S21 + The Killing Fields
Trip Start Apr 23, 2010
6Trip End May 10, 2010
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Today was the big day... the emotional challange. I thought I'd get it out of the way at the start.
I met an Aussie guy at the airport, Brett from Brissie and we were both headed to My Mates Place hotel / hostel / restaurant. After a few beers yesterday and a limited schedule for Brett we resolved to do the Phenom Phen city tour today which largely focuses on the regiem of Pol Pot, The Killing Fields and the S21 torture museum.
Prior to today we had already seen our first dead body, a suicide on the street behind the main strip in the city. Presumably a sucide, the police had cordened the area off but the bloke was laid out, covered up, with his big white feet sticking out..
I guess that prepped me though. In some weird way I knew I had to create a shell around myself heart to deal with what I was to see today and I guess the body helped?
I awoke in my luxurious double room (no dorms free), got my sunscreen on and shifted my gear out into the dorm for tonight before jumping into the hostel run tuk tuk driven by our airport pick up Rady. We were to go out to the killing fields first. I was wearing my Kiwi board shorts and Metallica Singlet... both black. Felt appropriate. I tensed myself a little in my room before departure but then relaxed after I met Brett and felt comfortable. It was going to be ok. I felt strong today.
Having left we cruised through the crazy awkward traffic of the city. Akward perhaps for normal drivers, but the locals had a system of anarchy, no rules, and it worked
So - quick recap for the thoses who aren't aware of the story... after a long period of unrest and unhappiness the Cambodian people vote in the extreme Communist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. He immediatley evacuates the capital city, tricks the upper class / educated back to the city, murders them all and enlists the young and impressionable to control and execute every single individual who does not want to work in a field farming rice every day. Fail to conform and you willl be exterminated in the most brutal and barbaric ways you could imagine. No guns allowed, lets not waste bullets. Even babies were on the list for fear of retribution against the perpitrators of their parent deat in later life
The depth and depravity, horror and tragedy of this desperate and incomprenensibly wicked regiem is difficult to compehend in fullness... after all, it's everything we as a modern and civilised society are against, the opposite of our framework for living.
Therefore, to go to these places and see the bones still sticking out of the dirt, the clothes of the victims like small flags poking out of the mud is surreal and numbing to say the least. A Stupa (Buddhist shrine) 7 stories high with skulls and other bones ordered by sex and age at the centre of the site is a chilling and intense tribute to the 9000 souls whose dreams, hopes loves and aspirations were cruelly stolen in a way which must count as perhaps as distressing as is humanly possible and has ever been seen? It is without doubt, impossible to truely comprhend the actual reality of the situation without going a little bit mad yourself.
After an hour and a bit at this Killing Field (shockingly one of hundereds around the country... imagine a site like this next to every McDonalds in town and you come close to envisaging the comprehensiveness of this holocaust) the three of us made our way back to S21, the interrogation and torture centre
S21 was equally barbaric. Photos of victims pre execution were testament to this, they say the eyes are the windows to one's soul and these people seemed to have had their soul anihalated with fear and torture. Ridiculous rules were imposed to coax 'confessions' out of victims that would cause even the most rightous to stumble... what followed ... well.. you couldn't write it... what stands out in my mind the most is men removing womens nipples with pliers and then having scorpians sting their chest. It twists your stomach. All the torture equipment is still there.
The woman we hired as a guide had lost her father and aunt, sisters and brothers... she escaped over the border into Vietnam around age 12 on foot after the Khmer Rouge were brought to power. Her kin were killed in the killing fields, no doubt tortured in places like S21. What shocked me to the bone was the humility of this women who recounted such details as I wrote before, words I feel ashamed to write and share with those who care to read this, yet, this poor women who lost those closest to her was given a job as a civil servant as a guide at this place by her employers. She has worked as a guide at S21 for 15 years, telling people every day numerous times about the incomprehendable evil that was played out here, walking down the corridors and cells of those who were kept which still to this day have their blood on the floor
Cambodian names are hard to remember. I can't get the tone or intonation right of most of the language and I haven't heard of any of the names. A lad in our hostel spoke to me last night, I can't remember his name. He is 20. He is seemingly obsessed by what happened in a way which you cannot say is not right. His Father and Grandfather were involved. He talked to me at length last night and I was afraid about going today. He told me about 'Dutch', the man in charge of S21 and how he has not come to justice, how is family are still in the city. I told him last night of how I would see him today and be a changed person. Its true. You can't walk around a mass grave and not come back different. So as I spoke to him tonight and his young and eloquent tongue spoke of pain that should not sit on his shoulders and weigh as heavily as it seemingly did I touched his arm and tried to emphasise that what happened was unusual in humanity, that LOVE is the antidote to this abhorration and that the rest of the world needs to guide and exemplify that life is not like this, that it is ok to be educated, to have ambition, to want to better ones self
I leave this blog with the story of his Grandad and his father. His Grandfather when the Khmer Rought came into power had a potatoe field. The young soldiers made him dig all the potatoes up. The workers, the people in whose names this barbarism was carried out, were made to eat Rice and Rice only. So he had to dig up all his potatoes. Instead, bravely, he only cut the tops off the crop and the young Khmer Rouge did not know he had tricked them. The potatoes lived on in the ground and a long time later, because the potatoes are very tough, he gave his son the location of the crop. Like a thief in the night his son located them and secretly ate them with his family. A small victory, a small show of heroism in the face of evil. Potatoes no doubt being more valuable than Gold (Pol Pott got rid of money altogether when he came into power)..
Most sickeningly of all, when questioned about his motvations, Pott described the affair as a social experiment, of how far he could push the mantel. It is clear in the right conditions we are capable of anything. I don't think people are necissarily good or evil, only that there are good and evil actions and that these were played out in such a cunning and strategic way that it truely brought the worst out in ourselves. For make no mistake, this could have been in any country, at any time, by any people. Pol Pott was never brought to justice, much like Hitler. He failed his degree at University in France. A failed student. The biggest and most glaring irony of all is that Pol Pott was a geography and history teacher.
I've got the love brother. Goodness knows now it is important. Lets spread it...