Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia

genocidemusem1.1The Killing Fields were brutal, but the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum made me ill. Literally. While it was once a school, it was transformed into security Office 21 under the orders of Pol Pot on April 17, 1975.  Office 21, or S-21 for short was designed for detention, interrogation, torture and killing. The prisoner records of S-21 counts up to 10,519 prisoners from the years 1975-1978.

It is quite eerie to walk the halls of a once primary and high school knowing it housed over 10,000 prisoners in abhorrent conditions. The energy is rooted in the walls and it had my stomach turning.

genocidemuseum_2 genocidemuseum_4 genocidemuseum_3Bodies of fourteen victims were discovered by the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) on January 7, 1979. The corpses were unidentifiable due to decomposition and were buried in front of the building. These were the last people to be tortured and killed by personal before they fled.

Below are a few of the rooms where the fourteen victims were found. Each room has a photo of what was initially discovered by the UFNSK. The images are graphic can be really tough to look at. This isn't your typical museum where replicas are in place to show you the conditions. You are in the actual room where these bodies were found and their beds and other objects are right there with you.

genocidemuseum_6 genocidemuseum_7 genocidemuseum_8 genocidemuseum_9 genocidemuseum_10 genocidemuseum_11The first building is what made me feel ill. Absorbing all that took place in the actual place is exhausting to your soul. We move on to another building where classrooms were converted into several small brick cells. Stepping into one is claustrophobic and you wonder just who and how many people were crowded into these walls that were once full of children with educational aspirations.

genocidemuseum_12 genocidemuseum_13 genocidemuseum_14 genocidemuseum_15 genocidemuseum_16 genocidemuseum_17 genocidemuseum_18 genocidemuseum_19 genocidemuseum_20Other rooms are filled with faces, faces, faces. Everyone is photographed and documented. A picture is worth a thousand words and these faces say it all. As a photographer I am feeling at odds. Some of these images are actually beautiful portraits, but for the ugliest of reasons and so I can't call these pictures art and yet I can't stop starring at them. What were they thinking? What are their stories? The sheer number of faces is overwhelming.


Click on the images below to view them larger...

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The woman below I was particularly mesmerized by because her eyes evoked such desperation.

If the eyes are the window to the soul, her soul is certainly screaming for help.

_MG_6552I cannot tell you how deeply impactful this experience was and how desperately sad it made me.

How and why as humans do we kill our own fellow man? And why is it still happening?

For more images of the prison, go here.

Killing Fields, Cambodia

KillingFields_1.1Readers beware, the next two posts are going to be heavy as we dig into the genocidal history of Cambodia. While in Angkor Wat I saw Cambodia as this magical place with a rich and beautiful past. I wondered what the grounds must have looked like at its peak. While that was the rise of Cambodia, we are now delving into the fall of Cambodia, and the magic turns into terror. If you are not familiar with the Khmer Rouge or the genocide that took place in 1975-1979 led by Pol Pot that killed up to 3 million Cambodians, then here is a quick overview.

As a result, the country was filled with mass graves called killing fields. We visited the most well known one called Choeung Ek just outside of Phnom Penh. It's horrifying, unfathomable, and absolutely terrifying.

What troubled me most was the "killing tree" (seen below), where children were smashed and beaten against the tree to death. The other troubling aspect is that this took place in the 70's. It is not ancient history and the world did nothing. This is nothing short of infuriating.

The grounds include a memorial that house skulls that have been unearthed. Their violent deaths are visible on their skulls as many were killed in vicious, barbaric ways.

The earth is visibly scarred from the atrocities.

The land now with large dips where bodies were once piled also has not recovered.

Could it ever?

KillingFields_1 KillingFields_2 KillingFields_3 KillingFields_4 KillingFields_5 KillingFields_6KillingFields_6.1 KillingFields_7 KillingFields_8Then you ask yourself...

How did this happen?

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After the magic of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, we took a cramped minivan to Phnom Penh. This would serve as our base for visiting the killing fields and genocide museum. While it proved to be quite a heavy visit and before I get to posting about those two places, this is a look into Phnom Penh, which is quite colorful and ripe for picture taking. PhnomPenh_1 PhnomPenh_2 PhnomPenh_3 PhnomPenh_4 PhnomPenh_5 PhnomPenh_6 PhnomPenh_7 PhnomPenh_8 PhnomPenh_9 PhnomPenh_10 PhnomPenh_11 PhnomPenh_12 PhnomPenh_13 PhnomPenh_14 PhnomPenh_15 PhnomPenh_16 PhnomPenh_17 PhnomPenh_18 PhnomPenh_19 PhnomPenh_20 PhnomPenh_21 PhnomPenh_22 PhnomPenh_23 PhnomPenh_24 PhnomPenh_25 PhnomPenh_26 PhnomPenh_27 PhnomPenh_28

Angkor Wat, Cambodia | Part 1

Now that we've explored Siem Reap, it's time to see what we really came here for... Angkor Wat! While Angkor Wat is the main temple that you think of when you think of Angkor, the area is filled with different ruins and the task of exploration takes two days. You can buy a 1 day ticket for $20, or a 2 or 3 day ticket for $40. It's best to explore the area by hiring a tuk tuk for the day which is exactly what we did. The drive is beautiful, lovely, and peaceful. Angkor Wat is well kept and impressive, but I particularly loved the more unruly temples and ruins that the earth appears to be claiming back, one tree root at a time. Trees devour the temples like an ancient stone meal and it looks as if Medusa's hearty locks are in the form of roots. The decay is terrifyingly beautiful, and it's apparent that earth's mouth is hungry for man's meal.

AngkorWat_1 AngkorWat_2 AngkorWat_3 AngkorWat_4 AngkorWat_5 AngkorWat_6 AngkorWat_7 AngkorWat_8 AngkorWat_9 AngkorWat_10 AngkorWat_11 AngkorWat_12 AngkorWat_13 AngkorWat_14 AngkorWat_15 AngkorWat_16 AngkorWat_17 AngkorWat_18AngkorWat_19_1 AngkorWat_20 AngkorWat_21 AngkorWat_22 AngkorWat_23 AngkorWat_24 AngkorWat_25 AngkorWat_26 AngkorWat_27 AngkorWat_28 AngkorWat_29 AngkorWat_30 AngkorWat_31 AngkorWat_32 AngkorWat_33 AngkorWat_34 AngkorWat_35Don't these ruins look like such a delicious meal? Stay tuned for Part 2!