Monday, 7 May 2012

Toul Sleng Genocide, Phnom Penh May 3rd 2012

Genocide....Toul Sleng.

Poking around as tourists do, this complex, although needing a lick of paint here and there, has several buildings of colonial type architecture.  A particular building here with vertical iron bars in the windows. I take a look in same time as someone takes a look out. "what are you doing", I ask quickly and politely, trying to indicate that I'm interested before  potentially being hoofed out. Turns out the boy, a local Khmer, there is doing his English homework set by his British teacher. He asks if I would look at it, "sure I will". It's a basic assignment and I don't have any problem in correcting his grammar and rewriting some sentences, for which he is very appreciative. Should get top marks for this one! An interesting experience for the last 30 minutes but must crack on or won't get to see much of the City. On past the Grand Palace, closed, but still a few snaps of ornate features around the entrance are possible. Wide boulevards criss cross the place, and surprisingly has controlled pedestrian crossings - quite an experience passing in front of a thousand motorbikes about to move forward at any moment!  And attention is paid to keeping the tourist areas quite clean, with strewn garbage limited to side streets, and plenty of it too, as the road beside the river diverges away and towards the S-21 Genocide Museum. I'm halfway there looking at the map, so might aswell carry on. More of a residential area away from the riverside with smart blocks interspersed with rather grim places you wouldn't even keep a dog in! Colonial villas on tree lined avenues indicate some affluence around here also, then a side road full of garbage.

Looking for S-21, the 'Genocide Museum'. It's not easy to spot, whilst navigating the small streets around here, but eventually stumble across a rather low key entrance on a side street jammed up with coaches and school kids. $2 to pay at the desk and thus begins an education I doubt even the 'Grim Reaper' could match. Up until 1975 this used to be a high school (Toul Sleng), but the Khmer Rouge took power and soon got to work on imposing their communist ideology. As with most dictatorships, those with the potential to cause problems are dealt with, and S-21 Toul Sleng was the place to deal with such people during the Khmer Rouge's five years in power. A grim, austere place consisting of 4 multi-storey blocks of classrooms, each room untouched since the last person tortured. By the last floor of the last block the weary tourist has the full story. What happened, why, and a section all about the perpetrators. Graphic images of torture, photos of men, woman and even children are displayed, said to be those that died here. A solemn experience indeed, and quite hard to comprehend the ideals that called for a genocide on this scale, for the S21 deaths were just a small part of the whole extermination process. Commonly known as the Killing Fields, many more Cambodians were executed and buried in mass graves all around the country. One such site, just outside the city is on the tourist trail, and I can only imagine another solemn experience, perhaps another time. Enough bones and skulls can be seen here, at S-21, 

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