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The Killing Fields - Phnom Penh

Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

11-04-2012
We are back from a very full day in extreme heat. More than I have ever experienced. It was 40 degrees and humid and we were on the go, non stop from 8:30 this morning until 8 pm. It is the first time I ever felt completely drained from the heat and at one point this afternoon, I thought I might faint. We were all overcome but stopped often for lots of water. The kids were wonderful, despite the fact that we were all soaked with sweat, they did not complain. Our attention was captured all day.

We had a very solemn start to our day. Our morning was spent with a local guide understanding the horror of the genocide that happened in Cambodia as recently as 1978 under the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. This was a very graphic and intense experience that moved us all to tears multiple times. We began in the Tuol Sleng Museum, a high school that was turned into a prison and the largest detention and torture center in the country. More than 17, 000 people were held here and brutally tortured before being moved for execution at the killing fields. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge documented and photographed everything and all this is on display at this museum. When the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia, and this prison, they photographed everything they found, including the dead in their beds of torture. The rooms remain in tact and the photographs are on the walls. Even more horrific than that are the hundreds of pictures of the prisoners and guards (known as the killing machines), many of whom are woman and boys and girls around the age of Isaac, brainwashed and trained to kill brutally. Our guide is the first child of parents who were force to marry, unknown to each other, to populate the Khmer's working class. He has heard many first hand accounts and he himself spent many years, living and hiding in a cave from Pol Pot's army even after the genocide had ended. After the tour we had the opportunity to meet two of the seven survivors found at the prison. The only two living survivors. This was also very moving. Kajal was unable to complete the tour but Jackson and Isaac listened with interest and seemed to process. This was evident when we met the first survivor and Isaac bowed to him with respect without any prompting..see the picture of them bowing to each other. Even more incredible was when Isaac went to sit by the second prisoner, who is partially deaf and blind from the electric shock torture he endured. He was a little man and Isaac looked so big beside him. When Isaac went to stand it was as if they had some strange connection and he grabbed both Isaac's hands with both his hands, hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and held him for a moment. When he let go poor Isaac was sobbing. It was very touching and he did not do the same with others.

From there we drove to one of the 354 killing fields where 8985 people were found buried in mass graves bound and blindfolded .Their remains were found as such. Imagine how many people were killed. Three million people were killed over 3 years and today more than 50% of Cambodia's population is under the age of 16. This was a beautiful place. Trees, birds chirping, baby chicks, butterflies. A peaceful graveyard. The recovered skulls have all been stacked behind glass. All with cracks because the Khmer Rouge did not want to waste bullets so they beat them all to death. As you walk around you can see the endless holes where mass graves were found and often finding pieces of bone, teeth, and jaws under your feet. As the wind and rain comes more bones and clothes have to be collected as they push out of the ground. This many years later!!! After a full excavation of the site!

What an incredible history lesson. Difficult but one everyone should see. It is hard to believe that all this occurred without the world knowing or even those in villages working for the KR.

In the afternoon, we saw the other sites, including the spectacular royal palace, full of gold and gems, the national museum and the beautiful Silver Pagoda with a solid silver floor.

We enjoyed a local lunch. Isaac had deep fried frog legs, while I had mine, spicy stir fried. Cambodia is nothing like Vietnam. You know you are in a different country. We are in the days leading up to New Year's and saw and heard the chants of the people going through the homes chasing out the ghosts and the evil for the new year. They are as superstitious as the Vietnamese. This is more like what I expect Thailand would be like and Sharon says it is.

Sorry no attempts at humor today. It was a pretty emotionally draining day and although it was heavy for the kids. I think it was valuable.

I am attaching a lot of pictures, it was hard to chose today. I took about 150. The man in the blue shirt is one of the survivors, he and Isaac are bowing to each other. The other prisoner is hugging Isaac. Pictures of the killing fields and the bones, teeth and clothes coming up through the ground. The royal palace and a few random shots, monks, frog legs etc.

Tomorrow we are going to the market and then flying to our final stop, Siem Reap for the amazing temples of Ankor Wat.

Love Shelley and Isaac. Both very grateful to have never known such horrors.

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Posted by curlygirl 14:48 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia family intrepid indochina phnom penh

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