Trip Start Jul 16, 2004
12Trip End Jun 16, 2005
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Where I stayed
Mut Mee Guest House
Mar 7, 2005
The three day journey from Laos to Cambodia included a colorful local festival, a very boring seven hour train ride, and thirteen hours of buses and rickshaws through connected potholes that they call roads. But, I made it! I'm safely in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I will update my website shortly with the details, but right now its 10:00 p.m. and I need a shower and some sleep.
Ciao for now...
--------------My itinerary from Laos to Cambodia-----
March 4th - Leave Laos by bus for the Thailand border. Thirty-minute bus ride to the "Friendship Bridge" between the two countries. On Laos side of border, get passport stamped for departure. Board another bus for the 2km ride over the bridge. An overpass quickly puts drivers from right-side of the road driving to left-side of the road. One of the many differences between Laos and Thailand. On Thai side of bridge get another passport stamp and board another bus for a 1km ride to the Nong Khai (Thailand) bus station. From there it's a short rickshaw ride to the Mut Mee Guest House.
March 5th - Comfortably situated in the staff quarters of Mut Mee since the guest quarters were sold out. Staff quarters include two hammocks on a deck overlooking the river, and a lovely guest room the size of a NYC apartment! Between the lovely guest room, and the Annou Savari Festival (starting that night) I ended up staying in Nong Khai for an extra day.
Rent a bike along with a handful of other travelers from the UK and Canada and head out to the oversize sculpture park at Salakawkoo. In the evening we go, en mass, to the festival where our little international contingent samples all sorts of Thai cuisine including fried silk worm with lots of LEO beer to wash it down.
March 6th - Take boring, monotonous, train from Nong Khai to Korat. Six hours of brown, flat, life-less scenery. No wonder the Lonely Planet Guide doesn't spend much time on this section of Thailand. Stay the evening in Korat - the second largest city in Thailand - but NO other tourists in sight! Visit the night market but can't buy anything since my backpack is full to overflowing already!
March 7th - 8:30am bus from Korat to god-knows-where. Switch buses there and end up at the border between Thailand and Cambodia by 1:00pm. Wiat in line two hours to have passport stamped to exit Thailand and get visa to enter Cambodia. Pay the extra 50 cent fee (required) to be handed a yellow slip of paper reading: HEALTH NOTICE FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS ARRIVING IN CAMBODIA (*see below).
At 3:30pm I join a group of travelers on an over packed mini-bus towards Siem Reap. The bus ride is 5 hours of hell. I've been on many bad roads since I started traveling but this one was more like a mountain-bike path. We went over at least a dozen wooden bridges where the driver had to peer over the steering wheel to make sure our wheels didn't go through the wooden planks. In two places we even had to back-up and drive around the bridges - it was that bad. Not to mention that it was like driving in blizzard conditions since the dust enveloped the bus. The driver could only see 10 feet ahead of us in places. But we made it.
By 9:00pm we were safely, and sorely, in Siem Reap. Exhausted and dazed the bus took everyone to a guest house where the mafia-like staff forced everyone to see the "cheap" guest rooms and conspired to make them stay for the night. I quickly grabbed my bags and headed to the street but had a very difficult time getting a rickshaw since the mafia-hotel staff were behind me waving the rickshaws past... No one dared stop. A short walk away from the guest house and I was free again! I got a rickshaw and headed to the Chenla Guest House where I spent the night.
Tonight I'll move into Jed's house and hopefully rent a bike for the month. I'm looking forward to unpacking. I also hope to meet Mr. Safy tonight - he's the man who runs the school where I'm volunteering.
It's interesting to be back here in Siem Reap after three years of development. There are many more luxury hotels and shops for the traveller. Everything looks similar - but not quite the same.
Sorry this entry isn't more colorful. But the trip was pretty boring. The highlight of my three day adventure was the festival, lots of new friends from Mut Mee, and my short trip to TESCO in Nong Khai. TESCO is like Walmart in the U.S. and I was like a kid in a candy store buying up luxury items like lipstick, nail polish, cotton balls, snacks, and even some clothing.
Ciao for now,
---Mom, please don't read this! ----
The card that they make you pay 50 cents for at the Cambodia border reads:
*HEALTH NOTICE FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS ARRIVING IN CAMBODIA:
The ministry of health of the kingdom of Cambodia wishes to inform that:
- International passengers may be exposed to infectious agents, which they have not encountered before. This may then lead to ill health which may require assistance. If you become unwell during your stay in Cambodia i.e. fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, rash, severe vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms, please seek medical attention.
- Please save this card and take it with you when you visit the doctor.
- For further information about SARS please phone the SARS information hotline.
A wedding, a home and a teaching gig!
Mar 8, 2005
It's hotter than hell and more humid than a fish-tank here in Cambodia but the people are so incredibly warm, genuine, inviting and happy that even this climate feels comfortable! I already realize that I'm going to need a visa extension at the end of the month so I'll have time to explore the countryside and see the rural life of Cambodia away from it's two "major" cities and the tourist enclave of Siem Reap (synonomous with Angkor Wat).
The smiles of the Cambodians are so genuine that it seems impossible that these are the same people who have weathered years of bloodshed, poverty and political instability. Somehow the ones who have survived the reign of the Khmer Rouge, have done so with their huge smiles intact.
A brief history of hell: The Khmer Rouge, with Pol Pot as it's behind-the-scenes leader, architected a living hell in one of the most radical and brutal revolutions in the history of mankind. At the hands of the Khmer Rouge (during their 3 year, 8 month, 21 day rule) it's estimated that over two million cambodians lost their lives. All this as recent as the late '70s.
Honestly, I can't quite get a grasp of the astrocities and history of Cambodia - yet. But, I've been drawn in like a vacuum. Not only do I have a small room to call home (albeit 5 km from 'town' and the nearest other westerner) but I've already been invited to a local wedding within a stone's throw of my front door.
One hundred meter's down the dirt road of my house/room is a large overgrown field. Yesterday I noticed that three large tents were being set-up for some type of festival or party. Today there was music streaming out of huge ampliphiers as hundreds of tables and chairs sat in disaray ready to be arranged for a party! I also noticed a red banner hanging on the nearby house saying "welcome to the wedding". Riddle solved. I biked under the banner and peered out at the tents. Within seconds "Red" (a young cambodian) invited me to the two day wedding celebration which begins today at 3:00pm . Red said he'd come by to get me and bring me to the wedding later today. I tried to explain that I wouldn't be back 'home' until 6:00pm since I need to go to see the school this afternoon for orientation. Then, Red followed me on his motorbike so he would know where to find me. He was surprised to see that I really live almost across the street from the festivities.
