Cambodian Contrasts

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July 19th 2012
Published: July 19th 2012
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S-21 PrisonS-21 PrisonS-21 Prison

Converted high school
My travels have taken me into the lands of the Khmer people, Cambodia. I instinctively have begun to compare it to the only other Asia that I know, Vietnam. There have been many eye catching differences, some positive and others not so much. Our first stop was in the capital of Phnom Pen (puh nom pen). I originally thought that beyond the world famous Angkor Wat, the whole of Cambodia would be a wild west of sorts. Along the river walk of the capital though, I couldn't have been farther from the truth. The banks of the Tonle Sap are lined with Irish pubs, French bakeries and English breakfast joints. Each one filled with expats from all over the world. Even now I'm not sure what they're all doing here. UN? NGO's? Old white men in search of beautiful wives? Anyways, Phnom Penh was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend some time getting to know urban Cambodia. The royal palace here is also a must see, with heaps of gold, silver and diamonds. My first obligatory ride on an Asian tuk-tuk happened here too 😊
Just outside the city one can experience first hand the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Red/Communist regime, 1975-1979) by way of a harrowing walk through one of their torture prisons known as S-21, originally a high school, and the "Killing Fields" where thousands were bludgeoned to death during the god awful genocide. For those not familiar, this began just ten days after the end of the Vietnam War, and 1.7 million of Cambodia's intelliginista (educated, well-off, foreign language speaking or simply just wearing glasses) met their fate in the most inhumane ways possible. To save precious bullets and to keep the killings secret from the masses, most all had their skulls cracked open by crude farming tools and rolled into mass graves. To ensure all were dead and to cover the stench, the piles of bodies were doused in DDT. All the while, music was being blared through the fields to drown the noise.
The ultimate goal of the Maoist leader Pol Pot was an "agrarian utopia" in which it would begin in "Year Zero", with no class system, no currency and no education. In addition, Cambodia would be isolated from the world as the embassies and airports shut down, and the cities were "rusticized" by either killing the urbanites or moving them in mass to do slave labor in the country side. Luckily, as the Cambodians can now recite without thinking twice, the regime only lasted three years, eight months and 20 days before they were liberated by Vietnam.
This dark part of history is sadly still not something that most Cambodians are comfortable discussing and some of those responsible still have not been brought to justice. Beware that some of the attached pictures are graphic, but necessary to grasp what happened.
After our stay in the city, we had a home stay with a family in the country side village of Chombuk. I wasn't sure what to make of this as it approached, but it ended up being a really good time with some truly genuine, curious and generous people. The village is set up as a commune, with the families banding together to share their dinners, homes and culture with traveler's looking for a more authentic Khmer experience. My favorite memories of our stay were the women of the village cooking dinner, the girls putting on a traditional dance, the boys leading us on a waterfall trek and last but definitely not least, a volleyball match right smack in the middle of the jungle that I got us into with the kids from the village. After getting the teams settled and beginning to play, one kid took off on his bike without saying a word . As we began to ask where he went, the others casually informed us that "he had to find his cow". Another not so funny instance was when the ball got hit quite a ways into the jungle and a warning was given to be careful for land-mines when retrieving it. The quirky realities of rural Southeast Asia.

Following our homestay we had a couple days of beach time in Sihanoukville in the deep south of Cambodia. Unfortunately this was filled with there was lots of eating, massage and reading. Could be worse.

I plan on catching up on the blogging by the end of the week. I am way behind as a result of non-stop action after leaving Phnom Penh, including a visit to arguably the most incredible monument on the planet, Angkor Wat.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 25


S-21 Holding RoomS-21 Holding Room
S-21 Holding Room

The ammo box was used as a toilet. The bent crowbar to shackle ankles or wrists to the bed
The GallowsThe Gallows
The Gallows

Used to string up prisoners by their feet, and systemically dip their head into waste water in the pots.
Surivor ArtSurivor Art
Surivor Art

Painting by a Killing Fields survivor of one of the Pol Pot regime trucks unloading. Trucks were usually covered to enure the transport was done in secret.

Notice the blindfolds still attached to the skulls
Memorial Pagoda at S-21Memorial Pagoda at S-21
Memorial Pagoda at S-21

Filled with the remains of victims
Punch to the stomachPunch to the stomach
Punch to the stomach

Each time it rains, more remains rise from the earth. These are the teeth of victims right on the path we were on.
Punch to the stomachPunch to the stomach
Punch to the stomach

Each time it rains, more remains rise from the earth. These are the clothes of victims right on the path we were on.
Punch to the stomachPunch to the stomach
Punch to the stomach

Each time it rains, more remains rise from the earth. This is a bone of a victim right on the path we were on.
Inside the memorial pagodaInside the memorial pagoda
Inside the memorial pagoda

Take notice of the same crack in each skull from systematic bludgeoning

19th July 2012

It is fantastic when teachers experience the world
The wealth of knowledge you learn on the road can be shared in the classroom. You have some fantastic photos. I will have to read a few more of your blogs. S-21 is a heart stopper. Our visit is still vivid in our minds.
20th July 2012

Hungry for spiders
Truly a land of contrasts. Amazing how warm some people can be to a complete stranger and how utterly attrocious some can be to their own countrymen. Travel well!

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