Phnom Penh Part 3: the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek & Tuol Sleng Museum

We only really went to Phnom Penh for two places, and those places are horrible. But I’d be a terrible person if I didn’t talk about it, so…

SOME HISTORY: in 1975 a radical communist group, the Khmer Rouge, seized power of Cambodia’s government with a vision to turn Cambodia into a ‘communist agrarian utopia’, aka a nation full of rice farmers. Their methods included forcing everyone out of cities into the farmlands, whether they knew how to grow rice or not, and killing anyone who might disagree, like intellectuals and spies (they identified intellectuals by whether or not a person had glasses, soft hands or spoke a foreign language, and spies by whether or not they looked fishy). SPOILER ALERT: it failed. People can’t grow rice having eaten two spoonfuls of gruel in a day. Murdering a quarter of your population demoralises the troops. Communism is a fucking terrible way to run a country. By 1979 the regime had collapsed (it didn’t help that senior members kept offing one another in paranoia) and the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by rebels and the Vietnamese; what was left of the government fled to Thailand. Because Vietnam was involved, the United Nations actually continued to recognise the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s rightful government for years – they received aid and sent representatives to UN meetings. One day I will write about western countries ignoring genocide and send the manuscript to the Trump administration… Today is not that day but if you want to read more about the Khmer Rouge, go here. Anyway the Khmer people are very open about their past and are preserving and sharing it nationwide (unlike Nazi Germany, no one’s going to get away with denying this shit happened). The two biggest and most heartbreaking museums are both in or near Phnom Penh.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

There are killing fields all over Cambodia, but the largest is at Choeung Ek, which used to be a Chinese graveyard and orchard a few miles from Phnom Pehn. We visited there first and just arriving was odd, because the road goes through what is now basically a suburb – it felt a bit like having a war memorial at a corner in central Southend. Once you’re in, though, Choeung Ek feels more like a nature reserve than a genocide spot. There’s an audio tour that takes you to various points, and they’ve let a lot of the space grow naturally back into an orchard. There’s even a pond, although if I remember correctly there are still a lot of bodies under it. Speaking of bodies…

Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
This means that someone, at some point, did.

Because the Khmer Rouge wanted to save bullets, they had people killed using what was lying about instead. Think farming equipment, knives, tyre irons and the like. As a result, the corpses uncovered since aren’t exactly intact; every now and then bits of bone and skull and clothes work their way up to the surface and museum staff take care of them. What they have found has been examined and organised neatly in a memorial stupa, which is simultaneously very beautiful and very creepy.

Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa
I forgot to take a photo of the stupa so this is from Wikipedia. Those shelves contain at least 5,000 skulls.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

After lunch we headed to Tuol Sleng in central Phnom Penh, also known as Security Prison 21. For what it’s worth I found the museum harder to deal with than the Killing Fields, and I’d recommend doing Choeung Ek second. There’s more fresh air, less graphic photos and more space to sit by yourself while you try to process what you’ve just seen – the building was originally a school, so it’s quite compact and overbearing. There’s an audio tour for the museum as well so you can do it at your own pace, but I still wanted to inhale a bottle of gin by the time I was a third of the way around.

They request you don’t take photos of the inside rooms, which was fine by me. Just, imagine a tiled room that used to be a classroom, with a rusting iron bed in the middle. In its heyday, it would have been a nice bed. The iron is wrought into patterns. It was an interrogation room, so add rusting iron shackles and perhaps an iron bar. Finally, turn to one wall and add a large black and white photograph of that very room. Attached to the bed is what used to be a person. It’s an old photograph, taken straight after the prison was discovered, but you can still tell that that used to be someone’s head and that was someone’s stomach, and that is where their stomach ended up. Then multiply the room by four or five because when the regime fell, the prison staff knew they had very little time to flee. They stopped torturing that day’s suspects and killed them to avoid future identification – but they couldn’t risk gunshots being heard, so they hacked their prisoners to death then skedaddled.

That’s just the first part of the museum.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This is the only photo I took that wasn’t of something mightily depressing, and that’s only because there’s a palm tree in it.

