Friday, December 09, 2005

Phnom Penh

At Phnom Penh, I stood on the rooftop of the hotel watching a large jeep trying to reverse over a big mound of rubbish. After a few goes it succeeded and escape it's parking spot on the pavement, where it had been blocked in by another car. At least these people need jeeps for their cities and roads, or should that be dirt tracks. Lots of riverside restaurants and pubs abound along the Tonle Sap river, although the Khmer food served here seems for the most part to be the same as usual Thai food. Of course, you can still get all sort of other food such as burgers, pasta, salads. I even found a cheap Malaysian restuarant for a bit of Tom Yam.

Phnom Penh had a bit of a "wild west" reputation. Seems to attract a few oddballs anyway! I was talking to a guy who had been held up by two gunmen with rifles. They took his phone, while his driver ran away. Not quite sure if the driver was involved. Then he had to go through the hassle with the police who demanded $20 to give him the documents he needed for his insurance claim.

A book I was reading about Cambodia, mentions a few interesting facts like how nobody seems to bother that a policeman on a $16 wage is driving around in a $50,000 car! Another incident that sticks in my mind from the book, was when a vice-deputy high up goverment guy, was annoyed after his plane was delayed. He motioned his driver to go to the boot where he took his AK47 and started shooting the passenger plane. Only minor damage was recorded. Later he said it was dark and couldn't see where he was shooting, but if these people worked for him the would all by dead. A policeman confirmed that it was illegal to bring weapons into an airfield and shoot planes, but no action was to be taken against him!

Flicking through the Phnom Penh post newspaper, I came across the police reports, where arrest are made. Lots of people getting "chopped" on the head with an axe (alway three times!) or being shot with AK47. Although the most unusual one was the report of a Cambodian man who had been taken to hospital with an arrow in his chest. He had been hunting rats with a crossbow at 04:20am when he accidentaly discharged the arrow into himself! Sounds like a Darwin award nominee.

One day I went along to Toul Sleng Musuem. A horrific reminder of the attrocities commited by the Khmer Rouge. In 197 Pol Pot's men took over this school and turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21). For the next three years, this would be used as interogation centre. Afterwards the people were taken to Cheoung Ek (the Killing Fields) and executed, often battered to death to save bullets. The school rooms on the ground floor were divided into individual cells barely big enough to lie down. Other rooms are bare except for a steel bed, with restraints and rusty tools. On the walls old grimy black and white photos depict the people strapped to the beds, black pools of blood lying below their emanicapated bodies.

In other rooms vast galleries consisting of mugshots of all the prisoner. Again the Khmer Rouge had a systematic methodology for execution. All prisoner are photographed with their relevant numbers. Unsuprisingly, you can see the fear in the peoples face. When one person was taken, their entire family was also taken. One wall of pictures shows just kids. Then they must abide by the regulations written on the sign:

1. You must answer accordingly to my question - Don't turn them away.
2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don't tell me about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or eletrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is not order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don't follow the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

In another room, paintings depicting more horrors line the wall. People getting their finger snipped off, and soldiers throwing babies throw the air onto their bayonets.
Over three years an estimated 14,000-20,000 people went into S-21. There was 7 survivors.

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