There are a lot of kids.
There are a lot of kids.
Phnom Penh squats like a pregnant woman at the confluence of three bloated rivers that snake their way through Cambodia the Mekong, Tonle Bassac and Tonle Sap.
Im sipping a vodka and tonic on the balcony of the famous Foreign Correspondents Club to where the last international journos fled after the fall of Saigon. (Hey, I am The Echos foreign correspondent, aint I?)
At this very bar, with its drink stains and typewriter scratches, they drank, gazed out over the rivers and noted the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
In the park beside the bloated river I can see poor kids hawking their cheap merchandise to tourists. The wide streets (French influence) pulse with typically Asian energy woks sizzling, cigarettes selling, babies sucking, games playing, grandmothers snoozing, cripples crawling, tuk tuks swerving, cyclo drivers asking.
Its a noisy, vibrant place.
But back in 1975 the entire city was emptied. The genocide of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began. It was a dark time.
But the orange-robed monks once again wander the streets and the temple bells clang above the televisions. Buddha believed in the value of all life. And no god.
But I found a different temple in Phnom Penh.
Its called the Tuol Sleng Museum. In 1975 this former high school was turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. Over the next three years 14,000 people were detained there. 12 survived. In that anal way of the mass murderous, meticulous records were kept everyone was photographed and, under torture, a confession written. Those photos and testaments are on display there now.
Its a holy place of reflection. No sacred chambers but concrete cells; no gold finery but razor wire; no altars but implements of cruelty; no choir just echoes of pain; and no god. Definitely no god.
Around me weeping women and sombre men point to murdered husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters among the thousands of photos hanging there. The victims of political violence stare out at us from across the decades.
In one room there are photos of children who were killed in sadistic ways. Kids.
Its hard to understand, but seems somehow necessary to acknowledge, what people can do to each other. If people can create hell, maybe, hopefully, we can create heaven.
Later I walk along the river bank. The beggar children approach me. Though theyre very poor they smile easily. And theyre cheeky.
Mister. You want to buy postcard? Only one dollar, they sing in that particularly Khmer way.
No. No. I dont want postcard, I say walking past.
No. No. I dont want postcard, they chorus in perfect sarcastic mimicry behind me.
I turn and make a ridiculous scowling face. The kids erupt in laughter.
I have a lot of postcards. There are a lot of kids.