It is hard to express what I felt when I visited the killing fields in Phnom Penh. In Siem Reap I bought a book about Brother Number One of Angkar aka DK (Democratic Kampuchea) and, besides another book about Cambodia my dear brother gave me years ago (I only remember there was a gecko on the cover), Austria’s involvement in the holocaust during WW2 also might have prompted me to go to such a site of bloodshed and merciless torture?! Whatever the rationale, when I got there I was emotionally struck and at a loss to understand how something like that could ever happen. Several times I sat down in the shade and cried silent salty drops. All in all I spent three hours there. There was a thought: Now that I am here, why not let it sink in and realise and reflect and thoroughly reach some depth in the process? Dukkha is here to be witnessed. So bear witness. That’s what you are here for when all is sad and down. Happy happy joy joy is sure to follow no worries my friend. And when it’s too much to take I can always take Snow in the summer by Sayadaw U Jotika (free PDF online!) to be down-to-earth once again.
Sometimes too much light on life’s sufferings and joys hurts sensitive beings. It is good to know one’s limits if only to extend them.
When I leave the killing fields I cannot find Sing, the tuktuk driver who brought me here 8-9 am. It is noon so he may have left for lunch? At a nearby food stall I order some dish called vegetarian amok. Geez. After that I look for Sing again but he is nowhere to be found. I ask around. No, no Sing. I have not paid him yet so I simply ask the girl at the next table if she wants to share the ride back and save some money. She agrees. A while later their friends walk out of Choeung Ek Memorial Site, i.e. the (most famous site of) killing fields. Together we are brought back to the city, have something to eat and pay a visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
I will spare you the sight of pictures I took. The only thing I share here… photos of the stupa in- and outside.
Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek
With hindsight, it is not the books and the information i had gathered beforehand that made a difference. With all the reading and writing and talking it is probably even more difficult for reality to strike home. Because perception and bare awareness are clouded by verbalising the horror.
Like thru a filter, reality slips through every now and then. Wanna catch big or small fish? It’s all a matter of how densely the net is woven. Depending on the density or looseness of mental proliferation I stay on the surface or move thoroughly into ‘just this’. Most of the time I take names for things. This way, I can protect myself from actually feeling. Maybe.
The next morning I leave Phnom Penh. On the way to the bus station I stop once to have a massage by a blind man and once my hair cut. I also get a bunch o bananas for the bus tour to Sihanoukville… On the bus I meet an Italian man. Cominciamo parlare italiano. Time goes by fast. My other neighbour is constantly consulting his online route planner where we are and how long we still have to go. He tells me he sells his mind it’s what he does for a living: management consultant. I prefer to train the mind so I can live in peace it’s what I do for a living as a dharma bum. A couple of hours later we arrive at Sihanoukville It’s dark already. Tuktuk tuktuk?! Wherever you go… it’s faaaar my friend. Yeah right, 2 km. We walk and get a grilled tofu sandwich on the way… Later I check in at a cheap guesthouse. Cheap in more than one sense IMHO. I stay for 1 night & enjoy balancing on a slacklining over the swimming pool next day.
In the afternoon I take a slow boat to go to the island Koh Rong. I will write something about that mystical place in another post – Cambodian waters.
Central Market, Phnom Penh
At Siem Reap, I tried to hitchhike. My experience so far: very difficult to get a ride in Cambodia. But then and there, I was intent on hitchhiking once more. Give it another try, I thought. Cambodians are a generous bunch. So I tried for an hour. That’s when I passed the bus station in the outskirts of the city and a guy asked me where I go. Phnom Penh, I answer. OK he said, names a price. It’s six hours or so. Alright then, let’s go! And from then on I have travelled by bus and ferries, pitching up tent whenever possible.
Therefore, when the ferry from Sihanoukville arrives at Koh Rong I head straight across the hill reach the other shore with Javi, a friend from Barcelona. It takes about one hour. We put up tents and enjoy dinner with Kenny and Aaron. I feel at home immediately.
Who would have guessed Cambodia turns out like that?