A sweltering day in Phnom Pen. We’ve temporarily reached our Asia limit. First we found a couple of hours of air conditioned bliss at 14:00, the hottest part of the day, and happily paid the modest 1/2 dollar premium. Second, we both chose the safe option from the dinner menu; noodles and beef, after the chicken soup at lunch was more bone than meat. The accompanying papaya salad came with crab legs amongst the vegetables. Louise put-aside her dislike of food waste to save our stomachs. Fingers crossed.
We visited the killing fields outside the city and S21 yesterday; a school used as a prison/torture centre under the Kymer Rouge regime. One in four of the Cambodian population was killed or died from hunger or disease between 1975 and 1979. A systematic genocide overseen by Pol Pot. Many in Cambodia were initially convinced that the new regime was the solution to American bombing; spill-over from the Vietnam war. The full truth was not revealed to the outside world for decades afterwards. The main proponents are only now facing trial, if they are still alive. It was a sobering morning.
There was a thought-provoking section at the end of the museum comparing the atrocities to those in Germany and Ruanda. It discussed the underlying causes of genocide: economic turmoil (in this case due to the Americans dropping more bombs than they did on Germany in WWII in the “Secret War” to cut off supply routes to Vietnam) and an emphatic leader with strong beliefs (this time in communism). A disillusioned population are lead to believe that they are fighting a common enemy.
Alex: A year ago the German ambassador to Cambodia opened a memorial at S21, saying “No political goal or ideology, however promising, important or desirable it may appear, can ever justify a political system in which the dignity of the individual is not respected”. There are countries where torture is still legal and the world needs to work at changing this. Is international intervention the answer, or part of the problem?
Louise: It made me feel I should be able to do something as an individual. However there are people with skills better suited to this kind of diplomacy than me! Later that day I read a Facebook post by my cousin Rebecca which seemed pertinent:
“It isn’t that we say ‘it doesn’t matter about me all that much, but if I changed the world, it would be better for other people.’ It’s less complicated than that. We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.”
Pema Chodron. It certainly put our everyday worries into perspective, like our distress at losing our suntan lotion.
Alex spent a lighter afternoon visiting the Silver Pagoda. Apparently the entire floor is laid with solid silver tiles and the centrepiece is a 90kg solid gold Buddha. Impressive, if you looked past the tarnish, sticky tape and screws holding the place together. The many Buddhist temples and gardens made a more impressive sight in the lazy evening sun.
Early dinner, exchange $2 for clean laundry and bed. Another 0630 start today to reach Ho Chi Minh City.