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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 03 Jul 2007

Location: Cambodia

MapHere are some pictures of the past week in Cambodia. Some are from S-21, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh. Others are from around the city and from a weekend trip to the Vietnamese border. Because of my skewed sense of entertainment, I still haven’t been to the temples of Siem Reap or the beaches of Sihanoukville. Instead, I try to go places that no foreigners would have visited before. After studying the history for twenty years, I finally slept in a town that was bombed by America during the Vietnam War. No one seemed to hold it against me, though, and many of the people my age and younger didn’t even know until the village chief talked about it with me. This eerie phenomenon keeps surfacing in my travels and discussions: people everywhere traumatized by the past, but no one talking about it. It’s also interesting that Buddhism, unlike Christianity, doesn’t have an outlet for asking forgiveness. Instead, people make merit for themselves. The simple acts of apologizing and forgiving has never occurred, and resentment simmers on. Many Khmer Rouge perpetrators feel as bad as their victims, but few would understand their grief (or the basic reasons why they did what they did). A tourist’s fresh graffiti at the genocide museum mirrored many Cambodians’ sentiments: ‘Death to the Khmer Rouge’. The truth is that all commoners were victims of much larger powers, and perhaps the last chance for closure is the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Whether the UN budget will hold out, the Cambodian government will allow the process to continue, or the top figures can even be arrested is yet to be seen. China may be opposing it behind the scenes, backed up by hundreds of millions in ‘no strings attached’ aid money. America supported the Khmer Rouge for a long time, too, but doesn’t seem to be standing in the way of the trials. Right now we’re waiting for the prosecutors to publicly charge the first defendants, whose identities are currently being kept secret (according to French civil code). There are also some pictures of a rural project supported by the Prime Minister. Whether it’s to develop the livelihood of the villagers or his own popularity is another story…you be the judge!