Monthly Archives: April 2012

Fields of Pain

I wake to no sunset again (at least none that I can capture).  Perhaps it is aptly so, for a day like today.  The Killing Fields.  A confession is to be made:  I am a product of Hollywood and all I can think of when I think of where we are headed next is of a movie I did not see so as not to be depressed.  And now, here I am going towards the real thing and to be forcefully faced with man’s capability to kill, torture, and destroy psyches.  I am bracing myself mentally.

We have breakfast and out the door we go.  Our bus waits in front of the hotel.  A flash of a familiar color attracts my attention and I turn and see my Baby Blue.  Actually not my Baby Blue (aka: my little hybrid, Toyota Prius) but a Baby Blue.  First Prius I see on this trip and it’s exactly the same color as mine.  Suddenly, for the first time, this strong feeling takes over me and I am tremendously homesick.  I’m taken aback by it.  It physically stops me in my tracks.  And then, in matter of seconds it is gone.  As if it had never taken over me at all.

We arrive at the infamous S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison).  This place, where they executed over 300 people a day, is oddly calming now.  Flowers are in bloom. We are reminded that we are to show respect for what is in effect a burial ground.  

This was not a place of calm.  It was one of death.  Testament that among our race are those who can and will commit horrific acts.

The Chemical Substance Storage Room.  The sign reads: “Here was the place where chemical substances such as D.D.T…. etc. was kept.  Executioners scattered these substances over dead bodies of the victims at once after execution.   This action has two purposes: firstly to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies which could potentially raise suspicion among people working near by the killing fields and secondly to kill off victims that were buried alive.

I am starting to feel quite perturbed.  Thaly, our guide was 10 when it happened.  She tells us of the mystery revolving around what lay within these walls.  Of how her family is one of the few who survived intact.

There are mass graves, some of people without heads, of women and children but in effect the whole place is a burial ground.  We are told that fragments of bones and teeth and fragment of clothes are still surfacing after the floods.

I bend down, incredulous to see it close up.    

And then we reach the “Magic” tree.  There is something horribly wrong about the fact that it is from this majestic tree that they hung loudspeakers to drown the moans of those being executed.     

And that the next beautiful tree we see, is one against which children were beaten. 

I need to inhale a huge breath of air, hoping that the smell of inhumanity and death does not infiltrate it.

We pass by the stupa built to honor the fallen.  

I enter and the different levels are filled with skulls of different age ranges.    The deodorant they use to clean them turns my stomach.  No amount of disinfectant can clean what happened here.  Again I need air.

A mini documentary and some wall inscriptions later and we are on to the Genocide Museum.  The morning is turning out to be one of reflection.

While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all…  

The barbed wire was there so that the prisoners would not commit suicide (the taking of life was to be done only by the executioners and after torture) from the upper floors or try to escape from the bottom one.   

My quota for facing the darkest side of the “human” race and to image the pain inflicted on the innocent is at its max and I tell my group I will take a walk around the neighborhood.

It seems that all my senses return as soon as I step away from the confines of the Genocide Museum. I can feel the sun on my skin, smell the wonderful aroma of coffee coming from a cart that is quite stylish in its “purpleishness”.

But I do not buy my coffee there.  Instead I go to a B&B that I spotted from the bus.   The wall is covered with local art and I think that it has been way too long since I have picked up a brush.  I daydream about painting here.  I sit, I sip, I breathe in life and a smile once again is plastered on my face.  

 

    

The tour has assumed that after such a somber morning people would want to relax.  Their idea of relaxation is taking us to the Russian Market.  But it is a good place to encounter life again.  This market became the foreigner’s market during the 1980’s when most of the foreigners in Cambodia were Russians, hence the name ‘Russian Market.’  The market (aside from not having one Russian item in it) is a busy one and pretty much anything can be found.  I, the non shopper, once again manage to find something that I absolutely need and must buy.      

And, of course, shopping makes you thirsty.

Hello guy… cheap drink here… (They don’t want female business?)

And builds up an appetite, so we return to the bus

and go to a restaurant whose name  translated means Sweet Cucumber.   We have a pretty good meal.

Dessert is taro ice cream, my new favorite. 

At the National Museum of Cambodia we are up close up and personal with history and art.  I buy an offering of flowers –the flowers are as fragant as they come- and I will place it at an altar that moves me. 

The main terracotta building in itself has my attention.  

Ganesh welcomes us.  

And there’s a million shades of green among the leaves in the museum’s garden.   

Which is probably why I decide to present the next photo in black and white as contrast.  

On the way back to the hotel I snap some more photos.    The river flows alongside of us. 

Electrical wires that I do not understand how they are not considered a major fire hazard.  

At the hotel we are left with an evening on our own.  Five of us decide to take advantage that we have a female guide when she announces that she is headed to the salon.  Girls night out!

We walk.  I photograph.  

When we arrive at the local salon, there is only one person there.  She gets on the phone and in matter of minutes helpers arrive one by one on scooter. The salon so reminds me of the ones back in South America.

