Happy one week anniversary! We arrived here one week ago, it feels like much longer than that as we have covered so much ground. Last week consisted of training in security, culture, landmines, and child protection. The security talk left us all feeling a little nervous, especially the girls. But I think they always try to scare us. Don’t stay out or travel home alone after 10pm, don’t travel with unknown tuk tuk drivers at night, don’t bother going to the police if you are robbed or assaulted, don’t use drugs or you will go to prison for 10 years (don’t worry, wasn’t planning on doing that).
Our landmine training was conducted by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC). This was led by Mr Sam who has worked with the Navy in the US, and with Austcare. He talked a lot about his ‘friend’ Lieutenant General Sanderson, the former Governor of Western Australia and former Chief of the Australian Army who commanded the military part of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). He also mentioned his ‘friend’ Lol Nol who was the Prime Minister of Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge took over. He seems to know all the key people in Cambodia’s history, he even met Pol Pot.
The child protection training was particularly interesting to me, and I learned a bit about orphanage tourism and the damage it can do. I plan to write a whole blog on this once I find the time to research it.
Over the weekend we visited Toul Sleng prison, a school turned prison and torture facility by the Khmer Rouge. See some of the haunting photos here.
We then visited the Killing Fields where well over one million were killed and buried in mass graves. I visited both Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields when I was in Cambodia nine years ago. Toul Sleng is essentially the same, however the Killing Fields are quite changed. Nine years ago it very a very stark and intimidating landscape. I can’t remember any buildings except for a small kiosk with photos. It left me feeling quite empty and disturbed. Now it has buildings with photos and a short movie. It has paths and it feels much more touristy and comfortable. I’m not so sure this is a good thing. I don’t believe it is the kind of place where one should feel comfortable. It is now owned by a private company which is an issue in itself. I strongly believe that all visitors to Cambodia should take the trip to Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields. Every family in Cambodia has at least one family member that was murdered by the Khmer Rouge. A number of people have told us that they are the sole survivors of their whole family.
Here are some of the photos I took (I may have gone a little overboard). To look more closely at each photo just click on it, you can them move through them like a slide show.
On a lighter note on Sunday night we watched a great local band The Cambodian Space Project at Equinox. The sound isn’t great in this video but it gives you an idea. There is another local band called Dengue Fever that I am keen to see.
This next week we spend the mornings in Khmer classes and have the afternoons to ourselves. This afternoon I am taking advantage of the free wifi at Java, a favourite cafe/gallery of mine.
By the way, I visited the apartment I mentioned in my last post. Loved it! I move in on 6 May. More later.