Cambodia Experience: The Killings
Day 2 – 8th December
Woke up at 6:43am and waited for the alarm to go off at 6:45am before I officially gets up.
Kimlay, our coordinator, gathered us at 8:30am to start the journey. He is a short, average sized, dark skin man – very ‘Cambodian’ looking. Always smiling and warm – seems like it is part of their culture, even in such hectic metropolitan. He talks quite a bit too.
First stop: The Cambodian Royal Palace.
And the king still lives in there (!!) In the other side of the compound, gated and guarded. The king apparently is at home, as the Kingdom of Cambodia flag waves proudly.
Cambodia practices two major religions: Buddhism and Hinduism. The structure of the palace depicts the religions and the local mythologies.
White = brahma (Hinduism)
Yellow = monk (Buddhism)
The “Naga”, a mythological sea creature that is believed to bring prosperity and good luck, is carved proudly on the roofs and stairs of the Palace and temples. According to the Palace guide, There are apparently 3, 7 and 9 headed “Naga”. The common one being carved is the 7 headed “Naga” which represent the 7 colors of rainbow for happiness, prosperity and luck.
“Naga” means dragon in Bahasa; and if you understand the ancient Chinese culture, dragons are a symbol of wealth, prosperity, superior, luck and oh well, everything divine really. It is a creature that only the Emperor may carry.
Very similar with the Cambodian aye?
There are 2 dancing ‘schools’ too, which is now use for when the Cambodian King wishes to speak to his people.
And as we walked through the huge compound, there are small galleries that showcase some traditional customs and royal items, including the traditional wedding dress and groom’s attire are to die for, with gold on them!
“Everyone in Cambodia believe that they could be the king and queen for a day on a lifetime – on their wedding day,” says Kimlay.
Second stop: Wat Phnom temple.
By the second week, I learned that the lion-liked creatures guard the Buddhist temples whilst the Garuda – monkey/gargoyle-liked creatures watch over the Hindu temples.
And before we proceed to the next destination, Kimlay continued the long history of Cambodia *history was never my strong subject in school, and it was even tiring to try listen hard to what he was saying*
I’ll google it when I get home before anyone tries to smart-ass question me on the history, I thought to myself.
Anyway, the story was about how Khmer Rouge started, the torment that the people had been through, the revolution and how it ended. And if I remembered correctly, Kimlay and his family grew up during the Khmer Rouge period.
“My (relatives) were pilot and teacher, highly educated and would have fallen as victims of the Khmer Rouge killings should they had not escaped. My dad was captured, however was lucky to meet the officer on duty – a familiar face – that helped him escaped.”
Third stop: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The “museum” was the interrogation base, which was formerly a high school. The base consist of three blocks of building –
Block A consists of 20 cells, or classrooms, which are used for jailing, interrogating and torturing captives whom had been high officials and the well educated.
Outside of the block lay the graves of the 14 corpses discovered by armed forces. These were the last to be executed by the officers of that base (agent S-21). Ironically (I find), the graves were plotted next to The Gallows.
Block B and C consists of numerous small lockups. These buildings, although 3 storeys only, were braided with barbed wires in order to “prevent desperate victims from committing suicide”.
You weren’t even allowed to die in those darkest days. People nowadays had it easy.
It was funereal, even to a slight psycho (as my friends regard me) who loves all crazy and gore things. As we walked heavy-heartedly along the corridors, I pictured distraught footsteps and bloody traces, and smelled the stench of despair.
I guess to love fictitious gruesome and to actually know that this is real life make a difference. Or maybe, I’m getting older and domesticated.
Final stop: The Killing Fields
Somehow, I did not feel as disheartening as when I was in the ‘museum’. Maybe because it was too hot. Maybe because I was getting tired. Maybe because I have come to terms with my emotions.
Maybe because, and ironically, I find the killing fields in a calming state. There were tourists, but it felt quiet and at peace.
Since we had the coordinator with us, we needn’t the earphones that everyone was wearing for the explanation.
Later in the evening, we met with 5 other volunteers from another group – which coincidentally almost everyone is from ‘Straya! and were introduced to a Khmer BBQ for dinner. I was told that the chewy meat, although nicely marinated and flavoursome, is skinny cow. I am clueless as to why a skinny cow, obese cow and normal cow – but as long as they aren’t dog meat (which the coordinator kept talking about) I was fine to taste.