Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cambodia: Part I

Cambodia: 7/25-8/2

Cambodia was hot, refreshing, and wonderful. Although my trip was busy, it gave me the relaxation and reflection that I was long over due for. It was refreshing being somewhere new and away from not only the hustle and bustle of Seoul, but also the every day mundane tasks of having a full time job. At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of being alone on this trip. While it took a few days to "warm" up, I finally felt comfortable with my solitude, and learned not only a lot of Cambodia but about myself too. Overall, I tested my limits, and I am glad that I had this life experience.

I started my trip in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I had a game plan for the things that I wanted to see and do, and decided I'd stay for 3 nights.

The first full day I had in Cambodia was really busy. I woke up and had breakfast at 8 am and then headed out to see all the tourist spots: The Royal Palace, The National Museum (full of Khmer sculptures and beautiful lush garden), Tuol Sleng Museum (this is where Pol Pat (think Hitler, but the Cambodian version) arrested and held over 20,000 innocent civilians before torturing and eventually killing them. The sad thing is is that this prison was a school before the government took over in the 70's. It was a somber experience, but I'm enjoying learning about the history. What this government did is on par to what Hitler did to the Jews. Why do we not learn more about genocide, and specifically the Cambodian genocide in the 70's during our American education? The former classrooms were turned into cells or torture chambers. As you walk through the cells, you can see the instruments used to torture victims and unfortunately you can even see the victims faces. Each person who was held at S-21 had a biography and their picture attached. They were numbered and wore the date on entrance on their shirts. You can see the fear in most of their faces, especially women who were holding their babies in their arms. The pictures were disturbing. The expressions on the faces of these people are etched in my mind forever. Some looked as though they knew they were going to die. They looked frightened, or resigned or defiant. And then there were those who seemed to have no idea of what was about to happen. They were smiling at the camera. Although heart wrenching, this museum was amazing and probably the best one I've been to in Asia. After the hell that was the museum, I had a delicious lunch before heading to Wat Phnom (Wat means Temple). Wat Phnom is one of the most important pagodas in Phnom Pneh. It was built in 1373, making it the oldest pagoda in the city.

Later in the day, I enjoyed happy hour at the Foreign Correspondence Club with an older french couple that I met at the hotel. The husband spoke a lot of English and the wife spoke zero. I put my non-existent french skills to work... I think I was able to say correctly, "Hello, my name is Ray. I'm from the US, but I live in Korea and nice to meet you!" I saw them again at the pool the next day, and the wife said "hello" and giggled. Maybe she thinks I'm cute? After happy hour, I enjoyed the sunset over the National Museum and was able to snap a few photos. I came back to my hotel early, as I was so exhausted and asleep before 9 pm.

On my second full day, after my delicious breakfast, my tuk tuk driver (carriage pulled by a motor bike) took me to the killing fields. Here is where those who didn't die in the S-21 prison were exonerated. When I arrived here at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, the first thing I saw was a great pagoda. At first, I actually just took a picture and went on my way. However, as I was drawing near it again I realized there was something much different about this pagoda. I walked closer to see that it was filled with human skulls. We are not talking about one or two... I'm talking 62 meters high filled to the brim with human skulls. There also was clothing that was found in the trenches, and human jaw bones that weren't connected to any skulls. These skulls were just some of the victims from Pol Pots regime and the genocide. Over 8,000 people were executed here at Choeong Ek, and that doesn't include those that died in the S-21 prison. Thankfully Pol Pots regime was put to rest in 1979. Choeung Ek was a somber experience. There were mass graves which most of these bodies were found, however, there are still graves here that have not been excavated. I was surprised how rich and heart breaking the history of Cambodia truly is.

After two full days of being in Phnom Penh, I was excited to head to the temples that surround Siem Reap.

1 comment:

sarah said...

i spent 3 years studying the cambodian genocide. and it affected my whole life

RAY there are 100000 ray kirby`s on facebook

can you add me>

sarah-jane caitlin richmond