26 Jul Hey lady, Tuk Tuk???
Welcome to Cambodia! Crossing over the border, you step into another world. A mere five minute walk between countries yet once on the other side the shift is unmistakable. A much more raw feel sets in as you roll pass the flat green landscape dotted with the odd palm tree, grazing cows and small homes. Tarantulas are for sale on the side of the street. The poverty is far more apparent. “Hey lady, tuk tuk?” echoes from all angles. The red dirt covers the streets and children are running around smiling. Despite the overwhelming nature of this two foot jump into the adventure, everyone is already at ease in this amazing country! The chaos of Phnom Penh even seems to be relaxed.
With the horn blaring all night instead of the existence of traffic laws, drastic mood swings in the temperature and flashing disco lights on the interior of the bus, its needless to say the gang was happy for that experience to end and crawl into bed.
The next morning we rolled out to learn about Cambodia’s tragic history with a visit to the Killing Fields and the horrific S21 Prison. A heavy day but a crucial one to understanding the psyche and challenges of present day Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, Cambodia went from being one of the most stable and developed countries in the region to one with some catching up to do in comparison to its neighbors. Trying to bring the country back to the Year Zero, a genocide commenced wiping out over 2 million people with estimates as high as 3 million. Cities were evacuated and everyone was forced to move out to the country side and return to an agrarian way of life. Families were broken apart. Anyone with an education, who wore spectacles, spoke another language, or lived a “soft” life were tortured and executed along with their families to safe guard against revenge and the spread of disease, memories of a different way of life or thinking. Fear spread throughout the people. Never speaking. Never questioning.
The S21 prison is located in the heart of Phnom Penh, where it was once a very famous high school. It was used to torture suspects thought to be a threat to the democratic regime. Tortured until 100 page confessions of falsehoods and accusations against family and friends were complied, a wander through this museum is haunting. The photographs of all the prisoners, babies and old alike, line the former classrooms making it impossible to detach yourself from the experience. The blood stained floors act as a reminder of a time not so long ago. Cheung Ek, the Killing Field we visited is one of many scattered throughout the country but it is the most famous since the prisoners from S21 prison were brought there to be terminated. Close to 9,000 corpses have been excavated from the site alone. Teeth and bones are constantly surfacing with the erosion of earth and time.
The horror stories from this time go on and on. It is unbelievable the things human beings are capable of doing. We are capable of anything! So now introducing Free the Bears, Tiny Toones, SCAO, new schools, documentaries , skate parks, and all of the flipping awesome organizations and people making things happening!
After our tour, we had a hilarious lunch with a few hardcore hustling kids working the streets with their books and bracelets. As a rule, you should never support street begging as you are simply perpetuating a bad cycle but these guys know our OG crew quite well by now and view themselves as our tour guides whenever possible! Future trip leaders?
The crew then headed to Metahouse, a German-Kmer cultural center promoting arts and culture in Cambodia. Showcasing independent Khmer film makers and photographers, the crew headed there for an evening of documentaries regarding the challenges faced by Cambodia’s water ways on account of the dams constantly being constructed. Then enter Tiny Toones! A bunch staff from the amazing organization Tiny Toones, took us out on the town to their favorite local Khmer club! A wicked awesome way to be introduced to Phnom Penh!
The next day we headed out to visit SCAO to celebrate the opening of their new school! A beautiful new building with OG funded water tanks! From the roof top floating villages, hay stacks, monistaries, mountains, villages and rice fields could be se’en as far as the eye could see. The children, shy at first, quickly joined in and became out own personal mob! Cruising back into the city on a “romo”, a very local form of transportation, we couldn’t get very far without vibrant smiles, laughter and mocking coming from all directions. The day was wrapped up with a walk through Phnom Penh’s old central markets, dinner at the weekend market picnic styleez and a lady boy show to top it all off.
Next on the agenda, Free the Bears. A sanctuary for abused and domesticated animals found in Cambodia. Considered a delicacy, bear paw soup is very popular throughout the region. Sun bears and Asiatic black bears are captured and chained. As an order for the soup comes in, its paw is cut off and cauterized until the next order. Many amputees bears and bears who had been subjected to the cruelty if bear bile farms. OG was the first group of foreigners ever to be brought into the center…. Lots and lots to say about this one but I need to go and jump on our boat to head to the island of Koh Rong where the group is jumping into the ocean! Coming up, scuba certification, awareness programs, a sanitation project with the fishing village and teaching at the local school! No access to the internet folks so give us a call!