Monday, September 15, 2014

Buddhist Blessing Peam Chi Kang

Fortunately another relatively quiet restful day, I am not feeling at all well coughing sore throat and congested chest, 9 out of 10 of us are feeling the same, we blame the air conditioning system for spreading the bugs but maybe it is simply the Mekong River in flood brings disease as well as lots of rubbish down with it. There are various things planned for the morning a towel and napkin display showing us how to make animals from a couple of towels, we find an elephant sitting on our bed when we return from breakfast, but it doesn't tempt me to go watch, 

I decide to sit on the balcony look out across the vast Mekong River and read awhile then have a little nap.There is also a fruit carving display but I give that a miss too, been there done that.

After lunch I decide I feel up to a shore excursion so head off on the tender for a Buddhist Blessing at the big Buddhist Temple by the river. I think an extra Blessing can't be all that bad and may even help.
There are a couple of big black elephant statues outside the Temple which is quite unusual.
Several Buddhist Monk are kneeling on their mats waiting to Bless us. One of them are in a not very healthy state with what look like big tumours on their head and chest. I ask the guide about him and he says the Monks have no income to pay for treatment of any complaint so must suffer with it. Very philosophical. There are several long sung Prayers in Cambodia and a short version in English for us, then the Monks tie a few silken strands that they have plaited around our wrists for luck. Mine was golden yellow.

Across from the Temple was the  big sprawling very old Monks house where they mentor and teach young boys to be Monks.

Then we all go on a walk around the old village, apparently it was one of the only villages not burnt to the ground by Pol Pot's Regime, there are houses built on stilts over 100 years old. 

There are also lots of livestock goats and cattle roaming all around.

He found the village shop where the young people congregate with their bikes and scooters..

 But I was feeling not at all well and decided I needed to go back to the ship, so I left Erle to take photos of the animals and went back  on board

and lay down with my head ache.

Easy day, visit to Ouknhatey Village.

The ship is still docked at Phnom Penh, Cambodia, its a lovely sunny day and we are all free to explore the city or not. Erle and I decide  to take a short wander down to the market.

Back to the ship to sit on the balcony in the sun and read my book before its time for lunch, when the ship sets sail again up the river.
This afternoons excursion is by Tuk tuk to Ouknhatey Village. When we get there we notice that the Mekong is rising quite quickly, it has not been raining here but the Mekong is a very long river, there must of been a big rain in China or Thailand to swell the river. We land on shore from the small boats to a pier that has been recently sand baged so it is dry for us to land on and is not in danger of being swept away by the flooding, it will not be many days before the pier is completely under water, but that is the way of the Mekong Delta, the rice paddy production depends on a regular flood every year. All the houses are built on
stilts to accommodate the rising waters, once the land is all covered the people use their boats to get around.

Tuk Tuks are lined up waiting for us and take us inland a little to the village. These are the kind that are driven by a motorbike undercover and very comfortable.

There is a man power irrigation system, a man sits on a bike and pedals madly to move the water wheel thing to lift the water, effective but slow hard work. Just what POl Pot envisioned, no mechanical gear only man power.

Then we are shown the Silk Worm production, how the tiny silk worms are fed on Mulberry leaves till big and fat and ready to make a cocoon of their silken webs.

 The cocoons are left to dry for some time in the store house, before being placed in boiling water to loosen the threads and to slowly unwind al the lovely silk onto spindles, two ladies do this together from the same cocoon. Beside them is a basket of dried cocoons all ready to unwind.

This is a very labour intensive job that must result in a lot of burnt fingers from the boiling water. Once collected it goes to the weavers and they spend long hours at their looms making silk material outside but under the cover of a roof on poles.
 This is a family run business, there is a small shop selling some of their wares.

On the way back to the ship we make a brief stop at the Village School, only two classrooms and only one head teacher but with some young assistants. The children can speak some English and sing us a song, If your Happy and you know it Clap your Hands. I know it too and sing along with them from the back of the class beside two of the older girls, who showed me their school books and I gave them some pens and pencils and sweets.