I hope he does come by to get me at 6:00pm. If not, I may have to meander by the festivities later tonight and seek another invitation. But, I don't give up easily. It's not often that a cambodian wedding is right outside your door.
First I have to visit the school where I'll be teaching. It's a 20 minute bike ride from home and it sounds like I'll only be teaching three hours a day. Two hours to kids, and one hour to teachers. I may try to pick up another volunteer gig for the rest of my free time.
I've also already met Rachel, a paid teacher who works here in Siem Reap. We will get together for dinner some time this week. It may be a little difficult for me to meet her after dark, though. My room is 5km from town, along a stretch of dirt road with no street lights. Seems like once the sun sets, I'm locked in for the night.
Today should be interesting...
It's now 1:30pm and time for me to meet up with Mr. Safy who does administration for the school. Then at 6:00pm I hope to go to the weddingr. Who knows what the day will bring!?
Lia suhn hao-y (goodbye in khmer)
Mar 10, 2005
This is one of the many times on my journey where I wish I had Jennifer Keene's writing talent so my words could make the wedding and Siem Reap come to life for you. But I will do my best.
Last night, as I was lounging on my small patio, Red came by with a small plastic bottle of homemade Jackfruit Wine. The petrol colored liquid was potent and probably could subsitute for fuel in most engines. We sipped away at the local brew and got some of the basic chit-chat out of the way like age, hometown, job, etc. Red speaks decent english but after a few sips of the Jackfruit concoction I could tell that his vocabulary was disappearing into the bottle!
Down the street you could hear the music blaring from the oversized speakers but the only people I could see were the caterers busily preparing for the next day's feast. When Red finally invited me down for the family gathering - I declined. Instead Red promised to come get me in the morning for the very special wedding celebration.
At 10:00am Red showed up on his motorbike and offered me a ride to the house. Since I could easily get there on foot (literally 100 meters away), had a skirt on AND he already had one person and a bag of groceries on his motorbike - i chose to walk. At his house there were local musicians playing traditional Khmer wedding music as the loud speakers continued to scream out dance tunes in the background. In the house, the bride and groom, and immediate members of the family sat on the floor as the string tieing ceremony took place. The family took turns tieing red yarns, dipped in sacred water, on the wrists of the bride and groom presumably symbolizing them being tied together. The bride wore an intricately designed dress, with the full monty of make-up, hair-do, and jewelry. The groom wore an outrageous ocean-blue suit and there were six equally dressed up bridesmaids and groomsmen.
Once everone had their chance to tie the red yarn on the bride and grooms wrists they were blessed in a Khmer-style chant and the small group of guests - including me - threw rice over their heads - much like the throwing of the rice in traditional american weddings.
At 11:00am the real festivities were to begin. The huge tents filled up with over 600 "customers". Caterers spent days cooking huge vats of shrimp, chicken, beef, vegetable and soup dishes. All yummy. I was seated at a table of all women. Eight of us in all. No one spoke a lick of english but the woman seated to my left kept a good eye on me and would use her chopsticks to give me the best pieces of meat from the large dish in the middle of the table. The routine was to use your chopsticks to grab some food and put it into your small soup bowl. From there you would re-pick up the morsel and eat it. I looked around to the towards the end of the meal (when soup was served) and realized that I was the only one with shrimp tails and bones in my soup bowl. The woman next to me realized my distress and showed me that these little unsavories should just be dumped on the ground.
By 1:00pm my table of ladies was ready to leave. We were handed a packet of envelopes for guests to put money in, and give to the bride and groom when exiting. Luckily, I had a $10 bill tucked way (although Red assured me that no money was expected of me).
Now I realize why Red kept referring to guests as customers - if the tent fills up, and the guests each give money, then the wedding will be paid for. If not, then their is a hefty bill to pay at the end of the day. The bride and groom never even came into the wedding tents. They waited outside to greet customers/guests and then stayed there as guests left. The rest of the family helped serve the guests and kept the tables stocked with plenty of Angkor Beer. The family, the wedding party, and the bride and groom, get to eat after the wedding - - if there is any food left.
Monday I start teaching. 10am - 11am; 2pm - 3pm (teachers); 3pm - 4pm; 4pm - 5pm. Wish me luck!
Ms. Jenny the teacher
Mar 13, 2005
Today I started my teaching gig in Siem Reap. My classes are from 10am - 11am, 3pm - 4pm, and 4pm - 5pm. Two of the classes are in a small concrete building with four rows of low wooden benches and desks, a table for the teacher, and a chalkboard. We keep the shingled windows open in a useless effort to capture a breeze and cool the room to a bearable temperature. But all in all it's a steamy hour with 30+ kids and temperatures easily reaching 85 humid degrees - inside! Five minutes into the hour-long class I'm already covered in a thick layer of sweat and powdered chalk.
The 3:00pm class is in an a rickety old wooden building nearby. It has the same wooden benches and shingled windows but the chalkboard has been replaced by a white board. I haven't figured out why the wooden classes have whiteboards and the concrete (newer) class have the old fashioned chalk boards. But I was happy to only have to wrestle with the heat and not the chalk for an hour.
The range in student ability is remarkable. In each class one or two children seem ready to have a full english conversation while others are struggling with the alphabet and numbers. It seems like every class has a "prize" student or two. But each class also has a fair percentage of gigglers who shake with laughter when asked a question. Considering the unbearable heat and the number of kids in each class it's amazing how well behaved they all are. Even the gigglers.
The children all attempt to wear the uniform of a white button-down shirt, and dark skirt or slacks. Inevitably the clothes are hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs so a yellowy-white is the norm and the styles range from long sleeve, to short, to ruffles, to pleats, to... You name it. Almost anything goes.
I have so much more respect for teachers after my one day in front of the class! It is not easy. I feel like I need to entertain, teach, and baby-sit at the same time. Some children bring their baby brothers/sisters with them to class since their is no one at home. I have never seen such well behaved babies!
Tomorrow I'll add-on an unofficial class for young adults who are working at a local charity called Artisans d' Angkor. Artisans d' Angkor teaches impoverished young people wood and stone cavering techniques in order to sustain the Khmer tradition and help these young people survive.
I'm still enjoying Siem Reap, but I have to admit that a 3-hour school day is more exhausting and challenging to me than a 10-hour day in the office. I guess I've been doing Event Marketing for so long that it just comes naturally. Teaching on the other hand - does not. It's as foreign to me as spear-fishing or rocket science!
