Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Well, it's over. And I know it's been a while since the program actually ended, but I guess before now I haven't really had a chance to sit down and just reflect on it all. I honestly don't know where to begin, so forgive me if everything just seems like rambling and mixed up.

What will I remember most? Everything. At least, I hope so. I'm afraid that one day I won't. I want to remember everything from the awkward first few days of class in LA to our last meal as a family at the Ethiopian restaurant after our presentations. Every moment was special, meaningful. I can't help it, but now that I'm back in the US I find myself looking at people, strangers, and thinking You have no idea where I just was, what I did, the things I saw and what I heard. You have no idea. Then I find myself severely missing Cambodia and our time there; if I know one thing about myself it's that I definitely get nostalgic about things pretty quickly, and I wish a million times over that it were one, two, three weeks ago so that I could start it all over again. I start to get sad, because it's over, but then I have to tell myself: What a great opportunity. It's over, but think about all that you learned and all that you experienced, and use it, embrace it, remember it. And I know that everything I learned and everything I experienced I did not have three weeks ago, and then I can smile because it's over.

I wish I had felt this way after China. I don't think I really knew what to feel on May 28, 2008 when I landed in San Francisco after being gone since August 28, 2007. I miss Cambodia, a lot, but I have no regrets. I love thinking back on our trip, even if it makes me sad for a moment. I think about it every day, every day I think about the people there. Those are the memories most prominent in my mind now, the people whom we talked to and interviewed, and those I pray stay with me for a long time. I won't forget the Cham Muslim woman I interviewed, my first (and only) interview, even though I felt she was holding back. I won't forget everyone at DC-Cam who suffered through our questions and archival demands and long drives out to the provinces. I won't forget Sokly, my monk friend I met at the National Art Museum and who is now my email pen pal :)! Most of all I won't forget the two women from Takeo province, the one passionate, determined teacher and her sweet, forgiving friend, my adopted "grandma", Lok Yeay, if you will. I won't forget her. She held my hand during our interview and just smiled at me. Even though I looked like a German who dressed like a Cambodian, she called me granddaughter (according to Kosal). I think of her very often, I'd love to go back and find her and really talk to her. She touched me more than anyone else, I think. I'll never forget her smile and her kind eyes.

I certainly won't forget S-21 or the killing fields. The minute I got home and saw my best friend I took the book on the Cambodian genocide I had gotten from DC-Cam, thrust it into my friend's hands, and said, "Here, learn about this." When I look at people, people I know and strangers, here in the US I think, among other things, What do you know about Cambodia? What do you know about the Khmer Rouge? Nothing. I find myself burning with a desire to tell everyone about everything I learned in four short weeks, everything I saw. More than that, I'm burning to just talk about Cambodia. It's like a bad itch you can't scratch away. I want people to bring it up so I can talk about it, I want to show them my pictures and narrate them and just talk to people all about it. I want them to know about Cambodia as I now know about it. All of a sudden Cambodia is fixed in my mind, fixed in my life, and I need other people to know about it. I think the killing fields made me feel this way. Or the faces of those we talked to. Or the stories themselves. Maybe it's just a combination of everything.

I sat in the backseat of the car with my family, my real family, driving from Beaune, France, to Lake Annecy. I slumped against the window, staring out at the beautiful hills. On my iPod came a song that, because I like to do this, I had had on repeat for our long drives out to the provinces in Cambodia. To me that song had seemed a perfect background music to the kilometers of rice fields and whatever thoughts from the day that were dancing around in my head. Five hour drive to Kampong Thom, three, four hour drives to Takeo and Kampong Chhang, I mostly listened to this one song, thinking or not thinking, sometimes just staring out the window. Now as I sat in the car driving through the French countryside, rice fields became grape vines. Villages with wooden houses perched high on stilts became little towns built of stone and ivy. Instead of pagodas, orange and gold piercing through the green like elegant raised hands, somber churches, bells tolling. Now I sat comfortably in the back, the warm sun streaming through the window, and I thought of bumpy unpaved roads and rolling clouds that gave way to afternoon thunderstorms. The song ended, and I put it back on repeat. The perfect soundtrack to my thoughts and my reflections.

