The nationwide genocide by the ruling Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s is still fresh in the annals of Cambodia. Ottie and I visited a couple of memorial sites while we were in Phnom Penh.
The Killing Fields was the site of a mass grave, where prisoners of S21 would be transported to for execution. The site also used to be a Chinese cemetary, so we’d see a few burial mounds that weren’t part of the mass graves. Ottie and I shared an audio guide, since Ottie happened to have his earphones with him. I ended up with the headphones that came with it, although I’d have preferred to use my own too- those headphone weren’t the most comfortable, especially since the tour lasted for about two hours (ow my earsss). The audio tour also included quite a number of extra excerpts, so I was glad that Ottie and I were on the same page all the time. It did make walking a bit of voting process, but if Ottie and I couldn’t come to a consensus on little things like this, our relationship would be doomed. :P
The illustration depicting how this tree was used was just… I thought the dark patch on the tree trunk slightly above the head level was a little odd, and wondered if that was blood, until I saw the illustration in which a prison guard swung an infant by its feet to bash its head at what I think was that very same spot. Also, these colourful bracelets are everywhere, signs of people leaving something in memory for the tragedy that happened here. Ottie also noted that the small stone on top of this sign was a jewish practice for the dead.
Ottie and I ventured down this peaceful path that not many people seemed to walk through; their loss. It was so idyllic, with the foliage and nature seeming to shield us from the aftermath of the horrors that occurred on the other side of those trees. Chickens roam freely in the site too; we saw a few cute chicks following their mother to forage for food along this path.
More commonly known as S21, this high-school-turned-prison-camp gave new meaning to the opinion on a school being, well, a prison. The modified school grounds was a depressing sight – every classroom empty save for a metal bedframe or three, the ends of each corridors affixed with metal gates, the stains and dereliction which permeates the present, a leftover from the rape of what such an institution embodied.
It got close to home when I climbed up the stairs with Ottie to the second level and was hit with a sudden wave of nostalgia at the style of the stairway, reminding me of my days in primary school.
Every prisoner was required to have their portrait taken while sitting in the contraption in the photo on the extreme left. In the foreground were all the childrens’ who had the misfortune of being family to whomever the Khmer Rouge wanted eliminated. :(
It was a sobering day.