I just found out that there is a 2 week break from school starting April 2nd. At first I was disappointed - but after realizing how challenging teaching is...I'm already counting down the days! I hope I get the hang of this sooner, rather than later. Because right now I feel like I'm cramming for a final exam
Day to day...
When I enter the classroom all the children stand and wait for me to gesture that it's OK to sit down. Then all eyes are on me - Ms. Jenny - the teacher from America. "Ohmygod" goes through my head as I try to remember my proposed lesson plan for the day and then we get started. I do my best...
I greet each student, ask their names, and try to get an english word or two out of them before the fits of giggles begin. Then I write a topic on the board and have students come up one at a time to write the word in Khmer. As a class we practice pronouncing the english words. Then I test them on the new words only to realize that only the "prize" student has any clue what I'm talking about. Guess I'll try a new tactic tomorrow!
Ms. Jenny the student
Mar 16, 2005
I have good days and bad days. Good classes and bad classes. But I think I'm eventually going to get the hang of this teaching gig. It's just going to take longer than the 2 1/2 weeks that I intend to stay here (this time around).
Each class is so different from the next.
My 5th graders, around 28 of them, are well behaved and attentive. My favorite in the class (although teachers aren't supposed to have favorites) is Batreay. The first day of class she handed me a beautiful drawing which I put up on the bare walls of my little apartment*. She is one of the few who can answer all of my questions like "how are you today" "what is your name" and "how many brothers/sisters do you have" without breaking into giggle fits.
My 4th graders, are even more adorable. There are 20 of them, and they are new to the english language so we are focusing on games to learn the alphabet and numbers. I don't dare ask them to write their names yet because they will only know how to spell it in Sampoath (which looks like cambodian hieroglyphics). Maybe I'll bring a Cambodian friend to class to help me come up with spellings for each name.
My 6th grade class on the other hand....
I haven't quite got a handle on them. First of all the class is far too big. At least 40 students some days. Their age range and ability range is so wide that it poses its own set of challenges. I think the age range is 2 - 18! Obviously the two year old is only there because the baby-sitter is her older sister. But, the two year old is the best behaved in the class.
The 6th graders are the most challenging - probably because it's the end of the day and they really just want to leave. On one of my first days I was so intimidated by the class that I let them out 30 minutes early! I just couldn't handle it when they all put their backpacks on and stared at the door - so I let them go. Oops. Now I have a little more control. I carry a big stick with me - really! It's fun to point with it, and I now have no problem splitting up the boy-pack in the back of the room when they disrupt the rest of the class. Hey, this may turn out to be fun after all. I no longer need to be bullied by them. Heck, I'm the teacher! For some reason I keep forgetting that.
The star student in this class is a small boy named "Rosa". He is only about 3 feet tall but can obviously speak almost fluent English. I can't help but feel bad for him because I'm sure he's bored out of his mind. I wish we could take the best students from each class and teach them separately.
But...when in Cambodia do as the Cambodians do.
After 5:00pm every house, basement, parking area, and open space turns into a make-shift classroom. Kids, adults, teenagers flock to these after school lessons to study english. English as a second language, english as a special language, english for hotel and tourism, etc. etc. etc. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't bike up to me and ask me to teach them.
So, in the spirit of Cambodia I successfully put together a free class for the young adults from Artisans d'Angkor. Originally I didn't have a classroom - - but I eventually ended up with two options! I chose the one closest to my home. In fact it's practically outside my front door. I noticed the classroom before, but finally got the nerve up to ask if it was available at 5:00pm every day. The boy who helps run my apartment said "yes, but it will cost 10,000 riel for the month". Then he went and checked with his mom... When he returned he said "free for you"!
Yesterday was our first official 5:00pm adult class. Six people showed up. The classroom is nothing more than a few benches and tables, a whiteboard, and a chair. There are no walls (but there is a roof). I taught them using the map of the world I've been carrying around with me, and then we practiced pronunciation of the days of the week and months. They didn't write down anything I said until the end when I said in passing "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it". All eyes were on me. The pens came out. The paper. And eagerly they asked me to write that on the board. I explained what it meant and then also taught them "see you later alligator...in a while crocodile". WOW. Now they are hooked! Our agreement is this: Every day they will teach me a few words/sentences in Khmer and I'll bring them some common sayings or slang they can use to impress the tourists. So, if you have any...please send them along.
See you later alligator!
*I moved to a room closer to school and town. Gave up A/C and my western toilet but it makes my day much more convenient. Will move back to Jed's house only if the heat gets unbearable.
Mar 18, 2005
The travel circuit is starting to catch up to me!
A few days ago I ran into Hydee - a personal chef for celebrities back in Hawaii. I originally met her in northern Laos but was surprised to see her walking by a small cafe here in Siem Reap where I was enjoying some fresh spring rolls and a lemon soda. We got caught up over lunch and decided to meet up again for dinner.
At dinner, I noticed another familiar face from my Laos trip. Frank from Germany! I hadn't really met him in Laos but I sat behind him on a tiny boat coming back from the middle-of-nowhere to the "city" of Luang Prabang. There were only 10 people on the boat - and Frank sat directly in front of me - so when we reconnected in Siem Reap my little dinner crew grew to four people (including Frank's friend Iris from Holland). We had a lovely and lively dinner at my favorite restaurant "The Khmer Kitchen".
Yesterday was my day off so Hydee invited me to lounge by her hotel pool. I spent the afternoon relaxing, reclining, reflecting and swimming. It was WONDERFUL! Last night we were joined by Julie Haire from NYC (yes - a distant cousin of Jack Haire for all of you Time Incers), and Josie from D.C. for a yummy dinner at the "French Correspondents Club". Girls night out! It was so nice that it actualy felt like I was on vacation for a minute or two!
But, today it was back to the old teaching grindstone! The 10:00am class was survivable. I decided that it was best to return to the basics since some of the kids seem to know nothing and others are fluent. So, this week we are studying days of the week and the months of the year.
My 3:00pm class is still my favorite. They are younger so they are less inhibited to speak out loud, but they are also perfectionists. I've never experienced anything like it. If I write something on the board for them to copy - the ABC's for example - they have to write it perfectly in their notebooks. They have one white-out pen that they pass around so they can change their g's to c's etc. Maybe I can teach them the technique of crossing out mistakes... It would sure save time!
Then there is my 4:00pm class. Ohmy. Sixth graders. I could have sworn that there were 40 kids in that class but today I counted...only 24! They, too, are now re-learning months of the year, and days of the week. I have to use different teaching techniques then I use with my younger class but I think I'm starting to get through to one or two of them. Especially the little boy-gang in the back of the room!
