Killing Fields & S21 - Bastards

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Today we woke at about 6:30 chomping at the bit to get on with the day (having been a bit lazy of late). We had a quick pot of coffee in the morning sun and evacuated (Erica edit:  as we weren't sent to different parts of the country and adopted by different families I think the word should have been vacated) our room which was booked by someone else today. We got a tuk tuk firstly to Choeung Ek (the most notorious of the killing fields). I will keep it brief as I have a habit of going on at the moment. Essentially a teacher called Pol Pot managed to get high up in the Communist Party and the Khmer Rouge had a civil war with the government, won and started a revolution that Adolf Hitler would have been proud of. The first phase was to try and exterminate anyone that was educated, powerful, not of the required origin (or all their family to avoid revenge attacks) 100% or essentially any other reason to torture and mutilate people prior to killing them.

At this time the population of Cambodia was about 7.5 million people. No-on really knows how many people were killed but the lower estimates are about 1.5 million and upper about 3.25 million. It was a huge % of the population. In other words he executed between 20% - 45% of the population. If one person was suspected of not being 100% behind the regime they killed the whole family. This happened over a period of only 4 years. His idea was to turn the whole country in to rice farmers with forced labour etc, yet it was a totally impossible situation from the off as the country didnt even possess the right tools for the job).

Its not a happy place needless to say. The killing fields are essentially a selection of open graves where people where hacked to death with brute violence before being tossed in an open grave. The bones of some of the graves have been excavated and placed in a pagoda on site to commemorate the dead. I won't go into too much detail but of the highlight / lowlight is the killing tree where the Khmer Rouge executioners killed the babies, this was done by holding their legs and swinging them as hard as they could against the trunk of a big tree more or less breaking their skulls open before tossing them into the child grave next to the tree. When the killing fields were found the whole trunk of the tree was died red with blood.

It is a gruesome place, we left and for the 25 minute ride to S21 neither of us spoke.

S21 or Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was the place where people were tortured until they signed confessions on behalf of themselves and their family before they were killed. Another terrible place, there are still the cells as they were, torture equipment still in place and perhaps most thought provoking of all the floors are still stained with blood. The most horrific thing was that this place used to be a primary school and a secondary school.  Some of the more gruesome games played there was throwing the babies in the air and catching them on the bayonet of their rifles. Its not a pretty place.  Neither of us spoke the whole time we were there.  We just wandered around horrified.

The one thing that kind of sticks in my mind was how close this regime was to the one George Orwell describes in 1984, this ended in 1979, so many parallels, so many I could rant again and I'm not allowed to do that. If you come to Cambodia you will come here and just read 1984 again before you do.

Thats all I'm writing about that, I got very angry while I was there and plenty of people were moved to tears.

Erica edit:  Just to say that throughout this trip, all the amazing places that we have visited, that have been there for hundreds of years some from ancient civilisations, we keep on coming back to the same thought: who's steps are we actually walking in?  Nowhere did this resonate with us more strongly than the Killing Fields and S21.  It was simply bone chilling.

We got back and moved to a cheaper guest house, we considered paying more money and going to a place 10km out of town that had a pool for a price of about 10 a night but settled on a windowless internal room in the centre for 4.

We then walked all the way down the front, had a bite to eat and visited the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda (both from the outside) plus the other main monuments (liberation and independence) and main Wats. We did a bit of embassy spotting (Erica's favorite was the Singaporean one) on the way back which was good fun before heading back to the hostel for an early night.

Looking forward to moving on from Cambodia now, its not as pretty as Laos but the drink has been cheap so perhaps we drank a bit too much while we were here.

We are spending tomorrow night in Bangkok before moving on to Myanmar (Burma), that will be a total unknown for us, we dont know what to expect.  We are unlikely to have internet so may not be writing for a while.

p.s. one last thing, while Pol Pot died under house arrest, no-one has yet seen a trial for any of the vile acts that happened in Cambodia, they remain under house arrest and may well die before they get sentanced. Dreadful.
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Rorie and Emer on

Hey Guys, you said it in a nutshell E, "whose steps were we walking in", like Stevo i too got really angry with what we saw there a few weeks ago and its something we both will never ever forget. After seeing what we saw on the ground floor of the prison, Emer completely broke down and couldnt go with me up to level 2 and 3 and i couldnt blame her. Really shows what human beings are capable of when a gun is literally put to their head!!!!!

Mum on

Well written. The cruelty of man against fellow man. Haunting

farknash on

truly shameful.

the steep approach to global harmony. the struggle for rationality, secularity and stability. the long trek toward not fu^king eachother over for percentage or politick .

we have quite some way to go.

Stevie T on

The veneer of civilisation is pretty thin really. Well written and thoughtful post.

If you are in Burma now I hope :
1.) you're doing the Rangoon - Mandalay railway.
2.) Or at least walking a little way on the Road to Mandalay (in honour of the great Robbie W.)
3.) Also if you're still into the more sombre stuff (and I think you missed whistling whilst crossing the Bridge on the River Kwai in honour of Alec Guiness in Kanchanaburi) most of the death railway is actually in Burma.
4.) Also you should probably invest in some property whilst you're there. I understand now is the right time on the curve and you should be able to get something decent as a holiday home for the price of a bottle of chianti back home

Stevie T on

In fact that might be your next challenge - unless you've left already?. Find out for me how much I can buy a nice house in an upcoming area in Burma. I'm sure the place is littered with estate agents - they always seem to gravitate to despotic regimes

Stevie ? on

Hey, ten days since your last post. Burma must be be distracting you. As a counterpoint to the killing fields here is an interesting vid on You Tube at the moment.!v=cDYb6ijH2q0&feature=related
It keeps getting taken down and reposted so search for :
I Will Survive Dancing Auschwitz - Full Version
If this link is broked

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