Published: March 6th 2006February 15th 2006
The AK47 makes for an intimidating fashion accessory...
Happy Valentine's Day to all you love birds and for all those who spent it without a special someone and felt, well, a bit crap... better luck next year, although on the bright side you do get out of buying overpriced cards, flowers and chocolates. Anyhow, let me tell you about my day.
Question: What is more romantic than a trip to the killing fields, visiting a shooting range or pub crawling from one seedy bar to another on Valentine's Day?
Answer: Doing all three.
Yep, my man sure is romantic. I'm so lucky!! Oh, well, at least I'm one of those girls who thinks that Valentine's Day is little more than commercialised hype, a sappy 'holiday' jumped upon by Hallmark and others to boost sales in between Christmas and Mother's Day. Call me a cynic. I call it how I see it.
THE KILLING FIELDS
It is disturbing, it is depressing, it is painful to see but you absolutely must see it. Everyone should. When you walk into the building that houses almost 9000 skulls, catagorised by age and gender it really drives home what happened here and
Some of the skulls housed in a monument at the killing fields outside Phnom Penh. There are almost 9000 skulls here although over 17000 people were executed and buried here.
you realise that this doesn't even scratch the surface, some estimates have the death toll of the Kymer Rouge's reign to be almost 2 million (including starvation and disease due to neglect and mistreatment not just torture and exercution). One quarter of the country's population at the time. Think about that. Almost 1 in 4 people died. Really heavy, huh?
When you visit the skulls in the monument (which houses 10 massive shelves), if you have a tour guide he will point out the different ways victims were killed, pointing out the tell-tale fractures in the skull such as a bullet hole, axe, shovel, or club marks. After you visit the skulls you walk paths around the mass graves and you'll notice bits of bleached white bone showing through parts of the path. There are still mass graves in the lake with bodies that are yet to be recovered and you'll see the tree where the soldiers would kill children by bashing them against it. Here at the tree is a bunch of children aged 4 - 12 begging. They ask you to take there photo saying altogether is sing song english "Take photo lady! One, two, three...smile!" And
"1,2,3...Smile! 1,2,3...smile" chant the kids here at the killing fields. Remember: photo's aren't free.
it will break your heart because you look at their grubby little faces and imagine the children who were there in 1975 - 79. This trip is heavy going.
You don't really need a guided tour. To be honest it is mostly self explanatory and if you've read any of the history you can fill in the blanks yourself and save 5 bucks. However we did get a guide(Because I thought I might learn something more)and our guide was a man in his late forties who said his parents were both killed by Pol Pots soldiers back when he was just a child. It struck me then: Any Cambodian you see or meet who is over 30 will have survived that horror. You'd be hard pressed to find a single person who didn't lose at least a member of their family or a friend or neighbour. Everyone over 30 here will remember those dark years and have seen awful, awful things. It is a true testimony to the strength of the human spirit and to the resilient nature of humanity that after the horror of their recent past the people of Cambodia have been able to at least start
Me trying to look bad-ass. I don't think my purse helps the cause...
to reshape and rebuild their lives and their land. The Cambodians are some of the warmest and friendliest people you'll ever meet, and are almost always ready with a smile. The gentle dignity of the people is astounding.
THE SHOOTING RANGE
Ok. This somehow felt a bit wrong considering we'd just been to the killing fields. Our tuktuk driver offered to take us there, saying since its the only one of its kind and close to the Killing Field so, you know, while we're in the area.... Never let it be said that Cambodians don't have a sense of irony! We get to the corragated iron building and I could not believe that for $US30 you could get a magazine of live ammunition and shoot an AK47! It cost $US13 for a handgun, or 'ladygun' as the guys there put it, and you simply sit down take a look at the menu and which you'd like to play with. There are grenades, anti-aircraft guns, the list goes on and if you have $US200 to burn and a penchant for violence and destruction why not go all out and try your hand at a B-40 rocket launcher?
$US1 tequila shots... Can anyone say "hideous hangover"? Too late.
No liability waivers here and the safety briefing extend only to a guy handing you a pair of earmuffs and leading you into a long corridor with the acrid smell of spent ammunitions tingling your nostrils. Can you say "romance"?
So I shot an AK47. To be honest I thought it would be bigger. But I'm kinda glad it wasn't. I was scared of it actually, having never shot a gun and, you know, being a pacifist and socially/environmentally conscious type of girl so this was weird for me and I'm not sure its legal since I read in the 'travellers bible' that they had all been shut down. Anyhow, I whipped off a few tentative shots with the manual setting. Then the guy flicks it to automatic and I open fire on my paper target, a blaze of fire shooting from the muzzle. I almost even hit the target. Almost. It's a shame that I wasn't wearing one of my many Greenpeace shirts, you know, just for a little added irony for the photo ops.
SLEAZY BARS AND PHNOM PENH BY NIGHT
Sleazy bars... you don't have to look hard, just go into pretty much
This is one of those bars I mentioned.
any bar and it'll be crawling with creepy guys and lots and lots of young asian women. At first I thought Jim was taking me to the sleazy spots deliberately but then I realised we just couldn't find any that weren't. And trust me, we looked. Stopping at no less than a dozen bars and clubs, some did a slightly better job of pretending to be respectable but not much. Soho2 didn't try at all - all their hostesses are dressed in tight, tight, short, short 'nurse' outfits. Can someone tell me: Are there no 'NORMAL' bars in Phnom Penh?!?!?
I was the only white girl in any bar we went to, save one other in one place we stopped at. Drinks were expensive so we didn't hang around long enough to talk to her and get her take on it. They all seem to cater for the old slimeball or the younger weirdo male. Here you by a hostess a drink and, as far as I can guess, the lady gets a dollar of the price of her drink (this is the only way they get paid). Then she talks to you and listens to you and laughs at all your jokes no matter how pathetic or strange you are. I guess thats a pretty good deal for some guys who are too ugly, old or weird to talk to any girls otherwise. Its not quite prostitution but its in the same family I think. I've come to the conclusion that to go to these sleazy bars you really need to be a guy with grey hair. Grey hair is compulsory. Beer bellies seem an optional extra... At one place we discussed playing a drinking game where everytime you saw a fat, old, grey or balding man with a barely legal girl you had to drink but we realised if we did that we'd never be able to leave and would probably die of alcohol poisoning.
So that's my Valentine's Day experience in Cambodia. I got suitable inebriated and went home to bed.