My 5:00pm class of young adults was almost a flop. Only one boy was there for the first 30 minutes so we just chatted and he brought me some fried bananas and water (he's the son of the owner of my apt). Then the Artisans showed up for a 30 minute class about nothing. What am I going to teach besides funny sayings and pronounciation????? Now I have a free classroom, six students and no idea what I'm doing! Can you say "fish out of water"?"! I'm sure THEY can!
Heat, humidity and landmines!
Mar 22, 2005
I am exhausted! I'm not sure if it's the oppressive heat and humidity or the eight months on the road that have finally caught up with me but - I'm downright beat. I now understand why the Khmer school day is broken up into two parts - morning and afternoon. It's just too hot mid-day to do anything except attempt to sleep in front of a fan. If you happen to be out during the hottest part of the day (poor you) you are doomed if your bike is left out in the sun. Even if it's only for a minute or two, I'm surprised that the hot plastic seat doesn't melt. It's THAT hot!
So, today I ventured home after my 10:00am class for a nice long nap. Then another at the end of the day. But, I'm still exhausted. The good news is that now Menno has caught up to me. Since he seems to be a master of all trades I put him to work as a co-teacher at my school. We now share the responsibility of teaching the Khmer children their A,B,C's and 1,2,3's. It's much easier with two people but still a lot of work and anxiety.
The school days are starting to all blend together as I count down to my Thursday and Sunday off-days. This Thursday I may bite the bullet and pay for a hotel room with A/C just for one day/night so I can recharge my battery. The catch is that if I want to go to the hotel with the pool it costs $35 a night. My apartment costs only $50...a month! That's a huge difference that's very difficult to rationalize. So, maybe I'll just stay in my apt. under a fan and sleep for the day.
On our last day off (Sunday) Menno and I rode our bikes around town. We went to the Landmine Museum and a local Wat. The museum is a rundown shack in a small compound a few kilometers along a dusty, bumpy, unsealed road from the center of town. Here, the past, present, and sadly the future of landmines in Cambodia is on display. There were all sorts of landmines on display with short descriptions of each. Hanging around the grounds were a handful of children and young adults - all victims of landmines. Mostly young boys who were taken in by the man who runs the museum so they could get a decent education and live a 'normal' life in spite of their missing limbs.
At the museum and all over Siem Reap it is common to see people who are missing one, if not both, of their limbs. It is estimated that over six million landmines remain in the soil of Cambodia today. That's not a type-o, SIX million. And, the reality is that two victims are killed or injured per day; the majority are men and boys as they work in the fields and jungles. It is difficult for some families to support an injured child, so these boys have come to live at The Landmine Museum. They go to Khmer school in Siem Reap and return home for the holidays.
A little more about the Landmine Museum:
The Landmine Museum, opened in 1999, consists of a simple corrugated iron building. Its director, the quiet and unassuming Mr Aki Ra is a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese armies. Aki Ra, along with his fellow conscripts were forced to lay the anti-personal devices that covered Cambodia. As an adult, he worked with the United Nations in the early 1990's to detect and clear the mines that until only 10 years ago, surrounded the now tourist packed grounds of Angkor Wat.
This clearing exercise is far from complete as it is estimated that 6 million mines remain in the soil of Cambodia. These uncleared mine fields are primarily located along the Thai/Cambodian border, and it is here that Aki Ra regularly journeys to continue this dangerous work.
Killed by Land Mines
Local villages are still regularly maimed or killed by landmines that come with "manufactured in" labels reading China, Russia, US, Vietnam and Germany and date stamps from the 1940's to the 1970's. The devices have proven to be remarkably resilient, remaining in active condition many decades after they were first placed in the ground.
When Aki Ra moved to the region in the late 1990's, it was an isolated and lonely rural landscape. The local village of 500 that has grown up around the museum is a testament to Aki Ra's efforts in not only clearing the mines, but in educating his neighbors on mine awareness, safety and first aid.
Despite its simple structure, the museum is a total success in its aim to raise awareness of the devastating affects of anti-personal devices. As first Aki Ra and then an English volunteer leads us through the museum displays, the sickening variety of ways to maim or kill with these devises becomes more apparent. In the manufacture, design and placement of landmines, we humans have thought of everything.
From the technique of laying mines in water, causing increased damage to the body by the imploding water, to the lightweight plastic construction of later models that are both cheaper and easier to carry. The Claymore mines that are designed to spray ball bearings in a specific direction coming conveniently labeled with the instruction "Front facing enemy". Most of the mines have been designed to destroy a specific bodypart rather than to kill. This strategy to construction ensures a more effective strike against the enemy, an injured soldier is a greater burden than a dead one.
If visitors doubt the impact of the mines on display, the human reminder is ever present by the handful of child amputee victims that live at the museum. A very practical program has been put in place to provide these children with much needed assistance. The museum supports them to go to the local school as well as providing them with English/Japanese lessons courtesy of the international volunteers. While the museum can house and care for 8 to 9 kids at a time, the regular rotation of students back to their farms and families ensures as many as possible can be saved from a life of street beggars.
Upon meeting Aki Ra and learning of both his horrendous wartime experiences (depicted in both story and paintings throughout the museum) and his continuing dangerous mine clearing activities, you are left in no doubt how remarkable this young man really is. Having lost his parents during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge rule, it is amazing that he survived the starvation, cruelty and danger that engulfed Cambodia during this era. His current land mine clearing activities defy belief.
Several times a month, for up to 5 days at a time, he works without sophisticated detection or safety equipment, usually solo, clearing mines on the Thai/Cambodia border. Using nothing more than his foot and a stick, he locates and then detonates by hand up to 30 mines per day.
It would be usual to associate museums with the preservation and recording of significant historical events. What sets the Land Mine Museum apart is that the displays are, (& there is no other word for it) "fresh"!
If you want to read more about Cambodia and some of the stories of people who survived the Khmer Rouge here is the reading list (so far):
When Broking Glass Floats*
Stay Alive My Son*
Schools for Children of Cambodia - SCC
Mar 24, 2005
The program I am volunteering through is:
SCHOOLS FOR CHILDREN OF CAMBODIA
Sway Dong Kum School
Consider a donation or sponsoring a child!
------Statistics about Education in Cambodia------
Net primary school enrolment / attendance 65% (1996-2003)
------Information provided by UNICEF website------
After decades of war and civil strife, Cambodia has enjoyed relative peace for the past several years and is steadily rebuilding its shattered infrastructure, society and economy.
