Thursday, January 12, 2012

Khmer Rouge, what the F

After relaxing on the beach, Jay, Raph, and I made our way to Phnom Penh. Perhaps the most popular tourist sites there are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeng Ek Killing Fields. A jolly day out it is not, but I heard multiple times that you really have to see them. Like visiting Auschwitz, I guess.

Of course, seeing the story of the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge taking over Cambodia in 1975-1979 is sobering and depressing. I can't imagine what these people must have felt when they welcomed the Khmer Rouge into the streets of Phnom Penh, only to be immediately forced to evacuate to the countryside. I have no idea how they'd keep on with their 14-hour days of forced labor, trying to make the rice fields triple their production while eating almost nothing themselves. To say nothing of those in the most helpless of situations, in the prisons with barbed wire over the windows so they couldn't even commit suicide, or in the trucks on the way to the mass graves. Jesus! This is almost unimaginably grim.

Pause to let these emotions sink in. I guess that is the advantage of visiting this place; you can feel real grief and sorrow, which we thankfully don't get all that often. And I guess in doing so, we honor those who suffered here.

A cell, 0.8m by 2m. You can barely lie down in this.

Tuol Sleng prison. I guess it doesn't look so bad from here. It used to be a school.

The killing fields don't look so bad either. Well, I didn't take photos of the particularly brutal stuff.

This is very terribly mind-blowingly sad. That's one conclusion you can draw from learning about this mass murder. Another one is that the Khmer Rouge was really inept at governing! Honestly, they took all the city people, declared them "New People" (inferior to countryside-dwelling "Old People"), and set them to work in the fields with only the clothes on their backs. Then they decreed that they must produce more rice than ever before, with strict quotas. How did they even imagine that this would work? City-dwellers don't know a damn thing about farming, they had no good tools or teachers, and even expert farmers couldn't get this much rice. Threatening and beating them won't get the job done.

Plus, they traumatized the people. Families were universally separated and marriages were arranged by the state (because the state is everyone's parents), loved ones were murdered left and right for crimes such as having a couple of bananas, and no trace of anything relating to their old lives was allowed.

Oh! And they demolished the education system! So even if the Khmer Rouge's plans had succeeded, Cambodia would be a nation with... a lot of rice. Guys, this is not the best of plans! This would be hilarious if it weren't unspeakably horrific.

And on that note, good night, and thank god it's not 1970's Cambodia.