My heart bursts with joy whenever I think of Cambodia. It makes me feel so many things, happiness, pain, hope, nostalgia, practically every emotion. I like that. Things that stay with me most are things that can give me such feeling whenever I think of them. That's usually how I judge the extent to which something means to me, by what it makes me feel and by just how much. I want to return to Cambodia. I want to tell everyone I know about it and it's past. I could spend days talking about it, even just thinking about it, and I'd be happy. I'm always thinking of Cambodia now, and I'm always feeling so many things. At the end of the day, everything is good. Even if I miss it and I'm mad it went by so fast, those feelings turn to reflections on everything I learned and was so lucky to experience. Cambodia is so often present in my mind, so maybe all this isn't really over.

Monday, June 14, 2010

City of Temples

Ah, the end of our trip has come, and we head to Siem Reap to see the famed Angkor Wat! I've been looking forward to this, and yet as it drew nearer part of me did not want it to come, because with our brief two-day outing to Siem Reap also comes the end of our time in Cambodia, for we leave on Tuesday. Still, I was excited.

We arrived very early Saturday morning, and instantly went on the tour of the many temples. Siem Reap really is the city of temples. First stop was the temple of Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist temple built by the king Jayavaraman VII in the 13th century and the site of Tomb Raider. This was our first taste of the Angkor temples. After lunch in the city, we set off for the main attraction, what we've all been dreaming about and waiting for; Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat literally means City Temple, and it truly is the mother of all temples (mai wat). It was breathtaking. We pull up in our van and first you see the gate, though really it's a long wall with columns. We crossed the ancient bridge over the man-made moat and passed through the gate and then: Angkor Wat itself. Sandstone towers and all. Once again, purely breathtaking. It is darker than I imagined, and our view partly obscured by the restoration scaffolding in the front, but it is imposing nonetheless. One thing that I didn't know was that Angkor Wat is actually a Hindu temple, not a Buddhist temple. The kings of the Khmer empire would go back and forth between being Buddhist and being Hindu, depending on which had the most influence on the king at the time. Angkor Wat was built by king Suryavarman II in the 12th century. Our guide walked us through and explained the carvings in the sandstone corridors, depicting scenes from the Churning of the Sea of Milk story and stories of the Hindu god Vishnu. We trudged through heat and humidity, climbing to various levels and towers. At one point, all of us were blessed by a monk in the temple and given a red cloth bracelet. Unfortunately for me and two others, when it came to climbing the steep steps to the tallest of the towers and of the temple, apparently jean shorts that don't go below the knee and a sleeveless shirt are too indecent. We were forced to stay behind as the rest of our group got to ascend to the top and all its wonder. I usually consider myself a generally modestly dressed person, never one to raise eyebrows with the amount of skin exposure, so I was pretty miffed and surprised when I was barred from going to the top. I guess that's an incentive to come back?

After the beautiful Angkor Wat we returned to our five-star hotel that we got for a much reduced price, thanks to the connections of Kosal. I decided to splurge along with everyone else and opt for a spa treatment! Best decision ever made. I got the "Sweet Scent Special", which was first a jasmine-salt body scrub, then a jasmine body wrap, then finally a jasmine oil massage. So much bliss and relaxation that I never thought possible! I actually fell asleep when I was all bundled up in the wrap (when have I not?), though I have no idea for how long. It took me a while afterward to realize that I actually had dosed off. For a while I was at that point of subconscious where I felt completely removed and outside of my body, dreaming and yet not dreaming, my mind wandering without a care or thought to where it was going. I think this is my way to meditation.

We went to dinner with Kosal and his long-time friend Sumai, who is also his sister's best friend, at a Khmer BBQ restaurant. It's kind of like hot pot, but better! The pot is shaped almost like a bunt cake, a bowl around the edge with a raised hump in the middle, and it sits over burning coals. The soup broth, noodles, and vegetables all go in the lower part, while the meat cooks on the raised part above the broth, seasoned with a nice slab of lard. So juicy! We had beef, pork, chicken, and even crocodile meat. I will say crocodile tastes sort of like chicken, but it's very tough. I didn't care for it, but the rest was amazing.

