Archive for the 'Cambodia' Category

Quiet and powerful, I neither want nor need a tuk-tuk and more limbo

The Wandering Nerd April 26th, 2008

First, and quickly, I want to drop upon you the general street level gallery of that which is Phonm Penh. I know there aren’t a lot of photos this time, but between you and me, it’s kinda’ boring here and something of a heavy atmosphere and I’m not just talking the heat. The tuk-tuk guys are starting to get to me and I’m really close to thrashing the next bloody sod who tries to sell me drugs as I’m walking down the street. Ladies and germs, Phonm Penh:

I mentioned earlier in one of the Siam Reap posts that I was going to be covering the Khmer Rouge in more detail when I reached Phnom Penh. Well, here I am and here’s when the coverage happens. This is some really heavy stuff and after a day spent going through all of the historical sites I’m not in much of a comical mood, i.e. minimal in the way of jokes on this one, and fair warning there are some gruesome images in the galleries. View at your own risk.

While I don’t want this post to be any sort of history lesson, I do want to briefly recap the situation that allowed all of this to occur. Ancient Cambodia existed with the same malleable border lines of the other countries in SE Asia during the time. Various kingdoms rose and fell, as power shifted so to would control of the lands. Thailand and Cambodia have always had an uneasy relationship with the Thais sacking Angkor as late as 1432. Which caused the Cambodians to move their capital - formerly Angkor - to what is now Phnom Penh. Throughout most of the 19th Century the Thais and Vietnamese continued encroaching into Cambodia until - ironically - the French stepped in and helped defend the countries autonomy. That was the theory anyway. The French occupation, or ‘protectorate’ was set up more as a monitoring and diplomatic point to envoy into the kingdom of Vietnam.

After WWII the French granted independence to the then King Norodom Sihanouk, who ruled successfully until 1970 when his increasingly repressive and erratic policies irked essentially everyone else in the government inciting the military to overthrow him. He then fled to Bejing, remember that.

During this time a well known ‘police action’ was taking place just over the border. The Vietnam Conflict was getting fully into swing and drew Cambodia along with it. The wacky US decided that carpet bombing sites that maybe possibly could have been communist bases in Cambodia. Then, upon the military coup that saw Sihanouk fleeing to China, the south Vietnamese and American troops entered Cambodia to root out the enemy insurgents - sound familiar? Unsurprisingly, attacking an ‘enemy’ on his own ground with the intent to miraculously discern who was really your friend and who wanted to slide a nice sharp piece of tempered steel betwixt the third and fourth rib on the left side of your body turned out to be quite difficult. It turns out ‘insurgents’ don’t like to advertise so much. They like playing sneaky thief with dagger. So this pushed the populace farther against the new ‘invaders’ and the actual real insurgents had plenty of time to fall back into the interior of Cambodia.

Fast forward a couple of years to The Paris Peace Accords which led to a complete cease-fire and an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. Troops from Vietnam. After the intense fighting in Cambodia, the rebels - Khmer Rouge, or The Red Khmer, finally marched into Phnom Penh on April 17th, 1975 and claimed that the US - that’s us - were going to bomb the city. Remember our ousted king who fled to China, while there he was ‘asked’ to back these communist rebels, which greatly bolstered their support and credibility. Next they called for an immediate evacuation to the countryside leaving only a skeleton number of people in the city. Many left with just the clothes on their back fearing the imminent ‘airstrike.’ The ploy worked, the fear engendered by what the Cambodians had already seen of the war in Vietnam, the ‘War on Communism’ if you will, led them out. The intent, however, was not their safety.

Pol Pot, and the Khmer Rouge perpetrated a sublime coup, they intended to turn Cambodia into a Maoist agrarian society where everyone was equal - well everyone except the rulers, y’know how it goes.

For the next four years or so, the Khmer regime instituted mass genocide on it’s own people. Numbers range up into the millions of people dead through systematic torture and exterminations or to disease and malnutrition. These were intellectuals, doctors, teachers, philosophers, anyone who was educated, to the point where wearing glasses target you as a ‘parasite’ and marked you for death. Speaking out against the regime, or even being suspected of harboring ill-will to the collective would also seen you taken away in the night, often with your entire family, never to be seen again.

Finally, and again in a strange irony, the Vietnamese stepped in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer continued waging guerrilla warfare through the 1980s and in 1991 a peace accord was reached. While the bloodshed was ended the political turmoil continued on through until 1998 when Khmer Rouge faced mass defections and Pol Pot finally died - after being under house arrest for a goodly long time.

For giggles let’s look at that timeline. U.S. invades Iraq…er, Cambodia - in addition to its original and stated goal of engaging Afghani…er Vietnam - in early 1970. We did this to stop the spread of terro…damnit, I mean Communism. Twenty one years later peace is finally brought to the region. What is that about those who don’t remember the past being condemned to repeat it?

