Cambodia: Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison)
Like ripping off a band-aid quickly, I’ve decided to post all of the sad stuff I saw in Cambodia in a row to get it out of the way. As I continue to share Cambodia through my lens (click here to see previous posts), I do think it’s important to learn from history and not just brush over atrocities such as this. I wanted to get a full look at what makes Cambodia the place it is and this is part of it. Just a couple more posts of the bad and then I’ll post all the great, hopeful, beautiful things I saw. So please stay-tuned! The best is yet to come. 🙂
When I arrived in Cambodia, I was expecting it to be pretty similar to Thailand (where I spent the summer of 2003). I was surprised to find that Cambodia seemed less developed than Thailand overall. After learning more about the effect of the Khmer Rouge’s rule in the 70’s, it made a lot more sense. When almost a quarter of a country’s population gets wiped out in four year period, it’s no wonder that it’s taking a while to get back on their feet.
When in Phnom Penh, my friends were gracious enough to accompany me on a very tough day visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields outside the city. This post documents what I saw at the S-21 Prison, now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Please know that some of the descriptions and photos below could be considered graphic and are very sad.
I am no expert on the Khmer Rouge and I realize that I cannot explain everything about it in this little blog post, so please feel free to do some research on your own if you’d like more information. I read the book First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and was given a heart-wrenching look into one girl’s experience living through the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975-1979. Netflix also has a documentary on this specific prison. Click here for Wikipedia’s information about the Khmer Rouge. Basically, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, took over Cambodia to restructure it into a peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. They had to get rid of much of the population to accomplish this goal. Much of my information about this comes from what I learned from the Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook, by the way.
Tuol Sleng was Tuol Svay Prey High School until the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned it into a prison in 1975. From then until 1978, over 17,000 prisoners were taken through the school’s corridors before being taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek (which I will post about soon) where the majority of those prisoners were killed. Much like the Nazis, the leaders of the Khmer Rouge kept very detailed records of each prisoner who went through S21. The museum was full or photos of men, women, and children who were brought there. Virtually all of them were killed soon after.
I found Tuol Sleng to be a very disturbing and sad experience. It quickly brought to mind other stories of genocide that have occurred across the world and throughout history. The evil human beings are capable is almost inconceivable, yet there are evidences of it everywhere. It’s hard for me to know what more to say about that except that seeing things like this reminds me once again how much we need God and how thankful I am for His work in the world through Christ. As I said before, the positive stories are coming soon, so please stick around!
Until then, I’ll let these photos speak for themselves.
By far, the most heart-wrenching part of this visit was seeing all the photos of prisoners, men, women, children, and babies who came through those gates. Seeing the look in their eyes as they anticipated what to come led me to tears. I can’t imagine the horror they went through.
Cambodia: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve posted about the trip… I continue to struggle with figuring out how to balance teaching full-time, editing photos, sleeping, sharing about my experience in Cambodia, etc. I might figure this out sometime in the near future. 🙂
As you can imagine, sharing about a culture and travel experience through photos is a challenge. It’s difficult to present a cohesive narrative, so I appreciate your willingness to follow along with the randomness of some of my posts. Click here to see previous posts from my trip.
When I was given the opportunity to go to Cambodia, I told my friends who live there that I wanted to experience as much as I could of life there: including the good, the bad, and the ugly (knowing that all countries and cultures have good and bad to discover). The day I’m presenting to you on this post included all of those things. While in Battambang, I was given the opportunity to visit the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. A lovely Khmer woman from CGI came with me in the TukTuk and helped me find my way there. I experienced a lot of the good of Khmer culture and country and some of the bad and ugly too… a typical Camobian pop bottle gas station, a moto ride, nice and helpful people, seeing beautiful artistry and a beautiful view of the countryside, and a very sad visit to a cave where thousands of killings took place in the 70’s.
Once arriving at the bottom of the mountain (or some may call it a really big hill… it’s about 12 km from Battambang), the next leg of the journey involved riding a moto up to the temple (with apologies to my father who is not a fan of such unsafe transportation!). We had to stop for gas from the roadside “gas station” (aka old pop bottles filled with gasoline of varying types for easy moto fill-up).
Once there, I was able to see a freshly painted Buddhist temple still under construction.
Then my guide led me to the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. This is a cavern area where the Khmer Rouge performed about 10,000 killings of Khmer people by throwing them off a ledge and into the cave below (please be aware that some of the photos below are very sad and disturbing). The cave is now the home of a reclining Buddha and a memorial to the people killed there in the late 70’s.