Given the destruction wrought by years of terrible conflict, recovery has been slow - Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in Asia, with some 34 per cent of its people surviving on less than US$1 a day. Nearly half of all Cambodian children are malnourished, and one in eight dies before their fifth birthday, largely due to preventable causes. More than half of Cambodia's 13 million people are under the age of 18, and ensuring that they will grow up to be healthy, educated adults ready to fully contribute to the sustainable development of their country remains a major challenge.
Yet Cambodia is making progress towards that goal. Nearly 90 per cent of children now enter primary school, with girls enrolling at almost the same rate as boys. Although Cambodia still has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Asia, this rate has fallen by nearly one-third since 1997. Stepped up efforts in law enforcement for child protection have resulted in over 750 sex tourists and paedophiles being arrested and prosecuted in recent years for the sexual abuse of children. And the country's development efforts are now being guided by new sector-wide strategies and policies in the areas of poverty reduction, health, education and nutrition.
Ms. Jenny the a/c princess
Mar 24, 2005
I feel like such a princess...
I've been having a hard enough time handling the lack of sleep due to the heat and humidity - then they started construction on the room next to mine. At 7:30 a.m. I would hear and feel the sledge-hammers as the bathroom in the room next was dismantled brick by brick by brick. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang went the sledgehammer. Slam slam slam went the inside of my head. Even during my mid-day nap the sledgehammers, hammers, electric saws, and cement mixers would be screaming out a chorus of brain-crunching sounds.
After a few days of what seemed like constant deconstruction and construction I packed up my things and moved to a nearby guest house. The guest house has air-conditioning (yes, AIR CONDITIONING), a western toilet, a broken TV and even a small balcony. Did I mention the AIR CONDITIONING!!! All for $8 a night. I hope that after a few nights of rest in a quiet A/C room I'll be back to my happy self. Until then...I remain just a tad bit cranky! :) Just ask Menno - he'll tell you how cranky I can be when it's 96 degrees out - in the shade!
So, the princess has moved! You know the saying: "When in cambodia do as the cambodians do"?! I just couldn't handle it. This princess needs a little A/C when the thermometer hits the high 90s.
HAPPY EASTER TO ALL!!!!!
Mar 27, 2005
It's 7:23pm on Easter Sunday. I just dropped into a local internet shop to log onto hotmail but know from experience that means that all attempts at reading messages will only lead to frustration. So, instead, I'll write you all a note here at My Trip Journal...
Easter is non-existent here in predominantly Buddhist Cambodia. In fact, if I hadn't received an Easter card in the mail, been given marshmallow Peeps by another volunteer, or heard from friends/family with holiday wishes it would have passed me by entirely. But, I did have the day off from school (it is Sunday after all) so spent the day with Menno attempting to come up with Lesson Plans for the week. Ughhhh. I think the hardest part of teaching is creating the Lesson Plans. I am discouraged because I'm not able to "change the world" in a day. And I'm not able to make a dent in the education of these kids in the limited amount of time I've alotted myself here. I can only hope that somehow I make their their school- a little more pleasant,and something (anything) sinks in! The tune "head, shoulders, knees and toes" will only get them so far!
Most kids in our classes can now, at least, say "Hello, how are you?" "I am fine thank you" "my name is ____" and "I am ___ years old". The problem is that they don't really know WHAT they are saying. If you change the sentence to "Hello, how are you TODAY?" all they hear is "TODAY" and the answer becomes "Saturday" instead of "I am fine, thank you". There HAS TO be a better way!
Anyway, it's dinner time here on Easter Sunday so it's time to leave this hot, sticky, over-crowded computer room and eat some Fish Amok! Yes, that's really the name of a local cambodian dish. And, no, it's not as simple as a menu of fish that are swimming erraticaly!
But, before I go, let me share with you an upcoming cambodian holiday which is right around the corner Chaul Chnam Thmey or the Cambodian New Year.
Have a happy Easter with your family and friends.
Love to all,
----- Cambodian New Year - Chaul Chnam Thmey --------
The people of Cambodia use the Indian Calendar to calculate the start of the New Year festival. The festival starts on the 12, 13 or 14 April according to the gregorian calendar and lasts for three days. Cambodian New Year's Eve is the day before whichever date it is and it lasts three days. It is called Chaul Chnam Thmey which means Entering the New Year.
People clean and decorate their houses, as well as set up an altar to welcome the New Year Spirit Tevada Chhnam Thmey who is said to come down to earth at this time. A statue of the Buudha is put on the altar, also flowers, candles, incense, a bowl of scented water, food and drink, and banana leaves shaped into different figures.
People douse each other with water as a blessing. Water can be colored red, pink, or yellow to symbolize a colorful future. New Clothing is worn. Children give money to their parents, aunts, uncles as a sign of respect. They may also give food or fruit in addition.
Day one of the festival people visit their local monastery and offer food to the monks. A special sand mound is built in the grounds of the monasteries on this day. The mound is decorated with five religious flags, one on top of the mound and four around the sides. Special games such as the Tug-Of-War, Angkunh and Boh Choong are played at the monasteries on each day of the festival.
Day two people gather with their families to wish each other a happy New Year and exchange gifts. They might also visit the monastery again to ask the monks to say a special prayer for their ancestors.
Day three the Buddha statues of their homes and the monasteries are washed. It is said this ensures good rains during the coming year. Children wash the feet of their parents as sign of respect on this day as well.
Out and about in Siem Reap
Mar 31, 2005
Thursday was 'cleaning-day' at school so Menno and I took advantage and hit the town - donning our tourist hats rather than our teacher's caps for the day.
Early in the morning, in an attempt to beat the mid-day heat, we took a tuk-tuk out to Tonle Sap lake. We bounced out to the lake in the back of the tuk-tuk quickly understanding why the driver wanted an extra 50 cents for the VERY bumpy road. Road?! Ha. It was a long strip of dirt which could easily swallow up our little motorcycle driver and passenger cart with one misguided turn. But, we bumped along and finally made it out to the perimeter of the lake where we hopped onto a motor-boat for a one hour tour of life on the Tonle Sap Lake.
Tonle Sap: The Great Lake
The Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, with seasonal flooding increasing the lakes size to over four times it's area from 2,500 km2 in the dry season to approximately 12,000 km2 in the wet season. During the wet season floating fishing villages dot the semi-submerged forest that lines the flood rim of the lake. During the dry season the fishing villages simply move with the water level as it drains out into the Mekong, leaving a shrunken, shallow, lake surrounded by parched plain. Then, again, as the water rises families living on houseboats and homes built on simple rafts, creep inland to the shoreline. Following the seasonal rise and fall of the lake, these aquatic settlements (including churches, fish farms, shops, and pharmacies) seem to be always on the move - up or down - reforming depending on the water level.
