After a delicious and, oh, so healthy lunch of french crepes and ice cream, at La Creperie, and then a dinner at a Chinese/Khymer restaurant that is just across the street, everyone had a great night's sleep at our hotel. I woke up apprehensive about the day. We'd really thought about whether to take E and B to see the Killing Fields. , I did a lot of research about it. In the end, we decided against taking them. It was a difficult decision and, to be honest, we probably would've taken them if they'd been born and raised in Canada. It's important to us that they know about History, the good and the bad and the ugly. But there were aspects of things shown today that we were really uncomfortable with the twins seeing, so I took a taxi and David stayed back in the hotel and did laundry.
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (or the Killing Fields) is about fifteen km outside of Phnom Penh and, to be honest, I was happy for the drive. I love going on drives and the kids don't, so I could sit back and just enjoy looking at the city pass me by.
Phnom Penh is a interesting city. The traffic seems as chaotic as Shanghai's but it's far more laid back. To cross the street, you simply raise your hand (in a "stop" sign) and start walking. Big vehicles slow and stop for you and little vehicles slow and go around you. "Big gives way to little", as Bryan (our hotelier) puts it. And it seems true.
The Cambodian people are very friendly - lots of smiles and hellos and kind politeness. In a way, Phnom really reminds me of Addis Ababa, in Ethipia (which is a big compliment). In the city, we drove by so many little stores of one item: a store selling mattresses, a store selling motorcycle tires, a store selling decorated, wooden coffins. And they are usually very near other stores selling the exact same thing. It's so interesting. As we moved further away from the city, the rough, muddy streets really filled with motorbikes and scooters - three adults riding one bike, a woman riding side saddle and holding her groceries while the other girl drove with one hand because the other hand held a plastic bag filled with broth.
But, suddenly we were at the Killing Fields and my driver pointed to where he would wait for me. For six dollars, I got my ticket and a headset and earphones. There's no talking above a whisper allowed. People put on their headphones (the audio comes in many languages) and as you go from station to station, you enter in the number and listen to the explanation as well as personal stories, music and facts.
None of the original buildings are still standing. Instead there are signs, as well as mass graves, cabinets housing bones, teeth and clothing and a large Memorial Stupa that dominates the middle of the field. The field itself was a farm. Pol Pot's demented notion was to empty all the cities, using city-dwellers as the scapegoats for all the evils that Cambodians were experiencing - the crushing poverty, the leftover bombing from the Vietnam war etc. He separated families and put people into forced labour 'farms'. He built his base with uneducated 'peasant' farmers and began to kill anyone who might go against him. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, nuns, monks, even people with glasses. One of his favourite sayings was "To keep you is no gain; to lose you is no loss."
One particular story stood out for me. The Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. A woman talked about how she had just had her baby boy, and how the boy was taken from her home and how her baby died, and that not a day goes by that she doesn't think of him. My brother was born just seven days before that. How lucky my Mum and brother (and, of course, my dad and I) were that they were safe in Canada, but how terribly sad for this poor woman and her son that they had to suffer through this. It seems like such an arbitrary roll of the dice as to where you are born.
The audio tour ends by reminding you that genocide can happen anywhere, and to do everything in your power to stop it from happening again.