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Published: April 28th 2007
Sitting on a bench at the Dalian airport, with Bekah beside me, I put my head down on my suitcase and sincerely prayed. I did my best not to look at Bekah, so she wouldn’t see my panic. Traffic, and our long wait in the wrong line, brought us to 3 minutes past the check-in deadline for our flight. We could not make the first flight to Beijing, which would throw off our whole string of connecting flights. I did what anyone from Liaoning Normal University would do: I called Selina. All flights to Beijing were booked. The next flight we could get to Cambodia would be May 4th. I asked if there was any chance two seats on the next flight would open up. The airport attendant said we would have to wait until 10:00 am to see if any seats opened on the flight at 10:30 am to Beijing. This was our only chance. That was the longest 2 hours of my life: two hours of praying, imagining the scenario if we didn’t make this flight, imagining all the other flights leaving without us on the plane. No Cambodia. No Thailand. No money from our unrefundable tickets. No
I consider myself a very lucky person. Others I’m sure would consider myself a very lucky person. Things just always seem to work out when something unfortunately inconvenient happens.
But my mind is racing. I am in a panic. I am checking at the desk every 30 minutes, giving the attendants there the most pitiful look I could possibly give. I was on the verge of tears. I returned to the bench and see Bekah almost laughing; she had read something funny in her book. Something changes then. I am so lucky Bekah is my traveling partner. Any sane person should be intensely nervous when traveling with me. Bekah trusts me. She had every right to be feeding my panic, and every right to blame me if we didn’t make it. I don’t think I could deal with the disappointment of letting her down, let alone myself. I sat down, put my head on my suitcase and told myself over and over, how lucky I am. It will all work out.
The only way it could work out was if two seats magically opened up on a full flight at 10:30 am to Beijing.
An attendant came over to
our bench. She asked for our tickets. I quickly handed them to her and followed her to the desk. A couple of the other attendants worked on the computer, glancing up once in a while to catch the look of desperate hope all over my face. She motioned for me to follow her with our baggage to a check-in desk. She talked to the girl behind the desk and produced for us two airline tickets for the 10:30 flight to Beijng and told us where to stand in line. She was surprised as I hugged her and gave her the most relieved and sincere thank you. My relief was the release of tears I had been holding back so hard.
We boarded the plane and looked around at a plane, noticing the back of a dark head in every single seat. “How in the world, could these two seats right next to each other, otherwise be empty, had we not taken them?” I asked out loud. Apparently not hearing me through the absorption in her book, two minutes later, Bekah looks up from her book, looks around and asks, “How did we get these two seats, with the plane being
this full?” I laughed, then smiled as I said, “We are lucky.”
We made it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia at 11:00 pm. We received our visas, got our luggage, and stepped outside. Ah it was so nice! Phnom Penh just had a downpour and there was water about 3 inches deep in the roads. It was a warm 29 degrees C. The palm trees were towering aside the light posts of the airport and frogs were jumping around the parking lot. We piled six people, including the driver, and our luggage into a taxi. Yadira was trying to chat up with the driver. He just smiling and would answer “yes” to every question she asked.
“How old are you, 18, 19, 20?”
“Yes yes yes.”
“Yes yes, 19.”
Hotel Cara was very beautiful, but nothing compared to what was outside. Words cannot describe the beauty of Cambodia. It’s incredible.
Behind the bright and beautifully unique smiles of the Cambodian people, you would have never guessed what they had just gone through just 30 years ago. During the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pat, took over the capital of Phnom Penh and
began a horrific extermination of the natives living there. Merciless and ruthless, over 3 million people suffered and died. Children were trained in the Khmer Rouge to be against their own families, brainwashed into controlling lives with threats, beatings, pain, and death, killing their parents, and any other traitors against the Khmer Rouge. They led lives of interrogation only to eventually be killed themselves.
