Cambodia's Killing Fields, S21, and emergency cash

Cambodia’s Killing Fields, S21, and emergency cash

We spent yesterday morning leisurely reading about the various options for the day and where we would be headed to next.

At some point I came across some sort of mention of mosquitoes and how to avoid them.

Damn, I thought, we didn’t get any sort of immunisations before coming to a third world country.

I rang my family practice to find out if they knew what I’ve been vaccinated for, but they could only tell me I’d been jabbed for Hepatitis B at some point in my life. When I was born, it turns out.

Reading up on the various vaccines we should have had, and the possibility of getting them here, it turned out that all shots were basically useless for two weeks after getting them. We’ll be here for another 11 days, so we decided just to be really careful.

After that little scare, we discovered my wallet had been stolen the previous night.

A short panic later, we were on the way to getting emergency cash sent through VISA from Felix’s bank account to Western Union Bank.

Not having yet received the cash however, we spent the day nervously spending our remaining $43, and hoping beyond hope that it would come through as planned.

In the meantime, we hired our neighbour, Kimleing, the tuk tuk driver, to take us to the Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum, where the Khmer Rouge killed hundreds of thousands of people during the mid to late 70s.

I’ll be honest; I didn’t know much anything about Cambodia’s devastating history before looking into the country as a cheap travel destination.

I knew it was near Vietnam and Thailand, and that was about it. I had something about yoga and temples in the back of my mind.

Since then, I’d done some reading, but not enough. Never enough. The horrors of what the Cambodian people went through during that time are unthinkable.

With many similarities to the Holocaust, but much more recent, it’s truly disturbing to hear about.

During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was bombed intensely by the Americans, forcing huge numbers of people to flee to cities, where it was safer.

The Khmer Rouge (Khmer is the name of the Cambodian people, and Rouge or Red signified communism) wanted city people or new people to suffer for having “destroyed the old countryside community way of life”. At least that was what they said.

Bracelet offerings on a mass grave in the Killing Fields.

Lake in the Killing Fields. The bodies dumped in the water were allowed to rest, and have not been removed.

A collection of bone fragments which have slowly come to the surface after rains during the last 40 or so years.

Sad that this has to be said.

An example of a partially excavated burial site.

The cities were evacuated when they took complete power over the country in 1975, and everyone was forced into killing fields, interrogation camps, or rural areas where they worked terrible hours under conditions of unbelievable slavery.

Despite the liberation in 1979, when the Khmer Rouge were chased out of Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese, and forced to end their terrible regime, they lingered in the jungles and continued to commit atrocities until the 90s.

Comparable to the Soviet Union’s slip into power after the Nazis were removed from the scene, the liberation marked the start of seven years of Vietnamese occupation.

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, was found guilty of genocide in 1979, but never showed up for trial and served no sentence.

Insanely, according to the audio guides that were provided with our tickets, the world continued to recognise Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge as the official Cambodian government. They even remained on the UN, vetoing efforts to demobilise their troops.

Finally, in 1998, Pol Pot died, and 1999 was largely considered to be the end of the Khmer Rouge.

The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia were set up under the supervision of the UN to try serious crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. These courts were operational in 2007.

There is so much more, but that’s probably more than enough grisly history for a simple travel blog. I will say, though, that the audio guide tours of both the Killing Fields and S21 were fantastically informative and very sensitively put together.

A tree in the Killing Fields.

Dog in the Killing Fields.

Rooster in the Killing Fields.

Memorial stupa built to remember those killed by the Khmer Rouge.

A massively eye-opening learning experience and, obviously, put our stolen wallet situation into perspective.

Unfortunately, despite vast improvements since the time of the Khmer Rouge, things are still tough for Cambodians.

Everyone we speak to tells us, passionately, about the corrupt government and the lack of hope they hold that anything will change anytime soon.

“You’re lucky,” they tell us, “Australia is a good country. A good government.”

There’s no way, given the situation people are dealing with here, that I’m going to disagree with them.

Kimleing took us to a spot near S21 for lunch between the two horrific attractions, and we ate delicious stir-fry and rice noodle salad.

It was a fairly touristy spot, and the meals were about $5 each. Later, Kimleing told us he paid about $1.25 when he ate there.

For the record, I think that’s fair, and I don’t mind in the least. What’s the point of having a country swarming with annoying tourists if you can’t make a bit of extra money from them. The disparity of wealth between tourists and locals is mind-boggling, and the food is still cheap by western standards.

Delicious food.

More delicious food.

Finally, we picked up Felix’s passport and headed in to Western Union, where we had $700USD emergency cash wired to us from Felix’s bank account.

We picked it up and met our host family for dinner at a totally bizarre food court nearby. It was a Friday night, and they were treating the girls with a night out.

The bibimbap and fried chive cakes were excellent, and supremely inexpensive, and the extremely strange passionfruit drink was palatable.

A local supermarket was having a staff celebration at some nearby tables with huge eskies filled with beer and some sort of live entertainment they were putting on for themselves.

Our host and her lovely kids.

All in all, it was a successful day of sorting out the crisis of the stolen wallet, and an educational experience of sadness and distress in regard to the local history.

Yesterday was our last day in Phnom Penh (as I type, we are sitting on a seven hour bus trip headed for Kratie) and we spent it booking a bus, buying bug spray, and getting a massage.

My back, as I think I mentioned last post, has been agonising. I don’t know why, but it has. I asked our host for recommendations for remedial massage.

Without hesitation she handed me the business card for a place relatively nearby that trained blind people in the art of healing massage.

It’s called Blind Healing Hands Massage, and they charge $6 per hour.

It was without a doubt one of the most painful experiences of my life, but I’ll admit it was my fault for choosing the “strong” option instead of “medium”.

I figured the harder, the better applied to situations like this one, and just went with it.

He clearly knew what he was doing. He pulled all my fingers and toes until they cracked. He karate chopped me all over. He twisted my back and pushed my legs diagonally over my body.

My back has never felt better.