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January 30, 2011

Part IV - Cambodia Condensed - A “Two-a-Day” Series of Our Time In Cambodia:

Monks & Wats (Photo: Schwary)

DAY 7  - CAMBODIA (Phnom Penh):
We woke up clueless as to the day we had in store for us.  Boarded yet another tuk-tuk. This time his name was Bora (pronounced like the infamous islands of Bora Bora). Bora wasn’t going to turn out to be as friendly as all the other tuk-tuk drivers we had while in Cambodia, but compared to his competitors in the other countries we’d been in, he was just fine. Our first destination, the Grand Palace.  Paid for the admission ticket bur this time I was required to buy a T-shirt that would cover up my arms. Tank-tops can be a tricky choice of attire while touring in Asia.  As soon as we entered the palace, we simultaneously entered into a two hour, marvelous, dreamlike trance, observing how gaudy and holy came together into one spectacular stroke with architecture as its canvass.  If silver and gold hadn’t been used enough, it was used again, and again, and again. It was special to see the extent, we as humans will go to, to exalt the best in what we believe in. I’m pessimistic, however, that those lofty expectations will ever really pan out.  All those temples made for wonderful photo ops. It was great to take pics of my Mom, especially with Monks walking around in the background. I bet there’s more monk in my Mom, that monk in some of those Monks. Please re-read that if it didn’t make scenes the first time. Thanks. Happy and impressed, we boarded our tuk-tuk with Bora, and whizzed through the city to a place called, S-21. Now, this is were the bullshit begins. I mean, this is where the saddest thing we’ve ever seen begins. S-21 stands for Station - 21, and happens to be the compound were over 14,000 Cambodians lost their lives not more than 32 years ago. S-21 was originally a high-school, but during the years of the Pul Pot regime it sadly converted itself into a modern day, house of terror. The victims of this compound we’re brutally tortured, forced to admit crimes they had no idea of, and then transfered to a facility 15 kilometers away, were they were either shot in the back, stabbed, or smashed to death (a place we would visit tomorrow called, The Killing Fields).  S-21 was an experience that put the worse of humanity within inches of our face. We could feel the pain, anguish and horror that still lingered in it’s classrooms and cold, long hallways.  Still in the compound, the sun sat. Deep red was the color of the sky, deep red was the color of our eyes.  We boarded Bora’s tuk-tuk and reached our final destination, another market. We shopped hard for fifteen minutes, until all the vendors turned us away. I was surprised, normally I’m begged to stay, but then, asked to turn away. It saved me $150 dollars on an impulse purchase of a a Buddhist deity I can’t remember the name of. It would’ve made an excellent addition to my collection, twenty pounds of beautiful, hand carved, jade.  P.S., it was real. We continued our short tour of the closing market and set out for dinner. Ascended six floors to eat. Ate. Smoked a cigarette while enjoying the view over Phnom Penh, and returned to the Hotel to sleep. Before crashing after arguably one of the most intense touristic day of my life, we took refuge and watched an upbeat movie called, The Killing Fields. I’m obviously joking about the uplifting part, but along with visiting Cambodia on the VicariousAdventure Team involves educating oneself as much as possible about the environment we’re in, whether good or bad, beautiful or not. With a head full of unfamiliar emotions we executed the perfunctory necessities prior to calling it a day, and I reminded myself for one last time of the contrast I had experienced in the last half day; beautiful and appalling, righteous  and abominable. I surmised that the stuff man is made of is as extreme as the universe in which it finds itself.  January 21st...done.
One of Millions (Photo: Schwary)
DAY 8 - CAMBODIA (Phnom Penh):   
Boarded Bora’s tuk-tuk at exactly 11:30 am. First stop, The Killing Fields located fifteen kilometers outside Phnom Penh. Paid another entrance fee and walked into a place more wrought with blood and tears than ever imagined before. All the innocent victims that had received the brutal wrath of the Khmer Rough back at S-21, came to this particular place to be murdered and dumped into large holes in the ground that served as their final resting place. It’s rather pathetic how sad that term holds true given the pain and suffering these people experienced just prior to their final moments on this most often cruel, and unjust world .  Our first stop within  the grounds of The Killing Fields was at the recently constructed, concrete memorial. The word concrete is germane due to the sad fact that for the last thirty years this memorial, if it could be called that, was made of wood. In my opinion, the description, wooden shack would be much more accurate.  In short, the memorial was a talk and slender pagoda housing hundreds of bones, of which the bottom layer was used to showcase the actual clothes of some of the victims found in the mass graves, and as you ascend upwards towards the top of the pagoda the other layers contained separated bones from skulls, to leg bones, hip and tail bones, arm bones, hand bones, and the most appalling of all, a layer dedicated to unidentifiable shards of bones. In essence, this was a pagoda made of the bones of hundreds of victims that lost their lives due to something of which, they were completely ignorant.  Our next stop was to view a short, ten minute documentary of the The Killing Fields in the Film Room. To see this kind of documentary in the comfort of my own family room, and to see it at the actual place where this crap occurred, was a world of difference. It hit us pretty darn hard. For 600 seconds we were disgusted to see how this place must’ve been just thirty two years before.  From arrest to interrogation, from torture to starvation, from murder, and now at our footsteps, to the mass graves they’d eventually be buried in. What a day this was shaping up to be. During the last phase of our tour we walked around the hallowed grounds, observing the actual pits that had been unearthed in the year subsequent to the Vietnamese taking control of the country. We learned that even to this very day, practically every asshole, excuse me, perpetrator, responsible for the merciless torture and brutal murders of 1.7 million Cambodians, virtually walk unarrested or unconvicted of Crimes Against Humanity, Breach of Prisoner’s Rights and every other violation as basic as the general rules we learned not to break as adolescents. We had shed a few tears, some visual, but mostly internal, and departed.  We boarded the tuk-tuk, released a major sigh, and returned to the city to ascend Phnom Wat, a beautiful Pagoda, filled with over fifty majestic Buddhas. I spoke with a Cambodian whose means of survival entailed charging tourist a dollar for liberating a small bird. In vain, I tried to convince him that I already knew he had trained his small little birds to return to the cage once the jubilant tourists had turned their backs.  He played dumb. No, maybe he was just trying to protect his career reputation that provided rice on the table for his children. In hindsight, I felt sort of bad for showing him up. I hope he got my humor.  We descended the hill and met up with Bora to continue our exploration of the city. On our way to the next destination we came across a section of Phnom Penh, that in my opinion, was the poorest common living complex I’d ever seen in my life. The word dilapidated doesn’t come close to describing the full extent of the conditions of this tenement complex. My camera was at work. Finally, I captured the stereotypical photograph of a Cambodian Monk that I’d been waiting for.  Surprisingly, the Monk turned out to be the inferior subject in relation to the background. Satisfied. While attempting to cross a bridge we arrived at out next, unplanned stop. It was another chance at photographing the abject poverty that sadly makes Cambodia one of the poorest countries on the Planet. I wasn’t happy for those that found themselves the subject of my photograph, but happy to have the opportunity to share some images to the rest of the world that helplessly find themselves prioritizing the DVR-ing of the drama series, Entourage, once a week. After holding up a minor portion of traffic we arrived at yet another market that was in full swing of closing.  We meandered around for about an hour, starring at all the fishy creatures that all Cambodians call a wonderful meal.  Bora, our tuk-tuk driver, dropped us off at our Hotel. We immediately made a B-line for the restaurant we had eaten at the first night we arrived. Very good, very American, very, not, Cambodian.  It made me wonder if that was a normal, knee-jerk reaction to all the suffering and sadness we witnessed over the last week while visiting Cambodia. Perhaps it was something like comfort food, if you get my drift?  Even I, the self proclaimed seasoned traveler, who seeks authenticity under every crack and around every corner has his weaknesses. Mine in particular came in the form of a Greek salad, french fries, and multiple beers to quench my thirst, but more importantly, to drown my tears.  Drunk from the beer, drunk from the day, we went to sleep knowing that the next day would extricate ourselves from the realest of “real worlds” and place us back at the beach. We were looking forward to a break, I had high hopes we would get it. But, in this country, nothing is for sure. Zzzzz!