The high water location of these floating villages, which move with the flooding, may be 7km away from their low-water site. Other homes and villages are built on stilts, with the water level reaching the floor of the homes, and a flotilla of small boats replacing scooters and oxcarts, for the routine of daily life.
After Tonle Sap lake we took the Tuk Tuk to the infamous Crocodile Zoo of Siem Reap. In summary - it was so pathetic that it was almost interesting! The crocs are divided by age into large concrete cages. The crocodiles, dozens of them, are in a puzzle of bodies - one on top of the other. Many with mouths wide open as they sleep. There is very little movement - if any - so you wonder "are these crocs alive"? Then there is movement, as slight as it is, and you know the crocs are alive (if only barely). What a site!
The remainder of the day we tooled around town, loaded photos onto our websites, and got some errands done. Yes, we even have errands on the road. And, yes, I still have a 'to-do'list while I'm travelling!
Today is our last day of teaching. I'm really sad to be leaving but it's good timing since school is closing today for the upcoming New Year holiday. The kids and teaching have probably had the most impact on me since I started travelling 8+ months ago. I now know that there are people out there blessed with the talent and desire to be teachers. I am not one of them. But I also learned that children can change the world. Give them a little attention and you can brighten their life. And in turn, they brighten yours. These children are poor, some of the poorest in cambodia, but they are respectful, and cheerful, and genuine, and warm, and so darn special to me that I am sad to be leaving. I only hope that another volunteer teacher comes through here soon, to pick up where we left off. That's the least of what these kids deserve.
Tomorrow, Sunday, we start our official "tourist time". We will spend three days exploring the temples in and around Siem Reap. I saw them three years ago, but was REALLY looking forward to a return trip. Not only to see them again but because this time I have (had) a digital camera for the beauty of the temples. But...just as class ended and tourist time began....my digital camera gave it's last shutter and lost it's focus. Literally. I hope to fix it when I get to Bangkok in two or three weeks. In the meantime I'll be sharing a camera with Menno and/or buying a disposable or two...
And again I say..."want to make God laugh"?!
The Temples of Angkor - just the facts
Apr 1, 2005
A brief introduction to the Temples of Angkor...
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Angkor Archeological Park ecompasses dozens of temple ruins whose artistic and archeological significance, and visual impact, put it in a class with the Pyramids of Egypt, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal.
The most spectacular sights are the awesome remains of the once mighty Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, temples of unbelievable majesty and scale. They have been described as man's greatest expression of religious faith. There is no historical site in Southeast Asia that matches the grandeur of this ancient complex.
The following information is from a local tour book. These are just the facts. Nothing colorful or fun. The fun stuff will be under a new entry on mytripjournal - soon (I hope).
ANGKOR THOM: Bayon, Terrace of Elephants & Terrace of Leper King
ANGKOR WAT; Early - Mid 12th; Hinduism; Suryavarman II
Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor.
At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It served as his state temple, though the temple's uncommon westward orientation has led some to suggest that it was constructed as Suryavarman II's funerary temple.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall measuring 1300 meters x 1500 meters. The temple itself 1 km square and consists of three levels surmounted by a central tower. The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with beautiful bas-reliefs and carvings. Nearly 2000 distinctively rendered apsara carvings adorn the walls throughout the temple and represent some of the finest examples of apsara carvings in Angkorian era art. But it is the exterior walls of the lower level display the most extraordinary bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology, and the historical wars of Suryavarman II.
ANGKOR THOM; Late 12th - Early 13th; Buddhism; Jayavarman VII
Angkor Thom (Big Angkor) is a 3km2 walled and moated royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the badly damaged Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, He began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. He began with existing structures such as Baphuon and Phimeanakas and build a grand enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall/moat and some of Angkor's greatest temples including his state-temple, Bayon, set at the center of the city. There are five entrances (gates) to the city, one for each cardinal point, and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace area. Each gate, as well as much of Jayavarman VII's architecture is crowned with 4 giant faces.
Bayon; Late 12th; Buddhist; Jayavarman VII
If you see only two temples it should be Angkor Wat and Bayon. The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. Who the faces represent is a matter of debate but they may be Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism's compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Bayon was the Jayavarman VII's state-temple and in many ways represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. It appears to be, and is to some degree, an architectural muddle, in part because it was constructed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for over century. The best of Bayon are the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level where the stone faces reside. The reliefs on the southern wall contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham.
Terrace of the Elephants; Late 12th; Buddhist; Jayavarman VII
Impressive, two and a half-meter tall wall spanning the heart of Angkor Thom. Carved elephants and giant garudas (bird-men) adorn the full length. Constructed as part of Jayavarman VII's building campaign but extended by his successor. Terrace of the Leper King is at the north end.
Terrace of the Leper King; Late 12th; Buddhist; Jayavarman VII
A double terrace at the north end of the Terrace of Elephants with deeply carved nagas, demons and other mythological beings. Named for the statue of the leper king that sits on top. Why the statue is known as the 'leper king' is less clear. Some argue that when the statue was found, its lichen eaten condition gave it the appearance of leprosy. Others have argued that it is a statue of the leper king of Khmer legend, or that the condition of the statue inspired its connection to the legend. The model for the statue is also a matter of debate. Suggestions include Hindu gods, Yasovarman I and Jayavarman VII. Recent scholarship favors a Jayavarman VII/Buddha combination. The statue at the terrace is a replica. The original resides in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
TA PROHM; Mid 12th - Early 13th; Buddhist; Jayavarman VII
This quiet, sprawling monastic complex is only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. Intentionally left partially unrestored by French archaeologists, massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers and corridors. Flocks of noisy parrots flit from tree to tree adding to the jungle atmosphere. Ta Prohm is well worth an extended exploration of its dark corridors and open plazas. This temple was one of Jayavarman VII's first major temple projects and was dedicated to his mother. (Preah Khan, built shortly after Ta Prohm in the same general style, was dedicated to Jayavarman VII's father.) Ta Prohm was originally constructed as a Buddhist monastery and was enormously wealthy in its time, boasting of the control of over 3000 villages, thousands of support staff and vast stores of jewels and gold.
