A trip to open your eyes
From July 24th to August 24th, my family and I took a holiday to Thailand and travelled through into Cambodia and Vietnam. As we were travelling on Tuc-tuc’s, buses, taxis, and Cyclos, into these historically known countries, we knew we had to go see and experience some of these astonishing past events.
When in Cambodia, currently staying in Phnom Penh, we decided to go and visit the Killing fields. Upon arrival in a small village just outside of Phnom Penh, there stood a relatively normal looking entrance in gold, with a sign beaming across saying: ‘CHOEUNG EK GENOCIDAL CENTER’. At first glance, I immediately thought that ‘this doesn’t look so bad, it isn’t as bad as what people have told me before I had arrived’. However, looks can be deceiving.
When stepping through these gates, we were given a device with headphones that had pre-recorded information about the whole site. This had plentiful information about what actually happened and what lead to this event to occur; but what made it even more upsetting is that the device had information directly recorded by those who had witnessed & experienced the killings. Hearing about individual personal lives, what they had experienced within the killing field camp, and sacrifices their own family had made to ensure their safety. It all began to become so overwhelming.
The first thing you see when stepping though the entrance, is a large commemorative stupa (temple-like shrine) that holds thousands of skulls and bones. These were the remains of some of whom were victim to the Khmer Rouge. At first I felt sick, mainly because I am as squeamish as you can get, but it was in fact a mixture of anger, sadness, and disgust. I didn’t understand how people can turn on their culture and country so easily and so quickly. This was just the start of an eye-opening day.
Continuing my journey though the Killing Fields, signs and pictures aided me to understand what and how the camp functioned. From the site an old barn stood that housed blind-folded captives in terrible conditions, to fenced off killing pits that were covered in colourful bracelets visitors had placed to show their respect for all adults and children massacred.
Learning that terrible scratchy quality music was played all night, just so soldiers could take captives in the evening and slaughter them into the killing pits. The point of the music was to 1. prevent the captives from hearing the killings and 2. because the music made certain captives go mad and that then gave soldiers an excuse to kill them.
Field after Field, all you could see were domed pits that had been filled with the deceased and slaughtered. At this point, nearly being in tears is a good way to describe my feelings. Speechless.
It wasn’t until, I wondered down the sectioned off path and encountered a large tree. The Killing Tree. This was when I was near to breaking down because the information that I had heard, goes against all of my morals. This tree was used, by executioners to beat and murder Children, mainly new-borns and toddlers. This use of the tree was discovered by a young man after the Khmer Rouge, who stumbled across the tree and fell. Fell onto the remains of the massacred children, then realised the sick usage of the tree.
By the time I was at the end of my journey though the Killing fields, puffy-eyed and red, a song was played. A song that the locals sing every year on one commemorative day, in honour and in respect to those who were affected and lost in this horrific event. This allowed me time to reflect upon my own life, and realise what I have and how lucky I am to have been born and raised the why I have. Questioning why we all take for granted what we have and how we should be more open minded about others. Not just those in our own country, but those in others also.
My time abroad wasn’t all depressing; I had in fact visited other genocidal museums and sanctuaries, including temples and the Ho Chi Minh Tunnels in Vietnam. Which all made my experience all the better. Of course I had a few lazy days here and there by the beach looking at the blazing sun reflecting off of clear blue water, improving what little tan I had, but I would’ve regretted my trip if hadn’t visited those monumental and historic places.