March 09, 2015

Mass Murder, the Human Spirit, and Deep Fried Frogs

I wrote yesterday's post just now as well, if you haven't read it, you can do so here.
Warning: I've included images of the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge and a couple shots of the remians.

Today was one of the best-spent days I've had during my journey thusfar. For this reason, this post will most likely be long.  I'll start by saying I didn't really know what I was going to do today, or even what I was getting into once I did know what I wanted to do. But naturally, I have to start at the beginning.

(The album included below includes 45 photos from yesterday and today. Some of them are also inline throughout the text. You can also view the album here.)

Today started out well mostly because the Sla Boutique Hostel provides breakfast. That breakfast is somewhat simple; by choice, you were offered two eggs of three types; hard boiled, easy fried eggs, or scrambled. On the side, two pieces of white bread. For my first breakfast, I ordered a scrambled and a fried. I would be ecstatic if they offered a more complete breakfast, even if it cost me. But the price they ask for the room is pretty low, so I'm happy to have breakfast at all. It was a delicious change (this is another reason I feel Cambodia is more western than Vietnam; that said, this is but one place offering simple eggs and toast for breakfast.

After breakfast and a little dilly-dally, I got ready to go out and see things. I really didn't know what I was doing at all. I'd researched the sights in Phnom Penh a little, but I had no plan at all. It's not admirable, either, I think, to be so uncoordinated and spastic as I am. I end up playing games far more of the free time I get than researching or reading. I haven't even touched Tintin in a while.

But today was time for a history lesson, and because my tuk tuk driver suggested it, I chose to go and see the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I unfortunately wouldn't remember their Cambodian names very well, but what I saw there won't be forgotten.

Our first stop was about twenty kilometers south of the city; when I arrived and went in, they charged me five or seven dollars (can't remember which), they handed me an English version of a sort of guide audiobook thing, and I started walking. The audio was long enough that I had time to sit down a number of times. The narration told of the things that happened at Choeung Ek.

The process of what was done here is probably fairly familiar, as dictators and psychopaths have been doing these things for centuries. This case is unique, however, in that (at least from what learned today) there was so little different between those killed and those killing. The dividing line was drawn rather arbitrarily, which is probably true of more genocides than this.

Pol Pot was a Cambodian with an idea of a new world. He wanted to make Cambodia into a socialist utopia, where all were treated equally and everyone had everything they needed. Perhaps at a time the people were enamored of this idea, but as time progressed, he and his soldiers would arrest more and more citizens simply for having things or having money. Being a socialist, Pol Pot chose to outlaw both money and personal possessions, which he thought justified the arrest of anyone with anything that belonged to them.

I listened to the one audio guide, and before today, didn't even know who Pol Pot was, so don't quote me if you can help it. There's plenty of thorough and accurate research and writing on this genocide.

A Buddhist stupa stands tall in a field away from the dusty graves. It houses the skulls and bones of the victims who have been unearthed since the genocide.

Far sadder, though, is a tree earlier on in the tour. On this tree today are mounted hundreds of bracelets (or I think they're bracelets) to commemorate the children and infants whose heads were bashed against the tree.

Later on, as I walked the halls and rooms of the prison back in Phnom Penh, there was a painting depicting the kind of cruelty practiced by those loyal to Pol Pot. It was supposedly rare for the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot's regime) to use bullets to kill their enemies, as they were expensive, but apparently in some cases they chose to do so anyway.

There was another tree in the killing fields, a palm of some sort, which looked innocent enough and normal enough, but unfortunately had jagged-edged growths which served, in the time of the Khmer Rouge, to cut the throats of the prisoners. As cutting the throat prevents you from crying out, it was an effective way to kill a batch of prisoners without the rest realizing their fate for certain. This is another example of how they used tools and blunt instruments instead of bullets.

To say they didn't know thye were going to die, though, would be incorrect; they were fearful for their lives. The soldiers lied to them, naturally, but few fools ushered into trucks together by soldiers wouldn't at least guess their lives might end soon.

In the Museum were hundreds of photos of Cambodians imprisoned and/or killed during the Khmer Rouge. It struck me that there was someone with my same interest, photography, who spent his time documenting the faces of those to be imprisoned, mistreated, and even killed. It strikes me as odd that murderers would document their murder, but I suppose if a murderer thinks he does justice, he would make a record of his work. Whether this is the truth of the matter or not, I do not know.

Some Cambodians chose to join the Khmer Rouge, others refused and never knew the crimes they were accused of. The stories and faces of a couple of them are included in the album.

I didn't realize what I was looking at when I first saw this, but a picture I saw later cleared it up for me. This ammo box is located inside one of the prison cells. On the top is written "Case For Excrement." The treatment for prisoners was such that you would be required to urinate into gas cans, and defecate into these ammo boxes. These were included in at least some of the cells, along with chains and shackles.

If you ever visit Cambodia, I recommend you visit both of these places. This is a very dark time in history, and it serves us well to know the horrors in our past, such that they may be averted in the future.

After I returned to the hostel, I went out for some Cambodian street food. It's still roughly as cheap as Vietnamese street food (thankfully), but instead of pork and rice or some such thing, I ate a trio of deep fried frogs. They tasted largely like chicken, to this pathetic tongue's best estimation, and I enjoyed them. I'll be curious to see if this causes my stomach any problems, but I think it should not.

I am well; the visits to the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum were sobering. I find Cambodia interchangeably easier and harder to navigate than Vietnam, and apparently there's some reason to fear pick-pockets and robbers. I'll be careful. You can pray for me. Thanks for reading.


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