Wednesday, March 07, 2007

tuol sleng and killing fields

(mostly from journal:) Last night we watched "The Killing Fields" to prepare for today's trip to Tuol Sleng (Genocide Museum) and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. The little restaurant we've been eating at has nightly free screenings. I wonder how the people who work there feel about the movie, and how they feel about the foreigners who watch it. Tuol Sleng especially was a really intense experience. Called S-21 by the Khmer Rouge, it was Cambodia's largest torture and interrogation center--an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned there, only 7 of whom are known to have survived.

The museum is simply the preserved buildings of Tuol Sleng (a high school hastily converted into a prison with barbed wire, ragged cement or wood cells, punched-out doorways, chains, and leg irons. Chillingly, in many ways it still looks a lot like a high school) and large displays of some of the thousands of prisoner photographs from the Khmer Rouge's extensive records. Every incoming prisoner was photographed, and row after row of men's, women's, children's, and babies' faces fill several large rooms. There are also photographs taken by the Vietnamese when they found Tuol Sleng, some artist installations, and some artifacts like prisoner skulls and clothing.
At the Killing Fields (where Tuol Sleng prisoners ended up after being tortured into makeing confessions), mass grave sites surround a large stupa. The stupa is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls exhumed from the graves. Not all of the bones have been exhumed, however, and since the graves were very shallow, they are sometimes brought to the surface by the rain. We could see bones and clothing as we wandered around (although apparently there are many more during the rainy season).

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