Awe and Complete Horror in Phnom Penh

Within the memorial of Choeung Ek.

 

The horrors are in the stories. The stories are in the pictures. We started the day with the glorious Royal Palace, and ended it with the crimes of the Khmer Rouge: the S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison/Genocide Museum and the infamous Killing Fields.

Let’s start with the not so sad stuff…

 

The Royal Palace of Cambodia just got served.

Russian Market


That’s it for the fluffy stuff.

And now to the not so fluffy…



A former Phnom Penh High School, it was converted to the infamous S-21 Tuol Sleng Prision: out of the 20,000 incarcerated, only 4 survived.


The faces of the dead.


We found the torture room on the 1st floor. Many people died here.


A photograph of the torture room pictured above when the prison was liberated by Vietnamese troops. When the Khmer Rouge fled, they left behind scenes such as this.


The picture below was where many prisoners were waterboarded before being executed. To know that so many people were strapped onto this is chilling.


Building "B"

A jail cell

Cause of death.

 

Annah commented in her post that she didn’t know why I stuck around here for so long: I stayed here awhile because I wanted to understand what it would feel like to be held against your will, waiting for death. As I stood in those cells for a period of time I challenged myself to comprehend the limits of the human condition, especially in times of despair.  What was hope for them? Was there any such thing to hope for?

Some say the prison is haunted. I don’t blame them for thinking that.

We then headed to the infamous Killing Fields, the location of over 800 mass graves of an estimated 1.3 million victims; so far only 8,500 corpses have been accounted for from the site.

 

Choeung Ek: The Buddhist Memorial to the Killiing Fields. This memorial houses hundreds and hundreds of skeletons

17 tiers of skeletal remains.

There’s a site that marks out an area where bone fragments and teeth are coming out of the fields even today. I found this tooth…(look closely)

More bone fragments coming out from the ground.

When they say "beat", they really mean the Khmer Rouge taking the feet of babies and throwing them against this tree, before disposing the bodies in a mass grave.

It reads: "Mass Grave of more than 100 victims; Children and women whose majority were naked."

Once a mass grave, now a lush green park. How time changes everything.

Remaining clothes of the dead.

 

I cannot describe in words how difficult it was for me to grasp the magnitude of what the Khmer Rouge committed against its own people. Standing in the prison cells, torture rooms, or on the killing fields, I searched for answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask. On the killing fields, lush green lawns revealed little of the carnage you’d find written about in textbooks. Laughter of children from the adjacent schoolyard made it difficult to comprehend the tragedy that took place 6 feet under; has time changed everything? How have we become desensitized?

But then I realized: this is how we heal. For the Cambodian people to retain their eager smiles and unquenchable vitality after one of modern history’s worst genocide — only a generation before — has been remarkable to behold. It perturbs me to see what evil humankind is capable of after today, but it also bewilders me to see how capable we are of descending into hell and back. This has been the undying spirit of modern-day Cambodia, and I am grateful for bearing witness to its courage.

Scores of more disturbing images of the Khmer Rouge atrocities: just click here.

- At time of posting in Phnom-Penh, it was 86 °F -

Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds

From Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat
Tuk-Tuking through Phnom Penh

3 Comments

  1. “For the Cambodian people to retain their eager smiles and unquenchable vitality after one of modern history’s worst genocide — only a generation before — has been remarkable to behold. It perturbs me to see what evil humankind is capable of after today, but it also bewilders me to see how capable we are of descending into hell and back.”

    yes. this is exactly why visiting cambodia was so meaningful for me.

  2. Gah. I feel sick from reading this (not that I wish I hadn’t.) It’s unbelievable. I’m glad you put up these pictures!

  3. This is amazing, very sad, but still amazing to see! Thank you so much Calvin for posting these diaries.

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