.  The world seemed so free from trouble and care: totally different from the reality of our situation.

At night, I had often lain awake for hours and sometimes it was a bit scary, because it was so quiet that it was possible to hear everything that stirred, even the humming of mosquitoes.  Now and again, the loud and clear hooting of an owl or the howling of wolves would pierce through the silence of the night.

Each morning we rose with the sun to wander and climb the forested hills surrounding the cave.  We discovered numerous species of wild flowers and orchids.  The orchids were the most interesting, very beautiful and delicate. We watched brightly coloured birds so still in the tree tops that looked like flowers in bloom.  We would have liked to wander further into the forest, but we thought our long absence from the cave might add to Mother's many worries.  We knew that Mother was very concerned for Father and Uncle although she had tried to show exterior calm and be strong for us.

Early one evening as we were wandering near the cave waiting for dinner, we saw three villagers in the distance walking towards us.  I called to Mother who was inside the cave, 'Mother, come quickly'.  She was out in a second. We all clung together, our eyes focussed on the three men, until Sai Kham, with the instinctive intuition of a ten year old, suddenly shouted, "Father" and ran towards them.  It was indeed Father and Uncle but we still could not recognise the third man as we all ran to greet them.  It turned out to be Kamei San, one of the managers from the Japanese firm.

After the initial greetings, Kamei San told Mother that he was at peace with himself now that he had brought Father and Uncle to be reunited with the family.  “What about you, Kamei San, what's going to happen to you?” she asked with concern in her voice.  Kamei San evaded the questions, but there were tears in his eyes as he told Father that he should get his family to Laika as soon as possible.  Father acknowledged the warning and thanked Kamei San for what he had already done and for being a good friend.  It was Father's hope that they might meet again in better times.

At this point the reality imposed itself on Noan and me.  The Japanese were the enemy, the Japanese soldiers, some of whom had lived peacefully in the main alongside us, were now the enemy and Kamei San was one of the same race.  However, he had been our teacher and friend and we had felt sad and at the same time grateful as we waved good-bye to him.

There were no motor roads from the cave to Laika and the heavy cumbersome bullock carts would be slower than walking, so Father had dispatched for some men to nearby villages to acquire some horse while we settle down to wait.

The following day, however, as we gathered for lunch as a family again, Amart Singh, one of Father's officers, suddenly appeared.  The Japanese soldiers knew about the cave and were on their way.  There was no time to wait for the horses.

No sooner had we climbed clear of the cave than we heard gun shots. Firing was non-stop and we assumed that the Japanese were firing at our men. We quickened our pace and tried to leave the gun shots and mortar behind.

It was, nearly dark before the sounds faded, but Father and Amart Singh were still not prepared to stop.  Although we were visibly exhausted and desperate for rest they continued to push us on.  My two brothers and Jeanne were being carried. Mother, out of breath and very tired , declared she could go no further, Amart Singh, who was also our parents godson carried her.  When it got too dark, the men chopped down and lit bamboo poles to light up the tracks overgrown with brambles and bushes.  At times these had to be cut down before we could walk through.

Exhaustion began to take its toll on the remaining walkers: some of us were limping and trailing behind.  My mind and body were equally numb and my throat was dry.  Finally I could contain myself no longer and cried out, “Please, Father! Can we rest for just a few minutes' and Father gave in. It was heavenly just to rest our aching feet and exhausted bodies, but it was not for long.  Soon Father shouted, “Get up, we've got to go on”.  I pulled myself up and walked, but kept wondering how much further.  My feet were moving automatically, my heart beating fast, and my stomach was hungry for food.  We dragged ourselves along, hoping that we would soon reach the village where we could lie down for the night.

Finally we arrived at the village, "Wan Yang".. This was where Father had planned for us to spend the night.  It was not to be.  No sooner had we arrived than we heard gun shots again.  The Japanese soldiers still were on our heels.

