3/16/18: The Dark Side Of Humanity (Learning About The Khmer Rouge)

I went for my first run in Cambodia this morning. One lasting thought: I AM SO HOT.

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Park by the independence monument

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Some of my observations while running: there is more poverty here than in Vietnam (at least from what I observed). While I was running on the riverside, I saw a man with a massive tumor on his head and kids running around with no shoes or clothes.

One funny thing I saw was a pick-up truck with a hammock in the back and a woman lying in said hammock. I found it absolutely hilarious that this woman decided to get into the hammock instead of just sitting in a seat like a normal person.

After breakfast I got ready for my tour to S21 and the Killing Fields. S21 is an old high school that was turned into a prison during the Khmer Rouge, from 1975-1979. It is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Of the 14,000 people who entered, only 7 survived.
The Killing Fields is an area 17 km away from Phnom Penh, and is where thousands of people from S21 were taken, blindfolded, and brutally executed during the Khmer Rouge.

I honestly didn’t know much about the Khmer Rouge before this, so I am going to assume you do not either and give a brief explanation.

The Khmer Rouge was a communist group led by Pol Pot, and came into power in 1975. They wanted to make all Cambodians farmers, so they moved everyone out of cities and forced them into labor in the countryside. However, many of the city people, called “new people,” had no idea how to farm, so this led to famine and starvation.
They killed anyone who was seen as intellectual– anyone with higher education, who wore glasses, knew foreign languages, and professionals. About a third of the entire population of Cambodia died by the end of their ruling, in 1979. You can read more about the entire genocide here.

I was hesitant to get the audio guide for S21, but it was so worth it. It does a good job of giving you the background info and taking you through the stories behind each room and the people depicted throughout. It is crazy how well-documented the entire thing is. The prison leaders took portraits of everyone who came through, and transcribed all of their interrogations.

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The old school turned into a prison

It was surreal to see the checkered floor in the photos of tortured people on the walls, and then look down at my feet and see the same checkered floor.

It was really hard to walk through the prison, but honestly the pain I felt doesn’t even compare to those who actually went through the Khmer Rouge, so I really can’t say anything.

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Graves of the 7 who survived

It’s pretty crazy that even though this was a clear failure of communism, right next door there is a communist country in Vietnam. Does this mean communism can work if carried out in a certain way?

Next up was the killing fields. Again, they do a really good job with the audio guide. They take you around to different mass graves, stations where buildings used to exist, and fields where people were executed.

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Entrance to the killing fields

The most impactful part of the tour was at the killing tree, the tree where children’s heads were smashed against the tree and killed. The leaders would play a song over a loudspeaker to drown out the sounds of the kids being murdered. The audio guide played us that same song as we stood there, looking at the tree, and it really put me in that moment. It made it so real.

It is absolutely mind boggling to me that almost every family in Cambodia has at least one relative who died in the Khmer Rouge. It’s just so strange to be in this country, interacting with Cambodians every day, knowing that they were directly impacted by the tragedy.

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Bracelets by the mass grave
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Lake where you could walk around and reflect
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The skulls of those who died
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The colored stickers indicate how they were killed

It makes me wonder what the daughters and sons of that period think. Do they feel lucky to be alive? Were their parents farmers or intellectuals in 1975? I wonder if it was hard to find intellectuals or people wealthy enough to get the economy going after the fall of the Khmer Rouge? How did the country even rebuild after so much death?

After that very heavy first half of the day, I went on a sunset cruise at 4:30.
There were only 10 of us, so it wasn’t a huge group and it was pretty chill. I met some Irish boys, TWO halfies (one was half Korean and half American, the other was half Chinese and half Canadian!), and a guy from England.

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This dog made me laugh

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When we got back to the hostel around 7, we were all hungry so we got dinner from the hostel kitchen. I got green curry. Someone asked me if I was vegan (I can’t remember how it came up), and we talked about veganism for a while. It’s funny– every time I tell people I’m vegan, without FAIL someone will say they’re trying to cut down meat, are vegetarian at home, only eat meat once a week, whatever. EVERY TIME. It’s cool, and I appreciate them telling me and them trying to do good, but I just find it funny that it happens every time and that people feel the need to justify their eating habits to me.

Everyone had a few more beers, but I didn’t feel like drinking for no real reason so I just hung out with my water and then went to bed around 11.

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