It was tough to process all of my thoughts and emotions as I left such a solemn place where such horrific things happened and then go up to the summit of the hill and see this beautiful view:
I’m not really sure how to close this post. There really are no words to describe the sadness of seeing an example of what’s left behind from man’s inhumanity to man (something found throughout the world, not just in Cambodia). Knowing there will be more posts about the bad and ugly that I saw in Cambodia, I can share that, overall, I experienced such good in Cambodia that I left feeling hopeful. Stay tuned for the hopeful and thanks for bearing with me through the bad and the ugly.
Cambodia: Angkor Wat
I am so excited to finally be able to start posting photos from my adventures in Southeast Asia in June and July of this year. I should probably start by explaining how I got to go on the trip, why I chose Cambodia, and why I’ll be doing so many blog posts about it.
This past February (on my birthday, no less), I found out I received a Teacher Creativity Fellowship from the Lilly Endowment to pursue my proposed project. After hearing about Cambodia from my friends who are living and working there and doing a book study about the problem of human trafficking with the book Not for Sale by David Batstone, I had a great desire to learn more about the country. I also wanted to see what the organization my friends are working with, Center for Global Impact, was doing to help with the problems prevalent in the country. So, I proposed to study photography and go to Cambodia over the summer to capture Light in the Darkness: Beauty and Trauma in Cambodia. Through these blog posts of photos that I took in Cambodia, I hope to share a piece of my experience and some information that will show both the beauty and trauma that I saw in Cambodia. It is my hope that these posts will show both the needs that are present, as well as the hopeful and productive things occurring in the beautiful country of Cambodia.
I’ll begin with my first day there, which was spent outside of Siem Reap visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. My friends Katy and Alan were gracious enough to endure a very hot day exploring this area and brought their friend, Ryana, along for the fun too. There was so much to see and I know we only touched the surface. This post is dedicated to the mother of all the temples, Angkor Wat. The grandeur and scale of these constructions are difficult to show on a screen like this, considering the manpower, hours, and labor that must have gone into this back in the 12th century. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument. It was built between 1113 and 1150, with many additions built later. It was built to represent a microcosm of the Hindu universe with the five peaks symbolizing Mount Meru, though over the years more Buddhist symbolism was added to the sites which you will also see in some photos. Click here to see an aerial photo of the area… it really helps you to see the magnitude of it!
I hope to be more consistent in my photos posts from this trip in the coming months. Look here for some of my previous posts with observations from my time in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Thanks for checking in! Feel free to leave some comments, observations, questions below!
A Day and a Half in Malaysia
Wanted to check in quickly before my summer travel adventures comes to an end. This week I had a quick excursion to Malacca (spelled Melaka in Malay), Malaysia to explore a new place for a couple days. It’s a town on the Strait of Melaka a few hours bus ride northwest of Singapore. To all you motherly protective types out there: Yes, I was careful and yes, I’m back in Singapore with my cousin and her family safe and sound now. I still have lots to see in Singapore, so I’ll hold off posting on that for now (save this one comment: Yes, I agree with what I posted previously, Singapore really is the antithesis of Cambodia).
So, since I’m now obviously an expert on all things related to Malaysia after the 30 hours I spent in the country ;), let me share some thoughts from my time there:
- The trip between Singapore and Malacca is almost all palm tree plantations with mountains in the distance… really beautiful.
- After my time in Cambodia and Malaysia, I have a renewed appreciation for encountering a western style toilet with toilet paper supplied (it’s possible to find them in both places, but not always probable)
- Knowing absolutely zero words in Malay, I had fun trying to figure out some cognates of English words from the language when I read their signs (a nice change from not being able to read any Khmer letters/signs in Cambodia). See if you can figure any of these out: motosikal, polis, komuniti, sekyen, taksi, bas ekspres
- I sat in the first seat on the way there and noticed that the bus driver waved to every single coach bus that was driving the other way on the highway… and there were many. I don’t think the driver on the way back was quite so diligent in his friendliness.
- A lady gave me directions to find a restaurant on the second floor of the mall. I searched and finally asked someone only to be reminded that when they say second floor, that means third floor in America. 🙂
- There are such a wide variety of cultures represented in Malacca (Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc.), that I have no doubt that I was accidentally offending one or more at a time at various points in my journey. I think I read somewhere that you’re supposed to only eat with your right hand… well, that’s kind of a struggle for left-handed me. Consider this my apology to anyone I offended while I was there. 🙂
- Blue eyes are quite the novelty there. While I was taking a picture of the fountain in the town square, I had two strangers ask to have their photos taken with me… sweaty, grungy, overheated me and my blue eyes. Some people in Vietnam are really going to enjoy those vacation photos for years to come. 🙂
- The malls and rest areas where I was have prayer rooms designated for Muslim men and women.