P h o t o g r a p h s  o f   D a y  7:

Temples in the City (Photo: Schwary)
Silhouettes of Spires (Photo: Schwary)
Contradictions  (Photo: Schwary)
Ready? The Sauce! - Inside Joke (Photo: Schwary)
Traveler's Palm & Wat (Photo: Schwary)
The Mom & I (Photo: Schwary)
Mom in the Capital of Cambodia (Photo: Schwary)
A Face in the Crowd (Photo: Schwary)
The Grand Palace, Phnom Penh (Photo: Schwary)
A Playground Fit For a King (Photo: Schwary)
Marie & the Silver Pagoda (Photo: Schwary)
A Tuk-Tuk with 70's Flash (Photo: Schwary)
The Compound of S-21 (Photo: Schwary)
A Classroom Turned Dungeon  (Photo: Schwary)
Light That Doesn't Exist at the End of the Tunnel (Photo: Schwary)
View of S-21 from 3rd Floor Balcony (Photo: Schwary)
1 of a 1,000 Children Killed at S-21 (Photo: Schwary)
Spooky Hallway at S-21 (Photo: Schwary)
Many Doorways, No Way Out (Photo: Schwary)
Ground Floor at S-21 (Photo: Schwary)
Mom, Holding it Together After S-21 (Photo: Schwary)
View Over Phnom Penh (Photo: Schwary)
P h o t o g r a p h s  o f   D a y  8:

 Temple of Bones (Photo: Schwary)
 Mom at the Concrete Memorial (Photo: Schwary)
Mom, Walking Amongst The Killing Fields (Photo: Schwary)
 Art at the Killing Fields Memorial (Photo: Schwary)
Art at the Killing Fields Memorial (Photo: Schwary)
No Playground for Children (Photo: Schwary)
View from a Bridge (Photo: Schwary)
Shelter in Phnom Penh (Photo: Schwary)
Nightfall Over the City (Photo: Schwary)
Mom & Apsara (Photo: Schwary)
My Classic Buddhist Monk Photograph (Photo: Schwary)
Dilapidation (Photo: Schwary)

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