Monday, July 7, 2014

Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

After we visited the Tuol Sleng Prison, we went to the Killing Fields. Many of the buildings that stood 35 years ago aren't there today, and much of the land is covered in green, as the natural vegetation grows over where atrocities happened in the past. 

The tour was done by an audio guide, which was good because it kept the tone at the site respectful, as everyone was quiet and moving at their own pace. Each building and many other sites had a story to tell, so there was a lot of milling around, and it gave time to explore each site instead of just hurrying through the entire place. 

The main tower was the first thing we saw walking in, but the tour took us on a lap around the outside of the fields, ending at the tower. More on that at the end.

This particular area was marked off because it was a place where bones and teeth are routinely found, but our audio tours warned us to not pick up any bones, teeth or fragments, should we see it, and someone who works with the remains would later deal with it. 

This particular area was a mass grave. The entire site was filled with graves, but this one, with 450 victims in it, was the biggest by far.

Each of the dips in the ground are places where graves were previously, before bodies were removed. The ground has naturally sunk where the bodies were taken out, and the entire site was filled with these craters.

Walking along the back of the site, we walked around this lake. To the right of the pathway was a chain link fence, and on the other side were rice paddies. We saw children and adults working in the paddies on the other side of the fence, and many came begging for our money.

This tree, the Killing Tree, was used to kill victims. Upon finding the Killing Fields, those who found the tree were confused until they realized that blood, brains and other remains were on the tree. The audio tour told us about the screams of the victims that would be heard day and night, but eventually the authorities started to play the Khmer Rouge national anthem at a very high volume, as to not alert anyone nearby that anything out of the ordinary or bad was happening.

The ground was full of the craters, as reminders of just how many mass graves were at the site.

This little house was next to the Killing Tree. It is a Buddhist tradition, to build these, as shrines for the souls of the people who died here. It was decorated just as the mass graves and the Killing Tree was.

This was inside of the main tower. The tower was 17 stories high, filled with bones and skulls of the victims. Most of the skulls had obvious damage, and they were all marked with colored stickers, each sticker standing for what damage was inflicted upon the victim in order to kill him or her. Skulls were stacked, as filled the glass casing, in rows and rows. Bones were similarly stacked, filling up different sections of the cases. The case was probably 10 feet by 10 feet, and at 17 stories tall, left a lot of room for the hundreds and thousands of bones of victims.

The entire tour took about an hour and a half, but that was largely due to our low and methodical way of going about it, choosing to listen to the extra stories on our audio tours, many times stories of the victims. Like I said before, I think it was one of the more important things we've done, deciding to visit both the prison and the Killing Fields, because I knew almost nothing about it. I know so much more now than I did then, and I don't see myself forgetting it soon, especially after seeing it firsthand. 

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