Do you ever have those weeks where it feels like one day it's Tuesday and the next day is Sunday? Last week, I definitely did.
I woke up on leap day and told myself that with my extra 24 hours, I was going to do all the things left on last week's to do list. I didn't get to all the things, but I finally created the second-to-last post about my February travels! I had hoped to post all these pictures within a week of returning to Norway, but I got sidetracked by a wonderful visit from my brother, pottery making, and birthday cake baking (I'll post about that chocolaty goodness in a few days).
Cambodia Part Three
(a slightly longer post)
In Phnom Penh, we saw the sunrise over the city from Abby's apartment each morning. Some days were clear, others were a little foggier. Nonetheless it was such a beautiful way to start the day.
The three main types of transportation in Cambodia are moto, tuk tuk, and car. We often took tuk tuks (rickshaws powered by motorcycles) around town, but some days Abby and I also drove around on our own moto. I was entirely fascinated by the amount of vehicles, not to mention the traffic rules! I'm used to heavy traffic, but I don't think I've ever seen so many motorcycles in one place.
Traffic rules seemed to work like this — honk to make others aware you are coming, and carefully and patiently weave your way through intersections. Cars are the biggest, so they have the right of way, and others who have vehicles that can easily maneuver through small places must watch out. Even though Cambodian drivers seem really nice, I'd say Abby is quite brave to have learned to drive there!
I learned that cars are not necessarily more practical than motos. Motos can seat about five people including infants, and transport building equipment. They're also much smaller, so they bypass traffic and they use very little fuel. I kept seeing stands on the side of the road with old two-liter bottles filled with a yellow juice. I asked Abby what they were. She told me those are "gas stations."
Yes, the roads were a little dusty. I came home one evening with a cough, maybe due to the dust. And, I quickly I realized it would probably have been smart to follow the example of the locals and wear what looks like a dentist's mask.
Many Cambodians also wore warm jackets and gloves because they considered it the cold season. But, to me the weather reminded me of May in Arizona, 80℉ (30℃). I loved the feel of the warm summer air blowing our hair in crazy directions as we scootered! It made me wish I had a Vespa back at home.
The influence of Buddhism is apparent throughout Phnom Penh. Almost anywhere we went, we saw orange and red clad monks. We also saw tables with food and incense offerings outside stores and homes which may be related to Buddhist practice, but may also have been related to the Chinese New Year.
Before traveling to Cambodia I read about other tourists' experiences. Several people wrote that drive-by purse-snatching robberies are common. That fact, in addition to reading about police corruption, (which according to IJM is thankfully declining) made me wonder if Cambodia would feel dangerous. I was careful to keep an eye on my things, which I always am when I travel, but I quickly realized I didn't ever feel unsafe.
I noticed in the first few days that no one really paid attention to the fact that we were tourists (except for the women wanting us to buy clothing at the markets). Unlike other countries I've been to where men whistle and make comments when my friends and I walk down the street, or places where children excitedly point out the fact that we're white, Cambodians didn't really give us a second thought. Abby's parents said that this may be due to the Cambodian culture of respect. In Cambodia, the respect culture includes being kind, saving face by repressing anger, bowing slightly to greet each other, and always taking and giving items with two hands.
The Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda & Temples
We visited the famous Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh towards the end of our trip. It was the first place where wearing a large scarf over tank tops wasn't modest enough for the guards, so we bought XL palace t-shirts in order to enter. Without a guide it was hard to know what was what in the extensive royal grounds filled with French-speaking tourists, monks, gazebos and golden-topped buildings. One of the buildings, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, was filled with many miniature, almost identical, Buddha statues. In another building there were hundreds of identical elephant shaped boxes that were given to the king for his coronation.
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
Pol Pot's Killing Fields
On our way to Choeung Ek Geocidal Center and Memorial, also known as the Killing Fields, I didn't know what to expect. I don't recall learning much about Cambodian history in school, and only had a faint idea about the atrocities that took place in the 1970s.
Choeung Ek which is only 15km (9.3miles) southeast of Phnom Penh is the most famous of over 300 killing fields that were in use under Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime. As we entered the grounds, Abby and I listened to our audio guides, and I saw a girl about our age quietly crying as she was finishing the tour. I started to wonder how I would react after learning more.
The stories are brutal. We walked quietly walked around dusty colored grass fields looking at the dips and craters. At first, I thought there was litter scattered on the mounds, but the audio guide said that each time it rains, fragments of fabric and bone come to the surface. We definitely saw clothing scraps, we may have seen bone.
Among the victims were peasants, workers, intellectual, ministers, khmer diplomats, foreigners, women, and children who were detained, tortured, interrogated, and sent to this extermination camp. Very few, if any of the Khmer Rouge's victims were executed with gunshots.
The last stop on the tour is the the Memorial Stupa monument that preserves remains and commemorates the death of hundreds of Khmer/Kampuchea people. Inside there are 11 stories of skulls and bones that were exhumed and examined to discover more about the era. Each is color coded dots that show which tools were used to inflict the squiggly cracks. As we left the Stupa, we continued through the entrance gates in silence.
I felt very strange photographing such a solemn, grim place. I have a habit of taking pictures and sometimes regret not taking more, but this was the first time I felt reluctant to photograph. I started to feel as if it may disrupt the respectful silence. But, several days later when I was editing my photos, I changed my mind. Seeing the images again impacted me in a different way than the visit — it was then that I was finally emotionally overwhelmed by the immensity of the horrors of Pol Pot's regime.