The children were all happy and healthy tidily dressed and enjoying school.

In the evening it is cocktail hour and another big briefing about the next few days activities.
Hung tells us he has had word of the 2 ladies who had to leave out tour for hospital back at Ha Long Bay. They are released from Hospital and have just boarded a plane back to New Zealand, fully recovered.
It seems the ladies had to pay for everything.... many many thousands of US$ but will get reimbursed by their insurance polocy. It appears like it costs about $2,000 a night in the hospital.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Royal Palace

After the revelations of the morning at the Killing fields and S21 Genocide Museum, Erle said he was staying on the ship no Royal Palace visit for him, he said he would go for a walk around town on his own. But I was ready after lunch for another excursion with most of the others.
We went by rickshaw this time as the palace is not very far away, they must know that we need them as they are all waiting at the dock.
 When we got there first things we see are a number of crippled men in wheel chairs begging, some with out feet or legs I guess they are landmine victims. Our guide said please do not give them money or tomorrow another dozen or so will be here, so most of us refrained, but not all, some of the men were really pathetic.
There are also Monks in their bright orange robes, also begging kind of, we don't give to them either.
Even from the outside the Palace grounds are impressive, huge, there are about a million pigeons all over the place because it is against the law to kill them, messy things too.

Plenty of big impressive buildings inside the gates all with  tile roofs like we saw being made at the brick factory. There are many stupas of all different sizes and shapes, also very elaborately decorated inside  of them is a Kings body, these are their Royal tombs.

It is now extremely hot and muggy we are all quite uncomfortable but we keep on walking after the guide trying to listen, the Palace was built in 1866, most of the complex is open to the public except where the King actually lives. This is the man who was great mates with Pol Pot probably in league with him, after all masses of assets and money must have been left behind all the 2/ 3 million who were killed.

We go into a building to view his coronation garments, there were many more of them,  shouldn't have photographed this but I did, and the multi coloured dancing girls costumes, there were extravagant gifts and treasures covered in jewels and made of gold or silver.

 One building was even made of a great deal of silver including the floor, we were not allowed to tread on the silver floor we had to walk on soft mats but we saw it all.

There was monkeys running around not at all scared of people awaiting the opportunity to grab cameras phones or hand bags so we gave them a wide berth.
It seemed to get hotter and hotter mainly because there is a lot of concrete to reflect it back at us, and many of us were not feeling particularly well, there seems to be flu bugs going around - in hot temperatures like this, none of us expected it, there is also tummy bugs, but they are sort of expected.

 There were many more buildings of all kinds around.

We were all very keen to get back to our rickshaws, but first we went to look at the ancient Elephant house and grassy area exercise yard, no elephants left now days but there is a life size snow white elephant in the house, white of cause because the white elephants all belong to the King.

After a quick dash by rickshaw I couldn't wait to put on my bathing suit and jump into the ships swimming pool with Erle, it was lovely and refreshing.
Erle then suggested we go look at the markets he had stumbled upon during his walk, so out we went to wander around the market a little, didn't buy much, but we had a look. I then had a rest before dinner.
Our day was still not over, after a lovely dinner there were young children dancing and singing as entertainment, but I am afraid we were just too tired to be bothered, and went off to bed early.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tuol Sleng S21 School of torture Genicide Museum

As the bus pulled away from the Killing Fields we are a quiet solemn group, all upset by what we have seen. Our tour guide Tran a very nice gentle Cambodian man, said he would tell us his story of survival as we drive on the next Pol Pot place, S21 the Detention centre in a School., Genocide Museum.
Tran told us he is the son of the Sein Reap Judge. his man in his high position hear whispers of what was to come with the Khrer Rouge Regime , and decided to take action to protect his family, he called all of his extended family to a  and company managers meeting, (most of these family members were lawyers, Doctors, Teachers or officials in Government positions). First he told them that they must drop their 3 syllable name that denoted  their high position in the community, they must adopt a single syllable name, in future they would be called Wan. They must all go home and pack a small bag of goods and come back and head into the jungle in a distant place where none of them were known or might be recognized,  where they would clear a place and construct homes and become subsistence farmers growing mostly rice.It would be a hard life but a safe one. Before they left they must harden and damage their soft white hands, they must be dirty blistered and bleeding, because he had heard that all guards would be checking for soft in door workers hands to send to camps to become slaves or to the detention centre for torture.
This policy really worked, so well that not one person in his family was lost, all survived the war, and the Judge returned to Sein Reap and once again became the Judge, this wonderful man lived to the grand old age of 102 years. 
On hearing this story we all clapped and felt a little better. Just then we pulled in to a quiet street lined with buses in front of the old School, a large 3 story 3 sided  building  with barbed wire fence all around.

