Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Khmer Rouge – Killing Fields and Tuol Seng Genocide Museum

The history of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is horrific. I hope I can portray it accurately.

The Killing Fields are about 45 minutes outside of Phnom Penh. They provide you with an audio guide that includes accounts from actual guards and workers. It is heartbreaking to hear their words and see exactly what they are talking about.

The crazy thing about the genocide of the Cambodian people is that it wasn’t so long ago – 1975-1979. The history still effects people on a daily basis.

The Killing Fields feature a memorial stupa as the central point which contains bones of bodies found in one of the many mass graves. The bones are categorized by age, gender, manner of death, and bone type. The first ten layers are skulls and you can see the way the person was killed based on the cracks and holes.

There are over 300 killing fields in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge closed all the borders and put down land mines to prevent people from leaving or entering the country. (More on this in a later post.)

At this specific place, bones and teeth continue to surface, especially after heavy rains. There was a baby killing tree where the guards would slam the babies into the tree and then toss them into the mass grave. Human matter was found on the tree. The guards would play loud music and use the sound of the generator to mask the sounds of the screams and killings.

Overall between 1.4 and 2.2 million people were probably killed by the Khmer Rouge. Some due to execution and some due to starvation.

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According to my friend, 7-9 people had a college education at the end of the genocide as the Khmer Rouge had killed anyone with education. They also eliminated anyone who disagreed with them. There is a stat I heard but did not have evidence to back up so take it with a grain of salt – there are only 30 Cambodians that have PhDs, all of which were obtained outside of the country.

On part of the audio tour, a person said,

“It’s as if spirits of those that lie here will not lie still.”

In the afternoon I visited Tuol Seng Genocide Museum. It is a former high school that was turned into a prison and used to torture thousands of Cambodians and a few foreigners. When the Vietnamese arrived to stop the killings only 7 survivors remained at the prison, known also as Security Prison 21 (S-21). A total of 13 people survived. Almost 20,000 people were tortured and eventually killed at the prison.

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime only recently underwent trials and conviction.

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The power of the motorbike

In SE Asia the motorbike is everywhere! It’s a lot cheaper than a car so it’s used to haul the entire family around – this includes, animals, babies, toddlers, children, chickens, and parents.

It’s not uncommon to see 4 people on one. Typically two kids and two adults. And maybe a dog too.

I even saw a large pig strapped to one in Cambodia.

I don’t think I’ve seen a children’s car seat yet.

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Cambodian Weddings!

Cambodian Weddings are quite the ordeal. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two during a trip to visit a friend.

They begin early in the morning. Like really early. My guess is that the bridal party didn’t even sleep the night before. We showed up around 6:30am and participated in the procession by the groom’s family to present all sorts of meat, fruit, and even Coca Cola to the bride’s family at their home. The wedding was being hosted on the street near the bride’s home. It was a frequent occurrence to see streets shut down and tents erected. There is a wedding package that one can buy that includes a tent, traditional clothing for the bridal party and the groomsmen, food, lots of food, the plates for the procession, a LOUD speaker, and other audio visual components.

Everyone was dressed in traditional Khmer clothing. After the procession, we ate in the tent in the street with music blasting (did I mention it was 6:30am?) but apparently people are used to it. Fish and rice porridge was served along with other fruit and side dishes. They gave us beaded chains and little red envelopes with about 25 cents USD in them as favors. Eating is followed by a hair cutting ceremony where no hair is actually cut.

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There were other ceremonies throughout the day but my friend had to work and I went sightseeing so we did not partake. I. The evening though we joined up with them again for what would appear to be a more Western ceremony with the bride in a white dress and the groom in a suit.

In order to be served at a Khmer wedding, there has to be a full table of 10 people and we were waiting for 1! Once the food did come though it didn’t stop. It seemed to be endless!

The wedding had very LOUD music. My friend said that Cambodian people have no rhythm and they can’t dance unless there is something to dance around. We danced in a circle doing very simple hand movements and feet shuffles.

