Second day in Phnom Penh was in deed full of activities. My host, Elma fetched me up at the apartment. It was not spooky at all during the day time. She accompanied me for breakfast for she knew I did not eat much the night before. It was hard to find a halal food there in Phnom Penh. In addition, I came unprepared for halal food dining list. Not long after the breakfast, she got me a tuktuk driver whom she always used on Sunday.
He barely speaks any English. He commuted in English with me in this form: “Nerl(how he call himself) bring my lady to where now?” and “I no speak English.” and “Nerl waiting my lady here ok?”. Most of the time, I did the talking to myself as he could not comprehend English. Sign language is a must. Even when you never have an official lesson of a sign language, you need to make funny gestures to enable the other person to understand you. Otherwise you might end up at a temple called “Wat Phnom” when you ask him to go to the post office. That was exactly what happened to me.
Our first destination is The Most Famous Killing Fields. Cheung Ek Killing Field. This is one of the few reminders left of Khmer Rouge regime. This is the place where approximately 17,000 civilians were killed – genocidal. The entrance fee was USD2. As I entered the killing fields, I felt eerie. Despite being just under the sun, I saw the killing field as a dark and gloomy place. The killing field is a touristy spot so that the tourists can understand what an awful lives Cambodian had lived in the late 70s.
It was hot and dry that day. Old big trees were scattered in the killing fields. The killing fields used to be a longan orchad before it was turned into an execution place and mass graves. I felt even creepier when I realized I was all alone. I walked past the entrance where boards were put up to explain that the spot used to be the truck stop where the victims were transferred from Tuol Seng Prison to be executed in Cheung Ek, executing officer’s office, mass graves etc.
Who they killed? Anyone in connection with the former government and foreign government. Professionals and intellectuals. Some ethnics such as Vietnamese, chinese. Diplomats were killed too. Babies to no except as the regime feared that the babies and children would take a revenge on the terrible deaths of their parents against the regime. If you are a lawyer or a doctor during that era, kindly proceed to the mass graves, thank you. People who wore glasses were also killed for glasses connote literacy.
The civilians were tortured in Toul Seng Prison (Sector 21 Prison) before being sent to Cheung Ek for execution. Most of them were executed by pickaxes because they wanted to save bullets. Children were smashed onto a giant tree until they died. It was scary to look at how tall and lively the tree is now.
I purposely waited for other tourists so that I could just join them for a tour through the mass graves. Cheung Ek is a huge place. Teeth, bones and skulls are still scattered unclaimed on the ground. You don’t have to squint your eyes to spot one, you can easily look at it just under your foot. There are few places which have yet to be cleared by the government. Perhaps, they would find more graves and land mines.
Big Brother Numero Un a.k.a Pol Pot and his gang are miserably brutal and cruel.
Let’s check out Sector 21 Prison now Tuol Seng Genocide Museum.
To my surprise, there were portrait pictures of the inmates of Tuol Seng Prison. Each one of them. Pol pot really wanted to make it through the world history. He left us some souvenirs to ponder on as we proceed with our lives laced with technology.
It was sunny and my skin was burning. But once I stepped into the prison in Building A, it was chilly, breezy and windy. A voice inside me immediately screamed, “TAKOTTTTT”. Thousands of people were tortured inhumanely in the prison. The unsettled souls lived there. There was something indescribable about the place. Spooky? Haunted? Lived by the spirits of the death? Oh, I don’t know.
It used to be a school for children. It used to be a suffering place for many. During my visit, it was just row of buildings with big compound and its notably quiet and calm environment. It was near impossible to think that it used to be a place of torture. The 10 rules of the Khmer administration of the centre evinced its brutality. I could not fathom the barbarism and animality of Pol Pot and his gang.
There was a daily movie showing at 11.00a.m. and 3.00p.m. everyday. It was a good way to illustrate what actually happened during the dark time of Cambodia. How I wish the movie of a woman named Bophana who was killed just because she was suspected to be in collaboration with foreign government is just a Hollywood movie plot.
After souvenir shopping spree at Russian Market, I joined Elma and some of her Filipina friends in Brown Coffee and Tea Shop.
She later took me to a boat cruise across the Tonle Sap River into the Mekong River. I could not help but reminisce of Cikgu Laila’s geography class where we had to draw maps of South East Asia countries and pencil-coloured the many rivers and labelled them accordingly.
I met Suphong who sold his 23 years of hardship to tourists for 5 to 10 minutes. Elma told me their stories were the same from a tuktuk driver to a boatman to a cook by the street. And the story goes like this (I am trying my best not to exaggerate):
My name is X. I come from one of provinces in Cambodia. My family has no money. I am here to work so that I can send them money.
Some stories are sadder than the rest.
Ate dinner at a halal restaurant, Warung Bali. Diminumnya Nangka Belanda dan dimakannya Nasi Gila dan Ikan Balado.