The next day, more temples! In the morning we went to Angkor Thom, which I think I like better even than Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is beautiful, but at Angkor Thom we were allowed to climb all around the temple and ruins without restraint; it was much more fun and adventurous. Less crowds, too. Then we made a brief stop at Banteay Srei, a small Buddhist temple which we were told is famous because it's pink, but really was orange. In the evening, we took elephant rides up the mountain-temple of Phnom Bakheng to see the sunset, except there was no sunset thanks to the clouds. Boy, though, the elephant ride was... interesting. I went first with Shoshana and Francis. The three of us climbed to a platform to get on a seat that was strapped around the elephant's back. Apparently our elephant was female, which was why we were able to go three at a time. The others went two at a time on male elephants; the females are stronger. Francis insisted on sitting in the middle because she was scared, and I thought, how bad can it be, of course I don't mind sitting on the edge. Well, if you go on an elephant ride, I highly recommend you don't sit on the edge. The second we sat down and it felt off-balance, I got scared! My feet were dangling, I didn't know how far to the right I should sit or if I should lean forward or backward! I think there were a good five minutes at the beginning where the three of us were just shrieking and laughing with absolute terror. Then the thing started to climb the mountain. It's a thin trail that zig-zags up, so half the time my side of the seat is tucked nicely against the side of hte mountain, while the other half i'm hanging over the edge and down right afraid. The entire time I was either stifling screams or laughing from nerves! There were definite moments when I doubted the sturdiness of our elephant and the power of the seat to stay on her back. At one point when we stopped, our elephant literally grabbed at a tree and tried to uproot it. I swear after the handler made her let go I felt/heard her slip on the ground. Yikes! The experience was exhilarating, to say the least! We did have fun making fun of each other and we took a video to document our fear, and it really was funny. Was it fun? All I can say is I was glad when we reached the top, unscathed. Would I do it again? Now that I can say I've had this experience, I would not. I don't even want to think about how those poor elephants are mistreated, and don't want to encourage it. I'm glad I did it, but I don't want to again. It was very scary, and very sad.

At the top we played around the temple of Phnom Bakheng. We climbed the steepest steps to the top (how did people back then climb them? Aren't they supposed to be much shorter than us??) in hopes of seeing at least a glimmer of what could be considered a sunset. Mostly, though, we took a bunch of goofy photos as a group. I really do love this group; we have so much fun together!

Thankfully, we hiked down to the bottom of the mountain. Back at the hotel, we all jumped in the huge pool, and here we got our sunset. The clouds overhead turned absolutely red and orange, literally it looked like the sky was on fire. I've never seen anything like it!

This was our last night in Siem Reap. The visit was too short; the city is so beautiful. It reminded me a lot of Kyoto in comparison with Tokyo; the old capital, way too many temples to count, and more of a nature-feel than Phnom Penh. Lots more tourists, though. I think what's more sad about leaving Siem Reap is the fact that we're leaving Cambodia altogether tomorrow. It honestly feels like these two and a half weeks went by like two days. I'm not ready to leave yet!

To the Sea

On what turned out to be my last trip to the province for interviews (thanks to a brief bout with illness on Friday), we traveled to the southwestern province of Takeo for interviews and then to the pretty coastal province of Kep to see the Pacific Ocean from the other side. In Takeo we met our interviewees at a memorial stupa and former killing fields. We interviewed two older ladies; the main interviewee has lost almost all her teeth (if not all) and is a former schoolteacher. She was probably about five feet tall. I think she was the first interviewee, at least for me, that really gave her whole story and showed her emotions. She was very passionate and eloquent, and had zero qualms about admitting her anger at the Khmer Rouge and want of revenge. Although she is a Buddhist, she does not want to forgive; she wants them to be locked up forever and she wants them to suffer for what they have caused. She was so direct, so certain. The interview got very emotional at times; the woman cried when describing how she was separated from her parents and constantly felt she would never see them again; the thought of her parents is what drove her to fight to stay alive. Even though she was imprisoned in an intense labor camp and came very close to being executed, she found a way to live. Later she found out her father was killed in the killing fields near where we sat; that is why she now lives in that particular village, to be close to her father and about 40 other family members that were killed at the site.

