Today started out being another lazy morning with us lying in bed until 9 a.m. or so. Then Doug pointed out that we were on the verge of missing free hostel breakfast so we kicked it in gear and went downstairs. It turns out that the free breakfast is really some toast, tea/coffee, and a fruit cup – not too exciting. Truthfully, it would have suited us just fine if not for the company downstairs. There was an older American man who wanted to discuss a current news story about a black girl who had been violently extracted from her classroom by a school security guard after some sort of disruption. In his mind, as he put it, America is due to have a race war because too many of “those people” are ruining education for the rest of us. I’m sorry, sir, but you and your generalizations over an entire group of people due to select few’s actions are the reason why we would ever have a race war. Gah! Ignorant, loud people really ::explective:: irk me.
Glad to be away from that guy, we showered, packed up our day pack, took care of some more travel tasks, and left around 11 a.m. for what we knew would be a very emotionally tough day. We walked a good ways towards Toul Sleng Genocide Museum before agreeing that it would probably be best to have lunch before we likely would lose our appetites in the museum. Unfortunately not a lot seemed to be open, so we settled for some more mediocre lok lak and a surprise fried rice before making our way to the museum. The museum is housed in the former Khmer Rouge prison, S-21, which prior to the regime’s reign was a high school and retains its eeriness. The buildings, converted to prison cells and interrogation/torture rooms, still stand as a reminder of the 17,000 people who were brought here. Most of those people ranging from babies to older men and women had no clue why they were here, but were tortured until they named others and ultimately executed. Of the 17,000+, there were only 12 known survivors of the 4 years of the prison’s existence. Those that survived did so because they had skills that the Khmer Rouge could utilize such as machine knowledge (used to repair field equipment) or painting (used for propaganda). The museum, itself, focused on the victims of the genocide while walking you through the remaining buildings and introducing you to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. We were surprised to learn that for a regime focused on removing educated people from their country, they had a surprising number of foreign-educated teachers and professors amongst their ranks. This experience was a very sad one and we are sobered in knowing that a lot of Cambodian people alive today have very real memories of this time, 36+ year ago.
When we were finished we negotiated with a nearby tuk-tuk driver to take us to the Choeung Ek Memorial, otherwise known as The Killing Fields. The ride was a very dusty 20 minutes long and even featured children incessantly begging Doug (not Lynn) for money and touching his leg while stopped at a stoplight. He did not care for that experience.
We arrived, grabbed our audioguide, and took a deep breath for another somber hour. The audioguide was very well done and did a great job of introducing us to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime while also describing the atrocities that had once taken place under our feet. We were directed from location to location to hear about horror after horror – the pits where people were tossed into after being bludgeoned to death because bullets were too expensive, DDT used to confirm extermination and cover the smell, and a tree where babies were beaten to death. To this day, visitors walk over the remains of clothing and bone still rising from the earth after heavy rains. This was certainly not an easy stop, but a necessary one to kick you back to the reality that once was for this country and its people.
Emotionally exhausted we took our tuk-tuk through the dusty streets to town and enjoyed a 40 minute walk back to our hostel to wash our faces (they were very dirty) and drop off our bag before heading to dinner. A few days back we had made a reservation for a training restaurant used to introduce young adults from impoverished backgrounds to the restaurant business by providing them with experience cooking, serving, and hosting. The students then use these skills to start restaurants in their hometowns. There are a number of these restaurants around so we thought we’d check one out and overall it was a very pleasant experience, though it broke our budget a bit. This particular restaurant featured a tapas-style menu so we shared a few plates – a green chile pork quesadilla, a beef salad, and Burmese chicken curry. We then enjoyed a banana crepe with coconut ice cream for dessert. Though the meal was not Cambodian by any means it was very well presented and tasty.
Having stuffed our bellies once again, it was time to head back to the hostel and get writing.
Daily Walking Mileage: 6.8
- We have noticed that 95% of the Lexus SUVs driven in Phnom Penh have LEXUS scrawled on their sides, in case you were unsure.
- Squat toilets are very common in this part of the world which leads to signs like the one below being needed.