Monday, April 9, 2012

Cambodia: Choeung Ek (Killing Fields)

I have saved this post for last because it was the hardest to write. As soon as I learned that I would be travelling to Cambodia I started doing research. I was quickly reminded about their very bloody past. RECENT past. The Khmer Rouge killed 1/4 (roughly 1.7 to 2.5 MILLION) of the Cambodian population from 1975-1979. During my life time.

I went to the Killing Fields the first full day I was in Cambodia. My visit colored the rest of my trip. As I looked around at the people after my visit to this mass grave, I realized that there aren't a lot of elderly in Cambodia. It is a very young population. In my guide book, it said, "if an elderly person asks you for money.... just give it to them. They have been through  h.e.l.l." I balked at that initially. I am NOT one to just give money to a person.... but... after my visit to the Killing Fields... I did just give them money.

There are many many "killing fields" all over Cambodia that have a series of mass graves. Choeung Ek is the best (that's not saying much) cared for. Most mass graves in Cambodia are inaccessible because of land mines.

I talked to a couple of older people during my travels and they said things like.... "before the war, people were much nicer".... "before the war things didn't look like this". It shocked me that war was so close to the people and so recent.   I was also struck by the fact that most people I looked at in Cambodia had a loved one that was affected by this mass genocide.

Martin and I went to church on Sunday and as we were walking into the chapel I happened to look in the gym. On the floor the of the gym was a body draped with a white cloth. It shocked me at first. There were people gathered around the young dead girl and weeping. She had died of cancer. It made me contemplate all of the experiences I have had in Cambodia regarding death. The Cambodian people are very close to death. They care for their dead from the time the die until they are buried or cremated. If the family is rich, they have them embalmed and keep them in the home for a few weeks while people come and pay their respects.

I also had my dear friend Karl Savage on my mind... It was coming up on two years since his untimely death. All of these tragic deaths were swirling around in my head and I realized that the God that I believe in is much much bigger than death. God must have such a different view of death than I do. Death can't be the worst thing to happen to a person. I know my mind is not able to comprehend what happened in Cambodia. But as I age, I do hope to grow closer to my God so that when I do have to walk through death with a loved one or myself I will do so with grace and presence.

The stupa. It was built to house skulls and bones of the victims. They are on several different levels and you can walk up and view them. You are able to tell how the person died by their skull...... very gruesome deaths. Usually not by a bullet as they, "didn't want to waste precious bullets on them".
Many different places around the grounds where you could stop and listen to a first hand account from a man who had survived the Khmer Rouge.
Grove of trees that delineated the mass graves from the stupa area.
It was very odd but daily living still went on around the mass graves. There were local people walking over the grave sites to get things, roosters roaming, and people fishing in a "lake" that I would never dream of eating from.
I didn't feel very much until I saw bits of clothing. For me, the bits of fabric that were unearthed from the rain did me in. They made the grave sites so much more real. These grounds are not cared for like they would be in America... all traces have not been removed of the victims. There are still bones, clothing, and artifacts that still float up when there is a hard rain. If you looked carefully at the ground you would see bits of bone etc.
I found it ironic that they have to put such a fence to keep people out.
Local getting ready to fish on the grounds....
The tree where they killed all of the babies and young children.
They had boxes of clothing and bones. The workers gather the bits of clothing after each rain and put them in this box.
They dug up all of the bodies and just left the land hallow. It was very eerie to look out over the land and see so many depressions in the ground.
The audio that I listened to had the music (don't ask me how) that they played while they executed the prisoners. I had one of the most visceral responses that I have ever had to anything listening to that music. I sat by this tree and wept.
There are no words. "Items" that were picked up after the last rain. They just sat them on top of the glass box that they needed to be thrown into. The cord was used to bind wrists.

Cambodia: Villages and Children

The best thing we did while in Phnom Penh was rent 4 wheelers ( ATV? I don't know the difference).  We rode through villages and the children came out to wave at us.  We stopped for sugar cane juice and ate fresh mango's under the mango trees.  It was well off the beaten path.  I read that 80% of Cambodia is without electricity.  That fact was hard to believe when we were in the city but realized how it could be so when we went out to the villages.  Almost all of the roads in Cambodia are dirt.  The city is fine but once you leave you are kicking up dirt most of the time!

The higher your house the more wealthy you are in Cambodia... this is a really nice house!
Guide explaining to me about the temples that dot the country side.....
Caring for the rice paddy....
I have never understood what people meant when they talked about how they loved the children of Cambodia... I totally get it.  I would have taken any of these kids home with me.  They loved looking at the pictures I was taking of them...  it was really sad to see the children who were a little bit older.  They had lost the sparkle in their eyes and were not as happy and carefree....
They liked looking at their reflection in Martin's helmet!
All over the country side they have plaques telling people who donated what amount of money to improve bridges, roads, irrigation ways etc....
Our mango lady... She is so beautiful.
James... our guide!
We could hear music coming from the temple... It sounded like a CD... As we got closer we realized that it was these boys making the lovely sounds....

Road block at the end of the trip!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia: Comme a La Maison

I know it is lame to devote an entire post to food... but let me tell you Phnom Pehn has some of the most amazing food you will find anywhere in SE Asia.  My favorite as Comme a la Maison.  We ate there several times.... We ate breakfasts of pastries and Chocolat Chaud.  We ate with some of M's collegues for dinner.  We had five people.  Drinks, appetizers, entrees, dessert, and tea/coffee all came to $85 usd!  The price of food made it even better :)

Some of our other favorite's were:  Friend's , Fish, Metro, The Deli, & Raffles Hotel Restaurant.  Food so good that we went to most of these places more than once.  I love the french influence.

I realized that good, affordable food is the one thing missing in Singapore.  The food really made our trip!

This may just look like a photo of me eating but if you look closely... you will see a crisp baguette topped with the best brie I have had outside of France.... who knew... Cambodia?!!
We loved that the sign board was only in French!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: National Museum

There isn't a whole lot to see in Phnom Penh for tourists.  You spend about two days and you can see it all.  (With that said I LOVED spending a week there.  I was able to eat the food, absorb the culture and relax.  I would totally go back!)  It is a country that is still very scarred from war.  What they do have is thanks to a group of very committed people who love Cambodia.  The National Museum houses quite a bit of original sculptures from Angkor Wat.  It also house a few artifacts from daily living and royal living before the war.  The Khmer Rouge destroyed most of the countries artifacts. 

They didn't allow any photography in the museum but for  $3 you could take pictures of the grounds.... sigh.

Different styles of Buddha....