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Published: March 22nd 2008
What we are never changes (dna). Who we are never stops changing
PHNOM PENH the capital, we visited the following: The Genocide museum - The Killing Fields –A rifle range - one unusual Buddhist water blessed monk who claimed to wash away all sin, doubt, unrest by dowsing me in holy water. God, I became depressed.
We had a tuk tuk driver named Chan, he laughed all the time and at first we laughed along with him as he was a very funny man who spoke great English and was fluent in his irony. But as the week rolled on I became very aware that he was laughing his way out of much personal pain. He turned up late the first morning, the battalion of tuk tuk men outside our hotel had no qualms about stealing his fare, they bombarded us, they lied telling us he had family business to deal with, he had another richer fare that day or cruelly that he was in hospital! I stood my ground and remained unfooled and waited for him, 30 minutes or one hour we were in no hurry. Chan did turn up, some 33 minutes later than planned and slightly blurry eyed. He took us to the Genocide museum which is one
2008 fresh times.
(Please read the board.)
of many KR Security prison-21 camps, formally a high school which had been converted in May 1976 into one of the biggest incarceration and torture centres in the country. Stories were written on the walls like the one of a child monk who turned in to KR officer at 13 and bragged about the money he had earn't to his own already distressed family, then he disappeared for ever.
There were sub units where they housed all the 10 to 15 year old children; the KR trained them to work as guards and to kill their own. Inside there are over 400 faces all looking back at you, photos of inmates grouped in sections of men, women, elderly, crippled, everyone who wore glasses at the time who was considered to be 'educated' and of course all the children. I tried in my small way to take respectful photos of these photos and in my own way try release them from staying eternally behind the iron bars on all the windows. The GM is quiet; you could hear all the black ribbons floating to the ground. Looking around the individual cells taking in all the individual images and reading the
Its about perception.
Finally outside the bars.
stories behind them you could not help but come away feeling sadness coming from deep within. They had burnt the market place, abolished monetary systems, eliminated books of rules and principles of national culture, destroyed schools hospitals, pagodas, and beautiful monuments such as Angkor Wat temple which is the source of pure national pride and bears the genius, knowledge an intelligence of our nation.
Chan said sorry that he was late that morning, he told me straight that right now he drinks a lot, he needed to talk it through, as his wife had left him and took the kids. He met his wife when they were childhood sweethearts, they both loved each other so much, but he was always going to be a tuk tuk driver he had no education and tuk tuk driving is all he can do well. His wife's family wanted her to marry a doctor or teacher, her family told her he was rubbish and she did finally leave, the family found her a proper doctor to marry; now she is also miserable. Fact is we paid him $15-20 a day which is the same amount that I quoted a nurse in Kantha Bupha
A shakey photo
A shakey situation
hospital earn in a day, so he was not doing too bad, unfortunalty for him his job fits the wrong title. I sat and talked to him for hours about his life, his father and both sets of grandparents were taken to the Killing Fields when he was a little boy and shot.
He had to go to work aged 9 to support his mother and 4 brothers; he had no time for school. All I kept thinking was how does he take tourists to visit these places every single day where his family were brutally killed, will these people ever be allowed to move on from this? But right now they have to do it to earn some kind of living. I suggested we find something else to do, some nice temples or a garden or something, he asked me why? I said I just felt bad about it all, he said that we Europeans need to see for ourselves the truth of what happened to his country and to see the effects, consequences and aftermath of war not just their history but wars caused all around the world. So, one morning he said he would take us
Chan paying his respects
He said I could take and use this photo.
to the Killing Fields, he was 40 minutes late, but we took no shit from the other drivers and waited for him.
While at the Killing Fields he asked if he could come in with us to pay his respects to his family. We all bought wilted flowers that were for sale near the ticket booth surrounded by lunch-wild chickens, he came in and I noticed he had a tremor in his bottom lip, a nervous twitching in his right arm and hand this wasn’t the DT's. We went up to this tall white memorial building that held stacks of human skulls, inside was the ruminants of his family, my heart sank. We left flowers and burning incense and said prayers, then he said 'Miss Claire do you mind if I go now?' I swore that we would not be long looking around. There was a photo of an Australian tourist who got caught up in the slaughters during the 70’s, but then you read on and see that there were many travellers unfortunately captured and killed here too, the Khmer didn’t care at all. I swiftly moved around the site that had many sunken dips in the land
where all the graves lay beneath our feet, a lot of it was not sectioned off, but out of sheer respect everyone tip toed around the dips, there were still bodies left in the lake.
Victims clothing were scattered by the famously named killing trees and trampled on by masses of red ants. This was where they slowly beat and killed all the children, which were next to the women's graves, their mothers witnessed this, then the soldiers slung their tiny mutilated bodies into mass graves. A huge tree stands in the centre of this site, today it gave shelter against the strong sun, back then it was used to disguise loud speakers where ear splitting music was played to drown out the noise of torture and death. I was in and out of there in 13 minutes. I went to the shop, only because I thought shopping might take my mind off this, I didn't. I did find an antique Buddha holding a baby in his arms. I bought it and gave it to Chan to symbolise that whatever happens to him his dad is always watching over him and wishing him a happy birthday. He stopped shaking
and started smiling.