I’m off my soapbox, though the place we’re going now isn’t as pleasant. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge numerous extermination camps were set up to rid the country of the ‘parasites.’ The most visited of these Killing Fields is Choeung Ek, about 14km outside of Phnom Penh. It’s almost an idyllic setting. Lush green surroundings, there’s a quiet creek running behind the area, and in the distance you can hear children laughing and playing from some nearby school. Assuming you don’t read any of the signs, don’t look at the giant pagoda with the glass columned center full of human skulls, or notice any of the bones still lying around, you may not realize you’re surrounded by over a hundred mass graves. 17,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge here, many women and children. To save bullets the would bludgeon them to death or use plastic bags to suffocate them.

One of the signs even reads - ‘Here was the place where chemical substances such as D.D.T…etc. was kept. Executioners scattered these substances over dead bodies of the victims at once after execution. This action had two purposes: firstly to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies which could potentially raise suspicion among people working near by the killing fields and secondly was to kill off victims who were buried alive.’

The Killing Fields were the final stop for anyone even suspected of being a dissenting voice. The true horrors were reserved for the ‘Security Offices.’ Torture chambers would be a more apt term. The former site of ‘S-21’ was set up in 1976 and was one of the most secret entities of the Khmer Rouge. Its charter was to detain, interrogate and exterminate any anti-Khmer elements…that’s people that is.

In 1962 this was a high school called “Ponhea Yat” by 1970 it was renamed “Tuol Sleng which means poisonous hill to keep those who bear guilt [to Angkar]… They turned a FRACKING SCHOOL into a torture chamber. It is a full on school, like many others I’ve seen around Cambodia. You can easily imagine children running through the courtyard, and then you look around at the barbed wire, or step into the bare classrooms with iron beds and the photos of a victim lying in that very room and realize, with dawning revulsion, what cruel acts humanity is capable of. Photos are displayed throughout the museum of the ‘inmates’. Everyone is represented, old, young, male, female, there are great grandparents, mothers holding infants, and children. Speaking of children…

By 1976 the KR employed a large staff, almost 2000 persons, responsible for S-S1, divided into four units. In each of the four units were sever sub-units composed of male and female children aged 10 to 15 years. Inevitably these sub-units became the most brutal and cruel of the staff. In the nature vs. nurture debate, this lands squarely on the nurture side.

There are a number of torture devices still on display, along with gruesome artistic representations of how they would have been used. Anyone who thinks torture is an acceptable human endeavor in any circumstance should tour through here, it will sway opinions.

Lastly there is an photographic exhibit dedicated to the staff of S-21 showing them as they were then, as they are now and what, in their own words, they feel happened then. I must admit it does beg an interesting moral thought exercise. Would I be able to kill someone if my life depended on it? Would I be able to torture them? Would you, if your life depended on it? What about if your families lives also depended on it? Tough eh?

<no music today, sometimes silence is the only appropriate soundtrack>

Can I jump it, nerdness returns and ‘hitting the pool’?

The Wandering Nerd April 19th, 2008

Angkor Miscellaneous - Day 3

There was a taming of the weasels - it’s like taming a shrew, only not quite so literary - Tim was ready, if not rearing to go and we set off once again to the Angkor complex of temples.

Cleverly, I sorted out my camera issues and now have much better photos of a number of the places I’ve been previously. As my excursions yesterday served as an advanced scouting for the days tour I was ready to hit the good stuff again.

First on the agenda, I had to go back to Ta Prohm. I’m really enamored with the place. It’s the kind of place I could spend days just climbing around exploring all of the nooks and crannies.

After that we moved on to Pre Rup, it’s the one with the Elephants guarding the corners. It’s also where I continued the pattern of seeing what I could jump, a lot of caffeine was involved, don’t ask.

We hit the following temples in this order East Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Khan, Baphuon, Bayon and finally, once again back to Angkor Wat for a few more - better - sunset photos. You really can’t go by the place without stopping in there. I certainly couldn’t without stopping in and saying to myself, “That’s definitely a wat.”

I really can’t add much verbally to what the images produce visually, so I’ll let them do their thing.

I’ve spent a bit of time nerding out here in Siam Reap, I’ve fixed the slideshow on the sidebar, it should be back up and working now and found some new photo display plugins. For the most part they are just eye candy, but there’s nothing wrong with that sometimes. Sadly they are pretty intensive and are going to require some changes. What this means is the number of posts on one page is going down to one. So you people that can’t keep up are going to get to learn all about how the archive function works. The page is taking way too long to load and I’m terribly impatient when it comes to technology. Also, if you’re on a slow connection or dial up, this should help. This may be tempered by the intensiveness of the plugin. We’ll see, or rather, you’ll see and then let me know yeah?

I’m not really sure which one I like overall so I’m going to let you guys be the judges.