S21 is a place I had no knowledge of at all I had no idea what we were going into see.
We walk around to one side and enter a class room  on one side, there are many tourists here and all around the complex. Our guide tells us people were brought to this building to be interrogated and tortured til they admitted that they were 'Spies for the KGB and the CIA" As if any of them were or if anyone at all ever was spies for both.  Absolutely everybody admitted  to this eventually sooner or later, when they could no longer stand the pain or torture. Even when they did admit to being spies or anything else the guards wanted to hear, it was not the end of their ordeal, not the guards started to demand to  the names and addresses of everyone else who was also a spy with them, so the poor unfortunates had to betray every member of their family and their friends and in fact every person they had even known, who were immediately rounded up and brought here for the same treatment.
As many as 20,000 people are thought to have been incarcerated  here, 1500 at any one time.

In this room there is a horrible uncomfortable iron bed with criss cross slats of iron with quite sharp edges, there is also some shackles and an iron ammunition case, there is no mattress on the bed,  it is quite a large room and although we wee not told so I think it was the room where electric shocks were administered to prisoners. And probably  where rape took place. It is not a nice room it had a gloomy feel to it even though its full of people it feels empty.
Then we go along further and into another old class room which is divided into many tiny crude cells by

piling and cementing concrete blocks every 3/to 4 feet to a hight of about 6 feet, there are no doors. Almost every other classroom is divided in this way to hold as many prisoners as possible. There would be no escapes as there was a set of shackles here too and also each had an iron ammunition case .
We are told these ammunition cases were their toilets, which could only be used when given permission, anything produced when permission had not been granted must be re consumed and permission was seldom given. 

The day started for these prisoners at 4.30am when they were all ordered to strip for inspection, severe beatings were inflicted on anyone who tried to disobey any of the rules and orders, of which there were many, signs gave some idea of what was expected of them, and the punishment awaiting them.. Very little food was available for them, starvation was the rule here. The days were full interrogations and tortures and recovering from the same. 
Our guide tells us that killing the prisoners was not what they were meant to do, in fact any  guard who did kill a prisoner was immediately placed in a cell for torture himself, the intention was to inflict as much pain and suffering as is humanly endurable without actually killing them, that was the job of those guards out on the killing fields, and only after all possible information had been extracted from the victim.
We were taken further along the corridor to rooms chock full of screens running full length of the classrooms, full on both sides with thousands of photos of men and women, as every prisoner was photographed for Pol Pots records, so very many of them all empty eyed nearly dead already, terrorfied.
Next classroom was the worst by far I can hardly bring myself to describe it. here a French gentleman has painted very moving pictures of what life was like for the victims. There is a picture of a Mother who has the most beseeching look of anguish on her face as on her knees she begs for the life of her baby who is wrenched from her arms to be killed, behind her cower 2 other little children.  it was deeply upsetting to all the Mothers in the room, as children wee not wanted and were just thrown against the wall or anywhere else to kill them. Around the walls of this room there were many more pictures depicting some of the terrible tortures inflicted on men and women, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body such as inside the ear, scorpions placed on nipples and other places to sting very painfully, beatings with bamboo sticks,  garden secateurs used to hack off fingers and toes, Hanging up on a gallows by their hands tied bend their backs, how excruciating that would be, and they were bounced like that, when they passed out from pain they were then dumped head first into a drum of liquid manure to bring them round so it could be done again.  I find myself just going awh awh awh how awful how could they, I am sure there were more pictures around the room, and other rooms full of other horrors,  but I couldn't take any more I run outside to take deep breathes of fresh air, with a roaring in  ears from the screams and wails and sobs from all the thousands of poor tormented souls.   Sickened.   Their anguish quite overwhelms me. I might add this feeling stayed with me till only recently, nearly a month after we returned home. Man's inhumanity to his fellow man was never worse than this. It truly was Hell on Earth.
Took me a while to pull myself together again and wander under the trees, I find several graves there and I vaguely remember being told of their significance but sorry I can't recall just why they are there. Maybe someone else will be able to tell me.
I see a small black cat picking its way across the grass with its twisted deformed tail and just think