- I met a lovely woman and her daughter from Brunei on the bus ride back and we had a great conversation where I learned all about Brunei (a country on the island of Borneo) and I told them a bit about my life as well as the Amish culture around where I grew up. It was a really fun way to spend the bus ride.
- I was a bit startled when the woman introduced herself and assured me that she wasn’t a terrorist even though she wore a head covering. It made me sad to think that she assumes most Americans think that way.
- She offered me some cherries. When I declined, she taught me that in Brunei when you decline food, you have to touch the food as you decline it. Interesting custom! I wonder what things we Americans do that they would find a bit weird…
- I tried a food in Malacca called Cendol… it involves coconut milk, syrup, iced shavings, green noodley things, and red beans. It was actually quite refreshing after a hot morning of sight-seeing, though I could have done without the red beans.
- The river going through Malacca made for a really lovely place to walk and have breakfast. I look forward to sharing pics of it when I go through them all.
- There are these rickshaw type bikes for people to ride in called trishaws.. they’re covered in gaudy decorations and each one has a blaring sound system. Sometimes a whole hoard of them will go down the street at once with lots of different music blasting… photos and videos do not do them justice though I’ll try to share what I can when I get back. 🙂
Thanks for reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!!
Checking in from Phnom Penh
Just wanted to check in quickly before I fly out tomorrow morning to visit my cousin and her family in Singapore. Everything has gone really well here in Cambodia. The past few week included some fun venturing out and exploring parts of Phnom Penh on my own while Katy and Alan were in meetings. I’ve enjoyed visits to Wat Phnom, Central Market, the National Museum, and the Royal Palace. We just returned from a quick weekend trip to a seaside town, Kep. The place we stayed was up the mountain a little ways and we had a great view of the mountain and the sea… one of my favorite combinations. 🙂
I need to get back to repacking, but wanted to share a few more observations, highlights, etc. from my time here. I head off to “the antithesis of Cambodia” (Singapore) tomorrow. We met up with a man who has lived in both countries last week and that was how he described it to me.
- I wasn’t allowed into the Royal Palace last Wednesday due to my non tank top shirt’s lack of sleeves. Oops! I returned Thursday more appropriately dressed. 🙂
- After my tour, I went back in to take a few more pictures of the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace. Everyone had left for lunch, so I had the place to myself to take pictures of the beautiful gardens and stuppas around the pagoda… it was very peaceful and a nice break from the city for a few minutes.
- The amount and variety of items that I’ve seen balanced on bicycles and motos here is unbelievable (from IV bags attached to people to live chickens to rice bags to TVs and hundreds of other things).
- Cambodians always return your change (bills- they don’t use coins) using both hands (something I didn’t realize until a couple days ago… another cultural mistake I’ve made!)
- On Wednesday I got to buy some fabric in a home on stilts with bamboo floor from the woman who made the fabric on the looms under the house… it was a really unique experience.
- When you get gasoline at the stations, they thank you/try to get you to return business by giving you pop cans and tissues… it kind of feels like you’re getting treats for buying gas there. And who knew that they still make Pepsi Twist in other countries!?
- We went to church on an island that used to be a killing field. We took a boat to get to it… I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had to take a boat to get to church.
- They sang a song at church called God is Good (in Khmer) that I loved to sing in my church in Honduras in Spanish.
- The Khmer people are very friendly. Kids love to yell hello when they see foreigners.
- They have these raquet things here that have the special light and shock thing to use as a mobile bug zapper. best.invention.ever.
- Alan and Katy’s neighborhood has a bunch of dogs that like to sing together in harmony a few times every night. That, plus some repetitive croaking (or maybe its chickens… I really can’t identify the animal that never stops making noise), plus some roosters thrown in, make for lovely white noise to fall asleep to. Here is a clip Alan made of the dog choir: http://www.alanandkaty.blogspot.com/2012/02/dog-choir.html
- The Daughter’s Project girls are currently making some purses. When they make a hundred, they get to go out for ice cream. When we arrived on Friday, over a hundred were completed. They’re excited for ice cream now.
- A woman who was at church on Sunday and we saw again Wednesday told Katy that I’d gained weight since Sunday. Apparently Cambodian food agrees with me. 🙂
- I’ve found that my taxi bargaining skills that I perfected in Honduras have transferred pretty well to getting a TukTuk deal.
- Crossing the street here is quite the experience. You kind of follow the same rule that the moto and car drivers follow: pull out without looking and then look left right left right left right left the whole way until you make it to the other side. It’s very much like a game of Frogger.
- It’s really nice to be able to skype with my sister in Australia when we’re both in similar time zones.
