Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Killing Fields

Like I said in my Cu Chi Tunnels post The Killing Fields were another place that Ollie had told me about that when I heard about I just wanted to see it for myself so this place, as well as the genocide museum were the only 2 reasons I had really wanted to visit Cambodia.

I wasn't really sure what to expect there really or how I was going to react to it all, all I knew was that it was going to be very intense and probably going to be one of the least enjoyable experiences on this trip. I imagine there are very few places on earth that have such a dark history and deeply disturbing history to them so could not really imagine what is was going to be like.

The killings Fields are a number of Fields that are dotted all over Cambodia which played a huge part in Pol Pots regime as he tried to enforce a completely totalitarian state onto the residents of Cambodia. This meant that anyone involved in the old regime/government in Cambodia such as politicians, intellectuals, monks and then the families and people associated with these kinds of people had no places in this new society so therefore had to be removed. Rather than force them out of the country and turn them into refugees Pol Pot opted for the easy option and would just execute anyone who he deemed a threat to his new society he was trying to create and it was at the Killing Fields where these executions would take place. This particular Killing field I was visiting was just a short Tuk Tuk ride out of the capital city Pheon Penh and was the main Killing Field that was visited today in Cambodia as it was one of, if not the, biggest Killing Field in Cambodia.

When I arrived at The Killing Fields, even before I had actually entered, I could feel the very somber and depressing mood to the place. This wasn't helped by the many mutilated homeless people that were missing limbs and in some cases facial features hanging outside the entrance hoping to get a bit more money.

It cost only a few dollars to get in and once you are in you have the option of a guided tour around the place, the guide is free but they suggest a donation that will go towards the upkeep and future development of the place. It always annoys me when they there is an optional donation as its pretty much compulsory, especially when you visit a place like this, how can you not donate. I opted for a guide as he was going to add too our visit there and tell us a lot more than we could ever have found out for ourselves.

The first thing you are confronted with on arrival is a huge Stupa, which is a Buddhists form of memorial. It is absolutely horrendous, it is 4 and 5 floors high and filled with 1000's of human skulls that were dug up from the surrounding mass graves. Our guide said there was around 9000 skulls in there and I doubt he was lying as there was just shelf after self crammed full of human skulls. I have never seen a dead body before, let alone a real human skull before so I found having 9000 put in front of me all at once pretty disturbing. Especially when our guide points out that you can see all the points of impact on the skulls that would have caused the fatal blows which killed them, be it from an axe or hammer or some other blunt instrument. I can remember Tommy asking is it OK to take a photo and the guide said sure, but when I got my camera out and started talking photos of the skulls it just didn't feel right, I just started thinking that I was taking a picture the skull of someones murdered relative and it just didn't feel right. I just didn't seem like something I should be taking a photo of. At the bottom of the memorial there was also a pile of clothes that some of the victims had been found in. I don't know why they included these in the bottom of the Stupa but they looked terrible all muddy and tattered and like pretty much everything there was just upsetting to look at.

After the Stupa our guide started showing us round the sight. To be honest there wasn't really a great deal to actually see there. There were several trenches around the place which were the exhumed mass graves and then there was the odd tree or grave which would have a sign post next to it saying what the tree was used for or what had been found in that particular grave. As you can imagine (and see in the pictures) the signs would say pretty terrible things like "The tree which the executioners would beat children". There wasn't a single things about this place that wasn't depressing.

One of the things that I think will always stick in my mind about the place is that after about a minute of walking around the place we stumbled across a small pile of clothes and then next to the pile of clothes was a few human teeth. Our guide told us that as only about two thirds of the mass graves had been dug up every time it rains here more and more teeth, clothes or bits of bone just get washed up to surface. No one has any real clue how many people are buried there so there just seems to be an endless supply of bits of human just being washed to the surface every time it rains

We were then lead round the place a bit more when I noticed what looked like human bones sticking out of the main path around the place. I asked the guide if these were human bones and they were. It was just crazy there were so many dead bodies there that they didn't even really no where they were. So over the years this path way has been worn away as people walk on it on to expose that the path is actually over someones dead body. It just made me think that every inch of this place probably has human remains underneath it.

There were quite a few signs around the place as well as things the guide said that drew comparisons between this place and the things Hitler did in the concentration camps during the second world war. The one that stuck in my mind the most was the fact that, like Hitler, Pol Pot found that bullets were a 2 expensive means of executing people. So like Hitler, Pol Pot found a far cheaper way of executing his people. While Hitler opted for the slightly more human route of Zyklon B gas, Pol Pot would use the branches of Palm trees to saw the heads off of his victims. Our guide showed us one of the palm trees growing in the field and the branches were literally like saws. Pol Pots tools of execution were literally growing on trees, the more palm trees he had the more heads he could cut off I guess.

As usual no place I visit is complete with out something that spoils it for me. Like the "A Bomb Dome" in Hiroshima being covered in scaffolding while I was there making it just look like a building sight rather than a memorial to the day the bomb was dropped, the Killing Fields were no different. For the first 10 or 15 minutes I was there it was fine, I looked at the Stupa as well a briefly started to walk around the place taking in the atmosphere that the place had in the very peaceful surroundings allowing me to really think about the place. Then from the wedding that was taking place next door, yes a wedding! Music starts blasting out all over the Killing Fields for the next half hour I was there celebrating the marriage of the Cambodian couple next door. It completely ruined the mood of the place. The music was very up beat and I couldn't help thinking that it was detracting from my experience there. It was sort of like visiting Auschwitz while having the Benny Hill theme tune blasted out the whole time over a sound system.

Unsurprisingly the Killing Fields were a extremely emotional and moving place to visit. Full of nothing but stories of some of the worst things a human being can do to another it really was very hard to take in. Especially when you thought that this was happening to anyone, young women and children for no real reason other than they did not fit in with Pol Pots ideas for a new Cambodia, it was tragic. The fact it had happened only 30 odd years as ago in our parents lifetimes was just another things really hard to take in as it just didn't seem like the sort of things that would happen today. Despite leaving the place on the brink of suicide I am so pleased I went to the Killing Fields, it was something you just can't really take in while your there are you are left thinking about for the next few days. I have met many people since who have also visited it on their travels and can't help but end up discussing the place with them as a way of trying to what actually happened there.