O Jesus no one escaped their casual, callus,  cruelty not even the cat......

We all sort of stumbled back out to the bus and back to the ship for lunch, is is still only morning and we have been to killing fields and  S21 feels like a long long time. 
I have forgotten to say why Pol Pot was doing all this. He wanted to turn back the clock 900 years to when everything was done by hand by happy servants with no mechanical things to help them at all. So no education just hard work and very little food. He planned to rule over all of them, but first to get rid of anyone with half a brain that might stand up to him. This pretty well my opinion, but about right I think.
After lunch we have a visit to the Kings Royal Palace, light relief!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pol Pot's Regime, The Killing Fields.

We are up early as usual and prepare to go visit the Kiilling field near Phom Penh, I think know quite a bit about this regime of death because I have read some articles about it at home, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of two million people massacred by their own countrymen and the most gruesome ways  they could think of. A little bit of knowledge is not the same as being faced with the evidence.
We are taken by bus to the fields, as we walk through the gates we see in front of us a tall structure full of shelves full of skulls, mostly damaged skulls, layer after layer of them hundreds to a layer, so many.

But first of all we are led to a sign, that explains what was there before.Like Sam we bow our heads when we read these signs.       Respect.
The sign tells how a building was constructed here of corrigated iron and timber, darkened and with no windows and loud music playing, so folk could not see or hear what was going on before them, because more people were being sent here in greater numbers than the killers could dispose of. They killed about 300 a day every day. Men and women were first made to dig deep holes that were to be their mass graves, then they had to kneel on the edge  and were knocked on the back of their heads with whatever the killers could lay their hands on at the time. These knocks were not meant to actually kill only to hurt and to make them fall into the pits. Deep in the pits men were waiting them to cut their Achilles tendons and slit their wrists before finally sawing through their necks with not a knife or a saw but a piece of a type of fern tree with particularly nasty spikes and thorns that could be used to saw and hack. And so the poor people were slain by their countrymen.
Next sign tells where the shed was that was filled with many types of weapon for killing.
As we were told, no bullets were wasted here.
We are in a large field with many deep depressions where the ground has sunken in. There is a glass cabinet full of recently found bones and clothes that continue to make their way up out of the ground and are collected and kept.

There are a number of of these depressions fenced around and with lots of red Blessing bracelets hanging on them.

There is one that all the bodies were found without heads, because these were men of high rank well known to towns people, so their heads were stuck on poles along the streets to scare the general population.

Another is a mass grave of at least 450 men.

Another is the mass grave of women, all of who were found naked. The poor ladies were not only humiliated and killed but also violated and abused.

Finally we are shown a big tree bent over in shame and covered with red and white Blessing bracelets,  so it looks like the tree is sweating blood. here the guards killed the children, by smashing them against this tree which had big nails stuck in it at the time, until they died.
This tree upset all of us so
very much, there were many tears and prayers for the souls.

Please don't imagine this is the only place these atrocities took place, they happened all over the country. This is just where most are remembered.
Even in the previous town we visited yesterday a town of 3,500 odd people, everyone but 2 people were killed in a wild killing spree when the regimes men roared into the town and hack everyone to piece swith machetes.The town has recovered, but isn't likely to forget.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Crossing the Border into Cambodia

Today we shall cross the border into Cambodia, and surprisingly it is all going to be done for us. We shall just lounge around o the ship while poor Hung the leader will deal with all the red tape and our passports and our money for visas etc. He said they very rarely ever come over to the ship to check anything, but on this occasion they did. Not much of a problem, they didn't stay long, maybe just wanted to get out of the office for a while. We all get our visa and are through safe and sound.