I have my hair done. Oh, for a full $5!  The girl gives me one of the best massages as she washes my hair.   

The day has ended in the most relaxing of ways.  I sleep like a baby.

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Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Water Life and Cambodia Ahoy!

I have been dreaming of seeing Angkor Wat and today -when we leave Chau Doc, Vietnam and take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia- I will be two days closer to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.  In between there is much to see and two immigrations to go through.

As we are leaving the hotel we spot a little girl apparently alone, but actually waiting for her dad.  She’s on a bike with her own little rattan “throne” in front.  We all start waving at her and she timidly waves back.  Dad comes out and takes the veil off her face.  She stares at us and is probably wondering what the fuss is all about!  

After the bus drops us off we still have to walk through a market to get to the boat.  We pass by a temple with inscriptions in Vietnamese and Chinese: Chau Phu Temple.  You would think at this point I would be tired of temples and markets but I still find them fascinating, each generating different emotions in me every time.  

Though small, it is a thriving market the one we go through on the way to the pier.  A crate of chicks reminds me of a Spanish children’s song that goes: “Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío…”  (The little chicks say peep, peep, peep, when they are hungry, when they are cold…)  These must be really hungry ‘cause their pío, pío is loud and strong!  Somehow it saddens me and I look away.       

The lanes are narrow and motorbikes and people coexist in them.  I’m so enthralled by these huge grapes that I don’t realize that a bike narrowly misses me (or I it).       

And yet, on my next photo none of the craziness is reflected.

We go through an alley  and my inner voice goes “water ahoy!” (I know it’s land ahoy but I wasn’t up for arguing with myself.)

Soda anyone?  

And had I not had breakfast, I could of gotten it at the boat that offered a hot meal to all.     

A houseboat floats by and my thoughts float with it.  I wonder how it must be to live like that. 

I have a few minutes to ponder this as our boat gently advances to a fish farm that we are visiting.   But before that, we shall pass and visit a floating wholesale market.   Another boat offers us a burst of color along with its wares (somewhat like a 7/11 on the water).   A good indication we are entering the market.  

Each boat has a long mast that has, instead of a flag, the fruit or vegetable they are selling waving at the top.

Here’s the coconut boat.  

Want to guess what this one sells?

   

We leave the market with another blast of color from a boat.  

A few minutes later we arrive at the fish farm. 

I try to pay attention, I really do, but the smell from the fish paste so commonly used in almost everything here is so overwhelmingly nauseating that all I’m thinking is getting on our new boat that will take us to Cambodia.  Not that I haven’t smelled it before but it was always intermingled with other scents.  Alone, and in mass quantities, it is hard to breathe.

Relief as I take a huge breath upon boarding the boat that will take us to the Vietnam exit border     and the Cambodian immigration.  I had wondered this morning how it must feel to live on the water and I’m getting a taste of it now.

I have learned to be patient and smile my way through every immigration process but the Cambodian immigration control is unique.

A curious local (as usual it is the people that draw my lens).    

After leaving the boat and walking for a bit there is an immigration control like no other.  

I get the usual “Paraguay?” question but with it comes a smile and a look.  And just in case you don’t believe it actually is a border crossing here are some officials to prove it as we head back to the boat.   This is not the plank we take back to our boat… 

  Back on the boat our trip leader entertains us.  

I relax for we still have about two hours till our arrival to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.       

My stomach growls, my eyes blink open, and I spot land.     

Thaly, our local guide, and our first and only female guide on our journey, welcomes us at the dock.  This is a bustling, metropolitan city.  We check in at the Almond Hotel where we have lunch.     At this stage of the game most have a hankering for familiar tastes so they serve us ice cream for dessert!  We are all like little kids verbalizing our delight with many “yummms and ahhhs”.

Off to the Royal Palace.      

As we cross the gates the sounds of life outside seem to decrease to nothing.  Isolated perhaps by the tall walls that surround it.  What it doesn’t isolate us from is the brutal sun.

The king is in residence, indicated by his flag waving high.  

I know I should be most impressed by the Throne Hall

-that we are asked not to photograph even from the outside looking in.  In fact, today we can’t go inside at all.   But aside from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers that are certainly captivating, it is the Moonlight Pavilion that holds my eye.     

We head towards the Silver Pagoda set of buildings.  The walls are painted with the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana.  

I sit and contemplate how manmade beauty is framed and enhanced by nature.  

Life outside the walls has not stopped.        

We go back to the hotel to freshen up and go back out for our ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) along the riverside to our restaurant.  We are served Cambodian food which, as in all of Asia it seems, includes curry something.  We taste fish amok (steamed fish with herbs in a banana wrap).  I am not warming up to Cambodian food as much as I have to the rest of Asian food.

Tomorrow we will have a somber morning walking through The Killing Fields.

Categories: Cambodia, Chau Doc, Phnom Penh, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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