Thursday, March 6, 2014

Break Down

It was just a matter of time.  It came at the end of my stay in Phnom Penh, after nights of barely sleeping more than 4 hours, when I finally broke down and started to cry.  Being an emotional sponge and hyper sensitive all my life, this was inevitable. 

I happened to have been listening to some sad music (reflecting my mood but probably didn't help) while reading the books of the survivors of S21, during an 8 hour bus ride which was not the best timing.  Fortunately I had paid for both seats so there was no one immediately beside to witness and have to deal with my sobbing.  I was probably the only one on the bus who wasn't excited to be finally heading to the home of the Angkor complex, something on many peoples' bucket lists. 

This trip marked the most times I've had my picture taken during a solo trip as an adult.  Not really by choice, but from insistence by those around me.  People meant well and felt bad I had no one to take pictures of me and thought I was just being polite when I said I don't enjoy getting my picture taken.  But I can handle that one and after some light hearted tug of war, I relented. 

Having one's picture taken beside a Survivor of grotesque torture, however, is something else altogether.  I really really didn't want to do it but the authors insisted to those of us who purchased their books.  When D and I looked over my photos, and those came up, I saw myself looking exactly like I felt at the time -- Like someone who was extremely upset and fighting hard to hold back a flood of tears. 

Both Chum Mey and Bou Meng were willing to answer any questions we had but no one in our group could get anything out.  We were just so devistated and stunned.  I still get choked up thinking about it. 

That prison torture school (S21) is beyond evil.  I had a lump in my throat within 5 minutes of being there.  Should you have a chance to go, make sure you get a guide.  They will fill in for you what is necessary to truly understand the horrors and suffering that occurred there. 

When I got to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek), I found it to be a place of reflection.  Outside of the next 2 photos, it didn't elicit the intensity of emotion in me like S21 did.  For me it was an opportunity to pay my respects to so many people who were brutally treated, executed and whose remaining family members are not able to get closure. 

Children were killed in front of their Mothers in one of 2 ways:
Swung by their legs so their skulls would smash against the trunk or
thrown in the air so they could land on a bayonet.
The people who were executed at the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) weren't
worth "wasting" a bullet on.

This is not a photo of Pol Pot. 
It is a drawing by Bou Meng from a photograph.
Whether he died or not was dependent on whether his captives
felt the likeness was great enough. 
He went on to have to draw many other figures like Mao, Lenin.

Mass grave sites.
Each year's rainy season unearths more bones and clothing.


  1. I'm not sure how I stumbled across your blog, but thank you so much for sharing your photos/journey online. Don't know if you've read this book, but I highly recommend it if you are feeling up to it.
    Wishing you safe journeys.

    1. Thank You and thanks for stopping by!

      I did read the trilogy and found them to be deeply touching and raw in her honestly. First 2 books before I left for Cambodia. The third wasn't available at our library but ended up buying it at the Siem Reap airport while waiting for my flight home. I was thrilled to have found it even though it made me cry during the flight -- Happy ending though!