- Have I mentioned that it’s really hot and humid here?! Thankfully the experience of getting to know Khmer people, their culture, and their country makes it worth it. 🙂
Well that’s it for now. I hope you’re well and staying cool whever you are!
Update from Cambodia
Hello again! I’m finally getting a chance to sit down at a computer and thought I’d send a reflection your way via this blog.
I continue to have a really great time seeing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hopeful here in Cambodia. It’s been an slightly overwhelming time with so much to take in in the short week I’ve been here, but really great overall.
Instead of giving you the play by play on all I’ve seen and done, I’m just going to share some fun tidbits along with some other thoughts on my brief time here. Please note that I realize that I’ve only been here one week and I am a clueless American. Being someone who loves to experience new cultures and knowing that our culture is equally foreign and strange to those who visit it, I hope these comments do not offend anyone and the non-expert source will be considered while reading.
- Gas bottles are sold on the side of the road in old Coca Cola and other clear pop bottles, but they also have regular gas stations. I rode a moto up a mountain to a temple and cave and the guy had to stop for gas. He filled it up with a coke bottle of gas and we were on our way in about 10 seconds!
- They use US dollars here and their bills for small change (no coins). I’m a pretty big fan of not exchanging money and knowing how much things are.
- Walking around a foreign country with a pregnant friend has its advantages: when people stop, stare, and talk about us, I can just assume that they’re talking about the pregnant foreigner and not me. 🙂
- It’s REALLY hot and humid here
- People wear pajama sets as normal clothes here… and you can wear flipflops with everything. This is my kind of place!
- Angkor Wat is actually a temple complex of many temples built in the 12th century and covering tons of land. We explored three temples and barely scratched the surface.
- Khmer is not a tonal language (I thought it was since Thai is tonal. I was wrong).
- Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh have many NGO projects that are helping provide livelihoods for Khmer people.
- It’s been a privelege to get to see some of those projects in action.
- The Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in Battambang not only helps train young women in culinary arts, but it also has really good food… I had the fried pickles everyday I was there.
- Today I went to the workshops of the Daughters’ Project and byTavi (www.bytavi.com), two sewing projects of the Center for Global Impact(www.centerforglobalimpact.org). It was so great to see the place where my ID holder and my mom’s purse was made (Buy their stuff, it’s great!).
- Seeing projects like this and seeing women learning about God’s word has been an experience that has left me encouraged and hopeful for further progress in this country.
- A cultural thing that people do here is to get their picture taken at these studios… basically Khmer glamour shots. Since it’s super cheap, I decided to jump in to said cultural experience. Let’s just say that fake hair, fake eyelashes, and a tiara were involved in this process. One of the funniest experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
- Tonight my friends had teachers from their Khmer language school over for dinner. I had a great time talking with three of the young women (in English) about teaching a language and their perspective on refugees as they asked me about the refugees at my school.
- When your main purpose in being in a country is to take pictures to document it, I’ve discovered that you end up without many pictures of yourself due to your big fancy camera being too big and fancy to give to other people for self pics. However, due to the climate’s effect on my outer appearance, I think that I’m ok with this fact. The Khmer glamour shot is the best I’ve looked all trip, so maybe that’s all I need to prove I was here. 🙂
- Have I mentioned that it’s REALLY hot and humid here?
If you made it through the list, thanks for allowing me to share a few pieces of my experience. Tomorrow is going to be a tough and heavy day as I visit the Killing Fields and S21 museum to learn about some of Cambodia’s darker Khmer Rouge history. Tough stuff that I’m not sure how to take in, but I’m thankful that it’s something people are willing to learn from today in hopes that history will not repeat itself.
Thanks again for reading. Until next time…
You are starting to wake
And I am laden with the thoughts
Of everything I mean to say
I wish I could tell you,
But I just can’t find the words.
(from Springtime Indiana by Sandra McCracken)
I had a lovely Spring Break day last week at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and 100 Acres practicing manual mode on my camera (ok, I admit, I’ve been lazy and usually just shoot in aperture priority mode, but I’m working on that!) and capturing the beauty of spring in Indiana. Enjoy!
Travel Flashback- One Year Ago in New Orleans
Last year when I went to New Orleans at this time for the TESOL International Convention (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), I remember being so excited to wear flip-flops and lose the winter coat. Hard to believe that this year we’re having such summery weather right now here in Indiana. Anyway, I had a fabulous time revisiting New Orleans and since my next big trip is still a few months away (I know, it’s a rough life I live!), I thought I’d reminisce and share some pics from NOLA in 2011.
And, believe it or not, I also found some time to learn about being a better ESL teacher during my time there. 🙂