With our strength ebbing, we pushed our bodies on, until we came to another village," Nam Wan" or " Sweet Water", noted for its pleasant tasting water.  We were not bothered about what the water tasted like; we were so thirsty that we drank mugs of it and would have done so whatever the taste. At long last we had some food too and, with the kindness of the village folks, beds for the night.  Noan, Kyeo and I slept next to each other and just as we were falling off to sleep Noan sat up and scratched her body, she had been bitten by fleas and her body was covered in red spots.  The fleas were obviously in the beddings.  We had no choice, but to continue to use the blankets and we were so tired that the thought of fleas did not keep us awake for long.

In the morning we were relieved to wake up and find that the horses had arrived.  Other than our parents, none of us had had the experience of travelling on horse-back, but we did not find it very difficult to control the horses.  About 3 in the morning we arrived at the a village called "Na Deit" or "Quiet Field" on the edge of Laika State.  At the entrance to the village, a group of voluntary Shan soldiers, patrolled the area.  Father introduced us and explained the circumstances of our unceremonious arrival.  Would they direct us to the home of the village headman.  The soldiers responded loudly and rudely refusing us access and pointing guns at us.  We were all shocked by their manner as much as frightened of their guns: it seemed impossible that any Shan could treat us without any compassion.  Obviously the power of the gun had gone to their heads and had affected their judgement and cannot differentiate between friend and foe.

Our parents looked defeated. They were too tired to argue or to try to insist on the village Heeadman being called.  Moving us a little way from the village to the bank of a stream, Father's men tethered the horses and Father encouraged us to settle on the grass.  We had no way of knowing what the next day would bring and, possibly our parents did not get much sleep, but we children, curled up and were soon fast asleep.  I have no recollection of whether we had any rugs to sleep on or blankets to cover our bodies.

When I woke up the next morning my limbs felt stiff, every bone in my body was aching and my stomach was rumbling with hunger.  The soldiers were still at the village entrance and our position still seemed hopeless.  However, like the rest of my family, I needed to relief myself and so we had to muster enough enthusiasm to find private places, before we could even think, what to do next.  We had reassembled and were starting to discuss where we could obtain one, when we heard a commotion near the soldiers' check point.  Walking towards us, with a small entourage, was a figure, whom we recognised as the town Officer who had also evacuated from the town to the village.

Never had anyone been greeted more rapturously: after days of disappointment and despair this was our first glimmer of hope.  Following a brief exchange the Officer lead us, our servants and horses past the soldiers, no longer aggressive or waving their guns, to a place in the village, where he was camped.  We were given breakfast and lunch and somewhere to rest. One of the servants was dispatched to the house of the village headman, where it was arranged that we should stay.

The Headman and his family made us very welcome. They fed us wholesome food and gave us a comfortable place to sleep.  During the five days that we were there, our body and spirits started to recover from the anxiety and deprivation of the previous three weeks.

At the invitation of the American/Karen Officers we moved to a wooden house in the vicinity of the 101 Base Camp.  The officers treated us with friendliness and showered us with canned corn-beef, tomatoes, cheese and, chocolates, the latter delighted us immensely. They came to visit us daily and paid so much attention to us that Mother became a bit wary of their intentions.  We were instructed that while we must be polite, we must not be too friendly or encourage them in any way.  The officers were just being sociable and friendly.  However, Mother was adamant that she must protect us. Like mothers of teenager girls the world over, she was anxious for us and she knew the ways of the world better than we did.

After we had been in the camp for a week we were told that we were to be air-lifted to Bhamo, at where the British Government had its temporary base. At Bhamo we were taken to a wooden building occupied by two other families.  Bhamo had its share of bombing and parts of the town were still in ruins.  The accommodation was far from being homely or clean but after all the terrifying experiences we had been through we were grateful that we were safe and had food and shelter over our heads.  We had all come through unharmed. Whatever the future, we could now look forward to our return journey home, our home, sweet home.


(This is a shortened and slightly modified version of one of the chapters of “My Vanished World” which I hope you will enjoy reading. “My Vanished World has been translated into Japanese and Thai. I was wondering if any one would be interested to translate it into Tai language? If you do please let me know.)

If any one has been through some unusual experience please let us share your story. We will be pleased to publish it on our web-site: S.C.A.N.

  Copyright©2006 Sao Noan Oo & loisamseep