Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Universal

So today I went to visit Tuol Seng prison in Phnom Penh. It was formerly a school but when the Khmer Rouge rolled into town it was converted into a prison/torture centre. Grim doesn't begin to describe it.

You start the tour walking through rooms with single steel beds on them equipped with metal restraining posts for prisoners. Overlooking the beds are portraits of the last vctims of that area which were found when the Khmer Rouge were overthrown. Shackled to their beds and set alight to burn to death. Next is a list of rules which is basically a bunch of rules like "While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry out at all." The next section is hundreds (hundreds!) of photos of men, women and children, arms restrained, sunken dark eyes in the back of their heads looking at you. Some are battered, some are crying some have quiet resignation in their faces, some of the kids are smiling. All of them are dead. Its about here you try to choke back tears.

And it goes on and you get a peek at what happens when you pass from the heart of darkness into the realms of pure, unrelenting evil. I don't know the madness that leads to a million people (conservative estimate) being killed within a four year period from mass executions, overwork and starvation. The paranoia that gripped the Khmer Rouge leaders which led to the death of anyone of being anti-revolutionary (even the loyalist soldiers) but not stopping there, killing their families, their children, even waiting until a pregnant woman gives birth THEN killing her and her newborn. Its beyond fucked up, beyond such rational thought. The soldiers were forced to work the prison or be killed as traitors, the thousands of people taken to the killing fields and bludgeoned to death to save bullets. There was no way out no matter what you believed. Death, death, death, everywhere.

And then to read this in the comments book:

"Cambodia has changed over the last few years to be a wonderful free place because of the truth and the word being sent out to the world. Cheer up!"

Cheer up? I guess they missed the photos of the slaughtered children. Fucking moron.


Wow, what a downer. The fucking moron is right in one respect, Cambodia is indeed a wonderful place. The people are lovely and the country itself is a crazed mishmash of its dark history and ultimate resilience through time to multiple invasions, occupations and its own internal politics. A true eye opener but no photos today. Too much today.


gary said...

Hi Jon
Sadly I can relate to all the feelings that you are going through after this latest visit. Shortly after the genocide that took place in Rwanda, we visited such sites. You wonder how humans can treat other humans with such venom. But out of that darkness comes light, we were fortunate to speak to people who had cheated death and having listened to their stories; one such person comes to mind Paul who cheated death on several occasions having lost his wife. But you know he had a smile as big as the moons he now lives life to the full living every minute, yes he has sadness about what happened but life is so precious to him and having escaped murder, as that is the only way to describe it he has every right to walk around beaming from ear to ear, so maybe that is one of the reasons why you find so many smiling faces where you are. All you can do is admire the resilience of the normal people that just want to live life in love and peace. This also came through when I was in Ireland in the early seventies you wondered how when there shop or home had been damaged by a bomb how can they just turn up the next day or hour and carry on. This sort of resilience can only be admired or even envied as we go through life with our petty squabbles and disagreements.

One of the things that came back with me from Rwanda was that the people there do not want the world to forget what happened their and maybe just maybe through the tears that you, me and millions of others shed we will remember and will do something if ever it happens again no matter where

Anyway Jon sorry to sound philosophical but I just felt that your latest blog deserved a response.

Bye for now hopefully a more light hearted reply next time
Love G & J

sunny said...

Jon. Thanks for going thru that for us. Even though it's horrible, I'm glad that prison is still open and that tourists go there and that evidence exists. Did you know about Yasuke Yamahata? He was a Japanese photographer who went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the nuclear bombs, despite the fact that the American occupiers were doing everything in their power to stop images of the aftermash getting out. Yamahata also visited the site knowing he would get radiation poisoning by doing so.
Well I am glad that he did, so we can all remember just how fucked up it is.

Jon said...

Hi there, thanks for your comments and it is essential to experience it all. I guess knowing that 80% of the people who died in that prison were younger than me is hard and that it happened in my own life time, like Rwanda, is just hard to fathom. Reading the history, seeing the people on the streets who lived through it and seeing these monuments to such horror have really affected me. i went to the killing fields today but even though there were hundreds of skulls and clothing and bone sticking out of the ground in places, it felt a bit remote which probably sounds weird. I think the photos really shook me up. When you can put a face to the devastation just makes it harder and that prison, shit, the place just has an atmosphere, a weight that is kind of sickening. I've been dreaming about those faces, seeing them in the back of my mind, I have been changed and as Sunny says, you need that evidence to remind us. BUT fucked up it is, no doubt about it.