Cambodia, Day Seven (Aug. 4, 2007)

Feeling a little better about the world today. We were all packed and ready to leave by 8:00 this morning, and we walked a mile through Phnom Penh until we found a suitable hotel. Now staying at the Okay Guesthouse for $10/night. The food at the restaurant is great, ridiculously cheap, and we can charge it to our room. We've hired a tuk-tuk driver named Map (pronounced Mahwp)* who is going to take us to the Killing Fields tomorrow. Assuming I get over this terrible sinus infection.

We saw the Royal Palace and the National Museum today; even though they were beautiful, I wasn't terribly excited about them. The whole morning felt like we were just marking items off a tourist's checklist.
Phnom Penh isn't a scary place, but it's big and dirty, and I don't like being here.

After lunch at the Guesthouse, we went to the Genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng.** S-21, as it was known during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, was a high school that was converted to interrogation and torture chambers. I didn't know what to expect; I didn't know if I would cry, pass out, or vomit. Turns out it's none of the above. I felt empty, as if I had checked my soul at the entrance. I stood at the doorway to the first room for a long time before entering. The tiles were still covered in brownish-red blood stains. There was a metal bed frame and several simple torture devices. Funny how, as technologically advanced as we've become, only the most basic tools are needed to destroy a human being.***

In every room was an enlarged photo of the last victim found there -- in the condition they were found. I stared intently at each photo but couldn't really process them. The more I walked through the complex, the emptier and more alone I felt.

The first floor chambers were spacious compared to those on the upper floors. People were confined like cattle in wooden enclosures that measured maybe 2' x 5'. And just to make sure no one committed suicide -- lest the Khmer Rouge be denied the pleasure of killing -- barbed wire nets ran along the front of the building.

In another section of the complex, enormous displays were covered in photos of victims. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous about documenting every stage of torture. I was shocked to see how many of them were extremely young children who couldn't possibly have been enemies of the state. I say that, but it was often children who were the executioners. Maybe one day I'll understand how a group of people could turn so cannibalistically against itself. But not today.

Brad's footnotes
* "Mop." She's being kind. It was just like mop.
** Yay!??
*** Remember this. It's important later.

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