I got up early this morning to go to the Killing Fields, everyone said that I should take a Taxi out there, it’s about 30 minutes from Phnom Penh, but I took a Tuk Tuk and really enjoyed being able to take photos and the open air. We are on the cusp of the really hot season though and it was fairly cool this morning. We got out there about 8:45 a.m. you pay a two dollar admission fee and then the guides are free, but they ask you to make a donation, whatever you think is appropriate, I ‘m not sure it goes to the monument, but who knows. My guide had lost both parents, one sister and an uncle to the Khmer Rouge. First he took me up to the monument a stupa, 17 stories he said, filled with skulls, I made a donation and burned incense and offered flowers for the people who had died so senselessy. We then toured basically a field with trees scattered here and there and all these shallow holes in it. They opened 86 mass graves at ChongEk the killing field near Phnom Pehn, they found 8,985 bodies, 9 nine foreigners also died there including an Austrailian jouralist, there are 43 graves containing who knows how many bodies that have not yet been opened. My guide also told me that tomorrow, March 31, the trial of Kaing Guek Eav’s , known as Comrade Duch, would resume. He was in charge of S-21 the prison that serviced the killing fields of Chong Ek and it is estimated more than 14, 000 executions took place under his watch. Why did they die? They were killed if the Khmer Rouge didn’t like them, it they didn’t work hard enough if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups or if they showed sympathy when their familymembers were taken away to be killed. There is no reason. Everyone had to pledge total allegiance to Angka the Khmer Rouge government. A government which abolished institutions including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12-14 hours a day every day, children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup a day, people who couldn’t work, babies and the elderly were killed indiscriminately, because they could not contribute to Angka.
The estimates of the number of people killed during Pol Pot’s genocide range from 100,000 to 3 Million, but the Yale Program puts the number at aroudn 1.7 Million, a number which is supported by other studies. Chong Ek is only one of thousands of sites like it in Cambodia, bullets were too precious to use for executions, so axes, knives and bamboo sticks were far more common. To kill babies they just beat them against the trees. My guide pointed out one tree where he said they hung a loudspeaker to drown out the cries of the dying. As I was reading travel reviews on the Lonely Planet Web site, one woman wrote about visiting Phnom Pehn and said you can visit the killing fields if your into the morbid. I was offended by her statement. It’s not about being into the morbid, it’s about paying our respects, acknowledging what happened in this country and for me as American acknowledging my country’s part in it. America has been notorious for not responding to mass atrocities and all in the name of national interest. There are some things that no one should stand by and watch and this was one of them, and we failed the Cambodian people, not as Americans, but as human beings.
After the visiting the killing fields, my guide took me to Toul Sleng prison,which is now a genocide museam. I arrived in front of the museum with my Tuk Tuk driver Sony (pronounced Soon yee) and was beseiged my beggars, one missing a hand and a foot and another whose face was so distorted, I recognized him immediately as a burn victim, but didn’t flinch and wasn’t even shocked when confronted by this man and his melted face, which I realized probably would have shocked a lot of other people. It had been a primary school and a high school before the Khmer Rouge banned all education, and it was turned into a prison and a torture chamber. The classrooms were converted to .08 x 2 m cells and the prisoners who got those were lucky. Other prisoners were made to lie side by side on the floor of the classrooms, shackled together by a long bar. I saw hundreds of pictures of not only people who had been prisoners there, but also guards and a documentary called S21, it seems the Khmer Rouge often turned against their own. So being a comrade did not necessarily guarantee your safety or survival. Some of their stories were told too. But the most horrifying aspect were the weapons of torture, boxes for water torture, hooks, chains, whips anything you can think of. And the photographs, some people looked oblivious like they didn’t know what was in store for them, others looked like their arms had been amputated becuase their hands were tied severely behind their backs. But some of them, had this look in their eyes, like an animal caught in a trap, as if they knew everything that lay in store for them. One photo like that was a boy who couldn’t have been older than 13, he looked as it he would die of terror.
I had hired a Tuk Tuk driver for the day, the same driver who had taken me to find the Tabitha store and have a massage the afternoon before, his English was fairly good and he charges $25 – 30 for the day and he waits for you at all your stops. His name is Soon yee and his e-mail is email@example.com. If you tell him you heard about you from the tall blond American with the bad leg he will remember who I am. He was very concerned for me and took very good care of me. When he dropped me off at S21 at 10:00 a.m. he told me he would be back at noon. I stopped to buy some water and then headed to the waiting area, when someone approached me and said, “Are you a friend of Sony’s?” I said I didnt know a Sony, but it turns out I did, he was my driver and he had some Tuk Tuk trouble so he sent a replacement. Piset ( prounced Pee set) he was also very good and we spent the afternoon running errands. He took me to Tabitha the silk store that was closed when Sony and I finally found it the day before, then he took me too the U.S. Embassy so I could get my power of attorney for my bank account notarized. That took two hours. Ffirst I had to stand in line and tell them what I wanted. Then I had to go to the cashier and pay for what I wanted and then I had to stand in line again to get a number and then finally my number was called and they clarified what I needed done, then I waited more and finally they notarized my documents. There were a lot of Cambodian Americans there and then there were a lot of old men there, marrying young Cambodian women. This one guy had to have been over 50 and the woman he was marrying could not have been 17. I felt so bad for her. I doubt it was a true love match, but she did have a big diamond on. Who knows what’s going on, but not sure that I would be able to sleep with a decaying piece of flesh just to secure a life in America, but then again I’m not in their shoes.
After two hours at the American Embassy Piseth took me to the pharmacy, to pick up some shower gel and liquid soap for the office, then he took me to the post office to buy stamps and then he dropped me off at a restaurant where I sat on the rooftop ate delicious appetizers had a couple of drinks and then found transportation back to the hotel.
So if you want a good Tuk Tuk driver for the day I highly recommend either:
Sony – firstname.lastname@example.org,or
Piseth – email@example.com, (855) 92 272 861