I just felt sad after that. Chan asked if we needed to blow off steam, he took us to the shooting range, I am not kidding this place scared the living B-Jesus out of me. The noise was deafening and the options available were too much for any already incensed brain to take in. You could fire at anything with anything as shown on the menu: AK47, M16,Uzi,Shotguns, colt 45's, grenades and much more. The targets were images of Pol Pot or the other option were real live clucking chickens.
The manager jokingly held one of the hand guns up to my face, let me tell you that moment lasted 10 years as I felt like I’d been hit by 2 million volts of pure adrenaline, my heart skipped many beats. The rest of the family hung around and helped out at the family business, like the little boy aged 8 and the little girl aged 5 who were busy reloading and polishing the magazines and sorting through shell cases. Some tourists came from USA they asked if there was a poster of their leader to shoot at, which amazingly there wasn't! Instead they asked
Deep South drawls for a live chicken. I felt heartbroken as the chicken was aimed at and shot but not killed outright; they all laughed and took pictures of the struggling animal and of all of them laughing.
I don't normally engage in such past times as hunting and shooting, these things are against every moral morsel in my being, but I had to try it once, so I started on the biggest and most powerful AK47 Kalashnikov, why start small? I aimed at the poster, I think I may have needed my reading glasses as my eyeballs continued to be blurred, my mind went semi blank, the red mist enveloped me, the instructor kept telling me to keep focused. When I started shooting it nearly blew my protected ears right out of my head and the blast bodily threw me out the back door. I was shooting within a controlled tunnel; the man in charge had to stand right behind and right up against me just so I would not fall over backwards shooting at the ceiling. I shot a round of 50 ammo in less than 30 seconds. As we left totally shell shocked with a stunned
inability to speak as we could not believe the day we had just had, I could not stop shaking for two hours after. The sad truth is that in less than 15 minutes we spent more on bullets than our entire seven day hotel bill in Battambang city. Clearly there is money in arms and it’s a filthy stupid waste of money as far as I am concerned and for what? I am glad I did this, because I fully experienced the power and fear, and since then whenever we see a gun shoot out on TV, I now know how it feels to be behind and in front of such a weapon.
Finally on a lighter note, I’d heard of a special water monk, if I needed a monk and any kind of blessings, it was right now. Chan had researched the location for me which was at Chak Ang Ree Krom Pagoda, this is slightly out of town, on the way back in from the rifle range. Loak Sang Chan (means respected monk) is in his 30's. He spent the last 16 years developing new skills to pass on to the new generation of monks who will
help pull the last few generations back into modern life. He blesses water in order to provide good luck, beauty, prosperity, he prays and chants to rid you of any lingering curses that may have attached themselves to you, he makes a magic waist rope that protects the wearer from any evil directed towards them. He also blesses hot wax that he gives to people who present with mysterious illnesses; he can also predict the future. In one month he can bless up to 1000 people from all walks of life. He said there are two ways he could bless me, the first is to give me good luck, prosperity and protection against harmful others, the second is to release bad luck from someone close to me like a friend, relative, work colleague who I wish to be healed.
There are many examples of his healing magic working its wonders on his devotees. Failing businesses have suddenly revived themselves, long term sick have been cured, this was proper Jesus Christ moments. He works from donations so he can reach out to the poor. He has piles of gifts stacked to the ceiling wrapped in colourful yet faded shiny paper
of hampers full of tinned foods, candles, incense and cash. His Moto is that if we all respect the Buddhist religion we should obey three things. Clear your mind. Do not harbour negative thoughts. Love yourself and everyone around you.
We were in the queue, he was already tired and yawning, it wasn’t not even mid day yet. Some man told us he was up late last night. Some ladies gave him small notes then they requested something, he threw water over them, they left drenched. I knelt before him, I requested blessings number one from the blessings menu, to rid myself of harmful spells from others, as I knew since my return to the UK at Christmas and since Peru Voodoo man had predicted that at this time I had people in this world who did wish me harm, I asked for abundance in future and to find the love of this great man who I knew was coming to get me, he began by going into a long chanting where he threw ladles of water over me, so much water in fact I needed to catch my breath a bit. I was drenched; it felt more like
a baptism if anything. I thought we were done, so I bowed before him then handed over $10 and walked backwards on my knees, but he beckoned me forwards again, I thought I may not have given him enough cash, so I crawled on my knees back to my original puddle. He asked for my wrists, he held my right wrist, which again I thought male monks were not meant to touch a female especially a female non monk. He first tied a red woven piece of string, held it, held it, chanted, my arm was numbing by now, he chanted still holding it, then let me go and nodded. I nodded back said thank you and walked on my knees backwards. He beckoned me forwards again and did the same for my left hand, this time using a threaded white string, these threads were to represent whatever I felt I needed at that time. $10 goes a long way in the blessings world. I still felt like shit for a while after.
TThe sad truth is, that in less than 15 minutes we spent more on bullets than our entire seven day hotel bill in Battambang City
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