So here are the three options:

Classic WN Stylin’ NextGEN Gallery -

You know it, you love it, it’s been with us since the beginning

The new SmoothGallery -

Just look how smooth that is…it’s like something really smooth…

The new TiltViewer -

It’s new! It’s Flash! It’s all tilty! (oh, and right click anywhere around those images and ‘Go to fullscreen…’)

So I lied a little bit, the TiltViewer kinda’ get’s me a little bit hot…a little veclempt over the elegance of it. I must give mad props to Boris Glumpler and Alex Rabe for coming up with the interface from NextGen Gallery to the TiltViewer. I’ve emailed back and fort a few times with Alex over some minor bugs in NGGallery and he’s always been spot on about getting them fixed. In trying to get TiltViewer working I found the documentation on Boris’ site and subsequently found out he’s a world traveler as well. Funny how that works, so check out Boris’ site: Travel Junkie

As to the different galleries, I am curious to what everyone thinks/how they performe so hit up the poll there on the right. I’ll leave it up for a bit and make a final decision in the next week or so. Enjoy the galleries, play with them, break them, break your computers, break dance, just go all nutty, paint up the town, paint each other up! …woah…so much…caffeine…

i like the way you, put your hands up in the air,
i like the way you, shake your hair,
i like the way you, like to touch

Testy intestines, like a texas drought, and $2 just because you jumped in water?

The Wandering Nerd April 18th, 2008

Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom - Day 2

Young Tim got taken further down after breakfast this morning, claiming something akin to stomach weasels. Personally I think he just didn’t want to deal with the bike seat again. After climbing back on mine I was in agreement. I left him to coalesce and headed back up to Angkor on me own.

Technically Angkor Thom is larger than Angkor Wat, though it’s a complex of many different temples, not one contiguous entity. The east gate was used in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as was Ta Phrom, though more on that later. The first temple is Bayon which is in the classic pyramid shape, with the faces of 54 gods and 54 demons scattered about the columns. I couldn’t personally tell the difference between god and demon, but really who can? Matter of perspective really.

I did learn that visiting Cambodia teaches a person that you will sweat in ways and places you didn’t think it was possible to sweat. I spent more money today on water than I did on food. It’s like a sauna out here and the crazy part is the Cambodian women are walking around in full length trousers, sweaters, and scarves. While chilling out at Angkor I struck up a conversation with a Cambodian girl - well really she tried to sell me stuff in this order: water, cold water, food, beer, cold beer, and - I think - a woman. That’s surely what it sounded like. I needed nor wanted any of the above, but not to be deterred she sat with me for a while and talked about the temple, and Cambodia. I asked if she was hot all wrapped up like that, fully bundled up in black denim. She said she was a little but she didn’t want to get dark skin. Western women - and to be fair men - spend fortunes aspiring to the skin tone Cambodians get in a day of sun, and the Cambodians try their best to stay fair skinned. That reminds me, back on Koh Phang Ngan we saw nipple whitening cream in the supermarket…ah vanity.

Next up Baphuon, back in the day it would have been a smashing temple to see. Currently however it’s not really all that. They were in the process of restoring it - i.e. they took it all apart, numbering every stone laid them out, began the reconstruction and then…Whoops! Civil War! Kinda’ puts a damper on reconstruction efforts. Now fast forward a bit to that scallywag Pol Pot and the rule of the Khmer Rouge and all of the records of the reconstruction efforts are lost. I like puzzles as much as the next guy, and I seriously RULE at Tetris but that’s just a bit much.

Then on to Phimeanakas. The stairs are a bit on the steep side, as you’ll see in the photos. Kindly, they have erected a slightly more accessible set of newer stairs on the back of the pyramid. I was seriously considering going up the hard way when I realized I just couldn’t be asked, so I wandered around a bit to find the stairs…which they’d hidden at the back. Wonder how many farang have fallen backwards much to the amusement of the locals. I was up top when a little Asian girl started to climb up the front. In another rare moment of kindness - I’m becoming alarmed at their frequency of late - I yelled down about the stairs in the back. I’m a giver.

When one thinks of jungle ruins, inevitably on thinks of Ta Phrom. You may not know you do, but it’s true. You imagine crumbling stone walls, creeping vines, trees taking over, old carvings, fallen pillars…that’s Ta Phrom. The jungle is taking back the temple, and it’s amazing to see. The majority of the photos on this post are from Ta Phrom, they are pretty easy to discern.

For the little bit of random capitalism for the day. I stopped and asked a police officer for directions to one of the temples. He told me which direction to go and then got up and walked behind a stone wall and motioned me over. Curious, I walked around there with him, it blocked the view from a few of the blue coated temple workers. I thought he was going to point me in the right direction, when he pulled out his badge and said, “You want? You buy? I’ll sell it.” A police officer was trying to get me to buy his frickin’ badge. Now, before I get all of the comments about why I should have, a) I only had a twenty and I suspected he wasn’t the type to make change, 2) if he was willing to sell it that easily, I can buy one just like it at a market around here somewhere, and finally VII) I had a suspicion that had I done it, he would have turned around and promptly try to arrest me. I suspect the, “You can’t arrest me ’cause you don’t have a badge!” defense wouldn’t have worked. So I pretended not to understand and rode off short one Cambodian police badge, but up one story. Good enough for me.

The brightness of the day really messed with my photos. I’m heading back there tomorrow with Tim and his weasels, so I should have some better photos. Or at least I’ll sweat my ass off trying. If I can sort out the whole lighting thing on this little point and shoot, I’ll swing by Angkor Wat once again tomorrow night and see if I can get some even better. /me misses my Canon Digital Rebel….*sniff*

that’s how my story is told
my soul was never sold because I broke the mold
-the nextmen

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