The second old woman sat quietly for most of her friend's interview, occasionally giving her word, until the end when we asked her specifically a few questions. I sat nearest her. She kept smiling at me, and at one point just took my hand in hers and held it tight. I don't think I was tearing up or looked like I was in danger of doing so, but she still held my hand. It was a very sweet gesture, and the look in her eyes was of pure compassion. After the interview we were laughing with our two adorable interviewees and the quiet woman who held my hand said that while Jessica and Francis (both Chinese) looked like they could be Cambodian, I looked German! I told her that I was at least 1/8 German, so that was pretty spot on. She did say, though, that my appearance could be Khmer, because I was wearing loose pants and a silk scarf tied around my neck. She patted my arm over and over, saying how German I looked, how Khmer I dressed, how very pretty my face. I fell quite in love with this old lady :).

After the interview we were informed a little bit more of the backstory of our two old ladies than they had told us. The animated, outspoken schoolteacher, after the Khmer Rouge, would be prejudiced against children of former Khmer Rouge cadres in school. On the other side of things, the quiet old woman who held my hand lost all nine of her children under the Khmer Rouge, and never once has she shown the need for revenge. She lost everything, and she still is so compassionate and kind to everyone, bringing small gifts and snacks to visitors and villagers. She is well-liked, and, I think, well taken care of. Suddenly her warm smile and comforting touch meant so much more, knowing what she's been through, what she's lost. Before we left, I took a picture with her. Again, she held my hand tight as she stood next to me, smiling and complimenting me in Khmer. Professor Kosal, as he took the picture, kept saying "picture with Grandma, Grandma with Granddaughter", and perhaps I was her granddaughter for that moment, in both her eyes and mine. I wish I now knew her name.

After the interviews we drove west to Kep and to the edge of the sea. We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant literally in the ocean; half of it was raised on stilts above the water. Lunch was possibly the freshest meal I have ever eaten. One moment we're sitting at the table overlooking the choppy waves, watching two or three people checking crab traps in the water. The next moment Kosal walks in carrying a basket filled with live crabs, and no one is in the water anymore. A few minutes later, the crabs return, this time steamed red and served on a large plate. As one girl put it, "that's probably that fastest something has gone from death to my mouth". You can taste the freshness, and what a difference it makes!

The coast is beautiful. I really don't mind driving far, because I like to watch the scenery. It's so different from the US; there are endless and endless fields of rice paddies with palm trees peppered along the way. Every so often a hill rises up in defiance of the flatlands around it, often with a pagoda perched on top and neatly surrounded by trees. The countryside is so beautiful. It does remind me of China, especially of Guizhou when, in the afternoon, the clouds roll in and the rain starts to fall. Most afternoons this happens, and it is still beautiful. I don't think there could be any type of weather that would make this country ugly. Then again, I do find beauty in the soft grey and barrenness of winter in New England, so maybe it's just me that finds every part of nature breathtaking. Cambodia truly is, though, and I am thankful for the long bus rides that allow me to stare out the window for hours and hours, rain or shine.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Killing Fields

On Saturday we took a break from research and interviews and spent the day sight-seeing as a group. Originally we planned to see the National Fine Arts Museum and the Royal Palace in the morning, and then in the afternoon go to Tuol Sleng (S-21) and Choeung Ek, but at breakfast on Saturday we decided to do it the other way around.

Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, is basically known as the Auschwitz of the Khmer Rouge regime. It was a prison where "important" prisoners taken to be tortured and killed. There are only about a dozen known survivors of S-21. Before it was a prison, Tuol Sleng was a high school; the prison cells were constructed in innocent classrooms. Some cells housed only one prisoner, usually the more special and important ones, while lesser important prisoners were grouped together. In true Maoist fashion, many prisoners were required to write "confessionals" in the form of autobiographies, and were tortured until they gave an answer that was wanted. Most were falsely accused of being affiliated with CIA or the KGB; that was the biggest offense. And a lot of the time people confessed this. Really, though, it's so ridiculous, that all these people could be conspiring with the CIA or the KGB, both fierce enemies of the Khmer Rouge, and yet people got away with accusing whomever they wished as being an enemy, and there was nothing anyone could do about it; once you were accused, you were basically dead.

S-21 is chilling. I've never been to a concentration camp before, but I assume that this is what it's like. It is eerie, it is disturbing, it is horrifying, it is every emotion that will twist your stomach and make you want to curl up in a ball and cover your eyes and ears because it doesn't seem like it could have been possible. The walls are dirty, the cells are cramped and dark, and you can just feel the despair surrounding you. Some cells still had chains or the bed or torture instruments in place, I guess so one could get the feel of what it was like; you can't truly know what it's like, though, unless you've experienced it. Still, it was frightening.

