I had a good night sleep in Hometown Hotel despite the reviews I saw on tripadvisor (Note from Shiela: I barely slept, just so you know. Thanks to that post you shared. 😦 ). It was a particularly easy day for me – talking about the things I needed to do before going out. I wore my tank top and after a while, we went out. 7:00 was the call time, the sun was up and I was starving. Few moments and we’re off. We were fetched by our shuttle service to the restaurant. Half an hour passed and we were nowhere near the restaurant. Edge needed to call the hotel staff to tell the driver the directions to the restaurant.
I was particularly preparing myself to see a fine dining restaurant. No joke, I was thinking, “why are we driving for almost half an hour if we weren’t going to a fine dining restaurant?” But as they say; “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”. True that! We were all waiting for our orders, and when they started serving our food, I was rather impressed. The food was good. The espresso was the best I had ever. And everyone seemed to like their food. We were all done except for Kat. Hahaha. (Nasa France pa daw yung French toast niya). When we were all done, including Kat, we went to the shuttle to start the journey to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, commonly known as the Killing Fields, was the place where a large number of people were killed and buried during the communist Khmer Rouge regime after the Cambodian civil war. The moment I set foot on this memorial site, I can’t help but ask someone in my head – “How can someone do this and why?”. It was just inhumane. I just could not believe a group of people can have a motto – “To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.”.
While I walked on the green grass land and read the numbered signs, I was disturbed by what I imagined. Some time in the past, Cambodians who had minor crimes, Cambodians with contact to a foreigner, were sent for inquiry. They were subjected for re-education; and yes it is not the education where you get a degree but it means some time in the near future, you will face death. Intellectuals and foreigners were also captured for questioning. Some victims also dug their own graves. Imagine how hard it is to dig a hole and see yourself in that place.
As we walked into the fields and observed what’s around, I felt a certain weight was put on my chest that made me feel heavy. Deep into the field was a huge Chankiri tree where babies of the victims were smashed to avoid revenge for the death of their parents (How can you even think of that?). Going back to the entrance was the only thing I thought of when we saw that tree. The feeling was getting heavier as we walked the fields, the air was different, like there was someone watching your steps, like you were not alone.
We didn’t use the entire time given to us. We needed to go. I needed to pee (Hehehe. Just to break the ice!). It was hard to be happy in that place, Tikoy said “NO SMILING”. But when someone pulled out a camera, we all smiled. Tikoy said that visitors should not smile in that place because a lot of people died there. After about an hour, we made our way to the S-21.
Formerly a high school converted in to a security prison, S-21 witnessed how people were brutally tortured and killed. Walking through the deserted corridor was one of the creepiest I have experienced. We entered a building and the moment I went in, I felt somebody was looking at me. There were people inside but the silence was deafening. I was in a state I didn’t want to be in – I was oblivious.
We braved entering the buildings. We saw Edge and Tikoy about to go up the second floor. Tikoy saw us and said “tara akyat tayo” (Parang Super Ferry lang, sakay na!). Me and Kat went but Shiela passed (Note from Shiela: I might not sleep peacefully for a long time if I went in with you. So I had to pass. 😦 ). The four of us climbed every floor. As we climb each floor, more eyes stared at me. I was hesitant to look at a picture for a long time because it might stuck in my head. Tikoy said there was this creepy bathroom and she was looking for it. We went on to enter another building but we didn’t see the bathroom. We went to the other side and I immediately noticed the building surrounded by rolls of razor wire (yes it is much sharper than barbed wires). The only opening was the entrance to the building. We traversed the first floor from start to end, it was just unbearable. If walls could talk, it would scream. If walls had eyes, it would cry. One can definitely feel the pain.
The walls that served as classrooms now serves as prison cells. When we walked to the next floor, the air was unexplainably chilly. I felt a sudden change in the mood. It’s as if someone played a sad piano piece. I could see people on the ground but all I heard was a long maddening tone. The cells were clearly smaller than the ones in the second. There were wooden doors that added creepiness. There was a small hole in each of the cell, few still have the chains used to hold the victims, red marks were visible; I was hoping they were paints.
We entered a cell one by one, Tikoy first, followed by Edge then me and Kat. Tikoy said “ang creepy no? Uy shet may dumaan”. It was like in a horror house minus the fake mannequins. It was actually funny if you will think of it, I was actually laughing a little but it was thrashed by the heavy feeling. We went downstairs and went to the other building. We saw the others, we talked. I asked if they have tried to walk though the third floor of the heavily razor wired building. They said “YES”. I was like “Oh, shoot I was one piece of coward head”. How did they do that? I laughed a little. I was thinking (what came into us? We should’ve walked through that. Haha. Golden even traversed it himself.).
After that, we went back to the entrance. We passed by an old man. He was Chum Mey. I noticed what was written in the placard. He was one of the seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge imprisonment. He survived because of his excellence as a mechanic for Pol Pot’s soldiers.
The group gathered at the entrance, it was heavy but we still took groupies, no smiling, but some still did. We talked about the feeling and what we saw. Ate Ibang didn’t fail me again. She still managed to take selfies even if she was sad. I was not sure but someone told me she even had a selfie while in tears. Hahahaha.
It was time to go. We still had to catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh. So we decided to bid the sadness goodbye.
Digging deep into a country’s history is one way of knowing it’s culture. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime was one of the worst genocide ever, but it has shaped Cambodia to what it is now. We cannot escape the past. It is written in the books. What matters most is we learned from it because as they say – Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.