the best thing we saw that day
- Ernest Hemmingway
They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
We had an abrupt start to our trip onwards to Phnom Pehn. Our taxi bus was early and we had to jump up halfway through breakfast and pay and leave to hotel. We thought we were being ripped off but it turned out that wasn’t the case. Our bus was, well, interesting. We were taken to the depot on a rickety thing will holes in the floors. Our onward journey wasn’t that fun, as there was only nine of us they piled us all into a mini bus and the driver floored it the hole way to P’Pehn. Over taking on blind corners, hitting pot holes at full speed, not slowing through villages but just blowing his horn even louder. I couldn’t lean on my hand as a head rest as I would have ended up giving myself a black eye at every bump. The seat belt kept me from hitting the roof of the mini bus I kid u not.
The country side was stunning. The areas were also very poor. It was hard to translate this properly, every glance outside was something else to see, something to photograph. Trying
it just deosn't bare beliefe
to take pictures from a rapidly moving vehicle, bouncing and serving along the road is pretty much impossible, even on fast settings. I gave up trying to get pics and took a couple of 7 min videos of the country side at 80mph, which i hope to put up in a seperate blog, devoted solely to the activities on the roads here.
Barely a car on the roads, every person on bikes and tractors, carrying as many things as possible, piled skywards in pickups and all sorts. People overflowing on the tops of trucks, looking like their in the worst, most precarious place, yet with a peaceful and serene look about this every day occurrence that would scare the most intrepid traveller as a form of transport.
We arrived safe and got a cab to the hotel, even having enough time to visit the palace that night. Where, indecently, we met an Irish woman who had come to bail out her brother who had fallen in love with a prostitute and had all his money, belongings and passport stolen by her! It started raining and she very kindly gave us a lift back in
the interrogation rooms
these 14 rooms have been cleaned, but remain as they were.
her hired car, where we came face to face with an elephant walking down the middle of the street. Brilliant.
Our next day we knew was going to be a tough one. I woke to the earworm of the Killers “Are we human…” Visiting the genocide museum and then the killing fields. We didn’t know what to expect at either place, we certainly didn’t expect the old man begging with half a melted face standing outside the entrance. His poor face was a terrible infliction. I felt so shitty just walking past him. Its sad that you can get to a stage where you are numb to, or have the ability to just shrug off, people less fortunate and in need. Most countries I have visited state in all the books, don’t give money to people begging. Give to a set up charity, or give food. This time however, I gave out of pity and to make myself feel better when we left and he was still there.
Inside we didn’t know where to go or what to look at. We were in a courtyard with buildings around us. We had been expecting a
rows of them used to tie people down
museum set up, not this, not this once a children’s school that was turned into probably the most diabolical place that man had ever made. This was a place of absolute terror, horror and disgust that chilled your very soul and made you scream inside.
Pol Pot created S-21, or security office 21, on the 17th April 1975 where they documented every person who was murdered there. S-21 was set up by Pol Pot and his army after they forced city dwellers into the country and close to slavery and poverty by their regime. The buildings them self’s were netted with barb wire to prevent the detainees from jumping and trying to kill themselves. All this, and more, we read before even entering the place. There was a ten point security regulation bill posted up for the detainees to follow, what we read there, as you can see in the photo, was horrid.
The first room we entered was bleak and bare apart from the iron bed in the centre and photo of mutilated corpse on the wall, lying in that very same bed. An iron bar that had been used to secure the
still lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs
person to the bed while they were tortured by means that you do not wish to ever know about. This first building, Building-A, when it was seized had 14 rotting bodies in it, still chained in their shackles. This building was where people were interrogated and killed for being a suspect in the uprising against Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. They were found on January 7th, 1979 by the United front for the national Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK), they were the last to die in this hell hole. Buildings B, C and D were set up differently. They were divided into tiny cells where people were kept overcrowded. Only a tin for their waste to be put into.
Outside building B there was what as once a child’s beam for physical education. Here it was used to tie the prisoners arms behind, upside down and keep dropping him or her until they lost consciousness. Then they would be dipped into icy water to shock them awake again and the procedure would recommence. 1,684 staff worked this facility, 1,684 people took part in the heinousness that was S-21. Other torture included electric whipping, hot pliers ripping parts
the old man
this was when i gave up looking at every face
off your flesh, fingernails pulled from your hands, regular beatings and shootings and things that we just don’t ever wish to know about.