There are several rooms full of photographs of prisoners and several pieces of torture equipment, including one which was originally used as gymnastic equipment for the school. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous about records, but they destroyed a lot toward the end; what’s left is quite enough to put you off believing in any sort of benevolent deity. Most pictures are just of people when they arrive, but there’s a few of prisoners mid-captivity. There were only seven people found alive when the prison was liberated, and one was an artist who went on to paint what he saw, so there are also canvases of torture and general death in glorious technicolour. An estimated 20,000 people were held at S-21 during the regime. Seven were found alive.

We ended up rushing a little toward the end of the tour – well, I did. Maxim finished way quicker and was impatient to leave because we needed to get bus tickets for Shianoukville. Part of me was irritated for skipping the exit, because two of the surviving prisoners were there signing books, but part of me was very relieved to be given a reason to leave. I could easily go back and spend a day making notes, listening to every extra on the audio tour and piecing together everything that’s there (with a break for lunch and the gin) but I could also quite happily never set foot in Phnom Penh again. It’s not that the city  – and Cambodia in general – isn’t vibrant and bustling and very ready to be more than just four years in its history. It’s that in my head, once I’d seen Choeung Ek and S-21, it was hard to see anything else. I kept thinking ‘that building’s definitely been built since the seventies’, ‘that building hasn’t’, ‘this guy looks old enough to have lived through the genocide’. Anecdotally, there are no old people in Cambodia; statistically, one in four people died under the Khmer Rouge either from malnutrition, disease or execution.

It feels very relevant that I’m writing this the day after Holocaust Memorial Day, and the day after the Trump administration signed an order banning Syrian refugees from entering the US. Incidentally one of the factors in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power is that America dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War than it did during the entirety of World War II; the resulting poverty and civil unrest stoked support for the party. I could keep drawing parallels between Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Nazi Germany, and parallels between them and the rhetoric Trump and his supporters are spewing, but if you’re reading this you’re probably smart enough to draw them yourselves.

So this could be my last blog ever before a lady president’s elected! Or it could be my last blog ever before my friends move continents.

I got the first round of at least three vaccinations on Friday and had to spend the afternoon napping. I’m not sure if the sudden intake of hep A/hep B/typhoid into my system knocked me out or if I’m just really fucking tired but I went for a run this morning and I swear the route round my block took about four times as long as normal. Maybe tomorrow I will imagine I’m running from a Trump presidency.

Maybe on Wednesday I will be running from a Trump presidency.

In case I haven’t been clear enough already – just for the record, I mean, for posterity – Donald Trump is a walking shitbag of phenomenal proportions and his presidency would encourage other walking shitbags to partake in shitbag activities, which worries me greatly. I’m aware that a lot of his supporters are not walking shitbags and are in fact regular people exhausted with the political system, and I feel you. My political system is also full of walking shitbags, but the last time a walking shitbag of phenomenal proportions came to power in Europe, we experienced something called the Holocaust. Please, America, vote for the lesser of the walking shitbags. She probably won’t cause a couple of wars, completely restrict your rights or insult everyone in your family who isn’t a straight white dude. And in a world run by shitbags, the ‘probably’ makes all the difference.

Much love.

Turns of Phrase That Can Go Fuck Themselves (part one, probably)

Look, we all hate certain words and phrases. Here are some that make me automatically loathe the person using them.

The word ‘poorly’

One is ill, or sick, or unwell, or puking, or suffering from a mild boat of putrid throat. I don’t think one is ever really poorly, because it only seems to be brandished about when well-meaning adults want to tell you about a serious illness but don’t want to frighten you with actual details.

We got it at school when teachers told us how ‘Michaela is feeling a little poorly today’. Translation:  ‘Michaela recently drank chemicals from the science kit in the toy box and is now vomiting blood but we don’t want you to panic.’

‘The dog’s a bit poorly at the moment, he’s in with the vet.’ Translation: ‘we’ll probably have to euthanise but we don’t want you to cry until it’s absolutely unavoidable.’

