Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the rebound inbound

Rabbit Island looked idyllic and back-to-naturesome (bamboo huts on stilts, mattresses on floors, rudimentary sanitation, hammocks, excellent fresh seafood, nowt to do but beachcomb and laze) but alas was viewed through the blurred lens of some kind of tropical rheum. Regaining the mainland, we returned to favoured Kampot for one more night (inbound no 1) and are now back again in Phnom Penh at the same hotel (inbound no 2) but doing some different things. Tomorrow we move on to visit Tania, volunteering in Kompong Chhnang, then to Battambang and finally on to Siem Reap by boat.

[Health warning: the rest of this is not for the squeamish....]

The principal Different Thing today was a visit to the Genocide Memorial south of the city. It took a bit of agonising over our motives before we felt OK about going to this site of one of the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields and its memorial tower of skulls. We've both been reading "First They Killed My Father"and it seemed appropriate for us to show our respects.

We weren't really ready for it though - and the emotional impact of just being on the site of mass graves, even before being confronted with the layers and layers of skulls in the Tower, was almost too strong. Certainly it silenced us for some while, and J could only approach the Tower at the very end of our visit. It is set in just a simple garden with signs giving the locations of parts of the operation: arrival, processing, detention, execution. Just the plain statements of what happened where were quite powerful enough, without the lengthy denunciation in one of the roofed enclosures. The mute testimony of the depressions in the ground where mass graves have been cleared contrasted unfortunately with the less than mute behaviour of some visitors who, without being really noisy, seemed to imply by photographing everything that this was just another tourist destination. I couldn't think of taking one, myself - not being pious, just silenced and passive.

There is another location that the books recommend to be visited "for the sake of historical completeness" and that it is interrogation centre through which many of the victims of the Killing Fields passed. Having seen the pictures, I felt I didn't need or wish to see it in fact: even my poor imagination is enough to fill in the rest. You don't need to know, I think.

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