Dec 6, 2008
|Sorry for the delay in updating our travel blog, we just didn’t have access to internet for a while.
Heading to Phnom Penh, it took almost 7 hours on a bus passing through the villages and the slums that people live in to this capital city with restored French colonial buildings, modern restaurants and bars and side streets filled with rubbish. We had mix reactions visiting here as it has such a horrific past history.
The bus dropped us off in the centre of town and as soon as we set foot off the bus we were swarmed with tuk tuk drivers all wanting to take us to our accommodation. Some drivers had already picked up our bags so finally Hiro just said ok to one guy and off we went. Our accommodation was a small guesthouse with pool and nice courtyard area to sit out on and relax.
On our first day we walked around the city and visited the markets and the museums. We were going into the Royal Palace but I couldn’t get in as I was wearing a singlet top. Unlike other palaces we have visited I wasn’t allowed to get in even with sarong to cover up. A young kid selling bottles of waters outside the palace offered to lend his long-sleeve shirt (as we bought water from him and also gave him some sweets before) but we sort of didn’t want to go back there again, so we headed off to the national museum instead where we enjoyed a huge collection of Buddha.
The second day was the big day of visiting Tuol Sleng genocide museum and the killing fields. We hired a moto (motorbike and driver) for a day. The Tuol Sleng used to be a high school but in 1975 Pol Pot turned it into a Security prison 21 (s-21). It was quite chilling to walk around the classrooms turned into prison where several thousand of innocent victims were imprisoned, tortured, and exterminated with their wives and kids. This is one museum where silence doesn’t have to be requested. There are photos of faces of victims displayed. These photos were taken when they were first imprisoned. Some were very young, and there were quite few women as well, some with babies in their hands. Almost everyone held here was later executed. Looking at these photos I was surprised that no one looked scared or defeated. It is not hard to imagine how scary it is to be imprisoned here, but photos shows their toughness against Pol pot and they all look proud themselves of who they were.
Next we visited the Killings Field where all the bodies of the people killed got buried in mass graves. Approximately 17,000 men, women and children were executed here by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1978. Walking around here is just devastating experience. If you look carefully at the path that we were actually walking on, there were still human bones and clothing of victims poking from the ground. In the middle there is a white stupa that serves as a memorial. When we walked inside, behind the glass panels and rising upward shelf by shelf, were over 8000 skulls found during excavations here in 1980. Some of these skulls bear witness to the fact that they were bludgeoned to death for the sake of saving precious bullets.
On this day, we were so shocked and disturbed that we didn’t talk much all day, but we were glad that we visited this city and experienced striking contrast of Cambodia today to its dark abyss of a recent past. There was one song playing all day in my head. I used to love this 70’s punk song when I was kid, but didn’t understand much of what they sing, but now I do. “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys.
Cambodia is an extremely poor country, probably the poorest of all countries we have been on our trip. People are still living in very poor condition, especially we saw many little kids on streets begging or selling souvenirs. An estimated 30 per cent of sex workers in Cambodia are under 18 years of age, have less than three years of basic schooling and little or no vocational skills. Malnutrition affects most Cambodian children: 45 per cent show moderate or severe stunting. We just hated to see tourists enjoying delicious meal with a glass of wine on one street in Phonm Penh, and a few streets down on poor Local Street you see kids scavenging rubbish to survive today. We were shocked to actually see in our eyes how unfair this world is. We must not ignore this just because it is happening somewhere far away from our home, or by thinking there is nothing we could do. There are heaps things we can do. Donation, sponsoring a kid, and if you are travelling in Cambodia, try to shop or eat in the establishments whose profits benefit street children, land-mine victims and disenfranchised women. And you can donate your clothes, linens or any other stuff that you don’t need any more on your trip. We believe that we can start from a little thing, and that makes a change. There are no social security network and no government support in Cambodia, but we were very pleased to see some foreign volunteers and organisations there to help Cambodia (great to see many Australian and Japanese ones!!). Here are some websites of theirs if you are interested.
Just one little story at Killing field, there was a 5-year old boy kept chasing us begging for some money. He kept saying “some money, some money”, we always carried sweets with us to give to these kids as kids rarely get to keep the money and it only propagates the problem. Anyway he was 5-years old and spoke very basic but good English. I sat down in front of him wanting very much to tell him how smart he is. I told him, very slowly, with gestures, somehow with tears in my eyes “you are very smart, tough and strong kid. You speak very good English and you probably learnt it without going to school or having text books. You can be anything you like in your bright future. ” I just wanted to tell him to believe in himself and have a good dream to achieve, I don’t know if he understood even half of what I said, but he stopped begging and listened to me for a while. I never wished this bad that I could speak their language. I just can’t forget his eyes looking at me, strong eyes on his exhausted face.
This is the end of our South Asia trip, now we are heading to Hong Kong! Getting cooler!
We wish everyone had a great Christmas and new year!!