On entering building B I was confronted by the faces of those who perished here. Row upon row of black and white faces. Rooms of them. We tried to calculate after that there was somewhere in the region of 7000 faces on display. I made myself look at hem, look ate their face and in the yes. A deadening shock chilled me from right inside as the magnitude of what this place had been. What had happened here, how many had died right where I stood. As I reached the montage of children something broke inside me. I wanted to do more than cry. Some of the young kids, smiling for their photo, even writing this now it brings back some terrible feelings. I was adamant to look at every face, as some kind of acknowledgement of them and their suffering. But I could barely give any more than a fleeting glance, my entire time there not long enough to give even one of the victims the acknowledgment they deserved. Still the earworm, how
words of hope
various statementes had been scrawled into the walls
apt, The Killers “are we human…” we may be, but we have not learned as a people to be humane.
Thankfully I had become numb to it, too much to take in and as I came close to the end of the photos I started to wonder what the point was? What is it that I am doing? At that time I aw an old man, 78 pinned to his shirt, and I was done, no more. Thank God. God, that word makes you wonder…
Some of the faces were so chilling, faces smiling, did they know what lay ahead? Some though, you could see the knowledge in their eyes of what was in store for them. This was an awful place. To think that this place existed in our life time, sickening…
Led by Pol Pot, The Khmer Rouge ended up eliminating over a third of the population. They murdered hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. And why? They stated that, and I quote documents, “It is better to arrest ten people by mistake, than to risk one going free.” no one knows the exact amount that died
each tiny cell holding too many people
in this mass genocide, estimates are as many as over a million people. That’s the entire population of Edinburgh and Glasgow. How did we let this happen? How did he hide it from the world for so long? How did the world let such an in-humanitarian event take place? And how do we prevent it from happening again?
Isn’t this where we are going wrong as a species, out of sight out of mind? Surely we can educate the young in a new way about how we can be? To value life, what it is to be human, to be humane, to be selfless and so on. Isn’t this how we stop these atrocities? There is good and evil in all of us, strength of character and realisation of choice surely can enable us to chose the good over the evil. Isn’t just that there, they very essence and basis of every religion? Good over evil. But we find ourselves here after centuries of supposed civilisation - War and death in the name of Gods, built by the hands of science, driven by the minds of men.
We all know about these atrocities, we
what the school used to look like, before the barbed wire
engage conversation about them, condone them and state our opinions, but what help do we offer? It has become all too apparent that we are a narrow minded, short sighted, selfish species who naively live our lives in that very “out of sight, out of mind” reality, ignorant to the actuality of this chaotic, evil and self destructive sphere of life we tolerate.
Paul and I had seen enough of this place and we still had the killing fields to go to. So we left and parted with a few bucks to the old man with the melted face and burst eye. Both of us not quite able to sum up how we felt about what we had just been educated about, now off to see where some of the mass graves lay. You had to look at this as a historical site and educational excursion, the idea that these two places are in fact, tourist attractions, is a sickening thought. Again, on arriving we didn’t know quite what to expect. All I knew was from Saoirse when she had come here, saying it was one of the saddest days of her life and that you can
still see the bones of the dead, scattered.
We walked sombrely around what you would mistake for as a garden. Holes dug out that you knew once housed the dead. A tower of skulls behind glass, each with bullet holes. As I looked down on the ground I saw a small brown rusty object. No. a bullet. I stopped and looked, bent down and picked it up. This tiny thing in my fingers was probably responsible for killing someone here I thought. Then I did something that I still think about and question. I didn’t let it go.
W walked around a huge pit that you would mistake for a pond if you didn’t know the truth. It was only then that we saw them. Only then on the other side we realised that there were bones in the earth, everywhere. Clothes still buried, teeth on the grass and white lines of skeletal matter in the dirt under our feet. We were walking on the dead. We took few photos this day. It wasn’t something that we would sit down and show people like the rest of your holiday snaps.
we couldn’t understand why we were allowed to walk here. Poverty and funding this reason again? By now we really were done, it was time to go and get something that we could stomach, some food.
Cambodia has show us the ability of us as a people. Our greatness and ingenuity, how we can create great and wonderful things like the city Angkor, so long ago. And it has shown us are absolute awfulness too. The disgusting regime of the Khmer Rouge, so recently. How did we once build so high and have of late fallen so low?
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