SUNRISE - ANGKOR WAT
REVISIT TA PROHM
VISIT EMILIO SCHOOL FOR NEW YEAR PARTY
THE ROLUOS GROUP: Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei
Bakong; Late 9th; Hindu; Indravarman I
The most impressive member of the Roluos Group, sitting at the center of the first Khmer capital of Hariharalaya. Bakong stands 15 meters tall and is 650x850 meters at the outer wall. Constructed by the third Angkorian-era king as his state-temple, Bakong represents the first application of the temple-mountain architectural formula on a grand scale and set the architectural tone for next 400 years. The temple displays a very early use of stone rather than brick. Though begun by Indravarman I, Bakong was expanded by later kings. The uppermost section and tower may have been added as late as the 12th century AD.
Preah Ko; Late 9th; Hindu; Indravarman I
In the Roluos Group. One of the first major temples of the empire at the early Khmer capital of Hariharalaya. Preah Ko (Sacred Bull) derives its name from the statues of bulls at the front of the central towers. Many of the carvings are in very good condition providing excellent examples of the deep, vivid Preah Ko style Khmer art.
Lolei; Late 9th; Hindu; Yasovarman I
An island-temple consisting of four brick towers on a double laterite platform. Located in the center of the first large-scale baray constructed by a Khmer king. The last major temple built at Roluos before Yasovarman I moved the capital to the Angkor area. Though the towers are in poor condition there are some good lintel carvings, which display the distinctively detailed Pre Ko style. An active pagoda has been built amongst the ruins. Of the Roluos group ruins, allocate the least time for this temple.
Long ride to Banteay Srei; East Meborn; Ta Som; Preah Neak Pean
Preah Kahn; Phnom Bakheng for sunset
Ms. Jenny the tourist and the last day of school
Apr 4, 2005
When Menno and I arrived at school on Friday, April 1st we were surprised to find our 4:00pm class waiting for us...at 10:00am. Someone forgot to tell us "barang" that on the first of the month - every month - the afternoon classes and morning classes switch. So, after a little confusion Menno and I divided and conquered.
Menno took our 4th grade class (who we usually teach at 4:00pm) and I went and scouted out our 3rd graders (usually the 3:00pm class). It was a little hectic since we didn't have the right lesson plans with us, but we split up and did the best we could on no notice.
Saturday was our last day teaching. The language barrier made it near impossible to say 'goodbye' in a way that the students understood. The one class which did understand gave us a standing ovation and handed us each a multi-colored cambodian scarf. We, in turn, gave them each a sticker or two as they completed their daily conversation practice of "how are you today?" ""what is your name?" and "how old are you"?
I would love to come back here some day and see where these kids end up. Tuk tuk drivers perhaps? Or teachers? Or helping out on their parents land? Or tour guide? Who knows? But I know that there are at least a handful of them who have the spirit and drive to make a very positive impact on those they meet, and on the progress of Cambodia.
On Sunday we started our whirl-wind tour, via tuk-tuk, of the temples of Siem Reap. The first day we hit the most well-known temples of Angkor Wat (you may have seen Matt Lauer there on his segment "where in the world") Angkor Thom, and the jungle temple of Ta Prohm.
Just like three years ago when I first saw the temples, it was breathtaking. We did much of our touring during the heat of the mid-day sun so had the temples, mostly, to ourselves. Even Angkor Wat was empty as we viewed the details of the bas-reliefs around the perimeter of the external walls. Hard to believe - full corridors with no tourists except us.
Next up was Angkor Thom. I love the faces that are carved into the pillars at Bayon. Everywhere you look you are being stared at by one, two, three or even six huge Mona-Lisa type smiles. Someone had a wicked sense of humour when they designed that one!
After Angkor Thom we went to the jungle temple of Ta Prohm - by far my favorite. They left this temple, mostly, in the state it was found in the early 1900's. So the jungle has overtaken the beautiful carvings and huge trees sprout out of unimanigable crevices and temple structures. All around there is rubble - where the temples have fallen and signs reading "danger - do not enter". You can work your way down long dilappidated passages thinking you may never find your way out and then come out at a brilliantly carved structure with roots crawling all over it. Now THIS is breathtaking. Yes. Yes. I'll upload photos as soon as possible!
To start the first day of touring we had negotiated a decent 3-day rate with Mr. Sopheara, a local tuk-tuk driver. But, on the second day he didn't show up to take us to sunrise! Since Tuk-tuks are a dime a dozen, even at 5:30 in the morning, we managed to find another one but we still can't figure out what happened to Mr. Sopheara - especially since we hadn't even paid him yet!
Today, Monday, we went to sunrise at Angkor Wat - along with thousands of other early birds. Then we revisited Ta Prohm, the jungle temple. After that we took quick naps and then headed to The Emilio School where my friend Julie teaches. There we celebrated the upcoming New Year with food and dancing and lots of talcum powder in the air. The school was throwing a party - and all of the local kids came out to dance. What fun! Those kids can sure boogie!
After dancing we did one more swing around the temples (The Rolous Group) and are now in an internet cafe burning photos to CD.
Sorry this is so scattered.
More temples tomorrow. And then on to Phnom Penh before my visa expires!
More Temple Photos
Apr 6, 2006
Apr 6, 2005
To see more of the temples check out:
After a luxurious $6, 6 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh we settled into a quirky little guest house called DV8. Immediately it felt a little like Thailand because the tiny lobby was more of a working bar with all 8 bar stools filled with working girls. And I do mean 'working girls'. While my room was cleaned I looked through the DV8 drink menu. All cocktails were from $1 - $2.50 unless of course you wanted to buy a cocktail for the working girls - in which case the price went UP to a 'special'$3!
But, my room was nice, and comfortable, clean and quiet. So I didn't let the alternate business of my little guest house deter me. Plus, Julie was staying there (another volunteer from Siem Reap) and Menno too. Safety in numbers!
Last night we went out to dinner at a Khmer restaurant with Julie and another volunteer teacher, Sascha from Australia. The dinner was delicious but the highlight was Julie's little squeel of "ohmygod" as the tiniest of geckos (lizard-like animals) worked his way near her plate to help clean up the leftovers. After dinner we stumbled upon a makeshift rave party along the riverfront. Since we were all well beyond exhaustion, we only rallied for a few dances with the locals.
Back at guest house DV8, we passed through the lobby of girls now half-asleep on the lounges and a few male westerners enjoying cocktails. The guest rooms were window-less and hot as hell but with a fan it was bearable for a mere $8 a night. But, if you turn on the A-C (all rooms had it) the room rate went up immediately to $13! What a tease! But I got a good A/C-less night sleep.
