Jim, Lisa and the World
A trip of global proportions
About Us (2)
Costa Rica (2)
New Zealand (11)
* Eastern Cambodia by motorcycle...and elephant
* The Killing Fields
* Kings Cross Car Market
* The Red Center
* Cruising and Noodling
* The Great Ocean Road
* Melbourne part II
* Up the Coast
* Capital Good Times
* Missy the Beasty
* The Seperation of Wife and Mate
* Rugby, Navigation and Magellen
* It's a small world after all!
* Free! Free Falling!
* Attack of the Sandflies!
* A Puzzling World Indeed
* Surfing with dolphins!
* The Cook Strait
May 31, 2005
The Killing Fields
Jim and I arrived safely in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after a brief overnight in Bangkok, Thailand. We took a cab directly to the Okay Guesthouse where we met up, yet again with our friend Anna.
On Sunday we went to visit Tuol Sleng, and the killing fields. Tuol Sleng was a high school in the middle of Phnom Penh until 1975, in May of that year it was transformed into S-21, a detention and extermination center by the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge was the name taken by the communist "revolution" that swept through Cambodia in 1975. Leigons of Khmer rouge "combatants," many just kids with guns emptied out the capital city in days. They told the people that they had to go to the countryside for just a few days, really this was the first step in Pol Pot and company's "Great Leap Forward" that involved brining the country into an Agricultural Communist utopia. The reality was that they were to spend the next few years toiling in miserable forced labor.
Back in Phnom Penh prisoners were held at Tuol Sleng for four to seven months at a time. During their stay men, women and children were held in cells which were one meter by two meters long. Children were held in larger rooms, with up to 40 children being held in one room all lined up on the floor and shackled together with a long iron bar. Torture was common everything from pulling out people's fingernails and pouring alcohol on the wounds to hanging people by their arms and legs from a pole as if they were to be roasted over a fire.
I didn't know what to expect that morning when we set out. It was about 90 degrees and humid at 9 AM and the sky was clear. We climbed into a Tuk Tuk (a motor bike with a little cart attached to the back) and enjoyed the 15 minute ride through the streets of the busy city.
When we first entered the grounds of the 'school' I was surprised at how normal it looked, aside from the high fences around the perimeter, and the electrified barbed wire, it looked like a typical high school. I was surprised that I didn't feel more sad and upset; I relaxed and let the experience take me.
There weren't many people there that morning, Jim and I silently split up and began touring on our own, I think that we both knew this was going to be an emotional experience and we needed to have the space to be fully present to the things that were experienced here.
One of the first rooms you enter while walking on the grounds is filled with photos. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous documents of everyone who was held at S-21. Everyone had a head-shot taken when they entered, and some were even taken after various forms of torture. It is estimated that over 12,500 men, women, and children were held here between 1975 and 1978 and the majority of their photos are displayed in four rooms. As I passed through the rows and rows of pictures, I began looking in their eyes, especially the eyes of the children. I was surprised to see defiance in many of them. As I came to the last room with photos, I became short of breath as I looked at a picture of a man who was stick thin, and who's face appeared to have been smashed in by some means...I had to step outside.
I was determined to see what had happened here, I didn't want to walk away simply because I was squeamish at seeing some pictures. So, continuing on my own I came to Building C, which is where the majority of the prisoners were held. The entire front of the building, all the way up its three stories is covered with barbed wire, to prevent prisoners from attempting suicide. The first floor is covered in cells made from brick walls one meter wide by two meters long. As I walked along the rows of cells I could feel the fear inside of the room. The second floor contains rows of cells made of wood, one after another with only a little square hole cut in the door to let light and air in. I held my breath and walked into one, I could see lines that fingers had scratched along the base of the walls, and the chain that bound the prisoner was still cemented into the floor. This was where someone lived...or existed, not leaving their cell for days on end. I quickly walked back into the sunshine. It wasn't until I walked down the narrow hallway between the wooden cells that the fear in the room became palpable, it was surrounding me, I could hear the screams, and smell rotting flesh. I couldn't breath, I felt like I was going to vomit.
From the high school we headed 15 km outside of town to what is called the Killing Fields. This is where the majority of the people who were held at S-21 were taken to be executed. Prisoners were blindfolded and their hands bound as they were ushered onto the back of a truck and driven out to the field. There, they were made to kneel on the edge of a mass grave, no doubt smelling death and rot in the air. Most of the prisoners were not killed with bullets, as they were too precious. Various means were used to kill them, including decapitation, beating their head against rocks...etc.
Approximately 90 mass graves have been found in this area, and most of the bodies have been exhumed. However, as you are walking around these holes in the ground, you are walking on clothing bits partially buried in the ground, and bones, it is not uncommon to find a bone lying around. A shrine has been erected in the middle of the field, and inside have been placed all of the skulls that were recovered.
How incomprehensible this all was. Experts are in disagreement about how many Cambodians perished during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror whether by execution or dying in the fields of maltreatment. The numbers range from 1 to 3 million. To think that this mass genocide is still happening in other parts of the world is unbearable.
Posted by Jim & Lisa on May 31, 2005 09:12 AM
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