After having a much needed chat with the parents in the morning, I got some chicken congee, which is basically rice porridge with broth, chicken, herbs, bean sprouts, limes, and that almighty grain with as much spice as you can handle, at a local spot. After testing my buds with the scorch of fire, I waited around for a group of girls to summon the energy out of their beds to join them for a tour of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (aka S-21 prison). The four girls joining me for this stroll through the not so grim past of Cambodia hailed from the U.K. At the Killing Fields we were equipped with audio guides that would lead us through the grave sites and bone filled memorial that acted as the site’s center. While walking past now empty mass graves (at this point large, wide holes in the ground) and the collection of bones and clothing from the victims, we heard about how a place like this could come into existence and what a dreadful place it was for the unlucky thousands that got transported here. Killing fields dot more places than you might figure throughout Cambodia but this one at Choeng Ek outside of Phnom Penh is the most famous. Unless my eyes were mistaken, I could see on a couple of the trees etched lines running the course of their bark from the machetes that wielded unspeakable evil. The most depressing site was the tree in which the babies were battered across; their youthful legs used as a pivot point while the Khmer soldiers thrashed their bodies against the hard, unforgiving wood. While the victims moaned and screamed, soldiers had speakers playing loud music from atop the not so Magic tree amongst the most populated graves. These people had done nothing wrong. They might have been intellectuals, monks, elderly, protesters, family of those deemed unworthy of the future Kampuchea race (a well-recognized saying from the leader Pol Pot said “to kill the grass you must also remove the root”, which included the children they feared would seek revenge), and surprisingly the rare foreigner amongst them. While I walked along the designated path I saw bones not removed from the ground sticking themselves out, representing a haunting presence. The monument in the middle at the end of the tour was spooky. Within its clear glass windows and doors stood a tall column composed of skulls and a variety of bones as well as some of the weapons that were wielded in these atrocities. We were eventually taken back across the bumpy dirt roads that make up many of the roads of what can be considered Asian suburbs to S-21 prison and former school now turned museum. The buildings were three levels high with the structures and the courtyard used for the purposes of interrogation, torture, and likely deaths of the inhabitants. The people unlucky enough to find themselves within the confines of such a places as well as the Killing Fields worked long hard hours (in the case of the Fields in the efforts of building the mass agricultural sustenance that Pol Pot envisioned for his socialist country) with only a meal per day of some rice mush. For us visitors, we had most free rein of the rooms where the prisoners stayed and were tortured with gruesome photos and information included to really send the message home. It is surprising how little the outside world new of this for such a long time until disagreements with the Vietnamese threatened the long closed borders and the sadistic dynamic that Pol Pot and his men had put in place. The torture mechanisms and prison stalls that were not even tolerable for livestock were difficult accept. Along with the pictures of each and every inhabitant over the years within the many rooms of its buildings (knowing some of these people could be in their forties, fifties, etc. still taking in breaths of air that I occasionally forget to value). I struggle to understand how people can inflict such pain and agony upon another human being let alone their own people. This only just happened in the late 1970s, a period of time still within reach and recall. After leaving the Killing Fields and S-21 prison, I never been more grateful to be alive and a U.S. citizen. No matter how much life may seem to kick me down wedging between me the pavement and a firm unflinching boot, I hit the lottery just by being born in the U.S. of A. After the sun had set on Phnom Penh, the girls and I took a tuk-tuk to the Night Market. While the girls shopped for clothes (go figure), I explored the less than impressive food scene. I had no plans on eating anything, I was just looking for a show that the limited stalls couldn’t deliver. After having our fill of the nightly activities, we took a tuk-tuk ride back to the guesthouse with a driver clueless of his directions. I had to constantly shout and point general directions to the man and even get out of the vehicle to point out the street signs of where we were. After enough unexpected confusion we made it back to the White Rabbit alive so that I could enjoy a night’s sleep in the dorm air-con room (a much needed splurge if I had any hopes of reuniting with the long forgotten sandman).
‘Wats’ in Cambodia Day 127: God Bless America!