On the bottom floor of one of the prison buildings there is a display of photographs of every prisoner who entered S-21. The Khmer Rouge were strict about documenting their victims. All are wearing black, as the Khmer Rouge ordered every person to do so, and all have a number, usually tied on a string around their necks. None are smiling. Some look slightly away from the camera, some look at it with absolute fear and hopelessness in their eyes, and still others hold their heads high and a steady, firm gaze into the lens. There are women as well as men. There are even children. Usually if a prisoner was especially evil according to the Khmer Rouge's principles, their children would be executed as well; there is a Khmer Rouge slogan that goes something like "dig up the grass, dig up the roots". S-21 showed no person mercy. Many prisoners were brought to S-21 but then soon shipped off to the killing fields to be executed. Others, more important prisoners, were tortured until they gave sufficient confessionals, and if they did not die from the torture (usually given by order) they too were brought to the killing fields. S-21 is the epitome of Khmer Rouge cruelty and inhumanity. They used former school exercise equipment as instruments of torture for water-boarding and hanging. There are paintings on the first floor of a prison building painted by one of the S-21 survivors, and they all depict Khmer Rouge atrocities committed both at S-21 and S-21's main killing field site, Choeung Ek. I'm not going to go into detail about what the paintings show; I got enough of a glimpse to remember what they were, but subsequently exited from the room as fast as I could.

There is a sign outside in the courtyard that lists the rules of the camp. They are (translated from Khmer):

1. You must answer in according to my question; Don't turn them away.
2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don't tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Krom (ethnic group) in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don't follow the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Significantly drained and subdued, after Tuol Sleng we made our way by van to Choeung Ek, the Killing Field of S-21. It lies just on the outskirts of Phnom Penh city; it seems rural, but it is not a far drive. Tuol Sleng was disturbing; Choeung Ek is another kind of horror altogether.

Prisoners were taken by transport to the site, where they were unloaded and taken to spots to be executed. Not all were merely shot; Khmer Rouge cadres used hoes and whatever else tools, because Pol Pot said that "bullets shouldn't be wasted unnecessarily". There are skulls on display at the museum at Choeung Ek that clearly show breaks and cracks in the skulls, clearly from being beaten. The first thing one sees after passing through the entrance gate at Choeung Ek is the large, clean white stupa, standing on small hill. A stupa is a Buddhist memorial. It is about two, three stories high, and has about eight or so horizontal rows just filled with skulls. They are the actual skulls of victims unearthed from their mass graves. Walking up to the stupa, you are required to remove your shoes if you wish to see the memorial up close; this is for respect in the Buddhist religion. You can walk all the way around; it is a mostly glass monument. Incense burns at one corner, and a large wreathe is laid at the front.

I and a few others in my group followed Professor Kosal to walk around the killing fields. They are mass graves that have been dug up, leaving patches of deep earth with grass barely growing over it and thin walking paths in between. We walked among the graves. Some things are marked, like a mass grave that had bones but no skulls, or one that held only women. There is a tree with a sign that says a loudspeaker was hung over it so that when prisoners were being killed, their cries would be amplified from the loudspeaker, and thus scare the other prisoners on their way to execution. Another tree, the most horrible, bears a sign that says "Killing tree on which executioners beat children". It's true, they did do that.

It was very hot at the killing fields. It's always hot in Cambodia, but the quiet of Choeung Ek made me much more aware of the sticky air around me and the suffocating humidity. The fields are so quiet that it is hard, though not impossible, to imagine what they were thirty-five years ago. Grass is growing over the unearthed mass graves and there are plenty of trees, and luckily there stand memorials and signs that alert you to what happened, so that it all can be remembered.

We sat under a Chinese pagoda (Choeung Ek used to be a Chinese burial ground) and rested our feet as well as our minds. I felt so drained, from the heat or the reality around me I'm not sure; it was probably a combination. Perhaps he was moved by all our emotions and the somberness of it all, but Professor Kosal told us for the first time, really, about his family and his origins. We knew he was born just before the Khmer Rouge came in 1975 in Cambodia, but beyond that not much. It was really touching to hear him talk about the earliest part of his life; he and his family really were very lucky. It was still touching to listen to, and I'm glad he told it to us.