Today I jumped on the back of a moto (motorcycle taxi) for the 30 minute ride to the immigration office for a visa extension. It expires today. I got a bit of the run around at the office, and hugely ripped off but in the end I think I'll get my passport back on Monday, with a one month extension. Will know for sure when I return there on Monday!
At noon I'm meeting up with a friend of a friend who works in the American Embassy. To save some money Menno and I are moving into her house for a few days.
Am fighting a sore throat and a cold but otherwise am doing well. I look forward to visiting the rest of Cambodia after exploring the heart-wrenching sites of Phnom Penh including the Killing Fields and S-21. I'll tell you about them after I visit.
Lounging in Phnom Penh
Apr 7, 2005
The one thing I miss most while on the road is a good night "in". You know - a night where you cook dinner, eat in front of the TV, and sip a glass of wine - all while sitting in your sweats or PJs. But, tonight is that night.
I met up with Jennifer McIntyre, a friend of a friend who works for the American Embassy in Phnom Penh. Even though we never met before, she offered to let me stay at her house while I explore the city. I was a little apprehensive at first because sometimes staying in a person's home can be uncomfortable or inconvenient but quickly I realized that staying with Jennifer was like staying with an old friend. I met her at the American Embassy today and transferred my overstuffed backpack from local tuk-tuk to her nice American car (with full blasting A/C).
After a short drive we entered the gate to her house via the 24-hour guard station and she showed me around her magnificent home including the 16 person dining room, huge living room, fully stocked refrigerator, the fully stocked wine bar, the guest room and bathroom, a/c remote control, her video collection, and even her high-speed computer. Mi casa su casa - so to speak. So, tonight, I'm staying in! We opened a bottle of chilled white american wine to sip. And we will heat up dinner in the microwave when she gets back from an errand. A dinner that her housekeeper cooked up during the day - chicken with mushrooms and stove-top stuffing. No joke.
Until she returns from her errand I'll catch up on email via her broadband connection and sip my wine. Now THIS is what I needed! A night in. Sitting in the luxury of a soft couch, a place that feels like home, drinking american wine, enjoying the a/c and making a new friend. Glorious!
Love to all,
Apr 9, 2005
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a city of contrasts. The revitalized city has Wats (budhist temples-monasteries), Mosques, crumbling french-colonial architecture, restored french colonials, ancient markets, cosmopolitan restaurants, street vendors, cyclos, and even a nightlife scene. Monks in saffron robes can be seen alongside tourists in internet cafes, and sidewalk restaurants are starting to spring up all over the city. But, lurking in the alleys, and the dilapidated buildings, and visible in the far too recent black and white photos there is still the sense of immense loss here. It is estimated that around two million Cambodians, out of a total population of seven million were killed, died of torture, starvation, or disease during the rein of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. 1975 - 1978.
In early 1975 the population of Phnom Penh alone reached almost 2 million as refugees swarmed into the capital seeking safety from the spread of the Vietnam War. But, in 1975 the Khmer Rouge took the city as part of its radical social program, immediatly forcing the entire population into the countryside - mostly to their deaths. Different factions of Khmer Rouge were responsible for evacuationg different zones of the city. Whole families were split up and for most cambodians their experience in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge depended on which area of the city they were in that fateful first day of 'liberation'.
Reminders of Cambodias recent past šan be seen all over Phnom Penh including the 'highlights' (for lack of a better word) of the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21). But, the physical and emotional strain of any one visit to these genocide sites can take its toll.
Today it is 95 degrees (but feels like 109 according to weather.com). We hired a moto-driver (motorcycle) to take us 45 minutes outside the city to the infamous Killing Fields. We didn't even notice the unbearable heat as our entire beings stared straight into a memorial stupa about 3 stories high, containing over 8,000 human skulls, arranged half-hazardly on shelves by gender and age. Nearby, dozens of shallow pits served as mass graves for the genocide. Of these communal graves 43 of the 129 have been left untouched and fragments of human bone and cloth can be seen scattered around - almost coming out of the ground as the rain washes away another layer of dirt.
We hired a guide to take us around the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, and he explained to us that he was born in 1979 (the end of Pol Pot's regime) and lost one uncle during the Khmer Rouge. Luckily, the guide's family were peasants and the uneducated had the best chance of survival during the genocide. As we walked around the grounds of the Killing Fields he pointed out some horrific sites including a tree which was used for killing children by using it as a beating post. And right next to it was a shallow grave where hundreds of small bodies were later found. Horrific.
The other emotionally terrorizing museum was S21 or the Tuol Sleng Museum. In 1975 Tuol Sleng Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S21). It soon became the largest and most horrific center of detention and torture in the country. Between 1975 and 1978 more than 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the Killing Fields (extermination camp) for execution. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of it's barbarism. Each victim was photographed at least once (sometimes both before and after torture). The museum displays these photographs and you can walk the deserted hallways where the people once lived. Tiny brick or wooden cells with metal shackles for the victim's ankles.
Both S21 and the Killing Fields were depressing places to visit. But they are educational and hopefully help insure that history doesn't repeat itself. You pass through every emotion as you begin to realize the reality of what happened here. First I was sad, and then angry at the world for not stopping it, and then sad, and then angry, and then sad... Now a combination of both. But even more than seeing the 'sites' it's meeting the people and reading cambodian books that really make the horror come to life. It's a feeling that will always remain with me about Cambodia. It's like there are ghosts lurking around every corner. You see a building or person and wonder how it survived Pol Pot's regime. And you see a smiling cambodian and wonder "how"? How can you smile when your world crumbled so recently. But the smiles and the cambodians live on.
But, onto a happier topic. I'm still at Jennifer's house and really enjoying it. It's just what I needed to recharge my battery. We went to the Russian Market this afternoon, in the 109 degree heat, and bought a few t-shirts from GAP since their factory is here. Tonight we will stay in and watch movies. We need to detox from last night. A night of Beer Lao, Long Island Iced Teas, martinis and a little dancing.
Tomorrow, Monday, I hope to pick up my visa extension at the immigration office and my camera at the Canon store (if they can fix it). Then I'll just wander around and see what else makes Phnom Penh so unique and diverse. Where young beggars and desperate tuk-tuk drivers vie for your attention and your US dollars. Where landmine victims sell photocopied books, where prostitution rules certain bars and guesthouses around the city, and where the remnants of the Pol Pot regime are on display for all to see. So much to see - and yet nothing to see!
Hope all is well at home.
The "other" Jennifer - a Thank You
Apr 11, 2005
There have been so many highlights of this journey so far - some are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and some are natural miracles like waterfalls