Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phnom Penh

Well, I have been working hard this week, very exhausting. But now it is the weekend, so I have been able to rest and relax, and get some cleaning done around the apartment. We only have one more week of summer terms, then it will be back to a more regular schedule. It has also been very hot here and oppressively humid. Last night it rained, and today it is cloudy, with occasional sprinkles, so we are getting a little weather relief as well.

Back to my trip to Cambodia. While I was in Phnom Penh I visited the usual tourist sites like the Royal Palace. These things are mildly interesting, but eventually you feel like, "Seen one palace, seen them all."

The royal throne hall, which not coincidentally looks a lot like a temple.


The Napoleon Pavilion, given by Napoleon III to Kong Norodam.


Part of the murals on the walls surrounding the Silver Pagoda. They very much resemble the murals at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, although they are a bit less formally composed, more free in their sense of movement.


The Silver Pagoda, which has 5000 tiles of silver covering the floor. Of course you aren't allowed to walk on the tiles, they have carpeted all the areas you are allowed to walk, but you can see some of the tiles. The Pagoda is filled with religious and artistic works that belong to the national antiquities department. So there are display cases filled with hundreds of gold and silver Buddha images with a sign that says, "Gold and silver Buddha images, Circa 3rd Century BC to 19th Century AD." It isn't very enlightening, to say the least. It is just a big jumble of artifacts haphazardly arranged, with no attempt to interpret the significance of the pieces. It gets boring pretty fast.


Next time I will share some of my thoughts about the city itself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Toul Sleng

Well, I am back in Thailand, where I finally have easy access to internet and a photo editor. So I plan to do some blogs about my recent trip.

The first full day I was in Cambodia I went to visit Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Toul Sleng was a former high school that was used by the Khmer Rouge for imprisonment, interrogation, and execution of prisoners from the Phnom Penh area. Many thousands of people were tortured and executed here.


The site now is quiet, the old classrooms are the where torture took place are empty now.


You walk from room to room and view the beds and shackles used by the torturers.


While most of the bodies of victims here were transported about 15 KM out of town to what is now known as The Killing Fields, some were buried on site. Some of the skulls and bones are displayed at the museum.


Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge were meticulous record keepers. They carefully recorded the names, vital statistics and reputed crimes of all their victims. They also took pictures of everyone, sometimes before and after torture. Many of these pictures have been posted on boards at Toul Sleng. It is these pictures that finally provides a point of connection for the visitor, a sense of beginning to understand the human cost of the Cambodian Genocide.


The sight is absolutely heartbreaking at times.


After touring Toul Sleng what do you come away with? You certianly don't come away with answers. I don't feel in any sense that I understand the Khmer Rouge better, or the causes of the genocide any better. If anything you understand it less well. Toul Sleng doesn't have A Meaning. There is no great wisdom to be gained here. And unfortunately, I don't even believe that the presence of places like this or Auschwitz, or sites of the Rwandan Genocide even prevent genocide from happening again. So is there any reason to visit a place like Toul Sleng? After having reflected on it I think, yes. When I come again, I will come not to learn anything, but to spend time with the spirits of the dead. I think that it is important that we remember the dead, that we sit with them, commune with them, and remind them that they have not been forgotten. That is what I learned at Toul Sleng, and what I will put in practice when I come again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back to Phnom Penh

I tried to blog yesterday, but blogger was down for maintenance so I couldn't. I got back to Phnom Penh yesterday from Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was spectacular, although climbing up and down temples wore me out pretty quickly. I was only able to go out for a few hours each morning before the heat and the exercise would wear me down and I would head back to my guesthouse for some well needed rest.

The town of Siem Reap has nothing to recommend itself, other than Angkor Wat itself. The city is ugly, dirty, hot, and overrun with hordes of tourists. I won't miss it at all.

So now I am just relaxing in PP, watching the river roll by and waiting for my flight back to Thailand tomorrow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter, Happy Songkran and Happy Birthday

This year my birthday coincided with Easter, which it does periodically. It also was New Years Eve in the Thai, Cambodian, Lao calender. Hope everyone had a good one. I spent Easter morning touring Toul Sleng Prison, the infamous Camp 21 in downtown Phnom Penh, where over twenty thousand people were interrogated and murdered by the Kmher Rouge. Quite a sombering place. I don't want to resort to trivial observations about the significance of the place, so I won't make any further comment.

I enjoyed Phnom Penh, it is a beautiful city filled with old French Colonial buildings. The people are friendly, even more friendly than Thai people are. They celebrated New Year's on Sunday and Monday. It was a much more restrained and interesting celebration than the Thai version, which has turned into a huge water fight every year.

Today I took the bus to Seim Reap. I almost died of heat stroke. OK, that is an exageration, but it was a very unpleasant six hours. Tomorrow I will head out to Angkor Wat. Although with the heat, I doubt if I can spend more than a few hours out there.

Can't post any pictures now, but I will when I get a chance.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Leaving Soon

I seem to have fallen off the end of the blogging world lately. Actually I have just been very busy inculcating young minds with the joys of English grammar. We are teaching Summer Terms now, which means I work long, long hours. Also my life has been boring lately so I haven't had anything to blog about. But that is about to change.

On Friday our Songkran break begins. And on Saturday I am off to Cambodia for a 8 day vacation. I will spend part of the time in Phnom Penh and part of the time in Siam Reap (Angkor Wat). I am really looking forward to it, although the weather will be as hot as blazes. I will try to post from Cambodia, maybe even post some pictures.