Exploring southeast asia, part 2 sun lakes life recordgazette.net gas 89

Early the next morning, Buddhist monks came aboard our ship to perform a traditional Cambodian water blessing and chanted harmoniously as they imparted a blessing for a safe journey and a long life. Later in the day we departed for an excursion to Kampong Cham where we visited the twin holy mountains of Phnom Pros (Man Hill) and Phnom Srey (Woman Hill) and walked through the gardens. We also stopped at the ecotourism village of Choeungkok. As we toured this village, a friendly lady who spoke very good English, introduced herself and told me there are 156 families in the village. The people who live here are artisans and the money they receive from the sale of their arts and crafts goes toward supporting free English classes for village children, and improving the housing and water supply projects. We made one final stop before returning to our ship to see the longest bamboo bridge in the world. This unique structure crosses the Mekong River and is rebuilt every year after the rainy season passes.

We returned to our riverboat and continued our journey towards Phnom Penh. In late afternoon we stopped in the middle of the jungle at a local village. Crew members from our riverboat quickly proceeded to unload speakers, electrical cables running from the ship, and refreshments to an open area on shore, then invited us to join them and the local villagers. Children from the village quickly gathered around the area where ship personnel were dispensing soft drinks and cookies. When the music started, my husband, Bill, and I decided to get the party started by dancing. After a few minutes, Bill asked one of the local ladies from the village to dance and it wasn’t long before the children, members of our tour group, and the adults from the village were dancing together. Music is the universal language and soon we were enjoying the music and learning a Cambodian dance. We enjoyed our surprise “party in the jungle” and returned to the riverboat with happy memories of the cultural connections we had made.

After lunch, we boarded a bus to take us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center located approximately nine miles southeast of Phnom Penh. Choeung Ek is just one of over 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia where millions of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 until 1979. Our local guide told us that he had lost over 20 family members during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. It was a very somber experience to walk through the fields where thousands of people from Phnom Penh were tortured and killed. Our guides explained that bullets were too valuable to use for the executions, so axes, knives, hoes, spades, and bamboo sticks were used for the executions while loud music was played to mask the screams of the victims. Small children and babies were killed at the ‘Killing Tree’ by bashing their heads against the trunk of the tree. We walked along the wooden path past mass graves, the killing tree, and containers containing bone fragments and scraps of clothing of the victims. Before leaving we stopped at the Memorial Stupa (a Buddhist structure to hold remains). Remains from the mass graves were exhumed in 1980 and the skulls of nearly 9,000 people are contained in the Memorial Stupa. It was a difficult and emotional experience to walk through this killing field that serves as a reminder of one of the darkest periods in modern history.

We returned to the city and toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum sits on the site of a former high school which was used as a Khmer Rouge interrogation prison and torture facility and is referred to as S-21. It is estimated that over 12,000 Cambodians (exact numbers are unknown) were tortured and later killed at this site or taken to Choeung Ek to be killed. Before we toured the prison we had the opportunity to meet 87-year old Chum Mey, one of only seven adults to have survived their incarceration and torture at S-21. Through our interpreter, Mr. Mey described how he was beaten repeatedly, his toenails pulled out with pliers, and electric shock applied to his ears in an attempt to gain confessions. Mr. Mey believes that he was allowed to live because he could repair machines and was able to repair the typewriters the Khmer Rouge used to type out confessions. In his book “Survivor, The Triumph of an Ordinary Man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide” he said the Khmer Rouge had a saying “to keep you is no gain, to destroy you is no loss.” Having met this man who had endured so much, I was amazed at his resiliency and his ability to forgive his fellow Khmer.