Sometimes you find yourself in the strangest places celebrating things in the strangest ways. The previous night was New Year’s Eve 2009 and just before midnight we found ourselves in a Spanish bar and were given 12 grapes with our drinks to eat them before midnight an old Spanish tradition. The fact we were in Cambodia who knew what else lay in store for us?...
On New Year day we had all retired at a reasonable hour of about 4 o’clock. Seven of us had come from different places and different times somehow we had all made it here to Phnom Penh. We had somehow split into two groups although our departure time for our planned trip was 12 o’clock by 9 o’clock we had decided to add a little excursion beforehand. We took a tuk-tuk (a motorised carriage attached from behind to a motorbike which can accommodate four people) to an army base just outside of Phnom Penh, all the tuk-tuk drivers offer this excursion and many more things including “boom boom-massage” or “massage-boom boom”, which is supplying a massage and added extra or the other way around. At the army base you can shoot or blow up anything for a price myself always wanted to shoot an AK47 and I went to the firing range, you would be pleased to know I never once hit the target. The one thing that did shock me was how loud the gunfire was. A good day out for the boys (I do not think the Cambodian army ever do stock takes).
The main event of our day was to be a trip to the killing fields of Choeung Ek just 9 miles outside of Phnom Penh. The killing fields had been an area where the intellectuals and disbelievers of the Khmer Rouge (ruling party) had been killed between 1975 and 1979 under Pol Pot horrific regime. Pol Pot’s strategy was to send the people back to farm the land with disastrous effects with 1.7 million being killed in four years (21% of total population). Having been to the prison, torture camp of Tuol Sleng two days before I feel that the end may have been a relief to many of the people who had been tortured in this camp. The camp was set no more than a mile from the centre of Phnom Penh.
The killing fields have been cleaned up in the last few years, you used to be able to walk over the bones and clothing of the murdered, now the bones and belongings have been put into a lasting monument, skulls stacked hundreds high some you can see the holes where the bullets entered their heads if they were lucky, or smashed with an axe for the unfortunate. You can walk around the mass graves that once were. During the rainy season you can still see the Earth give up, some poor soul bones. Even now you can still see parts of clothing buried in the ground from the horrific times past.
It was a beautiful day and as I stood by a tree where people had been killed against. Although there were many tourists and locals the silence of so many people all lost in their own feelings and thoughts of this place, myself troubled that I had started a new year in such a haunting place when a strange thing happened. A butterfly so beautiful and bright flew down and came to rest on one of these graves where bodies had fallen so brutally. It made me think the even in the darkest times and the most evil of places things can change as Cambodia was now moving forward to happier and more prosperous times.