Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Phnom Penh-Killing Fields and S-21

arrived yesterday afternoon in PP. After a decent 4 hour ride from Siem Reap, and a quick tuk tuk ride, I was at my hostel, Velkommen Backpackers. I'm in a 6 person dorm room, which is actually really unfortunate for the boys in my room, as I'm quite the snorer. Actually, a roommate had to wake me up and tell me to roll over. Woops!!

This morning I headed off bright and early to the Killing Fields. I had actually never heard of the genocide here in Cambodia until living in Korea, where many teachers come to visit here. It's something that was left out of our American textbooks, I assume, just like lots of other important parts of history that we didn't learn.

The fields were incredible. Sad, but set in a beautiful orchard with birds chirping and flowers growing, that you would never suspect that thousands of people had been murdered there. You would never suspect, except for the hundreds of graves dug in the grounds, and the nearly 9000 skulls and various bones displayed in the Memorial at the front of the fields. I walked around to different areas, listening to a recording of what had happened at each specific place. The place where the trucks stopped to let people off, the place where nearly 450 bodies were found, the tree that women and children were killed at, and the class cases holding old clothing of the prisoners. At the end of the tour, I walked into the memorial that holds the skulls, and listened to a beautiful song about Phnom Penh. It was definitely a sad, sad visit.

After that, my driver took me to the Tuol Sleng Musem, perviously known as S-21. This is where more than 17000 people were held before being taken to the Killing fields. It's an old school, composed of 4 buildings that were used to house and torture the prisoners. One building now contains pictures of each of the victims that arrived at S-21, a very chilling experience to see their faces and actual pictures of victims after they had been tortured. I walked through all the buildings silently, and saw the cells where they were kept. Mostly 2x4 ft cells made of wood or brick. Terribly sad. After the liberation of S-21 in 1979, only 7 survivors remained at S-21. These men had all survived by using some of their skills such as painting or photography. Of those 7, only two remain, one of whom was actually at the musuem selling his book. His name is Bou Meng. I bought his book and took a picture with him. He is smaller than me, speaks little English, and gave me the biggest smile when I bought his book. Out of respect for the victims of the genocide, I will not be posting my pics of the Killing Fields or S-21, but I will post the picture of Bou Meng and I.

Overall, a very informative but depressing day. After meeting Bou Meng, and getting a small kiss on the cheek from him, I quietly walked away and cried for the first time that day. The tears that I had been wanting to cry all day had finally come, and it took me a few minutes to stop.

Currently reading "First They Killed My Father" by Loung Ung, a girl who lived in PP when the Khmer Rouge took over on April 17, 1975, and lived for several years being moved from camp to camp. Haven't finished it yet, but can't seem to put it down.

So, hopefully the toughest part of the trip is over. I'm glad I was able to go and see just a part of this heartbreaking history of this amazing country. The people have been recovering for years, but I doubt that the memories of what has happened here will ever disappear.

On a happy note, I'm getting a tan! Woo hoo!!! And am receiving emails from students back at SLP. Love love love. :)

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