We visited S-21, which used to be a school until it was transformed into a torture center for the Khmer Rouge. Each old classroom used to hold dozens of Cambodian citizens, men, women, and children, all chained onto the floor. They weren’t allowed to speak, cry, or even relieve themselves without permission. The Khmer Rouge used unique torture tactics that I don’t even want to describe. Outside were three standing bars and three pots. One exercising procedure was tying a prisoner to the bar, forcing them up and down until they lost all consciousness, then their heads were dumped into a nasty muck of pot water used for fertilizing.
The rest of the classrooms contained pictures of the victims taken by the KR. Children, women, women holding children, and grown men who looked almost tearful, stood
individually with their identification held in front of them. Then there were pictures of men of bones covered with skin, literally rotting while alive, and frothing at the mouths.
Those very few who survived the torture camp were brought to a place just out in the country of Phnom Penh. We next visited the killing fields. The Killing Fields is a field with huge holes in the ground where thousands and thousands of corpses were dug out. There is also a sacred tower in the middle of the fields that holds all the skulls that were found. Many of the skulls you can tell are cracked or bashed in the side from a bludgeon, which was a cheaper alternative to killing than with bullets. After seeing a lot of the graves, still surrounded with torn bits of clothing and human bones, and seeing the tree where they killed the babies, and seeing the tree that held a microphone to drown out the screams, and seeing the shack where the KR kept all of the weapons of bludgeons, hoes, shovels, and chains, we went back to Phnom Penh for some cold and sweet mango shakes.
That night Yadira, Bekah, and
I almost tripped on this ledge. Why would they put a ledge at the top of a concrete stairway? Torture...
I went out for all the action alongside the river. Of course, you are lucky to take 10 steps without being approached by 1.) a beggar 2.) a child selling postcards 3.) a child selling books or 4.) a Tuk Tuk driver.
A girl selling books targeted me.
“I don’t want any books thanks.”
“Your mouth says no but your eyes say yes.” She says.
I laughed out loud at that perfect string of English coming from a 12-year-old Cambodian girl. I thought I’d give her a chance and at least look.
I saw she had some Lonely Planet guides and picked one up to look at it. She quickly showed me that it was new, just published in 2007 according to the copyright. I flipped through the broken-in book and saw that it was a really bad copy of the real thing. So I put it back and told her I didn’t want any books. We started walking. She followed us. “Okay, okay, two for 3 dollars!”
“I don’t want a book.”
“How come you look but you don’t buy?”
“Because I don’t want a book.”
“I am hungry! I need to buy food!” She says as she rubs
Torturing Device, used for "exercise".
“Oh! Why didn’t you say so? Here you go.” I hand her some chocolate covered almonds.
She angrily throws my offering to the ground. “That is not food! That is candy! I can not eat!”
“It is too food!” I argue like a child. “Anyways, I’m not going to buy a book. I don’t want one.”
“Ah! You are beautiful but you are stingy!”
“So sweet! And you are so beautiful!” I said.
“No I am nothing compared to you. You are number 1 and I am number 10.”
“No, if this were a ladder, you would be at the top, and you would be stepping on my face.”
“No you are beautiful, but you are stingy. You look but you won’t buy a book.”
Yadira says, “Don’t get testy, we don’t want you to fight with us.”
“I like to fight. I want to fight with her.” The girl says.
I say, “You are wasting your time and your energy following us. Find someone else, I’m not buying a book.”
She kept following us, trying an angered and insulting approach to marketing.
By then, I had found us a bar to take shelter in. We sat down
When prisoners lost conciousness on the bars, their heads were dumped into the sewage-like water in these pots.
and ordered drinks. Then, the girl came up to our table again trying to get us to buy her book by saying that I was beautiful, and also adding that I was stinky. Does the positive effect of a complement and the negative effect of an insult balance out to leave behind an interest to dive into a copied travel guide? She seemed to think so.
I smile at her. “Yes, yes I know. I smell horrible. Well, good night! Stay in school!”
“Fuck off.” She says.
“Okay I will, thanks! Good night!”
“I say fuck off.” She says again, not moving.
I smile even wider at her. “Yeah, okay, bye then! Good luck selling your books!”
She tells me I smell one more time before she reluctantly leaves us to our lonely selves.
Ah kids….They are so cute.
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