Or it’s used during stories of when I was in an incubator getting my left lung drained. ‘Oh darling you were quite poorly!’ exclaims Theresa. Translation: Theresa is not emotionally equipped to express what she’s thinking without using the words ‘that’s completely shit and the world is fucking awful sometimes’.

Theresa, I won’t mind if you say ‘that’s completely shit’. Because, even when you are trying to prepare your nine year old for the possibility their beloved pet is about to go on his final walk, there is rarely a kind way to cover up the truth. Maybe find an alternative word for shit, though.

People who say ‘pee’ instead of ‘pence’

As in ‘the Browns have pawned their grandma’s china and earned themselves thirty four pounds and fifteen pee.’

No dude it’s written 15p

because it is an abbreviation

the word is pence

as in, Mike the dickhead governor.

The word ‘bugbear’

You could say the it’s my bugbear.

Tim Minchin Jesus Christ Superstar
I have no idea where this is from but THANK YOU to whoever made it you gem.

But seriously where did it come from? ‘Pet hate’ makes sense. We all have little, ultimately insignificant irritations in our lives that we love to moan about. We adore and cherish these little dislikes, and sometimes we cultivate them into something we’re known for, like ‘never chew with your mouth open in front of Sally’. Mine include: my neighbour who got a driveway but always parks in the space the rest of us could use, Tumblr users who forget the world exists outside their ideal of it and people who think I’ll embrace Brexit. Oh, and the word poorly. We need pet hates because they distract us from big hates, like Donald Trump’s supporters, and if we focused on them we would wish we were dead.

But bugbear needs to fuck off.

What are your most hated words and phrases? Do other people even have any? COMPLAIN BELOW.

Christmas in September, and Other Small Ways I Damn My Soul to Hell

I wasn’t sure of a lot growing up – books disintegrate in the bath some days, but on others they just go crackly and if that’s not a sign the universe is a risky place, I don’t know what is –  but I was sure of one thing: Christmas marketing in September is for wankers. There is a pure and fiery place in hell for the motherfuckers in charge of Clintons and Smiths and Sainsburys who decide to introduce Christmas stock before schools go back. Before Halloween. Before I’m ready to put my shorts away and get out my scarves.

dishonour-andersonhale-tumblrcow-andersonhale-tumblr

Winter is coming, hiss advent calendars and crackers. The year is nearly over, whisper tablecloths and novelty teapots. We want to access your bank account and bleed you dry, murmur the fake Christmas trees.

DIE IN A HOLE, I retort as I browse for factor 15 or Halloween confetti or regular teapots. YOU WILL NEVER CONVINCE ME THAT CHRISTMAS SHOULD START UNTIL AFTER BONFIRE NIGHT.

I feel like this every year. It’s bad enough that Christmas is expensive and loses its magic a bit more every year; I won’t be bullied into buying cheap seasonal cushion covers. And yet recently I’ve realised that I’m well on my way to becoming a giant hypocrite. I preach, but I don’t practise.

Because here’s a fact they don’t pin to gondolas in Debenhams: when you run a shop, even a tiny one on Etsy, Christmas has to start in July at the latest. It has to. Because if you start it any later, you may as spend the rest of the year with your feet up, picturing money you’ll never hold going down the drain.

There’s stock to order and goals to set, last year’s stats to analyse and shipping times to work out. There’s Black Friday game plans and seasonal packaging, contingency plans and Instagram graphics.There’s custom orders versus regular ones, craft fair table decorations and notes on scrap paper as you calculate how much cash you can tie up in products that might sell. If you’re an artist and you carve out time in your day to make art, you carve up that part of the day to become an accountant, a marketing manager, a PR officer, an HR admin – even more than you would the rest of the year. You worry over minute photo details, because that’s where the devil lives, and rewrite product descriptions until you fall in love with a postcard you’ve seen every day for a year. You sign up to newsletters to learn about ‘streamlining your shipping station’ and ‘managing your brand’.

You actually find it kind of fun, because the aim is to earn as much money from your art as you can during the most affluent time of year… and if you were happy just to make the art, you wouldn’t have started an Etsy shop.

