Published: January 10th 2011January 10th 2011
We arrived in Phnom Penh. Just yesterday the news broke how over 300 people died in Phnom Penh at the end of a celebration that turned into a stampede. Today, the death toll was closer to 450 people. Our tour still goes on as planned which was questionable as the aftermath of tragedies can include riots and unsafe environments.
Our first stop was the Khmer Rouge ‘Killing Fields’. On the way there, we got a brief Cambodian 101 from our local female tour guide (the 1st female guide in a few weeks). Her name is Sophia. She started by explaining all about how the Vietnam War affected Cambodia. She said Americans bombed and killed thousands of Cambodians. She continued to say that Americans didn’t tell anyone that they did this and American’s said it was an accident because they thought their land was Vietnam? She then got mad and said, bombs don’t have eyes… Americans kill for no reason. OYE. She clearly doesn’t like America… she said Cambodians die for nothing! OYE again. This anti-American talk is making me quite uncomfortable.
The reason she gave us this history is that she believes (which I need to do some research as
I think this sounds nuts), that Pol Pot was so paranoid over what happened with Vietnam and America, that he was scared his leadership would be overturned. Instead of claiming war against anyone, he claimed war against his own people. Actually this was not war, it was genocide. Anyone who had an opinion or who was educated was a threat. This included doctors, teachers, their family members and even monks. He wanted Cambodia to be no more than a peasant country. He sent most city dwellers to the remote countryside to work in conditions that can be described as simple slavery or a prison without walls. Once people grew tired and weak, they were sent to prison to be tortured before being executed. From 1975 – 1979, a total of 1.7 million Cambodians were killed (bodies dropped in the ‘Killing Fields’). The entire Cambodian population in 1975 was only 8 million. People starting comparing Pol Pot to Hitler. Hitler wanted a master race. Pol Pot wanted to simply stay in power… he went and slaughtered his own people to make sure everyone lives in fear!!! It was kill or be killed during this time. Apparently this was hidden from the
world for years. According to Sophia some countries (of course America came up again) knew about it but turned a blind eye to the whole thing. OYE for the 19th time! At the killing fields, we saw many open graves, skulls, bones, and some very disturbing signs explaining different rituals. Sophia graphically explained how babies and children were thrown against trees with many sharp plant like edges and then thrown (sometimes still alive) into the open graves. Also, they were thrown up into the air just to land on knives so they can bleed to death. During one of the first excavations in 1980, they found 100 bodies in this particular area that were completed decapitated (thought to be police). They found one open grave with all naked women (as bones were found with clothes a majority of time). My stomach turned more than once. To top it off we watched a video which was somewhat graphic. There were plenty of images, some of which were similar to Holocaust images. I asked why didn’t the Cambodians hide or run away? She said that you needed permission to even leave your community forget about leaving the country.
This was tragic and outrageous. Pol Pot died of natural causes just a few years ago. I asked why he wasn’t executed. Our tour guide officially said because they couldn’t find him. Unofficially, politically people didn’t want him dead. Some people who worked for this lunatic were put in prison; others were exiled with Pol Pot to remote Cambodian land. Vietnam help stopped the genocide after 4 years in 1979. The Vietnamese sent Cambodian men to work in the fields around the borders so Pol Pot couldn’t get back into the country (even though he never actually left (Vietnamese knew this; however Cambodians didn’t). The problem with this, which Vietnam knew all about, is that there were more explosives at the borders than anywhere else, so almost 99% of the Cambodian men sent to work, simply died. Vietnam wanted many of the adult men to die so there would be no revolts against their country. Our guide said once again that this was America’s fault, among other countries.
If you look at pictures of families, there aren’t any with grandfathers these days as they were all killed either by Pol Pot or by the aftermath by the Vietnamese. Nowadays, Cambodia is filled with people from Vietnam and the Chinese who rule business and take all their jobs (according to Sophia). The Cambodians are encouraged to leave if possible, but passports cost $150 therefore they can’t afford to get one to leave.
After we left the killing fields, we went to one of the prisons (genocide museum) where people were tortured before being sent to the killing fields. Here, pictures of the dying Cambodians were all over including the tools that were used for torture. The cells were so small and the leftover stench was so powerful, I had to sit outside instead of finishing the tour.
On the way back to our hotel, our guide apologized to us. She said she isn’t in a good mood as many Cambodians died just 2 days ago. Additionally, there was some sort of bus accident and an additional 50 Cambodian deaths occurred that very morning. She started to cry as she clearly was personally affected (as would most anyone in the world is when an unfortunate tragedy strikes).
I went along with 3 others to get hour long $8 massages after this long day. Hot showers followed by an amazing dinner with drinks. Cambodia has some good eats. Not one word was mentioned about the day as I think most everyone wanted to put it behind them. All I could think about is Sophia saying… never again. This is something that is sitting with me as the same is said about the Holocaust. I am sad inside as she blames this history on America, Vietnam and some Russia (another whole Communist aspect). I have faith that my country didn’t do all this or there was good reason for some things that they did do. I wonder if our current president or past presidents know how the Cambodians feel about us present day.