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.