My visits to Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek are not ones that I am going to forget, ever. In a way they made the Khmer Rouge regime more real to me than a survivor's testimony or documentary ever has. Walking through the prison cells, seeing the victims' photographs and the photographs of torture, walking through the killing fields, all of those realities seeped through my skin and made me feel. Professor Kosal half-jokingly made a comment that if it weren't for us being in Cambodia and needing to see these things, he would not want to and would not go to Choeung Ek. But it was necessary for us to see, and I'm glad we did. In a strange, twisted way I was both revolted and fascinated by Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Kampong Chhang

Yesterday we traveled to Kampong Chhang to interview Muslim Cham people in their village. It was about a two hour drive north of Phnom Penh. Our first interview trip! We arrived in the morning and were instantly greeted by what seemed to be most of the village. It was so hot, but to be respectful we had to wear clothes that covered our shoulders and knees, so I wore my yoga pants and also brought along the scarf I bought at the silk village the other day in case it would be needed. We stepped off the bus and were herded to the village's mosque, which was open air with conrete floor and walls that came just above my head when I sat down. We took off our shoes and sat on mats they had placed on the ground.

For a while we just sat there. Who I assumed were the village elders (village leaders? religious leaders?) gathered around and discussed something with Professor Kosal and Kok Thay (who works for DC-Cam), probably a preamble to what exactly we were doing there, while the rest of the village sat around. The women and some kids sat just outside the mosque. After the deliberations they had us one by one and introduce ourselves to the large group of villagers. This was a Muslim village, so they knew a little Arabic. I stood up and said "Assalam alaykum, khnhom chhmous Ali", which means hello, my name is Ali. The first part is the Arabic, and they loved it! They all laughed and clapped their hands. Thanks to Fitily (who also works for DC-Cam and with us) who reassured me that I could use the Arabic!

Then came another long discussion on who was going to be interviewed by us. We had split into three groups, so we needed three interviewees. My group consisted of myself, Shoshana, and Camille. I was the interviewer, Camille was the camerawoman, and Shoshana held the audio recorder. We interviewed a woman who was about 10 years old at the time of the Khmer Rouge, so she's about 45 now. She told us about her and her family being forced to evacuate their village to another village, mixed with non-Muslims, and how they weren't allowed to practice their religion. They were even forced to eat pork, which is against Islam. She talked about how she was always scared, and how they had to work. Yet she was fairly lucky; she only lost one sister, the rest of her family survived. One thing that stood out to me that she said was that she did not feel she will ever be able to forgive the Khmer Rouge for what they put her and her family and her community through. She does not want to forgive them, because they caused so much harm.

With my interviewee

The interviewing was a lot harder than I expected. It's hard to try and keep the questions flowing with the answers of the interviewee, trying to not be too random yet trying to get them to talk about what you want them to. And I feel like our interviewee did not want to really talk about her experiences under the Khmer Rouge; she was not very extensive in her story. I guess each person will be different, and you can never push them to go where they don't feel comfortable.

We left the village and its lovely people and drove to a small area that once upon a time was the capital of Cambodia, in between when the capital was being moved from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. We visited a pagoda that was build in the 16th century. It is now kept by Buddhist nuns. Here I was reminded just how much I love temples; I felt so incredibly peaceful and at ease, and even though it was cloudy and a bit rainy, it felt perfect. I burned incense and prayed to whoever, Buddha, God, I don't know; I just know it felt good to do so. I don't think I can be more content than when I am in a temple. There is something about the serenity of the atmosphere and the awe and beauty of the statues and murals and colorful ornaments inside that just make my soul melt with happiness and peace. We walked around the grounds for a bit before getting back in our bus and setting off on the two hour drive back to the city.

Today was another day of meetings. First we met with the Center of Justice and Reconciliation, an NGO that reaches out to victims and perpetrators alike with the main goal of achieving reconciliation. The director had a lot of good things to say that very much pertained to my topic. Then we met with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, another NGO that works closely with the ECCC courts and getting victims to apply as civil parties. Finally, we went to the US Embassy to meet with the charge d'affaires (the ambassador herself was out of the country). This meeting was fun and much more informal than the one at the French embassy. Also, the embassy it absolutely massive! It's like the size of a museum.