Since the wedding takes over a street it is open to outside people. It is very common for groups of kids to come and collect bottles and cans. Apparently they always know where the next wedding is and make sure to show up. Running around and diving under tables for the recyclables. Another interesting fact is that the Cambodians just throw the trash on the ground when they are done with it so that it does not clog up the table.

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The second wedding I went to was similar to the first in that there was a full day of ceremonies, etc. The main difference was that it was fancier than the first and held at a place specifically constructed to host weddings. There were easily 20+ banquet halls at this place so it was important to remember the letter of the hall you needed to go to.

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Interesting things of note:

– Similar to China, your plate, bowl, cup, and spoon all come in plastic wrapped set to ensure sterility but you still must clean them with a tissue. And of course don’t forget to throw the plastic wrap and the tissues on the floor when you’re done!

– Women only come to Khmer weddings if they can afford a dress, otherwise only the man goes. As a result there are a lot of men at the receptions.

– The men just go to get drunk.

– The bride and groom throw the bouquet together.

– Cambodia weddings would be described as “cutesy” I feel by Western standards. There is a lot of pink and over the top decor.

– For the second wedding I was given a nail clipper that had a cartoon animal around it.

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The power of a safety pin

Walking around Thailand, one will notice that most pregnant women have a safety pin attached to the outside of their shirt. At first I thought it was to attach the shirt/dress to an undershirt to prevent the wind from blowing it up. But then I realized it must have real meaning because it was even on tight clothing. I asked the Thai English teacher I work with (his wife happens to be pregnant). He told me that it is used to protect the baby from bad spirits and keep it healthy inside of the womb. A safety pin is even put inside of children’s clothing to protect them as well.

Sunflowers and Monkeys

I love sunflowers. They are such happy flowers that it’s hard not to smile when seeing one.

In November and December in Thailand, you can drive to Saraburi or Lopburi to see the beautiful sunflower fields. There is also a train that goes in the morning.

I went with some friends this weekend. The drive from Bangkok only takes about two hours. Our first stop was a monkey temple. As expected, monkeys were everywhere. There were stands offering a variety of things to feed them – peanuts, yogurt drinks, kool-aid in plastic pouches, peanuts, etc. One friend partook in feeding the monkeys meanwhile I stood back and observed. I could see one monkey on the umbrella near her and then all of the sudden it was on her! I made sure to stay away from all of the monkeys and only had one try and grab onto my leg. There were some fights for the food items. It was pretty cute to see the mamas and the babies though.

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The next stop was the sunflower fields! It was beautiful! We walked out into the middle of the field. I was still taller than all of the flowers but some came fairly close. These were not the gigantic head sunflowers, just the normal size. I hadn’t realized that they still grew so tall.

We found a field with a great mountain landscape behind it for some photos. It was such a wonderful day!

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A trip to the Dentist!

I’ve had one dentist my entire life so I’m used to the same routine and the same people. Fortunately for him but unfortunately for me, he retired a few months ago which means I have no dentist to return to. I decided to take advantage of a travel insurance plan that pays for dentistry and experience my first overseas dentist appointment.

For starters it was short! Apparently a typical teeth cleaning only lasts 15 minutes! I feel as though more goes on with your normal dentist due to occasional X-Rays or other general care items. My normal appointment is an hour in the States.

As I laid down on the chair, I realized they didn’t hand me a pair of sunglasses to help shield the bright light. As I was shutting my eyes though, a donut-shaped cloth was put over my face. The hole of course going over my mouth. The dark color of the cloth acted as a shade. I normally watch the dentist so this was a different experience as I anticipated what came next. The dentist and assistant were very nice and asked me all sorts of questions, in addition to explaining their next move.

The only problem I had with my experience was water being sprayed up my nose! Eventually the assistant realized what was going on and covered my nose more with the cloth. They didn’t floss my teeth which I something I’m used to.

Overall it was a “normal” experience – same tools, same type of music playing, and same friendly people! And they said I had great teeth and gum health!