By the first of October, you think you’ve got it. You’ve got notes and stock and to do lists and you can picture yourself emerging from the January sales with triumphant fistfuls of profit that make those fourteen hour work days worth it.

And then you remember –

Halloween is in a few weeks. It’s supposed to be your dry run.

You’d better dig out last year’s stats and grab your confetti. The time for targeted marketing isn’t 6th November, it’s now.

bats-and-paper-bags-and-string-they-are-a-few-of-my-favourite-things

You’re all getting little plastic bats if you order from me until the 31st. You might get little plastic snowflakes in November and December. There’s money in the nation’s pockets and I’d rather it went to me than to Debenhams.

I probably deserve to get cheap seasonal cushion covers for Christmas, but I promise I will never try to sell you a novelty tea pot.

Well, It’s a Good Thing We Weren’t Planning on Winning Eurovision Again

I thought I’d let the dust settle on last Thursday before attempting to write a coherent sentence about it, but at this rate that won’t happen until 2025, so I thought I might as well write anyway.

I’ve not had a hugely pleasant week, to be honest. It’s hard to run marketing campaigns when no one’s reading anything but the news, and it’s hard to have conversations with your family when they all think you’re stupid and wrong (and patronising when you try to explain why you’re not). The fact Nigel Farage now has more political klout than the leader of the opposition is just a mild irritant at this point, although I am genuinely angry that a small portion of racists now think half the population agrees with them – and that half the population now think the other half think they’re all racists… and that I recently renewed my EHIC and might not get my money’s worth.

Gerard Way gun GIF MTV Live
This one never, ever runs out of uses. from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

I’ve been tempted a lot over the past few years to pack up and try being a digital nomad (digital nomading?!), and this week I actually found myself doing the maths. To cut a long story short, I won’t be nomading anywhere for a while, at least not until I pass my driving test and learn how to Skype on the move, but I could feasibly visit every country in the EU for a long weekend (a long weekend per country, not a long weekend for all 27 countries) assuming I checked my emails while I was there. I don’t generally like to plan my life in advance, but assuming we’ll be out of Europe by the end of 2018, I could visit everywhere including Lichtenstein (assuming I learn where it is) for a few days without bankrupting myself. If I didn’t eat much on the road and did all of Eastern Europe in one go.

I will continue working on this plan in the coming months. I will also continue walking the other way in certain social situations. If I post on Twitter that I’ve upped sticks to Bruges or Krakow or Helsinki, assume I kept walking.

Also, tell me your own awkward family dinner table conversations. Let’s make a scale from ‘slightly condescending’ to ‘I nearly threw gravy’ and compare notes on staying friends with people you used to be friends with. I think a guide could be useful.

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2015

Here we go again…

Record of the Year

My stereo has been home to two CDs more than any others this year: Chantal Claret’s Battles of a Heavy Heart, which if God existed would be available in all good music shops with a world tour. As it is you can buy it directly from Chantal’s site and follow her on social media to pretend she’s on a world tour.

The second CD actually came out last year, but I am always late to the music party, so I would like to highly recommend this Hozier chap. I think he may go on to big things. Remember when I lost my shit over the Take Me to Church video? Make a sequel.

I’ve also recently fallen back in love with Fall Out Boy (thank you to whoever made a Tumblr edit to The Kids Aren’t Alright and The Raven Cycle). FOB are a band I forget I love until I’m listening to them, then I can’t remember why I don’t listen more often. I got American Beauty/American Psycho a few weeks ago and my ears are so happy they want to set something on fire.

Video of the Year

I forgive you for Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen. I’ve also come to really love Call Me Maybe.

Book of the Year

This is hard. There’s The Raven Cycle, which has stolen my heart (and will break my heart when it concludes in April), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit… but because I didn’t do book reviews when I read them, and because I went to a talk with the authors who were lovely:

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

I wish this had existed five or ten years ago. Basic summary: there is a kid who is transgender. I can’t tell you any more than that because there are twists (don’t worry, she doesn’t ‘go back to normal’), but I finished it in an afternoon and it’s amazing.