Tree ants on beef, fresh off the tree

Tonight we took Karen and went to the second Friends restaurant, mostly with a specific purpose in mind. It was at this restaurant that I, along with Shoshana, Marilyn, and Jessica, ate fried tarantula AND tree ants. The tarantula was the reason we came to this particular Friends, and the tree ants were an added bonus that we found on the menu. The tarantula was surprisingly okay, mostly salty and crunchy. The legs were better tasting than the body, even if they were a little fuzzy! Luckily they were served with a delicious lime dipping sauce, so if I doused it enough in sauce I could mask the taste a little better. I'm not sure if I'd be up for eating it again though... but hey, how many people do you know who can say they've eaten tarantula??

Here goes!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Work Work Work

Well, we finally got down to research. Yesterday we spent all day at the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) doing archival research. DC-Cam is the main archives for the Khmer Rouge genocide, and they are the main providers of evidence to the ECCC trials. Pretty cool that we get to work with them! The staff started their day at 7, but luckily we didn't have to be there until 9! We did get a nice long lunch break though; from 11:30-2:00! Enough time for a siesta! A few of us went to check out the infamous Russian Market, but, contrary to what I thought, it didn't end up being Russian at all. Maybe I was being way out there when I expected there to be stands selling pirushkas and other Russian food (clearly I was hungry), but it ended up being like the Silk Market in Beijing; stuffy, crowded, and touristy. Rows and rows of stalls selling pretty much the same trinkets, scarves, and bags. Oh, and did I mention how hot it was? I think it was around 110 degrees F yesterday, no joke. So we left and had Indian food for lunch closer to our hotel, Villa Langka, and then back to DC-Cam for more archival research in the afternoon! I think we all were pretty exhausted by the end of the day.

For dinner we went out with some of the staff of DC-Cam who are working with us, which was really fun. I learned some more Khmer; Chhma Khnhom Twat Na; Ah Dei, Khnhom Chong Daa; Loh Krou Khnhom Luoy Na! Ask me for the translations. I really hope I'll be able to remember all this!

Today we spent the day interviewing. First we went to interview Helen Jarvis who is the head of the Victims Support Sector, but we sort of got shanghai-ed with that one. Turns out when we got there they double booked us with another group (law students from USF...) and Helen Jarvis didn't even show up (she was sick). We did get a nice and informative talk with Paul Oertly, who works with Helen, but still.

Then we went to the ECCC court, yes, the ACTUAL court, to interview Craig Etchinson, who is a USC alum and the chief prosecutor for Case 002. Pretty damn cool. He has the awesome job of deciding who to arrest and put on trial, and according to him, there are thousands of former Khmer Rouge that he would love to put on trial, but for political and other reasons has to narrow it down. In addition to Duch, who's trial was Case 001 (and we are now awaiting the verdict of his trial) and the senior Khmer leaders who are in Case 002, Craig said that it is possible 5 specific others will be brought to trial, though he was not allowed to disclose who. Oh and during our entire interview, Duch (head of S-21 prison, Case 001), and Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Khieu Samphan (senior Khmer Rouge leaders, Case 002), were imprisoned in a building not 20 yards away from where we were sitting. It was pretty eerie and chilling being so close to such ruthless and heartless murderers. Just seeing the building where all 5 are being held confirmed for me that I hope they get what they deserve from the ECCC trials. What's unfortunate is Craig says they don't seem to feel remorse for what they've done and the pain they've caused; they still think they were right all along, or they blame each other. Disgusting.

In the afternoon we went to the French embassy to sit down with the French ambassador to Cambodia. First of all, the French embassy is beautiful; someone said it was like a little jungle. He even has a backyard with deer in it! One such deer made an appearance during our talk. The ambassador was very nice to speak with us.

It rained today! Even thunder and lightening. I didn't think it was supposed to rain in Cambodia! Actually it poured; it reminded me of Boston in the summer when it's hot and humid all day and then all of a sudden at 4 o'clock the skies open up for about 30 minutes, then clear. Except the difference here is that the air is still humid and hot after the rain; it might cool a degree or too, but it's still so hot!

Tomorrow is our first outing to a province for interviews. I can't wait to see what will happen!