14. Death, Death, Death

23 January 2019, 22:36

A day of genocide. Pol Pot and the S-21 torturers, maimers, murderers. A sad day, for one finds it hard to enjoy walking over mass graves, seeing a tree upon which babies’ brains were dashed, walking through a school-house-turned-interrogation-center. But this is what the tourists see when they come to Phnom Penh. They pay $6, $8, and $10 to listen to horrible stories of indescribable loss and evil before returning to their hotels and hostels. I pay, but my payment is pale and silent compared to the payment of the Cambodian people.

After a morning jaunt through the city center and along the relevantly developed waterfront, I found myself at the gates of the Royal Palace. It was closed when I arrived, so I negotiated a tuk-tuk with a thirty-something man named Wanda. In ten minutes, I was riding through trash-filled streets of dust, rock, and sand. Then came Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng. I don’t wish to dwell on what I saw and heard. Death. A failed attempt at extreme Maoism. Dystopian horror and brutal mantras: “To remove a weed, you have to dig up the roots.” Fourteen unmarked graves were all that was left when The Organization abandoned its post to avoid the oncoming wave of Vietnamese soldiers and Cambodian defectors. (Also, America dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam war than they did during the entirety of WWI.) Rebar shackles, boarded ventilation, brick cells, and barb-wire anti-suicide guards. Prisoners stabbing themselves with pens and pouring kerosene lamps on their heads to end their own suffering in search of an early grave.

And wealth, manicured lawns, silver floors. The Royal Palace. Quite beautiful, a bright contrast to the bleakness of the rest. Cambodia (or maybe just Phnom Penh) was known as “The Pearl of Asia” before conflict tore it apart. The Pol Pot regime was responsible for much yet was dealt only partial justice for its crimes. Brother #1 died while on house arrest, some twenty years after 1979, when his plans failed. The rest were slowly found and brought to trial for crimes against humanity.

“I did this on my own; it’s the only way… Reconciliation is not about talking to each other; it’s about the obligation and responsibility of each of the victims to put all the pieces back together” (Jok Chan, leader of DC Com, collecting info and raising awareness of Pol Pot and genocide… look him up for proper spelling and quote.)


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