Trouble by Non Pratt

A girl called Hannah gets in trouble. Some random guy offers to help her out. ‘In trouble’ means pregnant, by the way.

The ‘I Saw This Shit Live’ News Story

Once upon a time there was a Liberal Democrat named Paddy Ashdown. As it became apparent that his party lost a general election more severely than Sepp Blatter lost his morals, he refused to believe the exit poll and threatened to eat his hat if the poll turned out to be correct.

Then, like all good politicians, he did a U turn. The end.

The ‘My Twitter Timeline United Like It Never Has Before’ News Story: Equal Marriage

I’ve never seen so many people so happy as when Ireland held its referendum and when the US Supreme Court sorted their shit. I do have quite a selective timeline, apart from that one day I accidentally followed the Westboro Baptists, but it’s not usually entirely focussed on one thing. So I think everyone should be allowed to get married, all the time, because it makes everyone stupidly happy.

Equal Marriage Celebration.png
Even lawyers win when love wins

The Homophobic Dick Award: Kim Davis

So it turns out not everyone was stupidly happy about letting the queers get married. Some were stupidly stupid. I will devote no more of my time to her than this paragraph.

The Indifferent Ignorance Ignorance Fuck Award: Donald Trump and Daesh

I am upset that this year, like most others, one winner of this particular category is American. Come on, rest of the world, raise your game. Although reluctant to pay either of them any more attention, I felt that both Trump and Daesh deserve the award for similar reasons: they are both ignorant of human empathy, dangerous when armed and an embarrassment to their respective cultural and racial groups. I actually chose Trump before Muslim Visa Gate, but that clinched it. America, if you’re reading, kindly do not allow this gentleman to run your country. Sincerely, everyone. I was going to ignore Daesh as one does an attention-seeking child and Katie Hopkins, but if they are reading this then they’ve sat through Tom Hanks lipsyncing, a video of two men kissing and Paddy Ashdown, so they’ve got a good idea of what hell will look like when they get there.


 

All right, that’s it for 2015. I think next year I will keep track of people who are doing their bit to eradicate ignorance of the likes of Trump and co. Doctors, artists, civil rights activists, etc. Balance the decent person:motherfucker ratio. My instinct tells me we’ll need them when the US election heats up if not before.

Happy new year to everyone!

In Which I Learn to Spell Srebrenica, and Use it a Lot

It’s always a bit strange to have two big anniversaries at the same time, and I’m really glad one of them was mentioned on the radio this morning or I would have gone about blissfully unaware of the cosmic irony/coincidence/shitfest. I was about to ask how many of you remember Srebrenica , but I don’t actually remember Srebrenica – I was gestating at the time and too busy growing legs to listen to the World Service (I have no idea if my parents did either now I think about it). Anyway, Srebrenica was one of the case studies we learnt in Politics about how the UN is well-meaning but inefficient, which kind of tells you everything you need to know.

Basically, between 1993 and 1995 there was a war between ethnic groups in the area that’s now Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The whole area was part of Yugoslavia during the Soviet era, and when the USSR ended people who’d lived side-by-side for decades suddenly remembered they didn’t like each other because they had different religions and whanot. The war was so bad that in 1993 the UN announced that the predominantly Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica was a ‘safe area’ for Muslims. (The opposing side was Christian. Love thy neighbour indeed.) In July 1995, Christian Serbian forces, led by a dude named Ratko Mladic, twigged that there were lots of Muslims living in Srebrenica and stormed the place, deporting and raping women and forcing the men to flee into the surrounding mountains. Then they found the men, shot about 8000 of them and buried their bodies so well that people are still finding new ones today. The Dutch UN forces in Srebrenica had neither the means nor permission to do anything for about ten days, which is when the UN got their shit together and NATO bombed the Serbian forces.

That, kids, is called a genocide. It was the worst European one since the Nazis and you can learn more about it here.

Anyway, I’m guessing more of you remember 7/7? I’m doing that old person thing of thinking it was two weeks ago, but seriously it’s hard to believe it was 10 years. Thinking about it now, although 9/11 helped cause the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which inspired ISIS, al Qaeda seem hopelessly 2000s. No one bombs public transport any more – they brainwash teens on the Internet and shoot random strangers. And take their children to live in Syria. And try to make their version of a religion into a functioning Middle Eastern state.

