Phnom Penh adventures..

Well, I'm now in Siam Reap, home of Angkor Wat, testament of the Cambodian peoples former glory... the town is disturbingly clean in places, and really doesn't seem to fit the rest of Cambodia's "image".  However this entry is about Phnom Penh and what I did over the last 2 days there.

Killing Fields

So lets see.. right, it was a drizzly day on the 11th when I got up at 9:30am to head out to see the killing fields, which is about 14km's out of town.  You pay $2 US to get in, and effectively what you get is to see a number of exhumed mass graves where the Khmer Rouge dumped the bodies of people after they were either shot, or more often, bludgeoned to death - often these were people who had been undergoing torture at the S-21
facility - but more about that later.

At any rate... Around the various pits are descriptions, such as the delightful sign stating that "this was the tree children were beaten against" and there are small urns of human
bones.  Aside from that there is a large Stupa (which basically looks like an Obelisk) which is split into multiple layers, each layer containing many skulls - sorted by age and
gender, in total there are almost 9,000 skulls on display - most showing the evident head trauma that brought there lives to a fairly brutal and now doubt traumatic end.

While standing in the rain I ended up talking to a Khmer man who was there... most of the conversation centred around his family (almost every Khmer person has a tragic story about this period that directly involved there family) - and he introduced me to
his rather practical viewpoint, in that he felt it was a very dangerous time.. but he didn't seem to persue the psychological issues, I say practical in that it seems like one of the only ways you could "get on with business" after a genocide that didn't even end before some of my generation were born.

S-21, Genocide Museum

After that I got back on "Pauls" bike - the driver from the guesthouse - and he took me to S-21, which was originally a school until converted to a detenion and interogation centre to
be used by the Khmer Rouge - first off I will say that this is a wonderful "museum" - I found in really interesting wandering through the compound which is split into four buildings, the
first and the third are basically just displaying the rather depressing compound where people were held - with disturbing fuzzy black and white plates of the last victims of S-21
displayed on the walls of each room/cell (there were 14 people found dead in S-21 after the K.R were overthrown, who are now buried in the middle of the compound).  The other two rooms are dedicated to displays of the thousands of potraits taken over
that period of people brought here to confess there crimes - generally under torture, and often measuring into the hundreds of pages (there confessions that is), as well as a number of photo studies with accompanying stories prepared by the dccam
(documentation center of cambodia) All very interesting.

As for how it all made me feel... to be honest I wasn't disturbed or peturbed, genocide though unpleasant is a subject I've always found interesting..  but I did become quite curious to know how other people reacted to the sights and generally unusual atmosphere this place exudes (some of the rooms have permanent blood stains on the
tiles) - and thankfully that's no too hard as each room has a journal where people can share there thoughts... some less thoughtful people even shared their thoughts on some of the walls of the other prison buildings, which is pretty disrespectful, but meh.. what can you do?

So, I spent about 3 hours all up in the museum - flicking through journals, staring at black and white photos and reading stories from the era, and formulated a categorisation for peoples reactions:

  1. Angry (30%)
    1. With comments such as "we will never learn!"
    2. "Polpot was a murdering fuckhead"
    3. The germans haven't learnt

  2. Apologetic (20%)
    1. I'm sorry
    2. We let this happen, why?"

  3. Supportive (20%)
    1. Cambodian People are amazing to get through this.

  4. Dismal (20%)
    1. We will NEVER learn :(
    2. The germans haven't learn't (this was a popular comment from a number of german tourists...??)

  5. Philosophical (10%)
    1. "We are all the same people"

  6. Practical - only the locals.. percentage wise I dont think it has much mileage
    1. Such as the cambodian man, ie. it was dangerous, now it is not dangerous.

Now, out of all the quotes presented from various people only one seemed worth quoting here, which was from the Goralcyzk family in Poland, and it simply said:

I am from poland, the land of Auschwitz - The famous polish
poet gave a motto: "It was people who gave other people this

Which to my mind pretty much encapsulates exactly how I felt about the whole thing.

Wat Phnom

I did some other stuff that night, but it's all fairly boring (dinner in town, watching sex tourists doing sex tourist things etc.) - and awoke the next day early and went for a walk to Wat Phnom, a temple on what is known to be the highest *snigger* point in the city of Phnom Penh, at a whopping 27 metres... Walking around this monument you get set on by limbless beggars and small street kids wanting money, but if you make it around to the other side you can sit in the park and feed the monkeys that live in the trees above, or as I like to call them, rabies at arms reach.

Monkeys are incredibly cute, but they seem pretty bloody dangerous to me - easily angered, persistent, sneaky and very quick - I got to watch while a couple of taiwanese tourists who were attacked by one of the monkeys there - I did nothing - and was glad they didn't have their gizzards spilt out, as it would've have ruined my photos, and I'd feel somehow responsible due to my inaction.

National Museum

After that I visited the National Museum.. pretty cool, a very well presented collection of artifacts housed in a lovely old building that has a centre courtyard with a pond and chairs to sit in - really nice - though you can't take pictures, which is a shame.

After that I had lunch, bought a copy of the Bangkok post from a street kid and drank copious cold lemon drinks (the only thing that seems to quench my thirst) - the kids are depressing, and I find them far more disturbing then the genocide because the problem seems resolvable... orphanages and schools, both which already exist in Cambodia.  But the devils in the detail I guess...

At any rate, after explaining for the 20th time that I wasn't going to give the news paper back after 10 minutes so he could sell it again (they must be fast readers here :?) I got to finish my lunch in relative peace... though the profit made on one newspaper being sold could probably feed him for a day, so I'm left to wonder just what they're up to.

There's more to the story.. but I'm really hungry, so I'll post this and post some more stuff tomorrow or the day after about events after the fact (heading to see the Angkor temples tomorrow, which should be good, albeit hot work, and I'm even going to attempt to see the sun rise... up before 5am.. blurry hell).

Written on May 13, 2005