Before we had the big excitement of the border crossing there was another  big excursion for us .We are to visit Tan Chau, still in Vietnam.

We go there by small boats,past lots of shanty type houses along the river built on stilts, when we land there are rickshaws awaiting us, nice we all enjoy going places by rickshaw, its so leisurely only just above walking pace so you see everything. i took a photo of the local barber at work as we past by and a lovely garden at another place.

A rooster seller in another place
Today we are visiting a family run Silk weaving factory, and boy is it noisy in there and dangerous all the big looms are working flat-out making a big order of heavy patterned material for what looks like curtains, very pretty all in a deep cream colour.

I had said to Erle before we went that we should  buy a silk shirt each as we would never get silk cheaper than at the weavers, however they are not making shirts today, but out the back is a shop selling shirts and blouses and scarves and lots of other stuff, so we select a nice one each 100% silk and only $10US each, it did come out as more like $15US by time exchange is  added but that's an amazing price for a nice silk blouse.
Back in the rickshaw which were not a comfortable as most rickshaws are, along the street to a Sleeping Mat factory. We go past many rattan mats on side of the road with the families rice crop drying in the sun.

 The sleeping mats  are made of  rattan type material all died bright colours, Woven on big nosy looms on site  Erle has some of the bright greet on his shirt to remind him of the visit, as he brushed against a newly dyed bundle of strips of rattan, or long leaves of some kind. They also have a shop selling things but none of us fancy sleeping on a thin rattan mat thank you!

We leave the factory out the back door and walk through houses on poles to lift them above the flood level of the Mekong River, children run after us to say Hello and hope for sweets from us, which we gave freely. Then we walked through rice paddy fields along the narrow raised walking tracks, dodging the inevitable scooters that race towards us. Just as we get back to the boats a sudden gust of wind hit and the guide said hurry, it is about to rain hard, and so it did, but by then we were all under the shelter of the boat.
Still one more stop before the morning is over. It is on to an Evergreen Island in the river, there is a bridge for access too, our long boat docks beside it and we all go for a walk on the island amid the rice feilds and small houses we are taken to the village shop, one of those places that sell everything you can think of. Some og our party buy sweets for the children, insuring our visit is remembered for quite a while. We are told to go talk to people so I went to a house up the street that had 2 full size pool tables in the ground level, which would have to be lifted when the river floods as it does every year. I am invited to sit down in the soft chair and offered a drink, had my own drink bottle which I drank from while I chatted with the few words we know and hand signals. I was made very welcome. The pool tables were their source of income. You can see them under the lean-to beside the green and white house.

A mobile fruit seller soon came to see us hopefully.

Back to the ship for lunch and to rest while Hung does he thing getting us all a visa to Cambodia.
After lunch we can just laze or take cooking lessons or learn fruit carving. I chose to carve fruit and it turned out I was quite good at this. All those years of hand work went I was a book binder helped me make the delicate cuts and slices so to turn an apple into a beautiful bird and a tomato into a pretty rose with cucumber leaves and stalks.
Then we are treated to an Ice Cream Party, yum we are all there for this, about a dozen dif ice creams many yum sauces and another dozen different sprinkles and fancy toppings. I can tell you Coconut Ice cream with choc sauce and star cacheau sprinkles is extremely nice. Pity we can't get coconut flavour at home.
There an important briefing
 with Hung tonight before dinner to tell us what is planned for the next few days and after dinner we are to learn a little about Pol Pot the maniac who killed so many of his country men.
After dinner it is movie night but as the movie is about Pol Pot and his regime we decide to skip it and instead got out the DVD of the movie made around here called the Lovers. it was sexy but ok, not a lot of dialogue.