In a few years we’ll all consider ISIS perpetrators of genocide. President Assad’s regime too, although I believe he’s back on the West’s side while ISIS are a bigger issue than democracy and chemical gas.

from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com
from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

What I’m trying to say – and I’d be a lot more eloquent if the draft I saved hadn’t disappeared 15 minutes into an excellent paragraph – is that there are a lot of people who will try to tell you that human behaviour is inborn, or that all Muslims should personally apologise for ISIS, or that Word War II was the last time anything bad happened to Europeans. These people haven’t thought about anything that goes beyond their front door. Shit happens, and sometimes we could have prevented it if we thought a bit harder. Sometimes we couldn’t. Mostly we’ll never know. Regardless, if you take a moment to think about Srebrenica or 7/7 or any of the other waste of human lives that’s happened in the last century, you might be a teeny bit smarter than the people at the UN who didn’t fully think through Srebenecia, or who let the Iraq war happen without considering consequences.

That in itself will probably guarantee that you’ll never get a place in the UN, huh.

In Which I Have Learnt About Racism in the US

I wasn’t going to comment on the Charleston terrorist because I knew that a lot of people would automatically take umbrage with the term ‘terrorist’, and more might expect a ‘not all atheists’ blog. Both of those potentials are weird and exhausting so I figured I’d just share some posts by people smarter than me. Like this and this:

I think between them they express my opinion enough that I don’t need to waste Internet space trying to say the same thing. What I would like to talk about today is what I’ve been learning about the American south recently. I have never actually been to the States and I suppose I’ve been quite lucky in that the American culture I’ve absorbed over the years is as intelligent, if not more so, than the culture I’ve experienced from anywhere. MCR, Mindless, a million and one novels, the civil rights movement et al is all really fucking smart. No racism allowed, no sexism allowed, don’t be a piece of shit to other people and what in God’s name is wrong with letting people get married.

In the wake of this Charleston murder spree I’ve learnt that I’ve been really lucky, and blinkered, to only experience the smart people. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that there are stupid laws about letting idiots own guns and letting police officers shoot unarmed suspects… and I have a Tumblr account; I read the ‘white privilege’ posts. I just didn’t fully understand them until recently. I try really hard not to be a ‘all x people’ – when the English say ‘Americans are stupid’, I’m usually the first person to say ‘maybe you just haven’t met the smart ones. There’s a lot of people in that country, statistically they can’t all be as thick as this fucker on Fox News’.

By the same token when I see a post screaming about all the white people, promoting misandry or being rude about straight people, I think ‘you’re tarring a group the way some people tar your group. Kindly look out of your fucking window and understand that being discriminated against does not give you leave to discriminate’. Judge people based on their shitty personalities for Christ’s sake… So that’s me trying to be less of an arsehole than the dregs of Tumblr.

I just had no idea that the Confederate flag flies over the South Carolina or that roads are named for Confederate generals who fought for slavery that descendants of slaves have to pass through every day on their way to work. Those Tumblr users still need to grow up, but I think I understand more about why they’re so angry. I’m angry, and I’m white and live thousands of miles away from where this shit is happening. There is an inherent race issue because it’s fucking ingrained into the nation’s subconscious. Changing laws is one thing; changing culture is quite another and I must say, American government, I can’t believe you have the gall to invade other countries to teach them how to deal with racially-motivated terrorists when you have the problem within your own boarders.

I also didn’t know that being an atheist in the South is a really huge deal. Until I saw this:

There are two schools of atheist thought? Some atheists are against feminism? Whut. I think I’m beginning to understand why Dustin Lance Black makes a point of going back to Texas… Liberals in the States are dealing with a lot more shit than I ever appreciated and they have a massive job on their hands politically, socially and geographically. (Seriously who decided Texas should be the same size as the entire UK. Scottish independence just looks like if Dallas wanted fiscal autonomy.)

So that is what I’ve been learning recently. What about you?