One of the main attractions to Phnom Penh is unfortunately a pretty solemn and sad place – one that you often question why you visit in the first place – especially whilst on holiday. The way I resolve my wanting to visit was more from an understanding that the effect of human atrocities from time-to-time can be thwarted through education.
Without education (from both good and bad), how can we learned how to separate right from wrong? One of our Tour Guides in Siem Reap told me of an ancient Buddhist belief that concerned the placement of statues of Gods, Kings/Queens and Demons, particularly in the home. He said, that you should
never place a God or Demon singularly as these represent the good and the bad, respectively. I asked, (ignorant me, you know) “Why wouldn’t I place a God statue in my home – isn’t that a good thing?”, although he agreed, but said, “… How can you have balance in life if all you have is good? … In order to have good, you have to have a little bad to know what’s
good, right?”. Now learned, it’s best to place both God and Demon statues in the home for balance and understand that you cannot have one without the other! Totally makes sense, yes?!? While touring this place, all I saw and felt was BAD mojo … where’s the good in any of this? I guess the good would be knowing how not to treat people like this ever again; what a shameful way to teach such lessons in humanity, huh?
Anyhow … bringing such resolve to the forefront, it only made me want to pay my respect and a visit to Tuol Sleung, AKA S21. This terrible location was formerly a school right in the heart of Phnom Penh and was used as one of the central points of extreme torture of local Cambodian’s during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. Now a museum, as you walk the many buildings and
see the few remaining torture apparatus’ and chambers, a cold creepy feeling surrounds you as you put yourself in the spirit about the place in your mind. Although there were signs telling you to refrain from smiling or laughing, I didn’t feel like expressing that emotion in the slightest. This place saddens the heart. To understand that many have lost their lives here for nothing more that playing Pon’s in a very evil and disoriented group of power-hungry and sadistic humanoids, it’s hard to believe that it was only a short 40 or so years ago.
Although, places like this shouldn’t exist, by educating people the wrong in society, hopes to ward off any future occurrences from happening again.
S21 was used to humiliate the human spirit. Forced (and false) confessions against the Kampuchea Krom (Khmer Rouge) movement was a way to inject fear in the people for easier submission. They used several different means of torture not worth mentioning, but I’m sure you can imagine extremely inhumane. While making my way towards the D-block of the compound, there were a group of Buddhist Monks giving prayer at a temple for those who lost their lives here – it was certainly not present during the KK days.
Have you ever been to such moving place where your heart was so low that all you could do is reflect upon how lucky you are?