Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek...

Today, I descended into the Heart of Darkness. I caught a cab to take me to the infamous Killing Fields just south of Phnom Penh where Pol Pot tortured and killed about 17,000 men, women and children between 1975 and 1978. It was a very powerful and deeply-felt experience that moved me profoundly. The centerpiece of the area was a pagoda-style structure that housed, on more than a dozen stacked wooden platforms, the skulls of about 8900 victims that they had retrieved from the dozens of pits nearby. The guide said that the many pits had been over 10 meters deep and that they were still recovering bones and fragments from the entire area. Indeed, as we walked along the paths between the pits, you could easily see articles of weathered clothing and human bones that were totally visible because they were, quite literally, just sticking up out of the dirt. The guide even showed me several teeth that were lying on the path beneath our feet. One of the trees had a sign indicating that it was the place where the heads of young children were beaten to death against the trunk. In fact, in order to save on bullets, most of the people in the Killing Fields were struck by a blow on the back of their necks as they knelt...blindfolded and with their hands tied behind the edge of the pit. After a blow with a metal rod or farm tool, their throat was cut and they were thrown over the edge. According to the guide, some of them were still alive and,of course, were simply buried that way. Along the walk between the pits, we saw many small piles of bones. Although they were from many countries (including some Americans), a lot of the victims were the intelligensia and their families. Pol Pot wanted only two classes: the working class (for the factories) and the peasants (for the fields). Before they were sent to the Choeung Ek, most of these unfortunates had spent 2-3 months at S-21...the notorious interrogation center about halfway between the fields and downtown Phnom Penh. The buildings had originally been used as a high school, but became the main center where men, women and children were kept chained in three floors of cells as small as 4 X 8. One building was used totally as the torture center and you can walk from "classroom to classroom" and still see the original metal beds where the victims were shackled and tortured by beating, electricity, drowning, dismemberment, rape and everything else that lurks in the Shadow. One room contained a collection of all of the original torture instruments that were used on the people who passed through S-21. The Khmer Rouge were very methodical about what they were doing. Each of the victims was photographed and specific data about their background was carefully recorded. There are at least a half a dozen rooms that are filled with panels of haunting black and white pictures of men, women and children staring blankly back at the lens of the camera. Some of the people were obviously dead, and their bodies showed signs of extreme torture.
On the way back to town, our cab was pulled over by some uniformed police who had set up a makeshift (and quite arbitrary) check point on the main road. According to my driver, most of the cops here are corrupt. It seems that they would randomly direct cars to pull over at their whim and then they'd try to shake down the driver for a few thousand riels..or whatever. Luckily, they didn't bother with me and were only interested in leaning on the driver.
Tomorrow, I'm taking a boat to the Viet Nam border and then hopping on a bus to take me into HCMC itself. More later...


Blogger Chimene said...

Wow, heavy. I can imagine the vibe being very intense there. Heart of Darkness, indeed. Whew.
I enjoyed reading about you and the Cambodian kids, too. Very sweet. Maybe they picked up on the "Grandpa" vibe... :)

3:04 PM  
Blogger Chimene said...

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3:05 PM  

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